Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell, 2016...

It's the last half hour of 2016.  I don't quite know what to say about this year.  Of course, I'm still sick so pardon me if I don't wax poetic about this year.  As everyone knows, we lost a ton of celebrities this year, and the constant stream of terror attacks made this year a tough one.  Then we topped it off with a Trump win and we're all sitting on the edge of our seats as we approach a new year with a wild card big mouth poised to become our sitting president.  So...not the best year universally.

Personally it wasn't the best either.  We've been in a constant state of frustration with Jacob's behavior, and Carter's relatively newfound participation in the ridiculousness.  My family went through three funerals.  Jacob had major surgery and started on the medication journey.  We had a variety of random health stuff and a couple annoying house things.  Maybe it's just me, but not a whole lot of good jumps out.  We had fleeting moments, I guess, but most of them were firmly within a more challenging context.  I know that in the grand scheme of things, we are blessed, but it's really tough to feel upbeat most of the time.  So many people suffer around us, and in many cases our problems pale in comparison, but that doesn't change that what we're going through is tough.  And I definitely wish that a flip of the calendar would change everything.  But I know that's not the case.  Not for us and not for anyone else. 

We're blessed to be here, to have an almost intact extended family, jobs, a house, two functioning cars, a savings account and enough money to do many of the things we want to do.  We have two kids, that while they make us crazy, are here in the flesh.  My biggest first-world, nagging issue at the moment is that we have too much stuff.  But I'm tired and sad and wishing desperately that I could snap my fingers and make things better for Jacob--and in turn, the rest of us. 

But like it or not, here we go...onward to 2017...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holy Night, Silent Day

I forgot to mention in my last post one of the most important details of Friday night.  We went to church!  Usually we go to Craig's parents' church on Christmas Eve afternoon, but this year his mom was singing at the midnight mass instead, and we knew we couldn't pull that off.  So, we had a few options: go to their church earlier anyway (though it always interfered with his family's gathering somewhat), or go to either the Friday night or Saturday morning service at our church.  I decided the night one was actually our better bet, since the morning one would make us rush through presents and breakfast and we'd probably all end up cranky.  Night just seemed easier with me getting out of work early--eat an early (for us) dinner, get changed, and go.  And you know, it was really nice.  Carter fell asleep, which made bedtime a little more challenging, but it was a beautiful service with carols and beautiful lighting and everyone holding candles at the end, and it felt like a good place to start Christmas.

On Christmas Eve morning, Jacob was up pretty early and snooping around, but we made him go back to his room until Carter woke up, which wasn't until after 8am! But once he was up, it was time to open presents...but not before the traditional picture at the top of the stairs!

They started with stockings, which mostly had a lot of candy.  Carter got some fun bath foam and Jacob got a thing where you dig for a fancy rock.  It's basically compressed, hardened sand that you dig into until you find the rock.  One in 24 of the one like he had includes a real piece of silver!  His didn't--just a piece of obsidian.  After that, the boys each opened a present from the other,  Jacob gave Carter a Team Umizoomi game for his Leap Pad, and Carter gave Jacob a Scooby-Doo Meets Kiss DVD (Yes, that Kiss.  Jacob loves that one and I found it cheap enough that it was more economical than him renting it periodically.). 

As for the real presents, Jacob's main mission for Christmas was Game Stop gift cards.  He really wanted an Xbox One, but we were not going to spend that much on him alone at Christmas.  We told him that if he wanted to wait until Carter was older, it could be a joint gift some day, but otherwise, he could ask for gift cards.  If the cards fell short, he could take out a limited amount from his savings, and if it still wasn't enough, he could do chores.  He chose the immediate gratification option, of course, and we spent the weeks leading up to Christmas hearing him obsess over the math of how much he was going to get from everyone and how close that would get him.  He was particularly concerned with us and Santa.  And in the end, he got $50 from Santa and $25 from us.
Happy boy with one of the gift cards!
Jacob also got a mini Battleship game, a book he'd picked out from his book fair, some clothes he'd picked out, and a Scooby-Doo Mad Libs book (which he wasn't excited about but I think he will find it hilarious when we do it).  Other than a tiny disappointment when he was done opening and his much slower brother still had a small stack, he was a very good sport about the whole thing.

As for Carter, he received a Hot Wheels loop set, a small Hot Wheels stunt tower, one of those magic marker activity books, a couple little Batman figures and a Captain America figure (much like the Spider-Man one he envied), another Leap Pad game (love when I find them cheap at Five Below!), and a Duplo base that I hope will get him playing with those again.  His big gift, however, was a Hot Wheels Sto 'n' Go playset, which is a modern version of one my brother had 30+ years ago. 
Big box!

Happy boy!

In retrospect, I probably could have held off on one or two of Carter's things, especially with his birthday around the corner, but we do our best to keep the money even, particularly as they get older.  I got some great deals, too, and other things were a bit more strategic in wanting him to get them now so we knew better where his preferences stood by his birthday.  I really just need to get better with rotating toys, I think.

The boys jointly got a Laff-A-Lympics DVD, and we're all going to play Glow Golf soon (thank you Groupon for a steal!).  Oh, and we also got our annual tin of popcorn!

All things considered, the boys did well and we had a pleasant morning.  We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then Craig took the boys for haircuts while I finished packing up and making a snack to share at a couple of our stops.  We got on the road pretty much when I figured we would.  We had a couple last minute stops to make, and by the time we got to Craig's parents', we really had just enough time to freshen up and head off to his aunt's house for our usual Christmas Eve stop there.  We had a nice time as usual, eating and chatting with Craig's extended family, and giving and receiving a few gifts.  We received the game Twister, which should be interesting to attempt.  But hey, Jacob said he wants us to play more games as a family, so there you go!

Around that time I realized that my voice might be a goner.  It had been getting more hoarse all day, and by the time we were in a loud house talking for a few hours, I could tell it was definitely going.  A co-worker of mine had nasty laryngitis last week, and now apparently it was my turn!  Thankfully, the cold medicine was taking care of the rest of my symptoms.  I wasn't 100%, but the cold symptoms were under control and my energy level was fine.

After that it was back to Craig's brother's house for the big exchange with his parents and his brother's family.  It's usually the highlight for the kids since they get to do it with their cousins, and the youngest four in particular were very eager to get started!  Carter got some superhero toys that barely left his hands for the rest of the night, along with some superhero clothes and a couple cool bath towels (that I think will finally allow me to retire the hooded baby towels).  Jacob got another coveted gift card, a Lego-like NBA set to complement one he already has, and a Blue Jays t-shirt.

Eventually it was time to turn in and get some sleep before another busy day.  The boys slept in pretty well, and then we headed out to see my family.  My brother's family was already there when we arrived, and it was nice to spend our first Christmas with them since Jacob and Kate were both two!  One of the first orders of business was getting a family picture, as it's rare to have all of us there at the same time!

After a yummy ham dinner, it was time to open more presents!  Carter received more Hot Wheels cars and track from Uncle John's family, and a couple Paw Patrol presents--including a jungle playset--from Grandma and Grandpa. 

Jacob received some Raptors gear from Uncle John and Aunt Kristin, which was appropriate since Aunt Kristin works for the NBA now!  He also got some clothes and Minecraft books from Grandma and Grandpa, along with a little money to add to his Xbox savings.

It was fun to be there to see Kate and Max open presents.  Usually we just have the rush to get things shipped in time, but this time I got to pick them out, wrap them, and see they happily open them.  Kate got a nail art set and some American Girl clothes from us.

We gave Max a Sto 'n' Go set, too!  I was the one that originally saw it and passed it along so my brother could see the new generation.  Max added it to his Christmas list, but only Target had it and it was out of stock and unavailable online.  I forgot about it for a bit, but then my mom emailed me a couple weeks ago and said that my Target had limited quantities.  She asked me to get Max one, though she said that I could give it to him instead if she found some other things for him, which she did.  I didn't even know if they'd have any by the time I got there, but I went first thing in the morning, and sure enough, they had two!  I decided to get both and give the other one to Carter, which is how both boys ended up with the same gift!  And both loved it, of course!

My parents liked their presents--a pickle ball paddle for my mom, and a new L.L. Bean toiletry bag for my dad, which will replace the one he's had as long as I can remember!

After presents, my dad went out to build one of his signature snowmen on the deck with the little bit of snow that remained.  Max was his assistant. 

After a little playtime, it was time to go to my uncle's for our celebration with my dad's side of the family.  He lives in the house he grew up in, and we've been going to that house on Christmas my entire life.  Carter tried to kill time before presents by playing with his Spider-Man motorcycle on the tile floor in the hallway...

Santa came with gifts for the kids, and he got another Spider-Man set, complete with a bad guy.  It was funny watching him attack the bad guy!

Max loved his Santa present, too!

Jacob got another coveted gift card, and Kate got a travel Spirograph.  I couldn't help but smile at how the kids were squished together on the couch much of the night.  They may be totally different and into different stuff, but they still got along pretty well. 

Soon it was time for our traditional generation photos.  We've been doing this one for a number of years now, with all of the newest generation.
First appearances for Anna, my cousin Chris' daughter in the front, and Kate and Max
Last year we started the new tradition of taking pictures of the two older generations, as well, mostly because my cousin Kevin was in town.  With two different ones in town this year--John and my cousin Chris--we had to do it again.  We were missing Kevin and my oldest cousin Nicki this time, but still a big crew.  We barely fit!

And the older generation, same group as last year but forever down one, sitting on the same stairs they sat on years ago while waiting to open their Christmas presents.

Originally I was going to try to find a way for Carter and me to stick around an extra day.  Jacob and Craig had to be back for lacrosse camp the next morning, but it would have been nice to give the kids a little extra playtime.  In the end it made more sense to just come home that night.  With my cold, I knew it was better to prevent spreading it and to get home and take my time getting settled.  And it turned out to be a good idea because I was pretty beat the next day, but it still felt good to get things put away and start cleaning up all of the things I neglected through the Christmas rush. 

As a whole it was a pretty good Christmas.  We had lots of good presents, wonderful family time, and minimal hiccups.  My cold made things a little harder, but it could have been so much worse considering how terrible I felt a couple days earlier.  After a day off Monday, I worked Tuesday despite my absent voice.  Yesterday and today I've been home, which has been hugely helpful to get things cleaned up.  It's been fun playing with Carter's new toys, too!  Oh, and Jacob got his Xbox, which has been keeping him occupied.  My cold is still hanging in there but my voice is slowly coming back and I think I'm on the downside of it now.  Maybe.  Just one more day of work tomorrow, then onward to 2017 we go...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Before the Big Day

So...since Christmas prep sort of overtook things, let's rewind a bit and take a look at a few pre-holiday happenings...

I actually did pretty good and got a Christmas card picture taken relatively early.  Two weeks before Christmas, which is about where it should be but it rarely happens!  We just did it one Sunday after church, never mind that they're not wearing holiday colors!  We came up with the concept the night before, and thankfully it mostly worked out.  I couldn't get the lacrosse head and the bottom of the stockings in the shot, nor could I make Carter more prominent, but they're both smiling so we'll call it a win.

The following Friday we got hammered with a pretty significant snow storm, a good six inches overnight and about a foot for the storm officially, over a few days.  I caught this on the way to daycare/work, in my favorite spot of the drive on mornings like this.  The trees were coated, and it was so pretty!  The commute wasn't great, but it could have been a lot worse!

The next night, after Jacob's lacrosse game, Carter and I took a detour on the way home to go see a street nearby that's always very decorated.  We make it there every other year on average, and I thought he might be old enough to enjoy it more.  He was a little cranky when we got there, but I do think he liked this house...

The following Tuesday was Carter's little daycare Christmas event.  In past years (with the old regime) they did a full Christmas concert with each class singing two songs up in the church.  Santa visited during the day and brought each kid a gift.  Last year under the new regime they did a night with Santa--basically just some snacks and the visit from Santa.  It definitely didn't have the same charm as the concert, but being there for the visit from Santa was nice, even if Carter was scared out of his mind.  This year they had each group sing one song, offered up some snacks and crafts, and then Santa arrived.  Carter's class sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".  He did pretty good but some of his friends had a harder time...

He had fun having Mommy and Daddy all to himself!

When Santa came he was a little less excited.  Here you can see him reluctantly going up with Craig and completely hiding behind him!

But I think once he realized Santa had a present for him, he scooted right over to him and had a little chat.

He was very excited about his gift, a Scooby-Doo-themed Hot Wheels monster truck!

He had a blast showing his buddies and checking out their presents.  Of course, that night or the night after he was totally melting down about how he wanted Elias' present, a Spider-man action figure.  Sigh.

Tuesday night I had to bake up my monkey bread for my office grazing day on Wednesday, and Wednesday was a fun day snacking all day.  I had to head out early because Jacob had a therapy appointment.  Craig was in Canada for work, and Jacob and I actually had a very pleasant ride there and waiting time in the waiting room.  It probably helped that I let him add Minecraft to my iPod, but the peace was nice.  I met with the therapist first, and then he went in.  As he was in, I realized that my throat was starting to feel sore.  I'd had some congestion issues for a couple weeks, where once or twice a day I'd feel something rattling around in my sinuses and blow out a little bit of bright yellow yuckiness.  But there wasn't really anything else going on.  But of course, in the week or two leading up to Christmas, every night is a late night and I'm sure eventually my immunity must have given in.  By the time we left the office, picked up Carter, and made it home, the body aches, headache, and fuzzyheadedness had already started to kick in.  I dragged my way through dinner and bedtime, popped some zinc, and went to bed. 

Alas, when I woke up in the morning, I felt awful.  All of my symptoms from the previous night were as bad or worse, and I knew I couldn't go into work like that.  I didn't want to pass it along, either!  So I stayed home and rested as much as I could.  I dragged myself over to my wrapping table a couple times when the medicine was doing its job.  I also made gluten-free cutouts, which did not go well at all this year, but at least I had enough usable ones that Jacob could take some into school for cookie decorating the next day.  I wish I would have had more time to rest, but I was thankful for the extra time at home, even if I wasn't feeling particularly well.  I think I also started packing that night. But at the time I was a little nervous that if it got worse, we wouldn't be going anywhere for Christmas.  Or at least, I wouldn't. That was a little worrisome, but all I could do was rest and pray.

By Friday morning, the body aches were gone and despite some congestion, I was not a sniffly, sneezy mess.  As a result, and because I figured it would be a short day since we usually get out early before holidays, I decided to go into work so I could take care of a few things that needed wrapping up before Christmas.  I still didn't want to spread germs, but I figured that with a lot of handwashing and staying in my cube as much as possible, I could manage.  I was thrilled with what I was able to get done, and I didn't feel too bad while I was there.  After work I had to venture to Wegmans, which was pretty crazy but not as bad as I thought.  I also had a couple more gifts to get so I did that running around, too.  I did a rotisserie chicken for dinner, whipped up the dough for cinnamon rolls the next morning, did a little more packing, and finished my last batch of wrapping. 

Eventually everything was done and Santa came!

I took one last moment to admire my mantel, with the soft garland I searched high and low for, my grandma's nativity scene, glass pieces from both grandmas, and a couple of my own things.  Oh, and that green candle holder on the left came from a tacky gift party, and I still love it!

I had a couple minutes to sit and appreciate my hard work before I had to get to bed because we had a couple long days ahead!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

It's the Final Countdown...

Christmas week is here!  Everywhere I look I'm being taunted by the countdown to the big day, from the dollar store Santa countdown hanging on my cubicle wall, to the four (!) advent calendars at our house (my childhood family one, two that were mine when I was a kid, and one plastic canvas one my mom made for us a few years ago, which I absolutely love), to the neighbor around the corner who has a digital countdown decoration mounted on their house.  Ironically, most years something goes wrong with the countdown a while before Christmas and it just says, "Ho Ho Ho" in the countdown space for days.  But this year it's been hanging in there and I take a deep breath every time I drive by and see the seconds tick off.

Fortunately, this weekend was a very productive one in terms of getting through our shopping list.  We still have a couple more decisions to make, and a couple more decided-upon gifts to buy, but the kids are pretty much done and I just have a ton of wrapping to do and a lot of details to work out this week.  Every day is busy.  Yesterday we had to be up and out first thing because Craig and I both had a health screening through my work.  We get a monetary bonus for doing it and every plan for doing it prior to today just didn't work out.  Today I dropped off breakfast at daycare for the teachers (instead of buying individual gifts), and this evening was Carter's daycare sing-along and visit from Santa.  I also did some baking tonight, as Wednesday is my grazing day at work and I always make my semi-famous monkey bread the night before.  Wednesday afternoon we have a therapist appointment with Jacob.  Thursday I have my mom's group, which seems crazy since we're all so busy, but it was always meant to be a forced break from the Christmas craziness.  Craig and the kids want to open presents Friday night and get on the road so we have all day on Christmas Eve in Buffalo, but I am less convinced.  Personally, I would LOVE to go to our church's Christmas Eve Eve service (there are like, six or seven services over two days) as it's supposed to be a classic candlelit service and I feel like I could use one of those to center myself heading into everything.  But I doubt that will fly as there will be presents to wrap and suitcases to pack and presents to open and dinner to eat, and a 6:30 service probably won't fit into that very well, no matter how well I plan.

Even though I feel completely unmotivated in the evenings, I've had to push myself to be productive.  My time is so limited--I don't even know when we're going to get the last couple presents bought--and I have to bake cookies before Friday and wrap a ton of presents and start packing for the weekend.  I was actually doing pretty well remembering a million details until yesterday morning when I forgot to bring Carter's bag of snow clothes and also his shoes for the day.  And of course, since we had the screening appointment I couldn't go home right away to get them.  So I drove all the way to near my work, then back home, to daycare and finally back to work.  Thankfully the weather cooperated, as we've had a number of snowy morning and evening commutes lately.  It's been a bit harrowing at times, but this week looks a lot clearer, which is helpful for all of the running around.  At least we have a nice blanket of white leading up to Christmas, which hasn't been the case much in recent years.

Thank goodness for the snow, as I definitely did not need any other challenges to getting in the Christmas spirit.  Between Jacob's issues, some additional behavior issues on Carter's end, a lack of gift ideas, and all the usual busyness that is only made worse by the demands of the holiday, it's been a tough one.  Every December I find myself going to bed around midnight every single night, and that just doesn't help matters, as sleep-deprived me is not a very happy, patient, clear-thinking person.  Add in a number of friends and family who are mourning this year--my extended family after three deaths, one friend who lost her child this year, two people who had to put down their beloved dogs in the past week--and it's hard to look at Christmas with the same wide-eyed joy of a child.  Knowing so many other people are hurting and Christmas is only amplifying that hurt makes it hard to fully embrace the joy.  On the other hand, I know I should try because aside from that empathy, I still have all of the tools to have a joyful Christmas.  I don't know how many more truly, purely happy Christmases we have left, as our families are aging and health problems crop up more than we would like.  The kids are growing up, so things are going to change faster than we would like, regardless.  We can't predict the future (nor should we want to, I think, as worrying ahead probably steals what little joy we have left), so we really need to appreciate what we have while we still have it.  It's not easy to look past the challenges, but we need to make an effort to try.  I'm sure those who are hurting would certainly encourage us to embrace what we have, however flawed.

I guess part of me has gotten back on the Christmas bandwagon, as I'm back to crying in my car when certain songs come on.  This year in particular, I've thought more deeply about the songs that look closer at the parental experience.  One song in particular, Labor of Love, gets me pretty much every time.  It ponders Mary's experience in labor, in a cold, dirty stable with only Joseph as her support.  The thought of a young girl going through that is just too much for me, I guess, thinking of my own hard labor experiences and marveling at what she did so long ago.  Clearly God had His hand on that whole situation, as the risk to her and to Jesus (complications, infection, the elements) were great.  There are a few other songs, like Joseph's Lullaby or Mary, Did You Know? or This Baby that look at Jesus in a more human perspective, as a normal human baby, but ponder his future as the Savior of the world.  When I think how emotional I felt when my kids were newborns, I can't even fathom what went through Mary and Joseph's minds as they had the task of caring for this baby, but also knowing that he had a very important future ahead of him.  Even if they didn't know what that future held, they were aware he was special and I imagine their minds went between focusing on the normal stuff (messy diapers and breastfeeding, for example) to being completely freaked out with the task of parenting God's own son.  And I think the older Jacob gets, the more I realize how life continues to move along even when we don't take the time to notice.  It's easy to get caught up in one moment, to feel like each phase of babyhood lasts forever, but before we know it, time moves along and suddenly we have this big kid.  In our case, life has taken some pretty sharp turns, too, so the journey is that much more pronounced.  But it's so hard to fathom that journey when you're holding your newborn, and the realization of how things can change is pretty sobering.  And in Jesus' case, it's certainly a sharp contrast between the newborn in a manger and the bloody man on the cross.  All of these things go through my head when I hear these songs, and boom...the emotions come out.  Anyway, I take it as a good sign that I haven't gone all Grinch when those songs still make me emotional.  Or maybe it's just the utter exhaustion. 

After a good shopping trip tonight to tie up some loose ends, I'm feeling a bit better about things, but there still aren't enough hours in the day.  More baking tomorrow night, and still quite a bit of wrapping ahead.  I haven't packed a single item of clothing, and I have no idea what foods I'm contributing to our various family gatherings.  I don't even know when I'll have time to go back to Wegmans.  But I forge ahead...just a few more days to go!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

News & Notes, Not Even Close Edition

Here we are, less than two weeks away from Christmas and I am not even close to ready.  We have one weekend to get a ton done, and I have no idea how that's even going to happen.  The good news is that the kids are mostly done and I have ideas for almost everyone else, but it's still a matter of going out and getting them.  You never know what's going to be out of stock or ends up not being exactly what you expected.  Time is the biggest issue.  I really need some good luck.  If that's not enough, there are multiple little things cropping up.  Carter's daycare night with Santa, my work party's ugly sweater component (and since I'm on the planning committee, I feel compelled to have something), cookies for Jacob's school activity, a food for my work grazing day, and who knows what all I'm forgetting.  Oh, and we have a couple doctor appointments in there, too.

Speaking of the doctor, Jacob seems to have adjusted okay with his medicine.  His teacher said he was quieter last week, and there definitely appeared to be an improvement in the quality of the work his teacher sent home last week--many fewer mistakes and even a "Wow!" on one of them.  However, he still forgot to bring his homework home twice, so clearly we still have some work to do.  Even in the little bit I've been around him when he's been on it, I can see a difference--it's hard to explain but hopefully I'll have more insight after a little more time.  We have a couple more weeks before we see that particular doctor again to re-examine the dose.  But as a whole, that doesn't really impact the worst of our issues at home.  Besides the usual issues with Carter, right now we're dealing with him not wanting to go to bed.  It could have something to do with the medication, even though it should be well out of his system by then.  But he's wanting to stay up late, often hiding the fact that he's playing on his iPad.  I have caught him faking sleep a few times when I've checked on him, as I see the flash as he turns off the screen.  It's happened enough that the iPad is going to have to leave the room at lights out every night.  I didn't want to have to do that, but we simply cannot trust him to go to sleep when he's supposed to, particularly if it's in there.

In other news, last week was Craig's birthday.  It was a pretty low-key affair.  We went to Red Robin the night before since Jacob had practice on Craig's actual birthday.  I made cupcakes for dessert for that night, and he got a special snow brush for the van as his present.  Not too exciting, but considering I can't even get a Christmas list out of him, at least it was something!

The other highlight of Craig's birthday was a long-awaited knee hockey game.  He'd been planning it for days, and as you can see, it is quite the setup.  We even had towel goal creases and a Sabres' logo at center ice!

After I took Carter's picture, I asked Jacob to stand next to him so I could take a picture.  And I kid you not, he jumped next to him, put his hand behind Carter's back, and posed.  What the...?  Wow.  Guess that's what happens when we do what Jacob wants to do as a family.  It's not always feasible, mind you, but he is much happier when we can.

Jacob had a lacrosse game on Saturday and finally scored his first goal of the season.  It's been a tough one so far.  He moved up to the next level this year, and we expected the team to be good and it was supposed to be full of the dominant players from a couple years ago.  However, they're all playing a level up, so there's a lot of less experienced kids again this year.  At the beginning of last year Jacob practically dominated because he was one of few with experience, but a year ago Thursday, everything changed.  The following day was when we discovered the benign tumor in his leg, and the long journey back to the lacrosse field began.  It's hard to tell how much he lost through that, but I don't think his struggles this year directly relate to that.  I think they're just a level higher and the lack of experience is more apparent.  They can barely get the ball down to the offensive end where he is, so it doesn't provide many opportunities.  He has a lot of areas to improve, though, but I'm hoping this will be a nice shot of confidence for him.

Saturday night we went to the Knighthawks' preseason game, which was actually pretty fun.  The boys were well-behaved for the most part.  We even got to see my step-cousin on my mom's side, whose roommate's boyfriend got drafted by the team this year.  She and her friend came in to watch him, and it was fun seeing her...particularly since the last time was at my uncle's funeral.

Sunday morning was the Sunday School Christmas program!  I actually managed to get Jacob to the practice on Saturday, which I felt would help him feel more comfortable with the real thing.  He actually didn't complain too much.  He seemed relatively okay with everything, though once he was up there, he seemed tired.  He was okay though.  He even did some of the hand motions!  He definitely wasn't thrilled, though, when the halos came out.

Later in the performance was when Carter and his class joined in...

My little angel!
He was pretty low key during the show, but he did well nonetheless.  Afterward, I got a picture of my sweet angel up close.

Since neither kid lost their halo, fell off the risers, had to pee, or ran out of the room, I think we'll call it a win.  It was nice to feel relatively normal for a little while!

But now we're back to another busy week and trying to figure out how to cram a month's worth of shopping into less than two weeks...and trying to figure out how the heck to get to bed before midnight without feeling like I missed an opportunity to do said shopping.  This time of year is it's a good thing it's pretty!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Looking back...

Wednesday as I was driving home I randomly started reminiscing about this time in December nine years ago.  That particular Christmas season was a little extra wacky, for a lot of reasons.  For one, I was pregnant.  Newly pregnant, in fact, to the point that hardly anyone knew.  And as if that wasn't enough to throw us for a loop, then our trip to Disney in the middle of Christmas season did the trick.  It was a trip we'd planned before I was pregnant, with free accommodations off-site that Craig had won through our work golf tournament at least a couple years prior.  Luckily the apartment management company was still willing to redeem it, and we picked our week to go enjoy some Florida warmth before the worst of Rochester's winter crept in.

But so much was going on around that time, although most of it was like a swimming duck's feet--the real action was hidden from view.  Internally I was all sorts of crazy.  From the moment the pregnancy test came back positive, I was freaking out inside.  It was a total shock at the time, even though we'd been trying.  We'd been unsuccessful for a few months and I was getting confused (a mystery I didn't actually figure out until years later when I tried to get pregnant again), but out of the blue I started feeling horrible and tired, and before I called the doctor, I took a test to ensure I could confidently answer the, "Are you SURE you're not pregnant?" question.  And poof--positive.  I'm not sure I'd ever been so shocked in my entire life.  But then we went into this weird double life, where we knew what was going on and were full of emotion about it, but since no one knew (I was terrified I'd miscarry so we held off), we had to keep it all inside.  I remember being so excited that it was all I thought about, and I probably was the worst conversationalist around that time because I probably couldn't even think of anything else to talk about because all I had in my head was, "Baby!"

Even worse, we had to wait about four weeks until I could go in for an ultrasound.  We had no idea when I'd conceived, so that was important to get a due date.  I think I had an appointment just to chat about pregnancy in general and get me on the ultrasound schedule, so it was nice to have a few moments to be able to talk about it openly with someone other than Craig, but beyond that there was a lot of waiting and wondering.  It was almost as stressful as the infertility issues themselves (even though I didn't even know that's really what it was at the time), when I'd have a negative test and internally obsess over it for the day.  This time it was for happy news, but it was so hard keeping it to myself.  Even worse, I felt so crappy through that whole time and I couldn't let on, especially at work.  I was tired and nauseous all the time, and while I was lucky enough to maintain the contents of my stomach just fine, it was exhausting to try to act normal when all I wanted to do was nap at my desk.  I knew my bosses would be super nervous once I told them, too, as filling my spot for a couple months was daunting.  We lucked out on that front in the end, as the former person in that position had a little time on her hands and needed only minimal retraining, but we had no way of knowing at that point, so clearly I had a lot to consider before spreading the news.

Ironically, Wednesday was the anniversary of our first ultrasound, and I will never forget sitting there and watching the screen expecting to see an unidentifiable blob, only to be shocked when a very recognizably shaped baby popped up on the screen. 

Again, we didn't know how far along I was, so I panicked a bit when I saw that, thinking that maybe something somewhere along the way had been screwed up and things had really progressed.  But apparently that's just how 10-week-old fetuses look, and I was amazed to see him moving his arms and legs.  It was incredible and exciting and a scary dose of reality, all at the same time.  I remember feeling downright euphoric afterward, but again, we couldn't really tell anyone so it was hard to regulate those emotions.  I do think we ended up telling my cousin Lori a bit early, as I needed someone to bounce things off of, and she was obviously thrilled.  But because of the timing of our Disney trip (nine years ago tomorrow!), the rest of the family would have to stay in the dark for now, as we weren't going to have a chance to see them in person until Christmas.

The trip was awesome, although I missed out on the most intense rides like Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Tower of Terror, because they were not recommended for pregnant women.  While I probably would have been fine as I wasn't even close to showing, I was not willing to risk it. While I was bummed, as I'm a ride fanatic, the harder part was avoiding questions about those rides when we talked to family at home!  The best part of the trip was that my tiredness and nausea faded away somewhere between Rochester and Orlando, and never came back!  We had gorgeous weather, ate plenty, and loved wandering the parks.  We watched the families with kids and were thankful our trip was meltdown-free, but it certainly made us wonder what our future held.  We knew it was our last hurrah for a while (and sure enough, we haven't done a lengthy trip without kids since), and we made the most of it.

Back at home, I think we had about a week to dig out of the snow that fell while we were gone and finish our Christmas preparations.  The best one was framing and wrapping our ultrasound photo for each set of grandparents, as that was going to be the way we shared the news.  We got to do it on Christmas Eve for Craig's family, and Christmas Day for mine.

Seeing my parents' faces when they opened the package was priceless, and my dad in particular was ready to burst by the time we made it to our celebration with his side of the family!  It was a very exciting day and made that Christmas even more special to share our good news.

Looking back it just makes me recall a much simpler time, even though it certainly didn't feel that way then!  We had our whole future in front of us, and while the unknowns were anxiety-inducing, it was a time of such joy and anticipation.  I'm thankful for the nine years that followed, though certainly they haven't been easy.  But it's nice to think back to when there were just two of us...and that little black and white picture was just the beginning of our next chapter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Christmas Art Form

I thought Christmas was a challenge even before I had kids.  We had quite a few family members to buy for, so even prior to Jacob being born, we had quite the array of presents under our tree by the time I was done with my pre-Christmas Eve marathon wrapping session.  But once we had kids, it became exponentially harder...but not really for the reason I thought.  It turns out it's not as much about what to buy for the kids, but who is buying it.  I never knew that the biggest challenge of Christmas is solving the puzzle of who gets which part of the Christmas list. 

There is a lot to consider.  You have a handful of gifts in mind that you want your child to receive.  They'll come from you, from Santa, and from caring relatives.  No one has to follow your plan, but it seems these days that most people want to ensure your child gets something they want, or at least something along the lines of what they're interested in.  But when everyone is out shopping at once, it's not like you can give everyone the same list and let them go at it, as you will end up with duplicates and that's just awkward.  Kids are not the best at hiding their emotions, especially at Christmas, and no matter how many times you practice the, "Oh, this is awesome, thank you," script and try to teach them to be grateful regardless, it usually doesn't come out that way in the moment.  So you plan.

In our case, in addition to what happens in our house--between us and Santa--we have two sets of grandparents, two sets of aunts/uncles/cousins, and one formal family exchange and one informal one (which is always random stuff--no lists needed).  In addition, our daycare does a visit from Santa, so there's always been a need for one small gift for that event.  Every year, from when Jacob did it until now when it's just Carter, I try to pick a gift that's within the low price range and that he'll love, but that I don't expect will elicit a "Christmas morning moment" kind of response, as I want as much oomph reserved for the "big show" as possible.  And I think that's usually the challenge--the reaction that we as parents look for is key, and inevitably we want to be the one responsible for the best one of the holiday.  So we handpick which gifts we want, consider what Santa should bring, and dispatch the rest of the ideas off to others.  But how much glory should we get, and how much should we pass off to Santa?  How do you balance it all so it seems like you as the parent didn't cheap out? 

But sometimes, admittedly, there have been times that the gift my child wanted most is not something I was willing to give them.  Then that usually falls on a grandparent (or a couple years ago, the random Santa visit at my family exchange, which brought Jacob his Wii), and then is it bad that their favorite gift won't come from their parents?  I think back on my childhood and I guess the answer is no.  Some of my favorite gifts came from my grandparents.  My cousins on my dad's side will cop to us being spoiled there, and I can definitely think of a couple times that my best gift came there.  I don't think it bothered me a bit.  If nothing else it saved the best for last, as that was often our last exchange of the holiday!

But as a parent, I sort of want to keep the fun at home.  Maybe that's because I feel guilty about how we can't actually do Christmas morning here, that our visit from Santa usually comes on Christmas Eve Eve, before the rest of our craziness starts.  God forbid it loses more of its luster because the gifts aren't that exciting.  So I try to get one or two great gifts and supplement with little stuff, leaving some of the good-but-less-essential stuff for the relatives.  But that means that I need to be strategic about it because I don't want to risk something important getting missed.  The good news for Carter is that his birthday is only a couple months away, so anything I can't work out (or find) at Christmas is a ready-made birthday gift.  Of course, that also means that Christmas can't steal all of the thunder so I have to keep in mind what might need to stay on the back burner until February.

Given the absurd amount of stuff in our house already, I like to be strategic about it when I can.  For example, Carter hasn't been playing with his Duplos a lot lately, so I was thinking I might get him one of the base plates so it's easier for him to build structures.  Maybe it'll be an utter failure, but if it renews his interest in them, it's a win for both of us.  I often look at it as finding ways to make old stuff interesting again and supplement what's already there, rather than add a whole new set of one trick ponies to the toy bin, you know?  As much as we're all thankful for those who think of us and the kids each year, sometimes you just don't want to have to carve out another spot for that giant toy you weren't expecting.  But we do.  And we're grateful.  Surrounded but stuff, but grateful.  

And, of course, all of this strategy is on top of the usual tough decisions about what to get and what to let pass.  When you have kids with very specific ideas of what will make their Christmas awesome, it is very daring to make a decision that might not align.  What will spoil them?  What will ruin everything?  How can you teach them to be grateful when year after year your efforts seem to fail?

Ugh, this seems like a really materialistic post, and if nothing else it's proof that I overthink everything, particularly this time of year.  But let's face it--presents tend to be the highlight of Christmas for kids.  Even if the gifts are only exciting momentarily, we all have those memories.  So even though I overthink things, I do it because I know that my kids are making memories every single year.  And I truly want Christmas to be memorable for them.  Even now my Christmases are enhanced by remembering my own experiences--opening that amazing gift, going caroling at the nursing home, decorating cookies, spending time with family--and you never know what little moment will stick with them for years to come.  As a result, I really want to add in other activities and traditions that aren't gift related.  It's why I decorate so much around the house, in fact.  I want to create an atmosphere that they'll remember down the road.  We do Advent calendars.  I make the two types of gluten-free cookies I'm decent at.  We try to go look at light displays.  We honestly don't do enough, but hopefully what we do is sinking in somewhere.  I want it to be about more than the gifts...but I know they're a big part of it so I do my best to make some magic where I can.  But you know what?  Some of the best gifts I ever received were ones I wasn't expecting, and I hope someday my kids realize that too.  But until then, let this year's strategy commence...  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Where We Go From Here

In addition to the beginning of the Christmas season, we had a few other things going on this week with Jacob in particular.  It was parent-teacher conference week, so his conference was on Wednesday, then he had a half day Thursday and a full day off on Friday. 

The conference was probably the hardest since Kindergarten, as he's having a tough time right now.  His report card had a few more than the usual two "I"s, and his Math grade wasn't quite up to par.  That's the first we've seen of any academic struggles, and knowing how smart he actually is, it's clear something is up.  Whether it's just not wanting to make the effort, or a complete inability to focus, I'm not completely sure, but the focus is a significant issue right now.  It was disheartening to talk with his teacher, even though there was nothing I was unaware of.  At least I didn't cry! 

Thursday I was off with him.  We had a really nice lunch at Chipotle, just the two of us.
We went to Barnes and Noble near my work because I was trying to buy something for a work project, and he was picking out Under Armour gear with the University's logo on it!  He also enjoyed looking at books while I shopped for a couple toddler books to donate at my work Christmas party.  We then stopped in my office so I could visit a holiday bazaar they were putting on (both years it's been on the day I was off with Jacob!).  We stopped in at my desk so he could meet some co-workers, and he loved raiding my candy bowl.  We had a pretty good day, at least until we picked up Carter and the usual ridiculousness started up again.
At the end of that day we had a follow-up appointment with one of his behavioral doctors, and after years of angst and discussion, we finally walked out with a prescription for ADHD medication.  It's not a decision we made easily, but it seems that the time has come.  Now that it's impacting his progress in school, I feel like we don't have a choice but to give it a try.  It might take time to find the right medication and dose, so our journey is far from over.  And the toughest part is that this probably won't fix our issues at home, as his dose will be winding down by then and his issues are more directly with Carter anyway.  He's not thrilled at the thought of taking a pill, though his issues appear to be as much with the action of having to swallow it as it is with how it might affect him.  He doesn't think he needs help, which makes this so much harder.
We still haven't figured out the timing for starting it, and we still need to work out the details with school, as he will need to take a dose there for now.  It's scary, but it's something that needs to be tried.  I had someone tell me once that they would not be where they were without their Adderall, so I'm hopeful medicine can help him, too.  We don't want to change him completely.  We just want enough of a dose that he can be functional.  I liked how the doctor put it--he basically said it gives him a level playing field.  Some kids don't need a lot of effort to showcase their intelligence, but for a kid like Jacob, his is hidden behind his inattention and impulsivity.  The medicine will get him to that same point as his peers.  It just makes it fair for him. 
So, we move forward.  We have no way of knowing where we go from here, but we just have to take a giant step of faith and hope this is the right move--for all of us.  I am simultaneously scared and hopeful.  More than anything I'm sad we're in this spot in the first place, and wish beyond words that I could fix this myself.  But I guess we just have to be thankful we don't have to do it ourselves and that God gave doctors the intelligence to create medicine that can help him.  We just have to have faith we can find the right fix for him and see how it goes.  The next few weeks are crucial.  And of course it's these few weeks leading up to Christmas.  Please pray for us, now more than ever.

And so it begins...

I realized yesterday that I never got back around to talking about our Thanksgiving weekend.  I guess it's been that kind of week.  The Christmas season is upon us and for the next three weeks there will not be a dull moment.

So, anyway, last Wednesday when we got to my parents' house, we dropped off the boys and went right to a bar in Buffalo to celebrate the life of Craig's Uncle Mike who died two years ago that week.  It was nice to see some of his extended family and have a night out for a change.  It's also been a while since I watched a Buffalo sports team in a Buffalo bar!  When we got back to the house (right around bedtime), I was greeted by another box of "attic treasures" from my parents' attic, including my other two Wish World Kids, to go with the one I brought home a year ago.  They're tiny little dolls with furniture that transformed into fun little workplaces--a TV into a game show set, a dresser into a salon, and a refrigerator into a sweet shoppe.  There was also a Fisher-Price musical instrument maker that has joined the ranks of Carter's toys.  It's always fun to reminisce!

Thanksgiving was nice.  We survived church (barely) and then enjoyed a relatively pleasant lunch at my parents' house, along with my Uncle Ron.  The boys were pretty well behaved and we had some great conversations.  After a little clean-up we were on the road to see Craig's family.  Dinner was a little rougher this time around, as Carter got in a mood and refused to say anything he was thankful for.  He also pretty much refused to eat at the table, and when he went to lay down, I caught him stuffing his face with chips, crackers, and cheese.  Arg.  But Jacob's thankful speech was nice, though I think hearing his cousins probably encouraged him to up his game a bit! 

We were all pretty stuffed, though of course we all made room for dessert!  The kids kept themselves occupied, and I thought it was cute that Carter's big cousin made him this little car setup, complete with gear shifter, pedals, and a steering wheel.  He was having a blast!
The next day we went to our oldest nephew's hockey game.  It was at RiverWorks, which is just on the edge of downtown Buffalo.  We'd never been there, but were really impressed.  It was a huge indoor facility with space for performances, boxing matches, and roller derby, flanked by a restaurant.  The kids actually spent most of the game inside playing bubble hockey.  Back outside under the cover, we watched the game in slightly chilly (but tolerable) weather.
The view from above was pretty.  I think that's the Buffalo River in the background.

Right next door is a six-pack of grain elevators decorated like Labatt Blue cans.  Only in Buffalo!

Downtown Buffalo is in the background, though in this shot it's only easy to see the tallest building in Buffalo.  Too bad it's empty right now :(
Carter just fit under the ledge on the viewing platform, and he liked his vantage point.
After the game we had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and got back on the road.  I was eager to start some Christmas decorating before the weekend really got going.  I also ended up making a crustless crumb-top apple pie (gluten-free adaptation of my mom's recipe), and that was a nice dessert to look forward to all week.  
That first day I got the Thanksgiving/fall decorations down and the tree up, but without ornaments.  I pulled up bins and started some decorating, but I rapidly realized I had some issues I wanted to fix.  As a result, I only got so far along.  I try very hard to not buy new Christmas decorations as we have plenty.  But a couple years ago Craig won a wooden reindeer decoration with two candles in a raffle, and it was super tacky (but one of the best things left when he got to pick).  It said on the front, "On Dasher, on Dancer, on MasterCard and Visa!"  After thinking about it for a while, a couple months ago I finally fixed it.  I painted over the message with brown paint, doing my best to leave the darker edges.  I finished it with a quick spray of gold spray paint that just left some flecks.  It turned out really well.  However, it had some rather ugly brownish-green and white striped candles that clashed with the brown, so I bought two dollar store off-white flameless pillar candles to replace them.  I was pleased with that upgrade, for sure. 
My other problem was my narrow mantel.  Every year I want to put pine garland up behind whatever I put on the mantel with our stocking holders.  The problem is that the mantel is narrow and trying to get the garland and the other stuff up there without breaking anything was a challenge.  The garland was wired and a bit unruly and I've had a lot of close calls where it moved and almost knocked something breakable off the other end.  It drove me nuts.  So this year I put up that garland in the kitchen above the window where the last owners left nails, and went on a search for softer or skinnier unwired garland.  It took a couple tries, but I finally found some that is made like tinsel garland but looks like pine needles.  It also had a little silver tinsel in it, which I loved even more!  And I also got a string of battery operated red LED lights to wrap around it, and now my mantel is safer and just how I wanted it.  Oh, and I also had to do some glue gun repairs that I've put off a couple years to my grandma's wooden nativity scene and the wreath on my door that I put together many years ago.
So between all of these issues, it was taking a while to get the decorations up.  In the meantime, Carter took advantage of the bin space and made himself a little fort!
He brought in his pillow pet, blankets, and books, all on his own!
Eventually I got through the decorations, and then I finally got back around to the tree.  It took a couple days to get the ornaments on the tree, and I finally moved those bins downstairs yesterday.  I finally remembered to put the Stickees up on the windows this morning.  In case you're unaware, Stickees are holiday-themed window clings.  They have been around my family since I was about 12-13 years old, when my school did a fundraiser and my family bought them up.  I have a few hand-me-downs from my mom and grandmas, so I have a spring flowers/Easter set, fall leaves, jack o'lanterns, ornaments, and a set of Christmas shapes (Santa, a tree, sleigh) and a ton of snowflakes.  I always put up the ornaments, but some years I'm less motivated to do the rest of the Christmas stuff.  This year I did a full display and it felt good to finally finish up the decorating today. 

Now if I could just get around to that shopping...