Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

We rang in 2011 about 12 hours early at our first annual Noon Year's Eve party today. Lunch was on the table, the sun was shining outside, and everyone was wide awake as we gathered in the kitchen with homemade hats and sparkly noise makers and watched the clock on the oven change from 11:59 to 12:00. Over a delicious meal of macaroni & cheese, lit'l smokies and sparkling grape juice, we waved goodbye to 2010 and looked forward to an exciting 2011.

We've tried to prepare the kids for the undecking of the halls that will come with the advent of the new year. When we told Abby that we would have to take the tree down because Christmas is over, she actually burst into tears on the spot (which is a completely appropriate response to Christmas being over, in my opinion).

So today I reminded them that Christmas is over, and it's going to be January now, which means it's almost Caleb's birthday.

"It's Caleb's birthday in January?" Abby pondered aloud. I nodded. She thought for a second, then asked, "Can I help take the tree down now?"

I guess she's over it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I love this kid.

After almost 8 weeks with our family, Jacob's still totally digging his third-child status, and the other two seem to love having him in the mix. Abby's turned into a very protective big sister, looking out for the little guy and making sure he has blankets to keep him warm and toys to keep him company when he's not being held. Caleb, big brother that he is, wants to tickle him, push him too hard in his swing, and poke his belly. Thankfully, Abby is really good about nagging Caleb to "be gentle with baby Jacob!"

He's a very strong kid, pushing up and looking around and kicking himself in circles during the oh-so-miserable tummy time we subject him to for a few minutes each day. And he's smart, too. He figured out pretty quickly that being number three of three would place some limitations on his cuddle time, so he developed a nasty projectile spit-up habit that the doctor attributes to a mild case of reflux, and that requires us to hold him upright as much as possible. I really don't mind holding him. But I do mind the puddle of milk that lands behind me every time he finishes eating.

Jacob is still one of the most smiley newborns I've ever met. And following in the footsteps of his big brother and sister, he's getting kind of chatty. If he's in the right mood, he'll fill in the awkward silence between fussy times with some pretty adorable coos, grunts, and even a little noise that sounds kind of like the beginnings of a giggle.

And he's got plenty to laugh at around here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Behold a Little Child

Abby and I are having fun with our new cameras. Apparently, taking good photos requires a layered ensemble of at least three princess dresses.

Perhaps I need to work on my technique.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home for Christmas

We kept referring to it as the first Christmas we've been by ourselves, but in reality, there are five of us now. So while we missed being with the extended family, we didn't feel nearly as alone as we thought we would. Between the mayhem of allowing two toddlers to finally open the gifts they've been warned not to touch for three weeks and the mayhem of having a six-week-old in constant need of a diaper or costume change, it was a pretty full day.

We kicked off our Christmas morning by reading our last Advent passage and putting the final star on our calendar. Abby and Caleb dug into their stockings to find stickers, a big stuffed animal each (a frog for Abby, a puppy for Caleb and a monkey for Jacob), and some snack holders shaped like a shark (Caleb) and a smiling goldfish (Abby). Abby was so overwhelmed by her new sheets of stickers that I think she would have happily ignored the presents under the tree for the rest of the day had we not instructed them each to open one while we waited for our breakfast casserole to bake.

Once they figured out that the boxes under the tree had stuff inside, and that most of that stuff was for them, Abby and Caleb got pretty excited. They still have no idea who Santa is, although they understand that he's somehow loosely associated with Jesus' birthday. Caleb wanted us to open all his presents for him so he could continue playing and not waste time with the whole paper peeling process. Abby would get about halfway through unwrapping a present, then pause and pensively ask, "What's it going to be?" This became the catch phrase of our day.

As if the day wasn't crazy enough, Uncle Matt armed our children with some Texas style pistols. Abby loved her cowgirl ensemble, complete with real Texas boots, pink hat and double holster for her pink handled pistols. Caleb proceeded to run around the room in his black cowboy hat poking people with his double action cap gun, when he wasn't driving his new Hess tractor trailer with the F-22 on the back. As for mom, I was officially initiated into the family this year with a pink BB gun of my very own from Justin's parents. Now I won't have to borrow one during our next Redneckathon. And I can be assured that none of the boys will borrow mine.

But the best gift of the day was from Santa himself (big guy gets all the credit). Apparently Santa only checks in on our kids on good days (or maybe he only sees them when they're sleeping) because between his gift and the 40 piece Thomas set Nana and Granddaddy sent, they are now the proud owners of way too many train pieces. We have to move the furniture now to make room for all the tracks and trains that we can build. Every other gift the kids received somehow worked its way into the train setup, and at one point we had a train that went all the way to Bethlehem, past an F-22 and around a cowboy hat. Once the train set came out, there was no more gift opening to be done, and we went to bed with three presents still under the tree.

Jacob joined us at various one-hour intervals throughout the day, and was mostly ambivalent toward everything he received for his first Christmas, with the exception of the giant stuffed monkey that the other two kept shoving in his face. "Jacob's monkey!" Caleb chanted. "Here Jacob! Jacob's monkey!"

After naps we enjoyed a fancy Christmas dinner of roasted vegetables, salad and pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach, cream cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Then it was time for our traditional Happy Birthday Jesus party. The kids sang happy birthday and helped blow out the candles on the cake they had made while I documented the event on the new camera Justin surprised me with.

It was a fun-filled, exhausting, exhilarating day. When it was over, we all crashed for the night, including Jacob, who is sleeping 11 hours at night now (which may just be the best Christmas present of all).

At bedtime, I asked Abby what her favorite thing about Christmas was.

"The star for Jesus' birthday," she said.

We're looking forward to many more years of celebrating our Savior's birth with these precious gifts of ours.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy to the World

With the presents wrapped, the cards sent and the old toys purged, there was only one thing left to do to get ready for Christmas. So while Jacob ignored the warning label on his travel swing and swung happily on the counter beside us, Abby and Caleb spent the morning of Christmas Eve making our traditional Happy Birthday Jesus cake.

As always, Abby insisted that our cake feature lots of sprinkles.

"It's Jesus' birthday cake, Mommy," she explained. "Jesus wants a lot of sprinkles on it!"

Later, there was some confusion about who would be in attendance at Jesus' birthday party.

"Are Mary and Joseph going to be there?" Abby asked.

"No, sweetie," I told her. "They lived a long long time ago, and they're not around anymore to come to birthday parties." That seemed to satisfy her.

"Will Jesus be there?" inquired my little theologian. This led to a brief discussion on Jesus' omnipresence, how he dwells in the hearts of believers, and how he would be at our party even though we wouldn't be able to see him.

"Is Jesus in my belly?" she asked.

Realizing I was failing at my attempts to impart truth to my daughter, I answered that one with a simple no and moved on.

Later, Justin asked Abby if she knew what tomorrow would be.

"Christmas!" she yelled.

"And what are we going to do on Christmas day?" he asked. We were both delightfully surprised at her answer.

"Celebrate Jesus' birthday!" came her happy reply.

Maybe we're getting through to her after all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Children, Go Where I Send Thee

"Can we have a party, Mommy?" Abby asked innocently.

"Of course," I answered. "What kind of party are you going to have?"

"A train party," she replied.

I reminded both Abby and Caleb that the trains needed to stay in the living room, so they'd have to host their party in there. (Our playroom does to trains what most dryers do to socks. It's better that our wooden train set stay isolated from the rest of the toys.)

I must have had my head turned when she and Caleb lugged the box of Mega Blocks in from the playroom. If I had known that all 110 blocks and 50+ pieces of train set were invited to this party, I might have supervised it a little more closely.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Couple of Misfits

It's not that he loves the pink knit hat.

It's that he's got major Little Brother Syndrome.

When Abby took her hat off and dropped it into the neutral zone between her car seat and Caleb's, Caleb promptly picked it up. Upon realizing it was in her brother's possession, Abby suddenly decided she desperately wanted it back. Much whining ensued, and I turned around just in time to see Caleb fitting the hat onto his head, all the while looking directly at his sister with a big satisfied grin on his face. I think Abby and I probably realized at about the same time that she wasn't getting that hat back anytime soon.

Nana warned Abby about all the troubles a little brother can bring. It looks like she was right.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Away in a Manger

Around Christmas each year, our church brings in a bunch of farm animals and throws down some hay in the back parking lot. Some shivering elementary schoolers stand nearby, dressed as Mary and Joseph and cuddling a baby doll borrowed from the church nursery. The kids love it, and it really helps bring to life that part of the story where Jesus was born in a smelly stable.

Abby and Caleb both love the animals, even when they try to eat their donuts, like this one did.

"Whatcha doing, Abby?" I asked.

"Huggin' a goat," she said, matter-of-factly.

Sometimes we parents ask the most obvious questions.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sleigh Ride

It warmed up today. The balmy 34 degree weather provided the perfect opportunity for Jacob's first ride on the snow.

Maybe if we get a few more inches, he can try some of those big jumps we hit during last February's snowpocalypse.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Island

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the snow...

Caleb's winter coat is buried somewhere under a pile of other cold-weather necessities that seem to live in my car. And since those few inches of snow on the driveway needed to be played in immediately, we made due with what we could find. Personally, I think he's the cutest little snow shark I've ever seen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Holly Jolly Christmas

This precious moment brought to you by the child who rarely fusses.

We welcome the boy's nightly fussy time. "Fussy now equals sleepy later" is our evening mantra. And if his quiet 8.5 hour stretch between feedings each night is any indication, it seems there's some truth in it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blue Christmas

We're officially ready for Christmas now.

With the big day just a couple of weeks away, Abby and I traded in our trademark blue nails for something a little more festive.

After I carefully filed and painted her teeny tiny toenails in alternating red and green, Abby admired my work, and suggested one minor modification.

"Are these my Christmasy toes?" she asked, in all seriousness.

"They sure are, sweetie," I replied, with equal sobriety.

She paused, examined her toes once more, then added, "But where are the sparkles, Mommy?"

I quickly dug through my bag of polish until I found the glittery bottle, and promptly fixed her toes and mine.

Next time, I won't forget the sparkles.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Wonder as I Wander

There's this sweet spot in his day when Caleb gets me all to himself. I often wonder why his naps are always shorter than his sister's, but I think I've got it figured out.

With Jacob and Abby both still napping, Caleb, my early riser, has from about 3:30 to 4 each afternoon to enjoy some uninterrupted Mommy time. It's the perfect time to strap on his sister's backpack, wander around the house loading it with essentials--dinosaurs and a stuffed rabbit on this occasion--and build a "choo choo train of trucks" (as he calls it) for Mommy to admire that no one will destroy.

Part of me wishes he would nap as long as his sister. And part of me really misses these moments on days that he does.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Yet another reason why home preschool is awesome: If we want a snow day, we take one.

Our preschool activities were cut short this week, preempted by some flurries that resulted in two very excited toddlers and one ambivalent baby.
But before the weather outside got frightful, we squeezed in this week's letter craft, a letter n nativity scene that made an enormous mess in my kitchen and was, therefore, a huge hit with my kids. (As she glued straw to her "stable," Abby wisely pointed out that hay starts with the letter h, not the letter n. It took a little convincing, but eventually she was on board with my nativity idea.) This introduction of the word nativity into her vocabulary led to the drawing of a few hundred nativity scenes of her own throughout the week. Most of her pictures include both a baby Jesus and a baby Abby in the manger, along with Mary, Joseph, Mommy, Daddy, and typically, off to the side, a map to Bethlehem, in case they get lost.
Abby continues to gain confidence with her letters, and has found a new favorite activity in crafting words out of her play doh. Mostly, she works on her first and last name, but with some gentle urging she'll put together letters to spell out some of her sight words as well.
And as always, we spent lots of time coloring and practicing writing lowercase letters. More specifically, Abby colored and practiced lowercase letters while Caleb took all the blank paper I gave him and laid it out on the floor to make a choo-choo train and Jacob did calisthenics in his bouncy seat.
And with that, I'm declaring us officially on Christmas break. The School of Mommy will resume in January.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside

You're not seeing things. That white stuff behind that bundled up little baby is snow.

It was over almost as soon as it began. I measured an accumulation of just under a quarter inch of snow on the back deck, and most of that has already melted. But it was enough to get the kids all hyped up and excited about winter (which technically doesn't start for another week and a half).

Happy first snow, Jacob.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wonderful Christmas Time

We do a lot of baking around here anyway, but the holidays have provided the perfect excuse to go overboard in the dessert department. I've never been a fan of stove top cooking, per se...but anything I can mix and stick in the oven is worth a shot. And pouring flour in a mixer is a whole lot more kid-friendly than sautéing onions. So as long as there are preschoolers in this house, we're sticking to cooking projects that don't involve hot oil.

These deliciously chewy gingerbread cookies were the perfect indoor activity for a cold day. Abby rolled dough and counted to make sure we had the right number of each cookie shape, and Caleb kept our cookie cutters organized by making sure they stayed in a straight line when they weren't in use. We have Abby to thank for the gazillion star-shaped cookies, and Caleb is responsible for the 13 trains and infinite number of gingerbread bears we ended up with. Thankfully I was there to round out our cookie inventory with some gingerbread men and women and a couple of Christmas trees.

These are by far the best gingerbread cookies I've ever had. Bonus: they stayed chewy for days.
Chewy Gingerbread Cookies*
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 tablespoons baking soda, dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water
1/3 cup granulated sugar (optional)
Beat butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in molasses.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder and spices in a separate bowl. Alternately add flour mixture and baking soda mixture to butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Shape dough into a ball and place in sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate dough for at least two hours, until firm.

When you're ready to bake, remove dough from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

For round cookies:
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls of uncooked dough in a bag with the granulated sugar and shake gently to coat. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray and place dough about 2 inches apart. Using the flat bottom of a glass, press cookies to flatten until they are about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Bake at 325 for 8-10 minutes until surface of cookies crack slightly. Remove cookies to wire racks and allow to cool.

For cookie cutouts:
Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out desired shapes. Bake at 325 for 8 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes before removing to wire racks.

Unused dough can be refrigerated for up to a week.

*adapted from Martha Stewart's Chewy Gingerbread Cookie recipe
Martha Stewart Living October 2006

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Angels We Have Heard On High

When it comes to underwhelming Christmas concert performances, these girls do not disappoint. Not to be outdone by last year's showcase (the one where she stood around doing nothing until the kid next to her convinced her to march in place), Abby spent the first portion of this year's CBS Christmas concert facing backward, for no particular reason.

When her teacher finally got her attention and got her facing the right way, she stood shoulder to shoulder with her BFF while the two competed to see who could stare blankly into the audience for the longest period of time without blinking.

Toward the end, she managed to lip sync a few lines of "Away in a Manger" before getting distracted by the bell she was supposed to be shaking and wandering to the back of the stage to chat with her teacher. She returned to the front of the stage just in time to receive a round of applause from a room full of over-eager parents. By then the pressure was simply more than she could handle, and she exited the stage with her thumb planted firmly in her mouth.

And like a good mom, I got the whole thing on video.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Silent Night

We're celebrating the four week anniversary of Jacob's emancipation from the womb, and I'd say he's handling life on the outside pretty well.

The verdict is still out on why he's such a great kid. We're not sure if our third-child mentality just makes things seem that much easier, or if he really is this awesome. It's probably a little of both.

He's still a phenomenal sleeper, and has decided to preclude our would-be efforts at Baby Boot Camp by comfortably sleeping from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day on his own accord. We finally moved the pack-n-play out of my closet and into the guest room. Perhaps his new sleeping quarters are just so cozy that he can't help but sleep through the night. (Caleb was sent to boot camp at around twelve weeks of age to kick some pretty poor sleep habits he'd fallen into. We're firm believers in helping our children get as much sleep as they need. Sometimes that calls for a little tough love. And ear plugs. Maybe Jacob will get to skip the cry-it-out step.)

Jacob's getting more and more smiley by the day, and Abby and Caleb just love the big grins they get from their little brother. Jacob still reserves his biggest smiles for his daddy, though. We're starting to get a couple of little coos from him as well, but those are few and far between. His once-hazel eyes have continued to get darker and are now most assuredly brown. His sparse dark baby hair has fallen out on top, leaving him with some pretty severe male pattern baldness. The new hair coming in is just as dark, so we might not have a third blondie to look forward to. But he's still just as cute as ever.

All in all, the little critter is fitting in quite nicely with our crazy family. The big kids adore him and love to report back to me on every little thing he does when I'm not looking, which includes, but is not limited to Abby's "Baby Jacob spit up again, Mommy" and Caleb's "Uh-oh. Baby Jacob big toot, Mommy."

And in an effort to make sure he doesn't become the forgotten third child, Jacob kicked off the weekend by coming down with a nasty newborn cold, requiring lots of holding, cuddling, and nasal suctioning. Way to go, buddy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Go Tell It On the Mountain

I did it. Or rather, we did it. We completed our first trimester of home preschool. With ten weeks down, and twenty to go according to my lesson plans, I'm declaring Preschool Lite a successful and worthwhile endeavor. We've come a long way since our start two and a half months ago.

Abby has learned to write her first and last name, along with the letters l, t, i, j, f, v, w and r (and some random others I've not kept up with). She's memorized a good deal of scripture at CBS and from our ABC Bible Verse book. She's grasping the concept that letters can be put together to make words, and can successfully read a number of those words herself. She can count to 50, follow a series of directions to complete tasks, and is developing into exactly the precocious three-year-old we thought she would. And she's done it all right before my eyes, which has been a really awesome experience.

Caleb has reaped the benefits of being our tag-along student in some wonderful ways. He's not even two, and I'd never think of putting him in a traditional preschool at his age, so while he participates in most of what we do at the School of Mommy, I'm not really pushing any sort of formal learning on him. But while he colors alongside Abby and does letter crafts with us, he's learned to recognize quite a few letters of the alphabet. While he plays matching games and blocks with us, he's learned to recognize and name a bunch of different colors. While he's stood at the counter and helped with our myriad baking projects, he's learned to wait his turn and follow instructions. And because he has to do everything his sister does, he's picked up plenty of other skills along the way, from identifying shapes and animals to completing puzzles, counting to ten and singing simple songs. I wouldn't have thought to teach him any of this stuff at his age on my own, but through our preschool time each week I'm realizing he's capable of learning and doing far more than I would have imagined at the age of 22 months.
Abby's continuing to grow more and more confident with her letter writing, and is even showing signs of having some patience with herself when she doesn't quite get things right the first time. I've learned that when she can figure out what she's supposed to do and then figure out how to do it, she succeeds far better than when I tell her what to do and try to help her. It takes a little longer to do things her way, but I'm starting to understand how to deal with my little self-motivator and how to give her the right balance of freedom and instruction that she needs. The Kumon method is working out great for her, since the worksheets are pretty self-explanatory in what they want you to accomplish and how to write each letter. She's done enough of them that now I can simply hand her a worksheet and let her do it all by herself. The big girl in her loves bringing me the completed page and asking for the next one when she's ready.
Together, Abby and Caleb are learning to navigate a world where you can't always get what you want when you want it. Being 17 months apart is a great catalyst for this little life lesson. This week I was very proud of the way they handled working on a craft together as we created our Advent calendar. They took turns with the glue, and Abby even helped Caleb by offering some suggestions when he wasn't sure where to put his tree, instead of just taking it from him.
And because it's not really Christmas with a toddler unless there's a weird angel made out of body parts hanging on the tree, we made these little hand and foot heralds after talking about the angels that visited Mary, Joseph and the shepherds to bring news of Jesus' birth.
But the highlight of the week was this shape-making game, which the kids worked with for over an hour. The cards are organized in a series that gets progressively more difficult, and Abby flew through them with ease, finding the pieces she needed to make obscure shapes and putting them together so quickly that I could barely keep up. And Caleb truly wowed me with his spacial recognition and ability to take the pieces I offered and make the correct shape out of them. Starting with a simple circle, he worked his way up to building a truck out of these little blocks. I'm ignoring that ages 3 and up recommendation on the box. My 1-year-old loves these things!
I'd hoped to take a break for the Christmas holidays, but these kids won't let me. Abby's continuing to ask daily when we can do preschool again, and has enlisted Caleb's help by teaching him to ask "School, Mommy?" Looks like the School of Mommy is still in session.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Child is This?

Caleb (22 months) and Jacob (3 weeks)
December 2010

Is this the same kid who found himself in the passenger seat a little less than two years ago? How is he old enough to drive already?

Abby (18 months) and Caleb (7 weeks)
March 2009

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Time is Here

There's little we have to do to drum up excitement about Christmas. Abby's been looking forward to it ever since her birthday in August. She can recite the order of our birthday celebrations pretty well, and has understood for a while that after her birthday would be Jacob's birthday, and after that it would be Jesus' turn. Christmas is, after all, the biggest birthday party ever. And my kids are pretty impressed that our neighborhood, our church and even the local Starbucks are decorating for Jesus' birthday.

I do my part to keep them focused on the real reason for the season by turning everything back to what Christmas is all about: a real baby, born in a real barn, fully human, with all the crying, pooping and general chaos that goes along with newborns. (They're all too familiar with that now.) There are presents because it's a birthday party. There are lights because Jesus came to be the light of the world. There's a star at the top of the tree because when Jesus was born, God put a bright star in the sky so people could find and worship the baby who was God in the flesh. We decorate, and we listen to Christmas carols, and we read special Christmas books over and over again to give our kids ample opportunity to ask questions about what Christmas is all about. And to give us every opportunity to explain this most awesome of holidays.

And this year, we made our first Advent calendar to help the kids count down the days until Christmas. We ripped the idea off from a publication by Crossway Books. Each night there's a scripture passage to read to give the kids a glimpse into the Christmas story in a simple way that's easy for them to wrap their minds around. We read a Christmas book, or the Christmas story from our children's Bible, and then one of the kids gets to put a star on the calendar along the path that leads to a picture of baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph in the manger.

I'm looking forward to making this a family tradition, and to seeing how their understanding of the amazing story of our Savior's birth deepens each year. What a privilege it is to be able to give them this foundation for understanding the Christmas season at such a young age!

Some Christmas resources we're loving this year:
  • Advent Calendar (with full text of Scripture passages that we're using)
  • Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart (CD and book of classic Christmas carols with a story about the origin and meaning of each)
  • The Story of Christmas by Stephanie Jeffs and John Haysom (A very well-written book that clearly and accurately tells the Christmas story without dumbing it down.)