Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Bucket List

I saw lots of fall/Halloween bucket lists a couple months ago, and while I thought they were super cute, I didn't feel the need to hop on the "make a list" bandwagon. I started to go through our calendar the other night, though, saw all of the fun things we have on our agenda leading up to Christmas, and realized, "Now this would make a great *personalized* Christmas Bucket List!" I think it's especially interesting to see what all everyone does during the holidays, b/c there are SO MANY DIFFERENT options & ideas, no one could ever do them all. Here's our's for this year:

* Zoo Merry Members' Night
* Put up our tree, stockings, & decorate outside
* Christmas cards
* Advent: family storybook, gratitude tree, nativity
* Advent devotionals
* 2011 ornaments
* Christmas cookies
* Salvation Army Red Kettles
* RiverQuarium Members' Night, geocaching & ornament making
* Local Christmas parade
* Gingerbread houses
* Winter Wonder: Santa & live reindeer
* Annelise's Christmas Dance Program
* Messiah Sing Along

* Junior League Christmas Party

[PROGRAMMING NOTE: I am ALL ABOUT STRESS-FREE CHRISTMAS! I don't do any of this stuff begrudgingly "b/c I should" - I *only* do it b/c we want to. :-)]

I already blogged about our zoo's Merry Members' Night and our tree. We hang stockings at our house every year, but they are purely décor. We've never spent a married Christmas at home - always with family, since we're the only ones who aren't local. Both JB's parents & mine have their stockings for all of us, so these are just to look festive. I was also excited to decorate a little outside for the first time four years! Three years ago we moved over Christmas, so the décor was packed; the last two years, what we had didn't go with our two different houses, and since we knew we wouldn't be in them long, we weren't going to invest in one-shot decorations. (For the record, we didn't miss them. It was too cold to be outside; I didn't care.) This year, though, I'm reveling in where we live! I found the Christmas decorations we had bought for the last home we owned...and they actually work GREAT here! They took 15 minutes to put up in 70°+ sunshine. :-) And I love to see them shimmer as we drive in & out.

I mailed our Christmas cards out on Monday. I personally digiscrap a 4x6 photo card and include a short new-address-&-sentence-about-each-of-us letter every year. Thanks to FB familiarity, our list has gone down a lot (85 this year, down from 130 a few years ago.) I still send them, though, to everyone who sends us one and to close friends & fam not on FB. With as much as we move, it means a lot to me to stay connected to people; so even with most people close to us already knowing our business online, I like keeping up the card tradition. Plus, I put all of the photos we receive as/in cards on our message board & keep their faces present in our home ALL YEAR, until the next season's batch arrives.

I'll post this year's after everyone we sent them to has received it, but here are the last seven years:
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010

[Yay, memories!]

I've already talked a lot about Advent devotionals and our family Advent storybook we're reading together daily, our nativity, and our December evergreen version of the gratitude tree. We used to do the traditional candy Advent calendars (Trader Joe's has great, cheap, chocolate ones!) but I really hate giving the kids candy either when waking up or going to bed, so the last two years, I had a sticker that was part of a big nativity scene in each day. I also LOVE the idea of doing a Jesse Tree. (I got this great resource from Ann Voskamp last year.) We're doing none of those this year, though; I feel like we have enough with our gratitude tree thankful ornaments and the family Advent storybook.

Every year since Will was born, I've gotten a simple metal ornament with the year engraved on it that I put the kids' picture with Santa in. All but two years, it's been the same ornament style from Target; but ours doesn't have it this year, so I went with a nicer 2011 one I found at Hobby Lobby. This sounds like a little thing, but it's become really important to me. We usually go see Santa early (in November - before he gets jaded ;-)) but this year...

Our pediatrician is hosting their annual Winter Wonder event:
Excited to support the Lily Pad & get a great, unique Santa experience, so we'll wait for the 6th. :-)

I am usually involved in a holiday cookie exchange (wow - 1st year in ages I'm not!) but I *did* realize a couple years ago that I rarely like anyone else's cookies as much as my family's #1 ultimate super duper fave recipe: chocolate-covered cherry cookies. :-D It's the only cookie I *MUST* have for it to be Christmas...so I'm making 5 batches sometime in the next week. They are crazy labor-intensive, but oh-so worth it. [I really wish Jackie & I could make them together like last year! Way more fun!]

Every time I pass a Salvation Army Red Kettle, I'll donate. Reputable, simple, a beautiful reminder that you can do over & over.

The RiverQuarium here is having "The Twelve Days of Fishmas" - cute! We're going to do their geocaching scavenger hunt for 12 animals hidden around town one day, (we have the coordinates list, so we can do it whenever we want,) the kids are also going to do their ornament contest, and we're going to try to make it to their Members' Night. I feel blessed to have this cool facility here!

Our town's local Christmas parade is this Saturday morning. It's a big deal this year, I guess, b/c Luke Bryan (a big country star) who was born & raised here is coming to be the Grand Marshal. [I haven't followed country music in years, but I'm a total faux-celeb stalker, so I can get on board with the hoopla. ;-)] I'm so excited to be back South, where it's actually WARM enough with NO threat of snow to have Christmas parades! :-D [Up north, they are really big on the 4th of July parades to make up for it. ;-)]

Every year, the kids & I make our own gingerbread houses from scratch. Last year, we invited our neighbors & BFFs to come do one with us, and it was a ball! We're making this year's with our new neighbors Sunday afternoon. And yep - we rip them apart and eat them (over about a week) every year. Best tip: save Skittles, M&M's - any candy that you could use to decorate - from your kids' Halloween candy! (Why buy more, you know? :-))

Annelise's dance school does a Christmas show every year, and I'm about to burst to see her perform on Sunday, the 10th! She has showed me her routine about 20 times, and it's GOOD! I am totally impressed that the teacher is having this age really dance, instead of just doing a few heel digs and arm waving. I am so picky about quality dance schools, and I *LOVE* knowing we've got the best around here!

A local chorale is having a Messiah Sing Along on the 12th, and I would LOVE to go! I'm playing this one by ear, though, b/c it doesn't start until 7 PM, I would probably have to take the kids with me alone (yay culture! boo missing bedtime & potential bored whines!), and it would be just us - I don't have any singing friends here. :'( I'd give the WORLD to be able to have my BFFs Wendy & Christa in NC come with... Oh, our former Christmas concert glory days...

My Junior League Christmas Party is the 13th. I'm bringing the famous chocolate-covered cherry cookies, of course. I also need to get an ornament for the exchange. I asked if they usually do fancy or silly? Fancy. I can handle that. (Any excuse to go back to Hobby Lobby for the 4th time in a week, right? :-P)

Cute trendy tradition we don't do: Elf on the Shelf - I think this is adorable, but we needed it when our kids (5 & 7) were younger, like 2. Had we done it since then, they'd still be on board; but they would never go for it starting now. They believe in Santa, but they know he's an angel from Heaven (the real St. Nicholas) & wouldn't believe this fake doll talks to him! :-D :-P Makes me a bit sad, though, for them to miss out on this cute tradition. Oh well. I think we have enough other stuff to make up for it! :-D

My fave Christmas CD: "Christmas Caroling" by Ray Conniff is THE sound of Christmas to me. My dad was old school, and this is what we played in the car all December. It's what I hear when I think "holidays". Everyone can keep their current-artist-Christmas releases; give me the Ray Conniff singers! ;-)

Our fave Christmas movies: we adore Elf (newer fave) and A Christmas Story (my family's tradition - we have the 24 hrs of it on TBS playing in the background all Christmas Eve/Day! :-D 100% memorized.) For all you parents, I also want to recommend Why Do We Call It Christmas? by the creator of VeggieTales. His whole What's in the Bible? DVD series is AMAZING!!!! We have all 6 that have been released so far, and not only do the kids LOVE them, but *I* have learned a lot from them, too!!! They are amazing - they have truly made the first 14 (so far) books of the Old Testament *engaging & accessible*!

Now, these are just *SOME* of our Christmas activities, traditions, & faves - we can't wait to do the big Carolina Christmas light show at Charlotte Motor Speedway whenever we get there, and who knows what else we'll get into?! You know I'll keep y'all posted. ;-)

OK, so now it's your turn to fill me in! Tell me what all YOU do to celebrate the Christmas season! I love getting new ideas from sweet friends!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent-O-Rama

So many wonderful Advent resources to share...

Advent Conspiracy:


Directly copied from the [AC] site:


The concept behind Advent Conspiracy is simple...


It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.


Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one. Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.

Looking for ways to give gifts that don't cost a lot of money? Have a few ideas you'd like to share? Head to rethinkingchristmas.com today.


God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?


When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.

*****

I'm doing my first YouVersion reading plan - Carols: A Christmas Devotional - God is with us - in answered promises, realized dreams, and refreshed hope. How could we help but sing. During this Christmas season, explore the songs that were born from our joy that Christ has entered the world and rediscover their relevance in your life today in this 25-day reading plan.

As important as music is in my life, I couldn't imagine a more fun & meaningful Christmas devotional than learning about carols!

*****

From Women Living Well - the free ebook Reasons for the Season, 24 Ready-Made Family Devotions: a verse, discussion starter, short lesson, activity, prayer and then an optional extra activity that you can do with your children.

*****

An article from Relevant called How Advent Saved Christmas

*****


What's it like? Here's today's copied directly:

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven."
~Mark 13:24-27

Many of us carry the false assumption that the goal in life is to be happy. That is why so many people around us mask their struggles and claim a false sense of happiness. Doesn’t God want us to be happy? God cannot intend for us to be in darkness, depression, despair.

Mark tells this story so we would not forget that darkness cannot stop God. Mark calls us to be honest. Yes, there is darkness. It hurts when someone close to us dies. Our hearts break when a friend abandons us. The pressure to succeed smothers us at times and we don’t know if we will ever see the light of day. The one who comes may come right in the midst of that darkness. Darkness does not stop him from making all things new. True, the one who comes may not bring simple happiness. The one who comes will bring meaning. ~Michelle Thomas-Bush

Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, come again into all the corners of my life. In the darkness, give me your wise counsel and a peace that passes all understanding. Guide me as I seek to find deep meaning and joy that is real. Amen.

Let us begin Advent, waiting.
Not the “going back to sleep” kind of waiting.
Not the impatient pacing, or the wasted anxiety of waiting.
Not even the passive-aggressive waiting that says, “Really? We’ll see.”

Let us begin Advent, waiting.
Getting up and joining the adventure,
Even when we don’t know where it will take us.
Shifting the impatient waiting to expectant living.
Boldly claiming the Good News that we know will come.
Waiting with joy as we reach out with the grace of God that is so much more than amazing.

Let us begin Advent.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Jesus Box & Advent Prep

Annelise set up our nativity this morning:
"I'm setting up the Jesus Box!"
"What's the Jesus Box, Honey?" JB asked.
"You know, the box that shows where Jesus got married."
"Married? What do you mean?"
"I mean born." ♥

This afternoon, she called me back over to see how she had rearranged: "Come look at the Creativity!" [No, not her design prowess. Creativity = Nativity :-P]

The rest of this day overflowed with productivity: I digiscrapped the last month & a half, which ended up being 8 PAGES. So glad to have that done before the Christmas season pics start piling up. :-) JB helped me stuff & seal ALLL of our Christmas cards. They are 100% ready to go - hitting the post office tomorrow morning. I wanted to get them out super early this year, so people could get our new address. Top off this fab day with a win - FINALLY! - for my Redskins!!! My football BFF, Julie, FBed when they won: "I just said something like, 'Susie had been so quiet re: 'Skins drought...oh wait, she's in GA. She is happy!'" :-D Indeed.

Advent Prep:
My mom just gifted us with the most wonderful book:
Christmas Stories for Bedtime Gift Edition By: Renae Brumbaugh
For spiritual “quality time” with your 5- to 8-year-old kids... Going a step beyond Bible stories, this colorful book challenges kids to stop and think about the meaning of each aspect of the original Christmas story. ...This book features 31 stories drawn from the width and breadth of scripture—from Old Testament promises of the Messiah, to the actual Nativity story and all the details that surrounded it.

We are going to read one of the 31 stories each day for the next month. Each one starts with a verse, followed by a story explaining it in details easy for them to understand, then a simple prayer that reinforces the verse & story, and finally the lyrics to a correlating Christmas carol. I'm excited to google the ones I don't know & hopefully find their music online. :-)

For the grown-ups: the free, online Following the Star Advent devotional started today. I've been reading it for three years and am so excited that it's time for this, again. :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Completed Trees: November Gratitude & Christmas

We have completed our Gratitude Tree for November (or rather "through Thanksgiving")
[Click pic to read all the leaves bigger]


It was such a good experience, we're also going to do a December Gratitude Tree, in lieu of a candy-filled Advent calendar. [The last two years, we did a nativity sticker each day in our Advent calendar, until we had made the whole nativity scene by Christmas.] For this December/Advent, we have a big blank evergreen coloring page outline that JB printed at work, and I'm going to cut out different ornament shapes and stars with my Silhouette to write our thankfuls on & decorate the tree.

Speaking of Christmas trees, I never posted a pic of ours:
(I don't know why this pic makes it look so slim - it's a very full 7.5" tree! I should've stood in the pic, too, & gotten a skinny mini pic of me! :-D)
What do your Christmas trees look like? I have always admired the chic themed trees that look like they came out of Vogue Living or Elle Decor - my BFF Jackie does *AMAZING* different themed trees every year that make me swoon!!! But I need mine to tell a longer story... (I'm sure you are shocked that even my Christmas tree has a LOT to say! :-P) Our tree is a rainbow reflection of our family. It always has colored lights, (I grew up with white lights outside, but colored lights on our tree - it always felt so fun & festive, not frosty & formal.) 90% of our ornaments are hand blown glass ornaments - they are my favorites: classic, beautiful, colorful. The rest are either special hand-me-downs, picture frames, mementos, or ones the kids have made. I want every single ornament on our tree to have a story or special meaning to us. I would never go out & buy a box of random balls to hang on it - that's just not me. Our Christmas tree is pretty much a giant, colorful scrapbook of our family! Our new ornaments this year: a peach, for Georgia and Annelise (our Princess Pumpkin Peach) and - get this! - an armadillo we found at a Christmas shop in Savannah for the armadillo in our front yard! :-D

Now, tell me about yours!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble On

Pre-Feast:
Annelise & Will each colored & cut out the paper turkeys at the base of the candlesticks; the wings are their handprints, and they each wrote on the backs: "This isn't just a turkey, as you can plainly see. I made it with my hands, which are a part of me. It comes with lots of love especially to say, 'I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving Day!'" :-) Annelise also made the placecards for the gourd holders at each setting, and after this, she also set the table - such a great helper this year!

What did y'all eat? We had turkey, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, dressing, egg noodles [I know, everyone I talk to thinks this is so weird, but it's JB's family tradition, and they sure are kid-friendly! :-)], rolls, cranberry sauce, perhaps the best batch of turkey gravy my mom has ever made, my famous roasted sweet potatoes with craisns & pumpkin seeds, and my favorite Thanksgiving dessert: gingerbread pumpkin trifle.

I posted the recipes for those last two here; for today, I didn't go all out with the warm chutney dressing, (but yes, I did miss it!) I just did simple roasted sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, & ground ginger, then tossed with craisins & roasted/salted pumpkin seeds. It tickles me to pieces that my kids LOVE this! Sweet potatoes are my *MUST HAVE* side. What's yours? For my trifle, I used Trader Joe's Deep Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix - the most flavorful, amazing baking mix I've ever used! - and I accidentally grabbed pure pumpkin (what I use in my muffins) instead of pumpkin pie filling, so I had to add all the spices myself. I didn't, however, add any more sugar than the 1/2 cup of brown already called for, and it's still sweet enough; so I think I'll make that a permanent change. JB doesn't like pumpkin pie, but he loves this...and the kids & I like it better, too!

We can't stop eating... ;-)


I love my friend Tracey's sentiment:

Wishing you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving as you weave another layer of memories into the fabric of your children's lives.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Merry Members' Night Festival of Lights Train Adventure

Last night was "Merry Members' Night" at our zoo & park complex - the one night members get in free to see the Festival of Lights (everything is covered in Christmas lights throughout the park!), drink hot chocolate, have s'mores, & of course ride the train - all for free!

Waiting to board:
(Will was too busy drinking his hot chocolate. :-))

It was a gorgeous night - a festively cool 61° but not freezing for me! - and we were just early enough to be at the front of the pack! JB & the kids got our place in the train line while mom & I got us all hot chocolate. We got on the 2nd ride of the night - WOOHOO!

About five minutes later, adventure ensued...

The wheels of the back car of the train jumped the track just enough to get misaligned, so we were "stranded" in the forest of Christmas lights! JB helped to get the train back on the track, and I killed time with the kids, trying to get their pic in front of a big gingerbread man in the woods where we stopped.
The kicker - he was a *flashing* giant gingerbread man, so I kept snapping pics until I got one with him actually lit up behind them. :-P :-D

JB & the "big, strong men" got it back on the track, but the zoo park sent vans out to bus us all back to the front, so they could check the train & "make sure" it was fine. [It was.] When we got back to the station, all those poor people were *STILL* waiting in line! I felt awful for them...but we went on, roasted marshmallows, and got more hot chocolate. [FWIW, the train did come back & start making runs, again, but the line was sooo long, we would've been on the 10th 20-minute run to see the 2nd half, :-P] so we just enjoyed driving through the rest of the lights on our way out. We had a ball singing the complete 12 Days of Christmas, as that was a light theme, and they had all 12 tableaus. (I loved the turtledoves - two turtles with wings ;-) and we were cracking up over the nine ladies dancing, who looked like a cross b/t hula & bellydancers. :-D) Yay, memories!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Uncle Remus Museum

The route I like best b/t Charlotte and southwest Georgia winds through tiny Eatonton, GA. I almost slammed on the brakes & whipped the van around the first time I saw The Uncle Remus Museum as we passed through, [who?] but I *knew* I wanted to stop when I had both the kids AND my mom:
Ms. Georgia - the docent - talked our ears off, but she was a genuine joy. :-) I grew up on Uncle Remus' stories as told to me at bedtime by my Grandmommy - The Tar Baby was my FAVORITE! - so this was such a special stop. I am going to make sure the kids get familiar with these precious folk tales, too. :-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Past & Present

I've been blessed to have people sharing old pictures with me this weekend:

My cousin Amy sent me this 30+ year old pic of me & my Daddy that I don't remember ever seeing before!
I cannot get over much he & Annelise look alike!!! The exact same smile, eyes, & even eye brows... It kind of knocked me back, in a great way. He's been gone 14½ years now, and I think it's the biggest blessing ever to see him still so present in our fam through her. ♥

My childhood friend Niki found, scanned, & shared me at my senior prom over 15 years ago, May 1996:
There's also another shot somewhere out there that's exactly the same but with my date, Craig. He wore his Marine dress blues, and even though by that point our interest had fizzled & we just went as good friends, we definitely were the sharpest looking couple there, thanks to that uniform! :-D The funny thing is, until the last year or so, I still thought of myself as looking like this. I just recently found myself thinking, "Wow, I looked so young there!" :-P I like the way I look now, but I just finally think I look more mature than late teens/20's. :-)

Which brings me to the present:
I am so thankful it worked out for me to get to see my BFF Wendy today before taking Grandmommy & Aunt Frances back home after lunch!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Welcome, Jack Wagons!

The kids & I drove home to NC Friday for early Thanksgiving with my Grandmommy. [We'll go back Tuesday to be home for real Thanksgiving with JB; he had to work.] Grandmommy is 99 (100 in April) and she has been freaking out, b/c she hadn't seen us since June. It's hard for her, b/c we're her only family that isn't local; she can't travel, and she really gets worried when she can't see us. It's also hard for us, though, to travel more than a weekend day trip now, b/c the only drawback to JB's new job this year is that he has way less vacay days, and with our kids in school in different counties, they have NONE of the same days off except for Christmas & Thanksgiving. Even their spring breaks are 2 different weeks. *sigh* But since both kids have this whooole week off for the first time since school started for Sis August 1st, we knew we had to get here NOW!

I love my family. This is what we arrived to Friday evening:
[This spring when my parents visited us in GA, the guys drove over to Krispy Kreme and encountered a slow driver. Will yelled, "Move it, jack wagon!!!" (a la R. Lee Ermey's Geico commercial) and the rest is history. :-P Grandaddo thought that was the most hysterical thing he'd ever heard, esp. out of impeccably-mannered Will, and now all of their phone calls start, "Hey, jack wagon!" :-D]

My brother, Andy, his wife, Liz, & their 2 yr old son, Matthew, were also waiting for us to have family dinner with my mom's AMAZING lasagna. :-) Will & Sis had a BALL reading to Matthew:

We went to see Grandmommy first thing Saturday morning and also drove her over to her sister's (Aunt Frances') house. I love those ladies! I can't tell you anything remarkable we did with them, and it wasn't even for that long, (Grandmommy gets tired,) but just the little bit of face time is priceless.

My mom had a Groupon for Jake's Good Eats, which just happened to be on our way home from Grandommy's, so we stopped for a stellar lunch. I love where we live in south GA - I get the climate & culture I treasure - but boy, do I appreciate a wide selection of nice restaurants more now than ever!!! Jake's was featured last year on Guy Fieri's Food Network show, and it did not disappoint. The best homemade chips I've ever had in my life, (& I'm not a big potato chip person.) After Jake's, we hit my beloved Costco to stock up on everything there we adore. We found a new treat: Island Way Sorbets in Natural Fruit Shells - holy coconut heaven...

More epicurean NC highlights: crispy scallops at The Great Wall [my family's very first & ultimate fave Chinese restaurant] and nutella crêpes & the BEST chai latte I've EVER had IN MY LIFE at Café Monte French Bakery and Bistro. My world has been rocked. :-P (And I am sooo glad I pushed myself crazy hard at Zumba Friday morning before driving up to compensate for all the extra Carolina calories! ;-)) Early Thanksgiving feast with Grandmommy, Aunt Frances, & as much of our fam as can come tomorrow!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pilgrim Princess, Madonna & Child, & Thankfuls

Annelise came home from school today dressed as a pilgrim = precious!

I bought my Christmas stamps today, so I can be ready to stuff when my prints arrive from Shutterfly. Every year I stamp our Christmas cards with the Madonna & Child stamp. I'm kind of obsessed. I'm sorry, but pinecones & evergreen or "Colorful Holiday Baubles" over a picture of Baby Jesus when we're celebrating His birth? It just one of my "things". I'm excited that there's a new classical art design this year:
"Detail from a work by the Italian master Raphael, entitled Madonna of the Candelabra. This tondo (circular painting), oil on panel, dates to around 1513... The Virgin and Child project the grace and serenity typical of Raphael’s work." YAY!

Thankfuls: Will wrote on his Gratitude Tree leaves that he was thankful for "getting called" [he won the good behavior lottery today! good behavior gets you a ticket, and if your name gets drawn at the end of the day, you get a tiny prize :-)], "Mommy taking me out of school early tomorrow", and "going to Junie B. Jones!" [His class took a field trip yesterday to see the high school's production of one of the books he's reading.] Annelise wrote "reading" [genuinely happy about it, not just sucking up after yesterday's fiasco :-P], "cooking", and "I love school!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reading Rollercoaster

Will's school had Parent Visitation this morning b/t 9 and 11:
There were only a few parents at a time, and we tried to be "invisible" :-P to just observe how the morning goes. Will is reading even more than I realized! He has apparently gotten into the Junie B. Jones series at school. I'm excited, b/c they are 80-120 pages - much longer than the usual AR (Accelerated Reader) books he brings for nightly homework. He reads a chapter here & there when he finishes his work early and is so proud of himself! [Me, too!] I asked if he liked the Magic Tree House series, as well, but I think he's been too into Junie B. to try it, yet. I'm so glad to see he is reading more long, non-picture books.

When I picked Annelise up from school today, one of her teachers said she really needs to practice her reading, b/c it has taken her two weeks (instead of the usual two days) to get through her last book. WHAT?!?! Her teacher & I both unraveled the truth back & forth over Annelise's head in her car seat - she had no place to hide. She had told me that she "wasn't being tested on her books right now, b/c of working to finish her Explorer Chain." She had told the teacher that she "didn't have time to read, b/c of cheerleading." [Is she really only 5 and not 15?!?!] I was AGHAST! I looked her straight in the eye and said, "Cheer has been over for almost two weeks." I looked at the teacher and said, "We will fix this." As we drove out of the car line over to dance, I told Annelise how disappointed I was in her, that she did this and lied about it. I took away the candy treat someone had given her to eat after school and had her read her latest book in the dance parking lot before going in to change. It's the first time anything like this has really come up, and she knew she had messed up big time. She was so sad getting her tap clothes on, and all of a sudden, when it was time to go into class, she burst into tears. Her first school-aged, girly "I'm so embarrassed & upset all I can do is cry" meltdown. Bless her heart. :-P She was inconsolable, and everyone swarmed around her, b/c no one at the studio has EVER seen her w/o a smile before, and they could not imagine what ultimate horror had befallen her. :-P I told her she needed to let it go for now and go dance. She was all smiles when Will & I picked her up. She did apologize, and I had her read her book, again, this evening and told her that there will be a punishment coming for lying. (I don't spew out punishments on the spot w/o careful consideration. There's nothing worse than going back on a punishment you doled out in the heat of the moment, and I make sure that the kids' punishments won't also punish ME!)

This afternoon, Will brought home the book Gila Monsters Meet You At the Airport - one of my ultimate favorites from Reading Rainbow when I was a child! After he read it, I told him we could watch the show that Mommy first learned about this book on:

[God bless YouTube!] :-D How cool to share something that was such a big deal to me when I was his age with Will?! I remember this episode being all about the Gila monsters, but it's really all about moving; that was a concept that had no meaning to me whatsoever as a child, so no wonder I ignored that part and focused on the nature aspect that our family was so obsessed with.

Thankfuls: Will wrote on his Gratitude Tree leaf that he was thankful for "eating pizza", while Annelise wrote that she was thankful for "dance" and "movies".

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Final Football, Gelish, Explorer Chain, & Thankfuls

So thankful for another GORGEOUS south Georgia day over 80°F! This is an absolute dream come true for me.

Final football pics: these shots from Will's last game last week are blurry, but I think that adds to their action! (Click to see bigger.)

Gelish: I never posted about my Stand Out red experience!
It was a little harder than any other Gelish mani I've done, b/c I wanted to get the color dark. It took longer than normal for the color to cure under the LED light (almost twice as long) but I had read that this happens, so I was prepared. I wasn't sure how long the mani would last - I was scared that it would be more "fragile" since it took longer to cure - but the shiny, chip-free vibrant red lasted two days shy of three weeks! :-) And I got tons of compliments! I went back to my second French mani Saturday night, b/c it's JB's favorite. ♥

Explorer Chain: Annelise has been working on an "explorer chain" in Montessori Kindergarten. She got to bring it home & explain it today. :-)


Thankfuls: Will wrote on his Gratitude Tree leaves that he was thankful for "going to school" (YAY!) and "seeing Daddy and watching shows [with him]" while Annelise wrote she was thankful for: "love myself" (I praise God that she feels worthy, loved, smart, etc., and loves herself! She is absolutely NOT conceited in the slightest; she just has the best self-image! ♥), "snuggle the family", and "my favorite move from Zumba!" (Ha! :-))

I love this post by Laura re: "by whose standard do you judge the value of your life?"

I like these. I like the fonts, colors, arrangement, and - of course - the messages:

Monday, November 14, 2011

In Defense of Early Decorating

Our Christmas tree is up! OK, OK - back off, rabid anti-Christmas-before-Thanksgivingers. ;-) I used to be one of you. :-P I was filled with indignation at any & all early hints of Christmas...but then we had children. I am so filled with the holiday spirit, I can't hold it in! I'm definitely not trying to rush past Thanksgiving - we love that, too! (Yay, Gratitude Tree, This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, talking about our special family recipes, etc.) But we usually travel for Thanksgiving, and I want to be able to come home and flip the switch to have Christmas in full blaze. I have a few friends who hold off, and I completely respect where they're coming from; but waiting doesn't feel quite right for me. I can't get enough celebration; I feel like we went through a time with heavier & darker weights bearing down, and now I just want to live in Jubilee! :-D For me, having our tree up now doesn't take anything away from Thanksgiving, Advent, St. Nicholas Day, etc. Plus, b/c we also travel around Christmas, we can't do the "light it on Christmas Eve" thing, anyway - we'd never have a tree of our own! Finally, I am way too lazy to do all the work of putting it up to not have it up as loooooong as possible - I'm all about Candlemas, y'all. ;-)

I always hear people complaining about getting "wrapped up in the Christmas machine" (do you feel the same? read this NOW!!!) and I don't let myself get like that. Having our tree up now, designing our Christmas cards now (b/c we always have a new address, so I want to get that out to people before they send theirs to our old one :-P), finishing up a lot of my Christmas shopping now (we honestly don't have a ton of people - no shopping for extended fam; it's nice - enough to feel generous & festive, not burdened) allows me to feel calm about Christmas...and sitting here tonight basking in the glow of our tree (b/c although I'd like to wait until Nov. 25th, I totally could NOT resist plugging it in! :-D) I *do* feel a calm peace about the holidays - ALL of them, Thanksgiving included - wash over me and make me smile.

Decorating notes:

80°F outside + 66°F inside = OPEN WINDOWS for free heat during the day! :-D Almost record warmth + getting out the Christmas décor + starting work on Christmas cards = MY DREAM NOVEMBER! Thank you, Lord!

The 1st two casualties of Christmas - 2 of my fave ornaments: a glittery globe and the Colossuem in Rome. :'(
I realized we've never had our tree on hardwood before; carpet is much more forgiving of tree trimming slips... If it's hardwood next year, I'll extend blankets waaay out beyond our tree skirt while decorating.

What do your trees usually look like? I've written before about our style. Tell me about yours!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Animal Thanksgiving

On Saturday we went to "Animal Thanksgiving" at the zoo that's right close to us here. It was such a fun event and a gorgeous afternoon! The kids got to help make treats for a number of the zoo animals, and then we all walked from exhibit to exhibit to watch the zookeepers deliver them.

Making treat-filled pumpkins for the pigs & alpacas:

Making peanut butter, honey, raisin, walnut, & grape-covered log treats for the black bears:

The kids also each got to make & take their own peanut butter birdseed bird feeders:

The animals really *did* eat the treats the kids made:

The rhino ate decorated cantaloupes:

The meerkats ate worm-filled treat tubes (ick! :-P)

Will scaling the wall of the meerkat playground maze:

Annelise & the sentry meerkat:

The cheetahs enjoyed meat-filled piñatas that the kids decorated:

Feeding black bears the honey/peanut butter/grape/nut log treats the kids made:

It was such a simple but unique family experience in a great setting. :-)

Thankfuls: Will wrote on his Gratitude Tree leaves that he was thankful for "setting up the Christmas tree" [we put it up today & will decorate it in the next day or two; DON'T give me any of that "it's too early" guff!!!], Annelise was thankful for "making mashed potatoes" [with Daddy at lunch today :-D], and they both wrote that they are thankful for "LaLa" [so excited to see her this next weekend!]