Our Christmas in Song Titles

Right now, I'm sitting in a bed with my just-days-away-from-being-two-years-old daughter lying next to me.

She is wearing footsie pajamas decorated with bunnies and hearts, and she's tucked beneath a slate green woven blanket and a pure white cotton comforter. Yet her gentle breathing and the feel of her relaxed hand on my leg are softer than anything man could manufacture.


If you follow me on Twitter, you know we escaped the clutches of the Midwest Christmas Blizzard last week and made it to Colorado, where my parents recently moved. It's been a FULL holiday season. We celebrated Christmas three times in three days -- on Christmas Eve with Corey's parents, on Christmas morning with our immediate family (read: the kids, Corey and me) and on Boxing Day in Colorado with my side of the family.

Not only have I eaten every form of holiday treat available in America, my kids also now own every toy in the world.

We are exceedingly, immeasurably blessed. It is very humbling.


I'm technically on vacation this week, so I've been trying to stay away from the computer and all things blog-Twitter-Facebook related. But I can't resist the temptation to share a few seasonal pictures with accompanying song title captions. Because this will only be funny for about another 48 hours. If that.

White Christmas

What Child is This?

Joy to the World

As with Gladness Men of Old

And after that last shot ... really, what more can I say? See you in 2010.

When the Hype Grows Old

I hate to deluge you with baby news -- have I mentioned it's a BOY? -- but my Pregnancy Journal post is up at 5 Minutes for Parenting today. The idea for it came to me Monday morning when I was showering. I actually had to keep reminding myself that my ultrasound was the next day; my mind was so absorbed with Christmas details and the normal stuff I do to run our home, I would completely forget that I had something extra (and really, really special) in just a few hours.

And that made me laugh, inwardly, because I would NEVER have forgotten the ultrasound when I was pregnant with the other kids. The ultrasound was the focus on my week, my month, my life. I counted down the hours; such was the anticipation. But this time? I think I'm a little too familiar with pregnancy to be absorbed like I used to.

Anyway. You can go read more about that at 5 Minutes for Parenting.


In other news, there's a HUGE STORM bearing down on the Upper Midwest. I don't watch, listen or patronize the local media anymore -- which is ironic, for someone who used to edit a community newspaper and produce a local newscast for NBC -- but I hear they are hyping it for all its worth. One of my friends said they've given it the nickname "snow-nami." (Insert eye roll here.)

MckMama summed it up well
: It's snow. It's Minnesota. It's December. What's new?

I totally agree.

But I am also weather geek, so I'm still tracking the storm. And since we were supposed to travel this weekend to spend Christmas with my family, the storm is having a huge impact on our immediate future. Right now, the weather service says we could get anything from 12-20 inches between tonight and Saturday morning. If we get anything like that, we'll be home-bound for Christmas, with nary a plan in sight.

Which means I might be the only blogger online the next few days. :-) Merry Christmas!

It's a...

It's a BOY!

More importantly, he's TOTALLY HEALTHY, from everything we could see during our ultrasound this morning. (And we could see EVERYTHING. This was the most comprehensive scan I've ever experienced. We went over the kid with a fine-tooth comb.)

A few thoughts from the ultrasound room:

* Bringing three kids, ages 8 and under, to an ultrasound isn't the wisest choice. We didn't really have any other option, unless we wanted to pay for a babysitter. And we hoped Natalie, at least, would find it interesting, which she did for the most part. But Teyla? She ran around the room and fussed when we wouldn't let her touch the technician's computer. Connor tossed and turned and whined that he was bored. It was a less-than-delightful 30 minutes.

* Corey and I both thought we saw a little something as the technician was whipping through the measurement portion of the ultrasound. We kept raising our eyebrows at each other and communicating in glances. "Was that a shadow between the femurs? Did you see what I saw?" So we weren't terribly surprised when she zoomed in and said, "It's a boy!"

Connor, however, grinned ear to ear when we made him sit up and look at the screen. "You're going to have a brother, buddy!" After the ultrasound, as we were picking up our coats and gathering our gear and generally acting like we had moved into the ultrasound suite, Connor said in a proud voice, "This is the best day ever!"

(Of course, just a few minutes later, when I said we were going to Chipotle for lunch, a place that isn't his favorite, he scowled and said, "This is the worst day ever!" Such is the life if a six-year-old.)

* As for me? I would say the announcement feels amazing and anti-climactic at the same time. So many people close to us in real life have been saying for months that we're having a boy. (At Thanksgiving, my father-in-law said, "So when do we get confirmation that you're having a boy?" Which irked the rebel in me, if I'm honest.)

It's a little like knowing what you're getting for Christmas. It could be a present you're anticipating and excited to be getting -- but if you know what's wrapped and under the tree, it takes a little of the adrenaline out of opening the package.

Still. What an awesome present. It's just what I wanted -- a healthy baby who will add balance to our family. Connor will have a brother. And I will get to use my baby boy clothes one more time.

It's a BOY!

In Which We Talk About Sex (of the Baby)

So I have all these thoughts rattling around inside my head today. Some of them actually make sense and could be written up in a real post with transitions and cohesive reason and everything.

But alas, I can't focus on a blessed thing right now. Because TOMORROW IS MY ULTRASOUND, and if all goes well, WE WILL BE FINDING OUT THE SEX OF THE BABY.

The date has snuck up on me, which is only possible during the holidays. I've been so busy baking and wrapping and exuding holiday cheer, that I haven't been nearly as obsessed with finding out the sex of this baby as I was last time. Christmas is nothing if not distracting.

But as we all know, life goes on, even during the holidays, even during Christmas break when my children are home, amazingly enough. Today, I hired one of our favorite babysitters to take my kids so I could focus on the task right in front of me and clean my whole house. Otherwise, I knew I'd be too flighty to ever finish such a mind-numbing job, not when I have baby plans to daydream about and baby names to dismiss and baby bedding to browse on Pottery Barn Kids.

Plus, it's hard to clean when kids are around. Normally, I do it on a day when only Teyla is home and the older two kids are in school. But with all three of them home and inside (since none of the neighbor kids are off school yet and my kids don't like to play in the snow without friends who don't share DNA)? Fuggedaboutit.

Sidebar alert, but today is not the day to keep me on task: I really like a clean house, but I don't really like to clean my house. Jo @ Mylestones asked on Twitter if it was cheaper to hire a babysitter than a team of cleaners, and I responded that it wasn't, really, but I've never met a cleaning company who really cleans stuff and doesn't just wipe off surfaces. So I bite the bullet and do it myself and farm my kids out to an indoor playground and McDonald's so I can just get it done without having to simultaneously break up fights, cut up apples, make lunch and clean up after the toddler. ("At least I finished this room. Hey! Look! The room I just finished is already destroyed!)

So back to the point: Do you have an opinion on the gender of this baby? Because 95% of the people in my real life think it's a boy, based solely on the fact that we have a pattern thing going (girl-boy-girl-xx). Also, my family of origin has the same pattern -- we are girl-boy-girl-boy.

I don't have a feeling one way or the other (although my back hurts all the time lately, do you think that says something?). But I don't think nature necessarily works in patterns and/or believes in symmetry when it comes to this kind of thing.

Part of me hopes it's a boy, because then Connor will have a brother. But part of me would like it to be a girl, because then Teyla will have a sister close in age, and I've never seen a close-in-age sister relationship. (My sister and I are super close now, but she is six years younger than me -- just like Teyla and Natalie -- so we weren't close growing up. We had too many years between us.)

OK. I'm turning over the mic. What say you?

The Christmas Cookies Made Us Late

Oh. My. Stinkin. Word.

Today was been one of those weeks, y'all. It's the last day of school before Christmas break, which means the kids and I were scrambling to package boxes of Christmas cookies for all their teachers this morning (when we should have been eating breakfast). It was at that moment, at 8:07 AM, when I remembered that Connor was supposed to have cards and a small gift FOR EACH OF THE 17 STUDENTS in his kindergarten class for his party today, and oh yes, each card was supposed to be hand-addressed to his classmates. (It was actually homework, to encourage the kids to work on their writing skills.) And while he Natalie made 17 cards a few days ago, had we finished them? Had he addressed them? Had he packed treat bags? Had he even signed them?

That would be a negative.

So we kick up the adrenaline and start cramming some not-quite-hardened Faux Thin Mints into goody bags with cards and homemade marshmallows. And Teyla has a stinky diaper, which makes her scream with pain, because she also has some diaper rash right now that looks like a third degree burn. (Too many Clementines. That girl is a fanatic.)

We finally get everything packaged and I rush everyone toward the door to get on their coats and backpacks and such, and I'm throwing some more cookies into the car along with some pans of Pioneer Woman's lasagna to deliver and we are now 10 MINUTES LATE, which means we WILL be late for school, which hasn't happened yet this year (which is a miracle in itself, but I don't have time to stop and point that out right now), and Natalie is starting to look very somber and sad about the fact that she will be walking into her class after the bell has rung.

We peal out of the driveway, and I'm halfway down the block already when Connor says, "I don't have my backpack."

Deep breath. Reverse. Inhale. Exhale. Open the garage door. Send the boy to get his backpack, since he'll need his snack after not eating breakfast and he'll surely have tons of stuff to bring home today, the last day before break. So we're loaded again, and now even later, and Natalie has tears in her eyes, and I'm so stressed you could pluck the tune to "Silent Night" on my neck tendons.

Then we get to school and we're scooping all our packages and backpacks and snow pants out of the car when Connor says, "I didn't bring my snowpants."

Deep breath.

"Or my boots."


Then I notice: His bag of classroom treats is also missing from the van.

I don't remember anything after that. I'm pretty sure it's because my head exploded

But somehow, we made it to the afternoon. And now I'm sitting here, in my quiet house. Teyla is napping. I've eaten lunch, and it didn't consist of three kinds of Christmas cookies and the icing that had pooled on the wax paper.

And my tree is lit and the snow is glittering and the sun is shining and all is well.

And all will be well.

P.S. I was supposed to tell you TWO DAYS ago that I wrote about the all-important ultrasound over at 5 Minutes for Parenting this week. I'm a need-to-know girl when it comes to the gender, and I detailed why in my post. So far, most of the comments are siding with me. But surely there are some I-want-a-surprise people out there. So come over and join the conversation.
P.S.S. My ultrasound is on Tuesday. AHHHH! I can hardly stand it!

Christmas Salad Dressing

Last Christmas, I was irritable. For no reason I could directly discern, It took me a long time to get into the Christmas spirit. I finally started feeling some goodwill around December 16, when I started baking Christmas cookies and listening to holiday jazz on Pandora. But before that, I was all bah-humbug.

It’s taken me almost a year, but I think I have successfully traced the roots of my bad attitude. And it is this: I don’t know which Christmas to celebrate anymore.

The way I see it, there are two very distinct Christmases these days. There is cultural Christmas, which I also call Santa Christmas. It’s the Christmas of tradition, the Christmas that is best when snow falls and the fire crackles, the Christmas that features red-cheeked children opening presents around a glittering and glowing tree. It’s the Christmas of cookies and egg nog and candy canes. It’s the Christmas of buying gifts and wrapping them and then forgetting where we hid them around the house before the big day. It’s the Christmas of nostalgic music like “I’ll be Home for Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” and “I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas.”

But none of that has anything to do with the other Christmas, which is the Jesus Christmas, the day we celebrate the ultimate gift of Emmanuel, God with us.

Before I get hate mail, let me clarify that I know many of those traditions have roots in Christian symbolism. I know the story of the candy cane and that we give gifts to echo God’s gift to us and that we drink egg nog because it’s made with eggs and clearly there were chickens in the stable that first night.

But really – let’s be honest. Do you think about the shepherds when you crunch a peppermint stick? Do you stop and thank God for his blessings every time you open a gaily wrapped package?

Or do you just celebrate those traditions because they are fun and nostalgic and sentimental and seasonal?

I know what the answer is for me. And to be clear, I have a lot of tender feelings for Santa Christmas. I see nothing wrong celebrating cultural holidays – as long as we distinguish them as cultural.

The trouble comes, in my mind, when we try to mix the two together like some sort of salad dressing. Because eventually, the two opposing forces of oil and water will sort themselves out of the emulsion, and we’ll be left with a nasty puddle on our plate.

Looking back, I think that’s what was bothering me last December. I’ve lived most of my life with the two Christmases whipped together. But last year, I wanted to bring Jesus to the forefront. Connor and Natalie, then 5 and 7 years old, were old enough to really start to understand the celebration. But the more I tried to make God’s gift the focus of our party, the more annoyed and frustrated I got. I just couldn’t seem to make the Jesus Christmas – that of God-with-us and miracles and the unexpected and God’s voice speaking again after a 400-year silence – shine brighter than the Santa Christmas of cookie decorating and gift opening and snow falling.

To be honest, I’m frustrated still. It’s helped to identify the two competing Christmases. But Santa Christmas is so loud and so overwhelming and so everywhere…. I’m left feeling out-voiced and out-numbered.

I know there are a few things we can do to highlight the real meaning of the season for ourselves and our families. I love the idea of a Jesse tree and the Advent Wreath. I really love the idea of giving to those in need and/or cutting back drastically on the amount of gifts we give each other.

But to be honest, I see so little of God in our cultural Christmas, I wonder why I should bother? Why try to keep the two intertwined? The only reason we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 is because a Roman emperor decided to “Christianize” a pagan holiday. Constantine didn’t want his people to have to give up their mid-winter festivals, honoring the gods Saturn and Mirthras. So he just blended the story of Jesus’ birth into the mix.

And today, almost 2,000 years later, I’m still trying to sop up the mess. I have oil and vinegar all over my heart, and I don't know how to fuse them back together anymore.

For more on this topic, check out Shaun Grove's excellent post A Reply to Those People and Lifenut's thoughtful You don't have to tell me Merry Christmas. I credit both of those posts with helping me to gel the thoughts in my head.

Snow Day (Part 2)

I was hit in the face with a cold wave of shock when I clicked on my blog yesterday and realized I never shared Snow Day: Part 2 as promised. Because I could have sworn I did that.

This pregnancy (and the all-too-real dreams I can't shake) is eating away my sanity.

So here's the deal. Last week, as I explained in Snow Day: Part 1, we were hit with our first real winter storm. (It's true that we had measurable snowfall in October, but that was freakish and weird. And wrong. So I'm not counting it.) It snowed for about 24 hours straight Tuesday through Wednesday. We were left with about eight inches of snow on the ground.

Here's the view from my place on Tuesday afternoon. (Please note how dark it is. The time stamp is 3:58.)

Here are the extra tree greens wrapped in lights (also described in Snow Day: Part 1) that made it onto my deck just before the snow started falling.

And here's a shot of my deck before sunset on Tuesday night.

It's useful for comparing to the shot the next morning. Here's how much snow we got.

(I love those huge piles of snow on my chairs and planters. It's like meringue for outdoor furniture.)

My deck looks much the same right now. Thursday, it got wickedly cold -- as in, our highs were around 8 and the wind chill was well below zero. (When we drove to school Thursday morning, in the bright and brittle sunshine, Connor was mesmerized by the thermometer in the van. He counted down every degree as we pulled from our heated garage into the cold. "Twenty-three! Fifteen! NINE! SIX!!! ZERO!!!!" It was at that point I wondered if a six-year-old boy's head could literally pop off from excitement.) So all that snow? It ain't going anywhere anytime soon. And we could get another coating of four inches by tomorrow morning.

But you know what? Right now, I'm OK with that. In fact, I'm more than OK with that. I'm thrilled by that. Because here in Minnesota, we do Christmas right. We rarely have to dream of a white Christmas; we just look at our window and enjoy God's creativity.

(I also feel compelled to point out that God himself decorates the North for Christmas each year. Not Martha Stewart, not a human designer. God. Thus, I'm led to believe that, while the South might love Jesus most, as Shaun Groves asserts, clearly Jesus chooses the North first every time.)

And our kids?

Our kids love the snow. Connor was out sledding on the pitiful little bump at the end of our street on Tuesday afternoon, before we even got anything.

To a child, this snow is just a git from God, a beautiful landscape in which to play, laugh, run and create.

When I see it through their eyes, winter is breath-taking. Truly.

Here's to more snow days*. I can't wait.

*This statement expires January 31, 2010. No reminders of such statement can be made after that time. No actual snow days are inferred in the creating of such statement, since Minnesota has an army of snowplows and doesn't cancel school for cold or snow. Ever. The term snow day is to be construed as an expression of freedom and fun only.

Snow Day (Part 1)

Yesterday morning, I dropped the kids at school and ran a few errands with Teyla. There was urgency in my step. The first winter storm of the season was on the way, and I woke up at 6:00 AM with the sudden realization that I knew exactly how I wanted to decorate our back deck for the holidays. But with the snow already coming down, time was of the essence.

My shopping buddy and I swung through Jo-Ann's (to get some cookie exchange supplies), the grocery store (to buy more milk and bananas, the top two items we run out of, and the makings of Cincinnati chili) and our local hardware store (so I could buy a timer for our outdoor lights and make my decorating dreams come true).

By the time we got home, it was only about 10:30, but it felt like we'd been running all morning. I immediately grabbed my extra tree clippings, my gardening gloves (the better to fight off errant tree sap), my white lights, my really cool new timer, and hit the deck. The snow wasn't falling thick yet; it was more of a dusting that was coating everything and making it slick. But the clouds were heavy and hovering.

I was clipping the branches, holding them on the top of the raining and wrapping them with lights when Teyla came out to join me. She enjoyed running her fingers through the coating of snow on the Adirondack chairs and touching the frozen dirt in my pots. But eventually, the cold got to her. So she turned to go back in the kitchen and ... CRASH.

Being a new Minnesotan, she didn't know how slippery her shoes would be on clean linoleum. She hit the ground fairly hard, but what really surprised me was the sharpness of her cries. By the time I reached her, she was standing, shaking her right wrist and hand rather frantically and saying, "Ow! Owie! Ow! Ow!"

I picked her up, gave her a good cuddling, checked her hand and wrist for broken bones (nothing apparent) and, when the crying stopped, I settled her on the couch with a cozy blanket wrapped around her and Elmo on the TV.

I wasn't back on the deck for 60 seconds when I heard her crying again. "Ow! Owie! Ow!" It was still the wrist. She seemed really distraught, which is highly unusual for our tough little toddler. I'm certainly not one to rush to the ER, but this time, I wondered. I called a pediatric nurse at our office, just in case, and she said to put ice on it (which I already did while waiting on hold) and to watch and see what happens over the next hour. If she wouldn't reach for something with her right hand or didn't seem to grasp things well, I was advised to bring her in.

The cold pack seemed to calm my little girl. (I always wonder how much of the cold pack's therapy is physical and how much is emotional.) So I settled her back under the blanket with Elmo still on the TV, made sure she was resting her wrist on the cold pack and I returned once again to the deck to finish stringing the lights around the greens.

Ten minutes later, I was done. I came back inside to find Teyla, asleep on the couch.

It was 11:00 AM.

I was stunned. Teyla is doing great at establishing a sleep routine right now, and nap time isn't usually until 1:00 or 1:30 PM. Asleep? My female Tasmanian devil?

I decided to leave her be but stay in the area (which isn't hard in a small townhouse). I put away the groceries. Still asleep. I cleaned the kitchen. Still asleep. I started some laundry. Still asleep. I went upstairs and cleaned the bathrooms. I cleaned the bedrooms. I did some blogging. Still asleep.

At one point, I heard her stir, so I came downstairs and found her groggily standing next to the couch. I scooped her up, sat down on the couch for a few minutes (my back needed a rest anyway). And she fell back asleep.

All told, she napped 3.5 hours yesterday, which is almost double her normal nap time. By the end, I was wondering if I should Google "how to check for a concussion." But I reasoned she had never complained of her head hurting, and it was possible she was just extra tired from an early wake-up time and a morning full of running errands in the cold.

By the time she got up, at 2:30, she was in good spirits, and her wrist was fine. I was amazed at the restorative powers of a nap -- and at the restorative powers of silence for me. Teyla's unplanned rest meant I had most of the day to putter around the house by myself, watch the snow fall and listen to some Christmas jazz. It was utterly homey, completely peaceful. And in addition to all the other work, I was able to fold about two weeks worth of clean laundry that had been piling up in my laundry room.

I guess it was like the perfect snow day, adult-style. I didn't play outside (once I got the lights up, anyway). But I did enjoy the coziness of the storm and the solitude winter offers.

Looking back, it was one of those unexpected surprises. God gave me a gift in the middle of December. And as always, I am the richer for it.

So this is the story of my snow day. But I have a Part 2, which would be story of the actual storm going on outside. I'm going to post that later today, after I have time to shoot some pictures.

Just an Ordinary Day

It was 18 degrees on the way to school this morning.

The sun struggled to shine through some high clouds and the ground glittered from all the frost and the promise of a storm -- a real winter storm -- hung like a promise in the sky. We could get 8 inches of white powder by Wednesday night. (Or not. The weather is a huge tease this time of year.)

I was driving with my three children in the minivan -- Natalie sitting in the front next to me, telling me her thoughts about the 3rd grade spelling bee today, Connor sitting behind her, detailing to me the kind of equipment firefighters use (bet you didn't know they typically use jets, did you?) and Teyla, all crazy hair and runny nose and pink patches on her face, looking like the sweetest mess you've ever seen in a rearview mirror.

It was just an ordinary moment on an ordinary day.

And I was overcome with thankfulness.

Which is a lot better than being overcome by worry about the future or frustration over the mountain of laundry that needs my attention or loneliness because of Corey's crazy travel schedule this month.

Because truly, I have God. And He is faithful. What can I do but praise?

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
- Psalm 126:3

They Won't Be on the Christmas Card Either

Is anyone else in a race-to-the-finish-line dash to get their Christmas cards and/or calendars ordered by tonight? There are so many great deals out there right now (golden words in my book: free shipping), but they all expire at midnight.

(Pardon me while I go hit "repeat play" on the Musical Baby DVD. Thanks.)

I can tell you one thing: Here are a couple of pictures that won't be going into the calendar.

y belly shot at 16 weeks.

I should note that was taken in the morning, when I look appropriately 16 weeks pregnant. By evening, I look approximately 25 weeks pregnant. And no, I'm not kidding. See?

That was taken around 8:30 PM. Notice that I used the camera to hide my face, like one of those black bars they put on the "fashion don'ts" in the back of the magazines. And if you can't see the difference, it's only because I have to twist into an mannequin-like position that is oh-so-comfortable to take my own picture. Either that, or you are squinting. And you really shouldn't do that. Your face could stick that way.

In other pregnancy news, I FELT THE BABY MOVE THIS WEEK. I have the whole story posted at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, in the continuing saga of "And Baby Makes 6: Kelly's (Last) Pregnancy Journal." Frankly, I feel pretty cool that I'm able to discern the baby flutters this early in the pregnancy. You can read the details here.

December 1

This is how I know December has arrived in Minnesota.

I stood on our front stoop this morning, with a bowl of Cheerios in my hand, and I realized the air I was inhaling was colder than the milk I had just poured on my cereal.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas....


If you need encouragement, get thee to either of these posts written by some of my best bloggy friends:
Laundry Baskets (by Amy Beth at Ministry So Fabulous)
We're Expecting (by Missy at It's Almost Naptime)

Both of them cracked right into my heart this morning as I read them. And now I'm going to go bawl on my Bible for a little while.

Because sometimes -- no matter the date -- we just need a fresh start.