« November 2011 | Main | January 2012 »

11 posts from December 2011

December 31, 2011

Christmas

can be amazing and trying at the same time.  One tries to wrap up everything in a beautiful box:  the beauty of the birth of Christ and the joy of giving, without going overboard.  It always seems harder in the U.S., as vacations are shorter, people tend to work until the last minute (the no early release for federal employees on December 23rd did not go unnoticed in this household) and there is the stress of the over-commercialization of the holidays.  

IMG_1612Oh, and then there is me.  Between my mom's death in late 2005 and last year's debacle in the fall, the holidays have become harder for me.  This year I tried to ease up a bit on myself, scale back on my expectations (in every respect) and simply allow myself time to enjoy things rather than hurry quite so much.  True, I am still working on Christmas cards (they are coming, I promise!) and some of our holiday baking wasn't completed until after Christmas, but I think spreading things out adds to the joy of the season.  


We still managed to have a bit of a push to get ready for Christmas Day.  Going to the 'early' children's mass on Christmas Eve (both girls sang in the choir) helped, but there was still so much to do once we arrived home. We even went so far as to order a dinner for Christmas, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  I really didn't have much time to cook, as I was up until 4:00 a.m. finding and wrapping gifts and then was too wired to sleep. This required not one, but two Christmas Day naps.

 

It was a lovely day, though.  Nicholas slept until 9 a.m., allowing me to get a whopping 4 hours sleep. I also decided to try a different tack and just tried to record a few snippets of the morning.  I didn't get everything, but managed to catch a few moments that will forever remind me of the loveliness of the day (and excuse the Christmas morning crazy living room).  Instead of worrying about a huge breakfast, I made two casseroles the night before.  I didn't have to fret about cooking and missing the kids opening anything and could relax versus worrying about burning the bacon (no worries, I scorched the pine nuts later in the day).  

 

I also did not stress nearly as much about gifts this year.  It seemed very simple, as the kids wants revolved around current interests.  I thought about doing a 'make your own' Christmas, but only got as far holiday cookies for the neighbors and friends, though after discussing with Cait, we might shoot for that next year.   We already have several (yummy) ideas for gifts for friends.   

IMG_1633Gifts for the kids were so easy.  Kelsey requested a Kindle (more reading, okay!) and drawing materials, Nicholas wanted Legos and Cait desired a wide variety of art supplies.  Nothing really required batteries (okay, construction hat excepted...and loved!) nor did the kids notice the lack of candy in the stockings (yep, Santa forgot all but a couple of small "candy-cans" for them).  

Perhaps the best part?  Drowsily reading a book on the couch and watching the kids play happily together for hours.  I think knowing that next Christmas might be slightly different, as Peter likely won't be here, added to my need to have the calmest day possible.  From the fun morning to the long evening walk we took (just the two of us and the pup we were 'sitting'), I think we accomplished that.  

Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy New Year from our home to yours!

 

December 30, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

  Photo-8

Idea courtesy of Soulemama

 

December 24, 2011

Each year, I look

forward to the kids' wish lists.   I think this is perhaps one of the best parts of Christmas.  Realizing that they might be thinking about much more than just candy for the stocking or a new game under the tree...

IMG_1604

In Kelsey's case, a microwave (she meant Easy Bake Oven...which she already has, but whatever), a metal detector (on the list two years running!) and markers (never mind she already has enough for the whole neighborhood).  My personal favorite?  Peace.  

I assumed (at first) that she meant world peace and I think on most levels she does.  However, tonight I noticed a hastily scrawled "quiet" next to peace.  I queried her and she replied that she did indeed want peace and quiet for Christmas.

Oh, honey, if a letter to Santa is all it takes....hmm....well, I haven't actually tried asking Santa.  Where's that pen and paper?

 

December 23, 2011

Gracias, Nana

When Peter first joined the Foreign Service nearly 15 years ago, neither one of us knew how far around the world it would take us or that it could complicate our lives at times. We thought of the places we would visit, how our children would be world travelers and expected to retire with several fully stamped passports.

We tended to forget that life went on at home and were often surprised by the changes in people or towns when we returned. One thing in particular that we neglected was the thought of having to return home for the death of a loved one. After all, our remaining grandparents were still youthful in our eyes and nothing would prevent them from being there to greet us when we returned from our latest post. 

Life, though, clearly did not always turn out as planned.  My grandmother, Rose (my mother's mother), died in June 0f 2002, just after we had returned to Caracas from a tumultuous medevac and authorized departure in the States. I had no time to even contemplate a return for the funeral, nor would it have been financially feasible. As I spent so much of my childhood living further away from my grandmother than I liked, it was heartbreaking to not return for the celebration of her life.

A few years later, when we were living in Reykjavik, Peter's grandfather Tony passed away. As with my grandmother's death, there was no quick or inexpensive way to return home. Peter had to miss the funeral and time with family, something that is never easy. Sadly, only a year and a half later, his other grandfather, Leo, died after an extended illness. Peter was grateful that he had seen Leo only a month before, and while he could not return for the funeral, felt somewhat mollified by the recent visit. It was not quite the same, but still gave him a measure of comfort.

RuthblogTwo weeks ago, Peter's grandmother or "Nana Ruth," as we called her, died after a short illness. We had just seen her over the summer and had no inkling that it would be our last time with her as a family. Yes, she was getting older (aren't we all?), but she still had the same pep of the Nana Ruth we knew and loved so well. Unlike with the other deaths of his other grandparents, as we are currently in the States, Peter was able to visit with his family and celebrate the life of his grandmother. While he normally is quite the private person, he felt that it was only right to post in Nana Ruth's honor, as she was part of the impetus behind his joining of the Foreign Service.

I am sure we have all had a relative who always seemed to be heading out on another exciting adventure. I know I longed to travel as a child, to leave the country, live overseas or even explore the coasts. I loved hearing the stories of my relatives who seemed to globe trot as though there was no tomorrow and only hoped that one day I could do the same. Peter was lucky enough to have his travel inspiration come from Nana Ruth and her husband, Peter's grandfather, Grandpa Tony.

When Grandpa Tony and Nana Ruth weren't busy tending to the greenhouse in the backyard or playing with the grandkids, they were off exploring the world. Whether it was a trip across the country to the shores of California or a trip to Italy, it was amazing and enthralling in Peter's eyes. He was lucky enough to travel with Nana Ruth and Tony on more than one occasion and can still recall the excitement of his first trip to Florida with them as his guides.  

Later, during his years at GWU, he realized that his dream of combining travel with his career choice was completely within his grasp.  The Foreign Service would offer the chance to see the world and to call exotic locales home.  His passports are now bulging with stamps, he has amazing memories for souvenirs and neither might have happened if not for years of enticing stories and slideshows from his grandparents.  Gracias and takk fyrir, Nana Ruth and Tony, for helping to shape all of our lives and destinies.  

December 21, 2011

All systems go

for January 6.  I'm scheduled for my 'final' reconstruction at 8 a.m. on that Friday, with a 6:30 a.m. (or so) arrival at Inova Fairfax.  I had my final pre-op appointment with the plastic surgeon on Monday and it appears that the I 'passed' (if you will) my CT angiogram with flying colors and we are good to go.

Well, the plastic surgeon is good to go, I'm still a bit nervous.  I have to say that his assistant taking 20 or so 'before' pictures didn't help much either.  There are probably a few things more nerve-wracking than being inspected and photographed in a rather graphic way, but I can't think of them right now.  I can only think of 4 days in the hospital, a 4-6 week recovery time and am I going to completely hate the scar that will run along my bikini line?

On one hand, it's better than the current situation.  SO much better.  I'm also getting a bit extra done (or rather, reduced) as I am having the implant on the left side removed.  I know, I'm crazy, right? I just can't stand the thought of anything being in my body that doesn't need to be...and that definitely doesn't need to be.  I didn't start this whole thing to look like a beauty queen, just to get a semblance of my old self back.  My old self didn't include surgery on parts that didn't need it.   I also don't want to have to worry about implant replacement or having to carry an i.d. card for my implant (yep, right now I have to do that...just in case).  So, out it goes and I will be all the happier.

I worry, though.  Is this the right thing?  Are the kids going to be freaked? (Um, okay, they are spending the weekend of my surgery with the Salty Dogs...question answered:  No!)  I worry about things going wrong, IVs hitting a vein, weird nurses being nosey...you know, the fun stuff.  I also worry about recovery, the housework, the laundry, the meals, you name it.  I'm not known for sitting back and recovering well, but I know I'll have to be careful after this surgery.

Yet, I still fret about the kids. Kelsey seems to be handling everything well, but Cait is sort of having an up and down year (well, it is middle school).  Then there is the Little Guy.  I know he is only three, but he never fails to amaze me with his ability to capture everything that is going on around him.   His conversations, the way he remembers his dreams and repeats them back to me (he talks in his sleep and then relays his dreams when awake...).  Sometimes I worry he is aware of too much...then he reminds me that I am his princess, that he is the king (or the 'struction man or Police Officer Nicholas) and I know that he is happily ensconced in his own world most of the time.  

Despite all of these worries, though, there is part of me that is excited.  I will be eagerly nervous to fast after midnight on January 5th.  I'll sleep fitfully and easily wake at the crack of dawn.  My bag will be packed so that I only need to kiss the kids good-bye as they sleep and shift ever so slightly at my touch.  We will head out to the car and drive the two miles to the hospital where I'll check in and begin the process of true healing.  It may be a slightly painful and drawn-out process, but it will happen.  And, maybe one day, I'll wake up, look in the mirror and for a moment, forget that this whole bloody mess happened in the first place.  That, in and of itself, will make every moment of surgery and recovery worth it.

 

December 18, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year....


no, no, not Christmas, (well, not yet), cookies!  Yes, those wonderful, delightful super-yummy Girl Scout treats that only come around once a year are HERE!  Well, the order form is here and should you place an order now, come March, you will have boxes and boxes of tasty goodness waiting for you.

IMG_1554

Even better news?  The prices are the same as last year, only $4.00/box.  There is also a new cookie, a special anniversary treat, the Savannah Smiles.  If you click on the link, you will see photos of other favorites to include:  

  • Thin Mints
  • Samoas
  • Thank You Berry Munch
  • Trefoils
  • Dulce de Leche
  • Tagalongs
  • Do-Si-Dos

As usual, we are happy to take orders and ship anywhere.  Initial orders are due January 19th and we will keep you updated as to how long one can order (generally, until they run out or March 28th, whichever comes first).  We are also thrilled to be a part of the pilot Cookie Club program.  Kelsey will be able to take orders online via eCards and submit them securely through Cookie Club.  If you ordered cookies last year, she will send you an eCard.  You can then click order cookies, whether for you or a donation to the Gift of Caring.  Your request is then submitted and Kelsey receives a note indicating your "promise" of a purchase.  

She will be able to track her orders (online or traditional), set a goal for her goal chart and manage a list of contacts. If you did not order cookies last year, but would like an eCard so you can order online, please let her know!  (Note:  We have done a test run of the Cookie Club and it is extremely easy and user-friendly!)

Bundle3_1.jpg.100x100_q100(photo courtesy of Little Brownie Bakers)


We know our friends overseas enjoy these special treats and to make it a bit easier, we are happy to split the cost of shipping for those at embassies and consulates worldwide.  Payments can be sent via Paypal, and as always, are not due until the end of March (the 28th, to be exact).  So, sit back, relax and let those visions of your favorite GS cookies dance in your head!

If you are curious, Kelsey does have a sales goal:  375+ packages will allow her to earn a cute blanket with wrap handles.  Given that this is close to double her sales of last year, I think we will shoot for at least 400 boxes...or maybe a sweet 500 to earn that special beach towel!  Don't forget that her troop will again donate cookies this year (volunteer firefighters are the lucky recipients) and of course, will use some of the money earned to treat themselves to a local field trip (we are thinking a water theme, which relates to this year's Journey).  

 

December 14, 2011

Today we put on our

fancy-pants and headed into the city.  It was the annual holiday party for those experiencing an unaccompanied tour in the Foreign Service life.  I know we aren't technically doing the UT thing (you know, yet, for the second time), but we received an invite and so off we went.

Well, two kids and one adult.  One teenager (who originally begged to go) was conspicuously absent. She suddenly had too much homework or some such thing.  I think it had more to do with the fact that I bought her a new dress (that was absolutely adorable and fit her so well) and she didn't want to wear it. Whatever. I'm going to pick my battles and that is not one I am interested in right now.

IMG_1549IMG_1533The rest of us gussied ourselves up, worked our way into the State Department and headed up to the 8th floor.  The Ben Franklin Room was absolutely gorgeous as it had been last year and was filled with tables of goodies.  I wasn't sure how much Nick remembered, until he started talking about going on stage last year to take a picture.  We had a few treats, ran into a few friends (including a family we hadn't seen since we were in Caracas in 2002!) and spied the candy bar. Kelsey had been talking this up for weeks and was not disappointed.  Nick was equally as happy, though he did lose a bit on the way out when his bag fell in front of the elevators (if anyone ends up with a green Skittle stuck to his or her shoe, you know who to blame!).

IMG_1543 IMG_1537After the bags were as full as they could be, we headed into the main room for the speeches.  We listened to Secretary Clinton as well as a family member. There was no photo-op for the kids this year with the Secretary, so this phototo the right will have to suffice.  Quite frankly, I wasn't sure Nick would do it anyway, so this works just as well.  I tried one with him, but, uh, really just a big blurry head moving around.  

Perhaps the best part of all?  Well, duh, the balcony!  We had to go out twice as it is just so awesome out there "because you can see the whole city."  Of course, one can also see the Washington Monument and that is absolutely huge for Nick.  He just loves that monument and wishes it would hurry up and fix itself so we can go to the top. For now, though, he'll settle for several pictures in front of it.

IMG_1541 IMG_1547 IMG_1546It was a fun day, but forgot how exhausting events can be.  I really can't believe I took all 3 of them by myself last year only weeks after surgery...when I shouldn't have even thought about carrying Nick and I spent nearly the whole time holding him.  Therefore, this moment below was quite awesome.  Kelsey and Nick, sitting together, totally absorbed in the performance held for the kids (I know the Bryn Mawr School's Chorus sang, and wish I could tell you the name of the performance troupe...but...I was a bit busy with the LG when they announced them.)

IMG_1550 IMG_1550The other attention-getter?  This amazing gingerbread house!  Absolutely gorgeous...and yes, total eye candy for the kids. Supposedly it will be eaten soon, so glad we had a chance to view it prior to its departure.  



A long day, but well-worth it if the kids have anything to say about it...and now we all must be off to bed as Kelsey has a very early appointment at Children's Hospital in DC tomorrow for a CT scan.  All is well, but there may be eye surgery in the offing and tomorrow's results will decide one way or the other. 

 




December 11, 2011

Stumped...

I was absolutely stumped.  What do you give the person who has everything and/or can cleverly craft it for herself in about 15 minutes flat and make it seem utterly effortless?  How do you sandwich 20 something odd years of memories in between the folds of the most gorgeous Stampin' Up card you can create?  Sometimes you don't, as a card won't cut it.  Sometimes you need a bit more space.

Today is Dr. Salty Dog a.k.a. Shannon's birthday and up until a few days ago, I was completely at a loss as to what to do for the most important message. If each picture below is worth 1,000 words, then here are 28,000 to describe how grateful I am for the friendship of over two (gulp) decades.  Happy birthday and hope the next 40 (plus) years are as equally amazing as the first 40!

Collages1

December 09, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. One photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

  IMG_1475

Idea courtesy of Soulemama.  

December 08, 2011

At least I remembered

something this week.  It has been a hectic, crazy and sad few days.  I keep trying to catch up on things and fall miserably behind on others.  I feel like I have so much to get accomplished as not only is Christmas going to be here soon, but January 6 is now less than a month away.

Despite everything going on, I finally remembered St. Nicholas Day. I had been wanting to do this for years with the kids, but the day would come and go before I could remember.  How we ever managed to do the 13 Santas in Iceland with my memory is beyond me!  

Somehow I managed to remember to remind the kids and sure enough, the shoes were filled with candy Tuesday morning...amazing!  

IMG_1496

Now don't think we have a tree up yet.  Well, not "the" tree, as that was supposed to happen Saturday.  However, Peter has to make a trip a quick trip out of town this weekend.  I'd opt to surprise him with a tree in the living room upon his return, but with my luck, I'd still be at the tree place trying to tie the darn thing to the car!  So, we will save that fun family event for the following week, which will give us more time to enjoy the tree post-Christmas (not that it would come down before the Epiphany anyway).  Considering I am still re-organizing the living room, I'm quite relieved to have a bit of a reprieve. 

IMG_1477

In the meantime, we are enjoying a little tree that we picked up for a song last week.  Nick fell in love with this one and I just couldn't say no.  He has been decorating it with his fire engine ornaments from Uncle Bill and it just needs a few lights and a garland to be complete.

I have to admit, I'm spending the holiday season more than a little nervous.  I have yet to call the plastic surgeon to find out the results of the CT scan and I am assuming that everything is a go since I have not been contacted.  I know this surgery will be a good thing, but the idea of such a long procedure, being in the hospital for several days and a 4-8 week recovery period has me shaking in my boots a bit.  I keep trying to find stories of those who have undergone the same procedure and find that the overwhelming consensus is deep satisfaction (with the DIEP...ha!).  This should reassure me, but I still find myself wavering.  

Then I look in the mirror and realize I have to do something.  I can't keep up the farce of trying to look and feel normal when I don't.  So, I continue my quest to have everything uber-organized in time and pray that I am making the right decision.  Only time will tell, right?

 

 

December 01, 2011

Last week

was such a whirlwind.  We had planned to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Toledo to make up for our no-show last year, when I pulled that whole "I'm too tired to travel that far business."  Well, not this year!

We left on a Tuesday in order to break up the trip.   Apparently, the rest of Northern Virginia had the same idea (DC and MD, too), so a 4 hour trip took somewhere in the neighborhood of 8, including an hour for dinner.  We spent the night in Pittsburgh, in order to take in the Pittsburgh Children's Museum on Wednesday morning.  Not only does it have awesome play areas, but it highlights the work and life of Mr. Rogers, a current favorite of Nick's.  Just an FYI, Mr. Rogers (or Mrs. as he sometimes calls him), is alive and well in his mind.  Trust me on this, I know what happens first hand when you (accidentally) try to tell him otherwise.  

20041124-06 20041124-05

 If you ever have the chance to stop there, with or without kids, I highly recommend it.  We had visited it years before with the girls and it was well worth a return.   There is everything from climbing ropes to trolley building (yes, THAT Trolley) to a potter's wheel (Kelsey's current obsession).  The kids had a fantastic time and it was a marvelous way to break up the trip.  Despite a somewhat cranky lunch hour, we made it on the road and to Toledo by 5 p.m.

IMG_1430We followed up the afternoon's drive with a huge family dinner at a local steakhouse (thanks, Uncle Bill!), which was followed by a frantic last-minute trip to the grocery store for the 18 ingredients I had forgotten to bring with me (remembered the Le Creuset Dutch oven, forgot organic pumpkin...go figure!).  


IMG_1451Thursday was spent cooking, as I tried to impress with my butternut squash soup, gluten-free apple crumble (high ratings all around) and my very first attempt at a pumpkin pie.  I was told it was "super yum" and that's all I needed to hear. We also spent a good chunk of time in the early afternoon with my grandfather.  He was a bit tired and napped through dinner, but it was still time as a family.

Friday rolled around and the cousins were bonding like crazy.  Kelsey spent every night at Casey's house (they are two months apart and peas in a pod).  Casey is actually my first cousin, but you would think these two were separated at birth.  They had a fabulous time and if the guilt didn't hit when it came time to drive away on Saturday....

Caitlin opted to spend Friday with the grandparents (my dad and Gretchen) so Peter and I ended up with just the Little Guy and a bit of time on our hands.  We figured it was a good time for another visit with my grandfather, Grandpere, and the timing could not have been better.  He had just finished lunch and was awake and alert.

Nick, as expected, was not as keen on hanging out and visiting as we originally thought.  To say he is an active three year old is putting it mildly.  After a few minutes, we realized he was better off walking the grounds with Peter while I visited with my grandfather.

And then I faltered.  Grandpere is not as young or strong as he once was and a twinge of sadness hit me.  He wanted to talk, but there didn't seem to be much to discuss.  He then started asking about the direction we were facing.  I responded but realized he really needed an illustration, a map showing where we were at the moment.  I hesitated for just a moment before pulling out my iPhone, placing it in his left hand and pulling up the Google Maps app.  

I swear his eyes lit up.  He is not always 100% these days, but at that moment he seemed to be 150%.  He pointed to the blinking blue dot and asked if that was us.  I replied yes, and then showed him how he could move the map around with but one finger.  He was entranced.  I showed him highways, routed a map from the nursing home to my aunt's house and he quickly pointed out the river in the background.  

When we exhausted the excitement of the map app, we moved onto pictures.  It was so easy for him to slide from one picture to the next.  I realized he had likely never seen the weather or stock apps and he was likewise fascinated by those.  Forty-five minutes flew by and I realized, sadly, that we had to leave in order for me to get back to my aunt's house to cook dinner for the family.

I had originally worried about the trip...how the time was too short, we would spend so much time on the road and all of the other what ifs?  That 45 minutes erased my doubts.  It was like old times...Grandpere and his Sport Buddy (yes, his pet name for me, laugh if you will...especially if you know me and my athletic ability).  He's done so much for us over the years and I finally felt like I gave something, just a tiny bit, back to him.  A Thanksgiving truly worth its weight in gold.