Sunday, December 31, 2017

News and Notes, Going out a Winner Edition

So, we ended the year pretty well, all things considered. 

As I mentioned, we spent some time with my brother and his kids, and although we didn't get any formal pictures, I did take this one of Carter and Max sitting with Grandpa!

When the kids and I got back home on Saturday, we had to go out and shovel the old snow from earlier in the week, in order to make room for the new snow that fell last night.  They actually got along pretty well while we shoveled, and Jacob even asked Carter to bury him!

I took this picture because the design on the snow was so pretty, but little did I know that I'd be using it later to measure our snowfall!

By the time I went to bed last night, you couldn't see any light escaping.  It was right up to the black top.  And this morning it was buried.  We probably got around 6-8 inches.  The boys and I went out mid-morning in the freezing cold to shovel the snow from half of the driveway so Craig could get in when he got back from his roadtrip sometime after noon.

While we were waiting for him to get back, I put together dough for peanut butter blossom cookies, and then after Craig came home and we had lunch, I made them.  It mostly went fine, although my new cookie sheet oddly burned the bottoms of part of the batch, even though a different size of the same type of sheet didn't.  Oh, well...I'll eat those since I don't have to worry about tasting the burnt part!

The boys went back out into the snow to finish the driveway and have a snowball fight, and then we just had a quiet afternoon with the boys collaborating somewhat successfully on a full setup of a lacrosse game in Carter's room, complete with a ticket table!  As a whole this weekend they did pretty well playing together.  Still a lot of "incidents", but we're getting there.

Then it was time for the Bills' game, the first time since 2004 that the Bills had a chance at the playoffs on the last week of the season.  The odds were small, but with a Bills win and either a Baltimore loss or two specific road teams winning their games, the Bills would be in.  The Bills had a good lead, then the game got close as we ate our dinner.  I did a "candlelight" dinner in the dining room and Jacob drank out of a fancy wine glass.  The boys had leftovers from our meal at UNO the other night, and Craig and I got Chinese.  Yum!  I tried to get everyone to share their best memory of the year, but only Jacob (Christmas) and I (Baltimore) seemed to get a memory out. 

Luckily, after a little bit of stress, the Bills won, but then we had to sit through a nail biter as we watched the end of the Baltimore game.  Cincinnati had been winning the entire game, and then in the last eight minutes, Baltimore took the lead.  Here we go again...that familiar sick feeling of lost chances.  It's random stuff like that that made the Bills have 17 years without the playoffs in the first place.  As the time wound down, Cincinnati had the ball but ended up at 4th down and 12.  They had to go for it, and sure enough, their quarterback threw an amazing pass and the receiver ran it in for the touchdown!  Of course, every Bills fan pretty much lost it at this point, and watching Facebook and Twitter was amazing!  They still had to hold the Ravens for the last couple minutes, and when they did--well, holy cow!  The Bills are going to the playoffs for the first time since 1999!  I realized I was still in college then, and it's crazy to think about all that's happened in that span of time.  It has been such a joy tonight watching all of the coverage--video of the Bills' locker room, fan reactions--and knowing that next week we actually get to go to the party.  It may not last long or go particularly well, but the drought is over!  What a great way to end the year!

We finished off the night watching Twitter's reaction to Mariah Carey's NYE redo (after her total flop last year), and counting down with Jacob until midnight.  And now...onward to another year.  Here's to hoping it's a good one!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Moment for Me

On the Thursday before Christmas, we got out of work at lunchtime for our annual holiday party.  That usually starts breaking up by 2:30 or 3pm, and after putting it off for weeks, I knew this was my best chance to go to the Memorial Art Gallery here to see an exhibit that was closing at the end of the month.  Of course, a week later they announced it was extended for another week, but no doubt this was still my best option, even if it was the middle of Christmas and I had a million things to do.  I felt like I had been going non-stop for a couple weeks, between shopping and decorating and wrapping and a ton going on at work.  Even though I still had more to do, I wanted to take this one moment for myself.  I didn't plan to stay long and I was already downtown so I headed over.

As you know from past posts, I love it there, and it's so fun now that I can get in free as a University employee and just wander around for as long or as short as I want.  The cool thing is that even when not much changes, I still usually see something that catches my eye in a new way.  This time, this was one of the pieces...

Not sure why, I just really liked the color palette.  There were a couple others, too.  It just makes for a fun walk now and then.  But the real focus of my trip was the Wendell Castle exhibit.  He's a famous but locally-based sculptor whose work I have admired since I started visiting the gallery.  You may recall my two favorite pieces:

He works mostly in wood and his pieces are so smooth and gorgeous.  The pillow above barely looks like wood no matter how close you get.  The detail is amazing.  The exhibit had been open since October but I just hadn't had a chance to make it there.  I definitely didn't want to miss it.  And much to my delight, this special exhibit didn't have the "No Photography" signs that most of them do!  In addition to many wonderful pieces, there was also a nice video showing his technique, which involves slices of wood glued together and cut and sanded down.  It's amazing that he could visualize what the slices needed to look like to create the desired final shape, although now he has technology to help.

While most of his work is in wood, he did have some plastic, fiberglass-type pieces, including one with neon.
On the left are "cloud shelves"
As you can see, most of his stuff is meant to be artistic furniture...
Gorgeous table with many seats in the background

Some uplighting lamps in the back, a table in the front, and a couple other pieces with seating

That one on the left is self-supporting.  He realized while playing with a paper clip that that shape would support itself.

This seat has a cabinet attached to it.

These were early pieces and they're so intricate.  The second from left is a high seat with a table.

This one looks like a branch!
It was a really lovely exhibit and I'm so glad I got to see it.  I decided to do a quick once-over of the rest of the gallery to see if there was anything new.  I couldn't help but take this video because I found out from a tour guide the last time I was there that this painting has a weird characteristic: the boot on the right (his left) follows you.  I swear it does, which is probably just an odd result of the way the light shines off the boot, but it's amazing.  I think you can see it in the video.

As you may have heard in the background of the last video, I happened upon a choral group practicing nearby.  With it being just a few days before Christmas and being in such a lovely space having a quiet moment for myself, it felt perfectly perfect.

After I had seen all I needed to see, I decided to take a stroll outside.  Even though it was really cold, I decided it was worth going to check out one of the newest permanent installations outside the gallery.  There are two of these cylinders, and as you can see, there are words cut out of the metal.  They are lit from inside and cast crazy shadows and light on the building and the grass at night.  Someday I'll get there to see them in that state, but this was pretty cool, too.

On my way back to the car, I couldn't help but snap a similar picture to one I took last year when Carter and I checked out the sculpture garden outside.  Here's the winter shot:

And the summer one...

Just a little different mood, eh?  Sigh.

As you can see in the top picture, there was grass.  At the time there was only about a 50/50 chance for a white Christmas.  Not too long after that, it snowed...and then snowed again.  And pretty much even though we had a couple slightly warmer days right before Christmas, the snow stuck around...and now it's been in the teens for days and we're in the midst of another lake effect storm that should take us up over a foot on the ground.  My parents had at least as much at their house and Craig's family had a couple feet, so there was no shortage of snow for the holiday this year.  It can stop now.

Anyway, despite this wonderful artsy detour, I still managed to fit in the rest of my shopping that afternoon, scoring some great deals for a couple last gifts for my parents...and even had a phone conversation with my mom in the process, to wish her a happy birthday!  I was so happy that I was able to fit that one hour into my schedule in the middle of everything else, because I feel like there were so few of those peaceful, happy "me" moments this season. 

Christmas itself was exhausting but had its fun moments, but there has been no rest for the weary.  I had a couple days of crazy work this week, along with one other long day I'll talk about soon, and then we had the added bonus of a few hours with my brother and his kids last night and this morning.  Craig is now on his first roadtrip of the season and thankfully the kids have been tolerable today because I'm finally hitting the holiday wall of exhaustion.  Today was really my first chance to just relax...well, if a drive, a bunch of shoveling, and two active boys counts as relaxation, anyway.  My body seems to know it and I spent most of the afternoon trying to nap before we had to shovel last week's snow before the new stuff arrived.  Maybe some belated Christmas cookies tomorrow.  

Hard to believe we're at the end of another year.  I told Jacob yesterday how it was 10 years ago on Christmas Eve and Christmas that we shared with our families that I was pregnant with him.  So hard to believe a full decade has passed!  And in a short six weeks or so, Carter will turn five, which is equally as mind-blowing.  Wasn't I just pregnant with him, like, a couple years ago?  So much has happened in those five years--much of it incredibly challenging--and yet here we are.  Time marches forward and we just hang on for dear life some days.  I'd like to hope there are some easy, breezy joyrides ahead, but life is tricky like that.  I'm tired but thankful, and hoping 2018 brings us much joy and happiness.  And if you're still reading, I definitely wish the same to you!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pre-Christmas Catch-Up

So, as I mentioned in my last post, as I pulled Christmas pictures off my camera, I realized we'd had December events I hadn't even blogged about.  I'm sure I had a moment where I thought I should, but between Christmas busyness and my assumption that every post I write will end up sounding complain-y about the daily struggle of parenting two boys that cannot seem to get along to save their lives, I guess I just avoided it.  But we did have a couple fun things happen, so here we go...

Two weeks before Christmas the boys had their Sunday School Christmas program.  God knows we all needed a dose of Christmas spirit since this happened the day before:
Does your branch hang low..?
Yes, the boys broke the tree.  Really, Carter fell into it, but there is some question of how that actually happened, as I think Jacob had some sort of intimidation going that may have led to him backing into it.  I still have no idea what actually happened to the tree itself, as it seems that will be a mystery uncovered only by flipping the tree upside down when I take it apart, but at least I was able to rig it up with string to get us through.  I'm surprised we haven't had more Christmas decoration damage with how they play in the living room!

Of course, the morning of the church program Jacob woke up with a nasty cold, but I really wanted him to stick it out and just get through that hour before spending the rest of the day on the couch.  He just had to sing (and stand for some of it), but admittedly when I could see how wiped out he looked, I felt bad.

But it was pretty in the church, and a very cute service...

Like I said, he looked wiped out!  I swear he didn't look that bad when we left!

It was a pleasant surprise to see both kids of friends of ours (the lacrosse family we had s'mores with over the summer) having major parts in the program.  The boy was one of the narrators, and the girl sang in a small group of soloists.  About 2/3 of the way through, they finally brought the Pre-K kids in--they keep them busy in the classroom to prevent them from getting antsy--and we finally got to see our little angel...

He did a really good job with his songs (and Jacob did, too, even if his energy level was a bit low), and seriously, how sweet is he?

Afterward, we stopped into the gym and attempted to use their photo backdrop, but of course Jacob was ready to go home and getting both kids to pose is a bit of a I got this with one of the props:

At least Carter was happy to smile!

Jacob ended up missing lacrosse practice that afternoon, and we were worried the cold would threaten his game the following weekend against his old team.  He'd been waiting for it pretty much since he switched, and definitely since the schedule came out.  Luckily, the cold was pretty mild and he was ready to go by the following Saturday.  I don't think it was quite the domination he was hoping for, but his new team got a solid victory over his old one, and he even got a goal!  After the game, we got together Jacob and his three travel teammates for a picture, since there were four of them playing between the two teams.

After Jacob's game, I had set myself up a haircut at a real salon with a reputable hairdresser.  For years I've mostly just gone to the no-appointment-needed places whenever my hair started to make me nuts or when I realized I had a chunk of time to do it, but after a couple crappy cuts in a row, it was time to get someone I can count on.  However, that last crappy cut was back in May, and I somehow managed to ignore just how bad it was for seven months!  It was so nice to get back to something I know looks good every day, even if I'm paying a bit more for it.  I had forgotten how much I love having someone wash my hair, and the blowout was fabulous.  I felt amazing for dinner and Christmas shopping out with the family...

I have one more adventure to share, but that's enough for another post.  But see, stuff happened in December...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


As I pulled my pictures off my camera, I realized just how off-kilter this whole December has been.  I had a couple things I absolutely should have blogged about by now, but I haven't.  Part of it is just the usual busyness with getting ready for Christmas, and part of it is that I'm still not feeling great (including a blossoming cold that started early last week, but that I thankfully kept at bay with zinc), and I think part of it is just the many emotions that swirled around this season--from our issues with Jacob, to a few more challenges with Carter, to just thinking about all that my cousin's family had to be going through as they approached the first Christmas without their son.  All of it just led to a bit of a lack of Christmas spirit that I had hoped would give way to joy once the holiday actually hit.

I'll be honest, it didn't quite work out that way.  There was nothing particularly wrong with this Christmas.  Maybe I should be saying to Christmas, "It's not you, it's me," because nothing specifically went wrong.  I mean, we had the usual stuff we deal with on a regular basis with the boys--more specifically Jacob--but no matter how I tried to focus on how much we have been given, how blessed we are to have so much family to spend the holidays with, and how I need to enjoy this time before we really have something to be sad about at Christmas, I had a heck of a time feeling genuine joy.  I felt like such a jerk, but it was hard pulling myself out of it.  Maybe it was the vague cold symptoms, maybe it was the kids and some of the usual ungratefulness that emerges this time of year, maybe it was the fact we put a ton of effort into picking great gifts for everyone and got a few iffy ones in return...I don't know.  But still, on the surface, it was a good one.

I took off work a couple Fridays ago to do my shopping, and I had a fabulous 10-minute revelation in the middle of Pier One that allowed me to sort out the rest of my gift giving and finish up a ton of stuff that day and the next.  But that meant the next week I had to focus on the last handful of little things and try to get ahead of the game on wrapping and the like.  Of course, that only went slightly according to plan since I started feeling crappy early in the week.  It wasn't anything overwhelming, but I hit the zinc hardcore to make sure it wouldn't turn into more.  It still made me a little tired, so it was an effort to do the wrapping and figure out what food to make for the various stops on our schedule.  It pretty much took right up until the last minute and I had my annual "I'd like to just sit down here and cry and give up" moment in Wegmans on Thursday.

Saturday Craig had to work all day, and luckily he took Jacob with him so it was just me and Carter.  I had made decent progress the previous couple days so when I felt extra tired that day and spent part of it on the couch I didn't feel guilty...but once we got back from the Knighthawks game I had so much work to do!  Last minute wrapping of gifts that I couldn't hide easily, making the cinnamon rolls for the next morning, a little packing...and it was 1:30 before my head hit the pillow.  But before that, Santa came!
And no, not all of those are for the kids.  Most were family gifts.

I was expecting an early wake-up from the boys, and even planned on it since we had a busy schedule the next day.  But even Jacob slept later than expected and we decided to shift our church schedule from 10am to noon so we had more time to open presents, eat a leisurely breakfast, and get out of the house without as much shouting.  It meant a later start, but it seemed a small price to pay since we didn't have anything specific planned until later.  So Carter slept, we rested, and Jacob kept himself occupied for a bit once he finally woke up.  And eventually it was time for the traditional picture...

The boys got right in on opening stockings--mostly candy and a few little fun things.

The boys were happy that Santa brought them Nerf guns and goggles, as it was one of Jacob's ideas when we talked with his therapist for letting the boys work out their differences in a different way.  Of course, we figured out pretty quickly that the guns, although small, were still too powerful for inside the house, so they might be going away until spring.
Ah, more tanks for the epic army guy battles in our basement.  And notice that he's wearing a weird vest here.  It's from an old Halloween costume and was originally intended to be spy attire for trying to see Santa.  
 One of Jacob's big gifts from us was a new lacrosse bag...

And Carter got his first-ever bigger set of Legos from Santa...

Jacob's big gift (fortunately at minimal cost to us) was that he could accompany Craig on a roadtrip to Calgary in the spring.  We wrapped up a piece of paper telling him so, and this was his reaction!

Carter's big gift was something he's wanted for months, an Imaginext Serpent Strike playset (aka the Mummy's Tomb).  He was very excited!

Jacob also got a resistance band for working out, a DVD, a book (I took a chance--it's by a local author and it's about Seabreeze Amusement Park!), the tanks for his army guys, a new teal tie, a fidget cube, and a bunch of candy.  Carter got a stuffed Lego Batman, some Lego Batman minifigures, a game for his Leap Pad, a little Lego set, a small Imaginext Yeti trap, a Hot Wheels car, and a cool book that uses a flashlight to "look inside" the human body.  Both boys also received an ornament from me--the same one, a Scooby-Doo Hallmark ornament--as I'm committed to starting ornament collections for them to one day take off to their own homes.

We didn't have a ton of time to play, but after our traditional cinnamon rolls and getting ready for church, the boys got to open presents from Uncle John's family (more Legos!), and then it was off to church.  Normally we go to Craig's parents' church, but since his mom was singing at midnight mass, we opted to go at home.  Our church had a very nice service--pretty lighting, an interesting dancer wearing LED-lit angel wings, and a beautiful candlelit ending to the service as we sang "Silent Night".  The kids were pretty good--although Carter was antsy and Jacob was eager to get home and get on the road to see his cousins.  All things considered it was good, though.

Some of the altar décor...and they changed color!  So pretty.
We went right to Craig's aunt's house for our usual time with his extended family.  Jacob couldn't wait for his cousins to arrive, but Carter was just plain grumpy and showed why when he fell asleep on Craig for about an hour or so around 6pm.  I guess it had been a long day already!  The boys got a couple cool gifts there, including Rock'em Sock'em Robots (!) and a perfectly Carter-sized basketball.  It was great to see everyone, even if Carter sort of limited our ability to mingle.

Then it was off to Craig's brother's house for our exchange with his immediate family.  Our first order of business was the annual reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".  The kids gathered round (probably because it was the only way they'd get the green light to open gifts!)...
That is Jacob wearing the goofy glasses.  They're his Nerf goggles, which he insisted on bringing...apparently in case he and his cousins had a Nerf war.
Jacob got a video game he wanted, along with some Under Armour pants he loves, and Carter got Legos, PJs, and more Imaginext stuff--including a snow tank he's been talking about forever and this Batwing contraption that he wears on his arm.  It shines a bat signal and shoots discs.

The boys both enjoyed the evening--Jacob with his cousins and Carter shooting down houses of cards that his fabulous aunt built for him--but soon it was very late and time to go to bed!  More presents awaited the next day!  Unfortunately, in addition to some snow, there was some fierce wind overnight.  Sustained 30mph winds with higher gusts created a lot of blowing snow and made the house creak like crazy.  I didn't sleep great, but fortunately, everyone slept in pretty well.  

We arrived at my parents' around noon and ate a delicious ham dinner before settling in for more present opening.

Jacob got a gift certificate to Livingston County Pizza, an Under Armour shirt, two books (not excited, but maybe someday), a book of mazes, and a nice-sized check.  Carter got a lot of little stuff, from an ornament to some card games and books, to a bigger game that I've never seen but am looking forward to trying to play.  He also got a set of Magic Tracks, which he enjoyed checking out...

Later he got more creative...first with creating hills...

...and then creating a blockade...

After some good rest (for Craig) and playtime (for the kids--and hey, I even lost at pool to Jacob!), it was off to my uncle's house for our annual crazy family get-together.  As usual it was a crazy evening of food, laughs, and presents, complete with a saran wrap ball, Family Feud (Jacob's idea), and some other game (which, just as we were leaving, I won points for the ladies in because I named the last four things the rabbit says good night to in "Goodnight Moon" #momskills).  I got a couple self-improvement books I've been wanting, Craig got a movie theater gift card, Jacob got awesome shorts and a perfect Canada lacrosse hat, and Carter got a bunch of little Lego sets and an Aquabot fish.  All in all, a very good night!

It made for a couple busy days on the heels of a busy week, but we made it through.  My cold never took over, and while the kids made us crazy, we got through without embarrassing ourselves.  It wasn't a super remarkable Christmas, gift-wise, other than maybe for Jacob, but it was fine.  And sometimes, fine has to be enough.  And that's okay.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Why We Do This to Ourselves

Last night before bed, I read this blog post about why Christmas was better in the 1980s.  Obviously most of my memories were different, but some were similar, some had an equivalent, and some of what he said is just universally true.  The excitement of the surprises of Christmas morning.  Making my list out of the Wish Book.  Eating Pillsbury cinnamon rolls (or the orange-flavored ones) for Christmas breakfast.  One viewing of each Christmas special per year.  And yes, even in my smell-less state, I can vaguely remember the smell near the Hickory Farms kiosk.  I wasn't a fan.

I remember hoping to hear my first Christmas song on the radio on the way home from Thanksgiving evening at my grandparents, then eagerly awaiting full-time Christmas music, which didn't actually start until Christmas Eve Day back then (!).  I was always so excited to open my multiple Advent calendars every day.  I remember the thrill of walking into church on the first Sunday with the giant Christmas tree.  I was both excited to see how it was decorated and thankful to have something to stare at if the sermon went long.  I remember making Christmas crafts in school--usually as a gift to my parents--and practicing countless songs for both the school Advent program and the Sunday School Christmas Eve program (though I could have done without the Saturday morning practices for that one--I would have much preferred staying in my jammies and watching Saturday morning cartoons--yet another lost art!).  I loved when the Christmas cookies were done and I could pick my favorite shape to sample.  I couldn't wait to drive around to see decorated houses, and go to the Niagara Falls Festival of Lights to see the decorations and wander through the toasty Wintergarden to the Rainbow Mall.  I absolutely loved decorating the Christmas tree and rediscovering all of my favorite ornaments.  I never liked seeing Santa (too much pressure, I think?), nor do I remember being crushed when the truth came out.  But even as a big kid I had a hard time going to sleep on Christmas Eve, and I always woke up with a start on Christmas morning.  By the time I was a teenager, at least I learned to read a book when I woke up to pass the time.  I loved the two Christmas Eve services at church, followed by appetizers at my uncle's or my grandma's house (depending on if he was working on Christmas Eve), even if it seemed like they always gave me digestive troubles the next day!  And maybe most of all I loved Christmas afternoon into the evening at my grandparents' house with all of my cousins, and the endless gift exchange.  Then it was often off to my other grandma's house for more presents, before collapsing back at home, happy, stuffed, and spoiled.  I'm sure there are more that I'm missing right now, but those are the things that made Christmas what it was for me.

We had a little lull for a few years once Craig and I got together and had to figure out our new normal (Christmas Eve with his family, Christmas Day with mine--and missing the traditions that fell opposite), but just as we settled into that, Jacob was born.  Suddenly it became a mission to get as many Christmas traditions going as we could.  Not that he caught on that first year, or maybe even the second, but I wanted to get some traditions in place so as soon as he was aware, he started to have experiences to associate with the holiday.  Same thing when Carter came along.  Having boys pretty much means they don't care as much as I did when I was a little girl, but hopefully there's some osmosis happening somewhere along the way.  They've never wanted to go see Santa, and even getting them to participate in cookies has been a challenge, but we've worked on the Advent calendars and we have some favorite books and movies.  They mostly like the presents and our marathon of receiving them for two full days.  Oh, and Jacob holds me to "Christmas morning" cinnamon rolls now. 

Keeping it all together at Christmas isn't easy.  From the moment Thanksgiving ends and the Christmas season begins, it's a non-stop to do list and a battle against time to get it all done.  But all of the things I do--from the decorations to the thought I put into Christmas gifts for them--is all for the purpose of creating a Christmas feeling that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.  I hope someday the things we do will resurface in the things they do with their own kids.  Maybe then it will feel a little more worthwhile.  But in the meantime, I know some of it is for me.  In the chaos that is our normal life, I think beautifying the house is one of the manifestations of my desire for order and beauty and peace.  Because when I finally have a moment to sit back and appreciate it--like that blog author aims to do--it's nice to look around and be proud of what I see.  I can look at the tree or my decorations and recall the memories associated with them...from the crappy dollar store stuff that came from tacky gift parties or early attempts at decorating my own apartment; to gifts from my grandma's Hallmark obsession or my mom's annual angel ornament purchases.  Some of it was from early in our marriage, and some was inherited as my grandmas passed away.  But some of the newer pieces, like the LED lights and garland on my mantel or the sparkly tree skirt are the finishing touches carefully selected to make it everything I want it to be--and hopefully make it feel just as homey to me as my childhood home did 30+ years ago.

Our childhood Christmases probably were more simplistic.  But only part of that was because it was the 80s and things really were simpler.  The other part is because we were kids and our parents made the magic happen for us.  Now it's our job and the tradition continues.  I wouldn't make such an effort to do this stuff if it didn't mean the world to me to have all of the stuff I look back on myself.  As fun as Christmas Day is, I've come to realize that it was all the little stuff that was part of the build-up that made Christmas what it was.  And every year, I want to keep building that for my kids...and maybe a little for myself so there's still something to smile about when the last of my childhood connections have faded away.  So each year I will drive myself nuts, rush through the season, and sacrifice a little peace and joy to make sure our holiday is as memorable as can be.  And now I have my answer for all the times I ask myself during this season, "Why do I bother?"  Because others did it for me.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Crush

Well, here we are, basically a week before the real rush of Christmas begins.  We usually go between starting the festivities on the 23rd or 24th, depending on how Christmas falls and what we can have ready in time.  This year we have to push everything to a very busy 24th, because Craig has a game to work on the 23rd (thankfully at home).  That means that I'll probably be up until all hours trying to finish wrapping and packing after we get home from the Knighthawks game, so that we can open gifts in the morning and get on the road by lunch time.

By some miracle I'm almost done shopping.  I took off work yesterday because I knew I just needed one day alone where I could get stuff done.  I was originally planning on taking a couple hours to go to the art gallery and see an exhibit that's ending soon, but I think I'm going to try to do that after my work holiday party Thursday instead.  I just needed to focus on shopping, and thank goodness I did, because I had this amazing moment of clarity in the middle of Pier One where I managed to decide on what I was getting everyone that was left on our least the people I have to buy for.  I managed to somehow get through almost everything yesterday, and worked out a plan for a couple other things involving a trip across town tonight.  Beyond that there are just a couple odds and ends that I think I can take care of this week.  That means I need to start wrapping ASAP. The sooner I start doing that, the better off I will be when I realize all of the last minute stuff I'm currently forgetting.  At the very least I have to figure out what foods I'm bringing to three different gatherings, which is always a challenge as I'm debating what I can bring that Jacob will eat that's also convenient to make and travel with.  Then there's always packing.  I just know it's going to be a busy week no matter what.

It's been a weird, up-and-down sort of Christmas season.  I still haven't been feeling 100%, which hasn't helped.  My cough still hangs in there with a coughing fit or nagging mucus issue once or twice a day, and now I'm starting to get a slight sore throat again.  It's all manageable enough, but it's starting to get worrisome, and I hate to go back to the doctor again--maybe because I just don't want to deal with the bills that might result from digging into this further.  We also just had a minor health scare with Carter, because he had been complaining of neck pain for a few days.  I was tilting his head backward to rinse out shampoo, and he said it hurt.  When the pain lasted for a few days, we felt it was worth calling the doctor.  Of course, by the time we got there on Friday, he didn't seem bothered anymore.  His exam was perfect, so I guess that was good.  And the partial improvement in my interactions with Jacob lately has been nice.  We still have our moments, for sure, but the positive moments we do have are uplifting, and I hope that through those we're able to build back a little trust that's been lost over the years.

On the darker side, though, Jacob and Carter still don't get along, and Craig and I are absolutely exhausted trying to deal with it.  Jacob is desperate for his brother to play with him, but when it doesn't go according to plan, inevitably Jacob gets mad, Carter takes defensive action in anticipation of Jacob's strike, and then everything goes right down the tubes.  They battle constantly.  In addition, it's been a hard time of year to think about all of the people struggling right now--from my cousin who lost her son, to all of the people suffering through the latest round of California wildfires.  I'm just sad thinking about their sadness at what's supposed to be a happy time of year, and then anxiety bubbles up a little as I worry that it could just as easily be us next year, God forbid.  We should be grateful for the generally good holiday we're having, because we never know how long these good ones will last.  Not sure why it's all really heavily weighing on me this year in particular, but it's been a challenge to stay upbeat most days.  I do still have the contact info for a therapist that Jacob's therapist passed along, but the thought of working something else into our schedule right now seems exhausting.  On top of everything else, work has been atypically exhausting and I'm just ready for a break...but I'm barely going to get one.

I did manage to send out Christmas cards this morning, and Jacob had a goal in his long-awaited game (a win) against his old team this afternoon.  After that, I went and got a real haircut from a new stylist, who managed to undo the damage from the bad cut I got in the spring.  The cut looks great and the blow out made it so bouncy and perfect for our outing tonight.  Such a good feeling and totally worth the extra money spent over going to the no-appointment place I used to go to.  Maybe better hair will help my outlook?

I just know the next week will be crazy busy, and with everything going on around me, I wonder sometimes how I'll get it all done.  I know I should be so thankful for the life we have, and I am, but the little things are ganging up on me a bit this year.  I'm trying to be grateful for good progress on gifts and hoping it gives me just enough relief to enjoy the week that's left of this Christmas season.  We've finally had a nice, snowy December and we should be in a great position for some high Christmas spirits, but we'll just have to see how the week goes.  The last rush is on...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Little Christmas Miracle

It's been a busy couple weeks.  Most evenings are spent Christmas browsing online or just trying to keep up with life in general, and I've officially restarted my horrible holiday habit of staying up until midnight every single night, even though I have the best of intentions to go to bed earlier all the time.  I'll get into that in another post.  This one is about something that I can only describe as a Christmas miracle.

Thursday morning was a bad one.  Recently we've been struggling with Jacob, almost as much as ever.  He's been very disrespectful, unwilling to listen, and rather short-tempered.  Mind you, most of these interactions take place first thing in the morning or in the evening--both of which happen to be when his medicine is out of his system.  It's evident that it makes a huge difference, but recently it's just seemed like things have gotten worse.  His behavior off the medicine seems much more erratic and purposefully annoying.  The worst part is that he's completely out of control when he's like that, in that no amount of yelling or physical intervention really reaches him.  It's like he's so wrapped up in the moment that he just can't break out of it.  It's exhausting.  And Thursday was just another day of that frustration, I suppose, but that much arguing first thing in the morning isn't good for anyone.  I went to work sad and completely spent.  If I didn't have a ton of work to do and had my computer home with me, I probably would have just stayed home to cry it out and move on.  

But I had work to do, so I fought tears all morning.  My only saving grace (ironically) was that I could leave a little after 2pm because I had to pick Jacob up for a 3pm therapy appointment.  That appointment was actually one of the major points of contention that morning, as he was insisting he didn't want to go.  He refused to go to school because we were making him go, in fact, and he droned on about how it's boring and doesn't help anything.  To which I responded, as always, that 1) if he could get his behavior under control, we wouldn't have to go there; and 2) if he actually tried actively participating and sharing with his therapist, it might actually do some good to go there.  I conceded that maybe he was right--that it wasn't worth our time to go because he didn't want to make good use of it.  Despite his ultimatum, obviously he had to go to school--and presumably along the two minute ride he got quite the talking-to from Craig.

Since Craig had work commitments, it was up to me to pick him up.  And, to his credit, the minute we were walking out of the school, he was apologizing to me.  Our conversation on the way was pleasant, and our session ended up being pretty productive for a change.  Our therapist outlined each of our concerns, and then we talked about possible solutions.  We talked about Nerf gun wars, Jacob helping Carter play Wii, me emailing his teacher about some school issues, and focusing on giving Jacob a daily evening dose of his ADHD medicine to keep him more even-keel at night.  Since many of our problems have been happening then, suddenly it seemed like it was really worth a shot.

Last time we talked to Jacob's doctor, she had actually suggested a second dose later in the day.  We have leftover short-acting medicine from before he went to the long-acting stuff (we had just refilled), and she mentioned that if we could pull it off, a dose of that wouldn't hurt.  We had asked about how it might impact bedtime, but she explained that because it keeps him on a more even-keel and he's not ramping up like he does as the medicine wears off, it actually might be easier to fall asleep.  And sure enough, with a couple test runs we'd done, he'd been fine.  The afterschool program can't give medicine, so we'd been hesitant since we don't get home until 6pm, but with as bad as things got in these last couple weeks, suddenly it seemed like our only hope.  

And while I had high hopes, I still have concerns.  I worry about whether keeping him medicated most of the time is bad.  Will it be worse if he's off it for some reason?  I wonder if it's a problem that he won't have much time to "practice" controlling his behavior.  But it's been so bad lately that I feel like we need this break to get ourselves back to a place where we love and trust each other again.  When every moment is an argument or a criticism, it makes it hard to look at someone with love, or even want to be near them.  That's about where we'd gotten to lately, and it's such a terrible feeling.  I didn't even realize until yesterday how bad it had gotten, or how badly we needed to heal...and I certainly already knew we had problems.  Bad ones.

Jacob admitted to the therapist that he can tell the difference when the medicine wears off, and that his friends seem to like him better when he's on it.  That was a little hard to hear, but there's no doubt it was a game-changer all around when he started it at school.  And no joke, Jacob can be a really cool kid when he's on it.  When he's not, it's an endless stream of obnoxious behavior, rude talk, annoying noises, and impulsive decisions.  It's exhausting and miserable to deal with every day.  We don't get to see the medicated side very much, but given how good it is at school, it seemed like the better option despite the concerns.

As we were leaving the therapist, Jacob specifically mentioned that he wanted his pill.  He could tell (as could I) that it was wearing off.  We had Craig's birthday dinner that night (a day late because he had to work the previous night), so we knew we had to do it.  Instead of our usual Red Robin, Craig picked Outback, probably because he knew Jacob has really wanted to go back since our original lobster night.  Jacob even went out and got an Outback gift card with his birthday money so he could get lobster again!  When we got there, he and I decided to split this great platter that included one lobster tail, two shrimp skewers, two crab cakes (on a separate plate because of the gluten), and two sides.  He picked broccoli, and I did a salad.  He was so excited to try shrimp!

It ended up being really great for us, and we were both stuffed!  It was so good, though!  And he loved the shrimp!

Lobster!  And yes, he insisted on dressing up for dinner...and yes, the hair is out of control.  Stay tuned...

So, that night was amazing.  We even had a coupon for a free dessert so we got the gluten-free Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, and everyone was happy.  He was great for the rest of the night, and considering how horrible I felt that morning, to go to bed at peace was so nice.

Craig was busy again Friday night, but despite having both kids with me it became our mission to get Jacob's hair cut.  It had been a long time coming and we'd been discussing the style for a while, as he wanted to do something a little different.  The cut went well, and it makes him seem like such a big kid, even with just how he was deciding with the stylist what he wanted!  Things were going so well that we even survived a trip to Five Below for some Christmas scouting.  

Everything went so well that by bedtime I couldn't help but take this picture...
Is this even the same kid?!
Today (well, yesterday) was mostly a continuation of the good stuff.  He had a gorgeous goal in his game, and we had a good time at the Knighthawks' game.  Of course, it came after the kids (well, Carter) broke the Christmas tree and a few random moments of wondering just how well the medicine was working.  It was also an awful day for Carter all around (he was grumpy about everything).  But it was still a hundred times better than usual and I'm so grateful for 48 hours of what I think normal life is like.  Having time to fall back in love with Jacob and see the good in him has been hugely helpful, not just for my attitude but for him learning to trust me again.  When all he gets from me is negative (and I swear, I really try not to let it be that way, but it can be a constant onslaught of unacceptable behavior a lot of the time), it's no wonder he can't take any of my feedback as constructive criticism.

I really, truly hope this sticks because we need it so badly.  I love this kid so much and I need to make this better.  Maybe this is our chance.  Maybe it's not, but I will make the most of my Christmas miracle while I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

News and Notes, Post-Thanksgiving Edition

I don't have much to report after our Thanksgiving weekend, but I figured an update was in order anyway.  As a whole, we had a nice four/five-day weekend.  Things went pretty well overall and I really can't complain.  Of course, the kids were a challenge as usual, but that's pretty much par for the course here, so I try to keep that out of consideration as much as I can.

Craig and Jacob were off on Wednesday.  They had a quiet day at home.  I got out of work at 2pm and rushed home so I could start baking my apple pie and figure out how to make some stuffing for Jacob.  I had gotten a head start with making gluten-free croutons the night before, but I was trying to find a recipe that didn't have thyme in it (because he doesn't like it) or sage (which I actually didn't have in my spice cabinet), and it was a little challenging.  Anyway, the pie making went surprisingly smoothly.  The stuffing ended up fine as well, though I don't think Jacob loved it.  I have to think about how to improve it for next time, or maybe he just won't care.  But at least I made the effort!  I wrapped up last minute packing while Craig picked up Carter from daycare.  We headed out and picked up dinner for the kids on the way.  Craig and I were headed to a bar in Buffalo after we dropped the kids off with my parents, and we figured we'd be too tempted to resist some wings and other fried stuff there, so we passed on dinner with the kids.  Craig's family was getting together to drink to the memory of his Uncle Mike who passed away far too young three years ago.  Drop-off went fine and the kids were pretty good for my parents, and we had a great time catching up with Craig's family.

We went to church with my parents on Thanksgiving morning, and I got to see my friend Heather, just one day after her birthday, which was nice.  The kids were pretty well behaved, other than Jacob being super eager for church to be over so we could be closer to eating and seeing his cousins (and eating again).  Carter went up to the front of church for the children's message, and when the woman doing it asked what everyone was thankful for, eventually Carter offered up "Friends," but then added "Electronics" right after.  Ah, yes.  Priorities.  Have I mentioned he really likes mobile device games right now?  Everyone laughed, and so did we, but I'm guessing our parenting awards aren't showing up anytime soon!

We had a lovely lunch with my parents and my Uncle Ron and his girlfriend.  Carter is not a huge fan of Thanksgiving but did eat some turkey, peas, and rolls.  Everyone liked my apple pie, and we had some nice conversation, and soon it was time to pack up and head off to Craig's family.

Jacob had a blast with his cousins, as usual, and Carter did his best to fit in where he could.  We ate a ton as usual, though I really did try hard to limit my appetizer consumption so I didn't feel completely gross by the end.  I probably made up for it with wine, but while I was very full, it was manageable...and worth it!  The food was just really good and there was so much of it!  We finally made it back to Craig's parents' sometime after 10pm.  Jacob slept over with his cousins, and the three of us went to bed pretty quickly.  We slept pretty late (funny what happens when our early riser isn't around!), and eventually got ourselves moving in time to pick up Jacob, grab some lunch on our way out of town, and head home.  I had a long weekend of cleaning and decorating ahead, so I was eager to get there.

The good news is that it was a warm-ish, sunny day.  It was a bit breezy, but when we got home I decided right then and there to get out the trimmer and do some trimming I'd been meaning to do for a while.  That led to me finally tearing out the dead remains of the coneflowers in our front flower bed, and trying to rake up what was left--along with any leaves--before finally heading back in to tackle the house work.  I had to get the kids to clean up their remaining battlefield in the living room, vacuum, move some furniture, vacuum again, and finally move a bit more furniture before the living room was ready for the tree.  I put that up Friday night, undecorated, just so that part of our living room made sense again and I felt like something was done!  I also had a lot of dishes to do after my last minute flurry of cooking on Wednesday, and all of the fall stuff had to get taken down and put away.  In addition, part of the living room cleanup included stripping out a few toys from our shelves that have, at long last, been outgrown (sob!).  I took out the batteries and packed them away in the basement.  Among them were the favorite baby laptop toys that Carter loved, a bus toy Jacob got for his first birthday, and a few others.  It was time.  We don't have as much toy storage during Christmas, and we'll probably get plenty to replace them anyway.  I feel like there's still more to go, and more to rotate at least, but the toys were one of the few things that I didn't get to this weekend.  I did some on Monday, but there's still more to be done!

Nice end to the busy day on Friday!

On Saturday we had to get up relatively early because Craig was working the Knighthawks kiosk at the mall, and we were all going to go.  The boys and I walked around and did some browsing while Craig worked.  We stopped at the Lego Store so Jacob could make some minifigures he had earned through some deal he had with Craig, and all things considered they were pretty good. 

Eventually we got back to Craig, had some lunch, and headed out.  We headed back home and I spent the rest of the day putting up decorations.  The boys rotated between TV, electronic devices, and their battlefield that had now moved to the basement.  I was somehow able to get everything but some window clings put in place, which was pretty impressive.

Sunday we got up and went to church, and then decided that since it was a cold, dreary day, we'd go to the cheap theater and see the Lego Ninjago movie.  Our second-run theater closed a while back and we were really bummed that we had lost our access to cheap movies prior to the DVD release.  Fortunately, a few months back a new company reopened the theater, this time with those amazing recliner seats.  This was my first opportunity to experience them, and yes, they're really comfy.  The move was good--just enough adult humor, and plenty to keep the kids laughing, too!  We came home, I whipped up some dinner, and spent most of the evening decorating the Christmas tree...and I actually got it done!  I can't remember the last time I was done decorating (save for a couple extra details that aren't vital) by the end of Thanksgiving weekend!  I was determined to get it done because the chaos that results from having bins hanging out in the living room isn't great, and I know that stretching things over weeknights not only makes everything take so much longer, but it prevents me from getting to other evening projects during the week, like list-making and online shopping.

Speaking of list-making, I am having a heck of a time getting lists together for everyone in my house.  I have my shopping list ready to populate, but there's pretty much nothing on it yet.  I can't even figure out what to get my kids, let alone tell other people what to get them.  Between two sets of grandparents, two uncles, and my extended family exchange, there just isn't enough to go around.  Normally I have a long list for the kids, but this year I feel like they truly have too much.  Their interests are becoming more narrow, and while there are always a few ideas, sometimes it feels like I have to be really specific to ensure it's something they'll like and not something they already have.  I feel like very specific requests can come off as greedy or entitled, but in the end--as much as I'd like to teach them to be happy with every gift they receive--I'd rather ensure it will be loved and used as much as the gifter would like.  Part of me would like to opt out of everything, but what fun is that for the kids?  You only get so many kid Christmases, and it's tough to say, "Hey, you used to get presents at this party, but you're not going to anymore."  We'll just have to figure it out.  I don't even have my usual trusty list of random kitchen items or gift cards that I normally have in mind for me this time of year.  I think there's just been too much else going on, and material stuff just sort of pales in comparison to some of the heartache that's been happening lately.  I keep trying to think of experiences instead for the kids, but I'm not quite sure about that stuff either since their interests are different and our time alone with each of them is limited.  We have about four weeks to figure all of this out, but I'm already feeling a little overwhelmed...and clearly I'm also not sticking to my wish to get to bed on time so I don't exhaust myself over the next month.  I'm still not 100% after my back-to-back viruses, with a lingering cough and some congestion, so every little bit is necessary to get healthy sooner rather than later...but I'm already failing.  Sigh.  Maybe one of these years I'll get it together. 

Time for bed now, though...tomorrow is another day.