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Monday, December 22, 2014

A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Card

My heart overflows with happy as I look at the beautiful faces of family and friends surrounding me. No I'm not hosting a party - I'm looking at all of your Christmas cards strung across my living room and on my fridge.  If you got our card this year, it might look a little bit different from past years and maybe even from the other ones on your fridge. We look a little rumpled. There's a stray sippy cup in the shot. I am not wearing make up (hence the black and white).

Let me back up a bit and I'll tell you the story from the very beginning:

I booked a photographer in early October. I curated coordinating but obviously not matchy-matchy outfits for the family in November. I knew it would be outdoors and chilly so I bought nice coats and a freaking hat for my 4 month old. It was $12. Yes that is ridiculous. On the morning of our photo shoot I checked the weather. Clear skies - check. High today- 49 degrees. What?? Um...that sounds cold.

The sweet and talented photographer we'd booked called about two hours before we were scheduled to leave. The kids would have a hard time with the cold she warned. She would go ahead and shoot us but it wasn't possible to edit out red cheeks and runny noses. We might get 20 decent minutes before the kids fell apart. Knowing it would be hard enough to get a good shot of our clan on a perfect day, I took her advice and we re-scheduled.

Then, in a stroke of brilliance, it came to me. Our little family had planned a trip to Savannah over Thanksgiving - we got fancy and rented a beach house because, well, ain't nobody got room for this family at the inn. It would be the perfect place to get an amazing shot for a Christmas card. We'd ask Mom or Dad to take pictures of us on the beach. The beach is always gorgeous, there would be tons of natural light, we already had our perfect outfits. The plan was foul-proof.

The morning after Thanksgiving, I dressed up my little dolls kids, we roped my Dad into playing Annie Leibovitz and shuffled out to the beach. The cold blasted everyone the moment we stepped outside. It was very cold. Possibly even 49 degrees cold.  (If you're not from Georgia, don't hate. That's truly very cold to us.) And it was windy. Like, heeeeeyy you're at the beach! kind of windy.

We never made it past the boardwalk. I quickly realized we were not likely to get the perfect shot. We would be lucky to get any shots at all. Sweet B was not happy about the wind and refused to throw even a single blessed smile in the camera's direction. Blue Eyes was more interested in looking for turtles in the dunes than taking artistic direction. The Squirt was a complete sport about everything, but the Titanic was sinking and one lifeboat wasn't going to save us.

I had every intention of maintaining my sense of humor- what with our four infantile children and all- but it was blown out the window along with my perfect Christmas card by the gale force winds. At one point I might have grabbed the camera from my father and huffed, "I should have known this was a stupid idea." Yes I can get dramatic quickly when my hopes are being dashed.

After trolling through the camera later on that afternoon I admitted to myself that coordinated outfits and synchronized smiles aren't entirely reflective of this season of our lives.

Life right now is crazy, messy, chaotic. But the beauty of this season pushes at the seams of my heart til it threatens to burst sometimes too. It's a weird balance of crazy and joy.

The next morning we went for Round 2. Only this time we stayed in our PJs, grabbed some coffee (and/or milk) and snuggled in on the couch for a while. We set the camera up and hit record.  The Squirt told me everything he wanted for Christmas. Sweet B made faces at the New Kid. Blue Eyes showed off his ninja moves. There was an argument or two. Coffee was spilled. There was a timeout for a diaper change. What we ended up with was an accurate slice of life these days and we managed to grab a still shot from the video that was "Christmas card worthy".

Our outfits aren't coordinated and no one is looking at the camera, but it's currently my favorite picture of our clan.

 Merry Christmas from our perfectly imperfect family to yours. 

P.S. Yes, I've posted about family photo shoots gone wrong before. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ready, Steady, Cook

I go in and out of phases with cooking. When I first became a mom I was constantly trying out new recipes and enjoying having the time to cook. When Sweet B came along I signed up for e-meals because it was a challenge for me to figure out our food budget and get dinner on the table. Once Blue Eyes was born and we got into a rhythm I got all granola and started baking my own bread regularly, making our own yogurt and hitting up the farmers market in the summer. Most recently, after New Kid was born, it was Eggos and frozen pizzas, pure survival mode.

About two months ago I found this gem I've been wanting to read, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, at the thrift store. (A fabulous source of books P.S.) I strongly believe eating homemade is the best way to eat more healthily and cheaply. Hence the chickens, the bread baking, etc. But I've honestly always been skeptical about organic food. We don't regularly buy anything organic. If something happens to be organic and it's a good price, woo hoo. But I don't go out of my way to make it happen.

But Mrs. Kingsolver makes a strong case for organic. And most convincingly for me, for local and seasonal. She brilliantly makes the case that our ability to refrigerate fresh foods and truck them all over the country quickly has spoiled us. We eat strawberries in December, not realizing that they pale in comparison to a just-picked June berry. We eat green salads full of romaine lettuce year-round and broccoli in June and wonder why our kids don't like veggies. If we limited our produce eating to seasonal items, we would be eating things at the peak of their flavor and we might possibly ENJOY eating our fruits and veggies!

The past few months I've been trying apples as many different dishes as I can think of. Nowadays dinner has had a lot more squash and kale in it than usual. On Tuesday I found this recipe in a search for something I could make using up a leftover baked sweet potato and kale - it was DELISH. Oh and we added bacon on top. (As people say: because, bacon.) We don't have berries in the fridge now that it's winter, instead we have oranges on the counter.

This book even has me convinced that cheese-making is something I need to start doing. Because I love cheese. I'm a bonafide turophile. Did you know you can make a fresh mozzarella in 30 minutes? Supposedly this is true. Family pizza night might be looking up.

Now I'm debating re-joining the local co-op I was briefly a member of back when money and time were more plentiful. And also looking into buying milk from a north GA farm. Ha! Anyone want to join me for an afternoon of figuring out curds and whey?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why I'm Giving Up on Advent

"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, 
'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth."
~O Holy Night~
It's here y'all. Angels We Have Heard on High and O Holy Night and Away in a Manger. In the words of Olaf, "all good things, all good things."

In past years I have tried to really "work" the Advent season. I read some beautiful blogs that always encourage keepers of the home to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and keep Christ at the center. I love that. In the spirit of giving us all tangible ways to do that, there is the Jesse Tree and Upside Down Christmas and Light 'Em Up and so many other things - and y'all, these things are AWESOME.

But in this season, with four kids under 6, it can feel like pressure.

Growing up, I don't ever remember my mom doing anything "Advent-y" with us. (And mom, if you did, I'm so sorry I've forgotten.) We never attended a very liturgical church, so as an adult I still can't explain the 4 purple candle tradition. Or wait, is it four pink candles?

While we didn't do anything very "Advent-y" when I was a child, I understood that Christmas was about Jesus and well, in my family we loved us some Jesus. We talked about Jesus January through November. By the time Christmas rolled around, we got it. We loved Jesus and Christmas was his birthday, so it made sense to have a big celebration.

In my mind it's a bit like my kids' birthdays. Everyone in the family loves our kids and shows them love year-round. When their birthday comes around we don't have to remind everyone how special that kid is, or why we need to have a party for them. Everyone gets it - we love this kid, therefore we tell them how special they are and we celebrate them. I think it should be kind of the same with Jesus.

This year I'm letting go of the need to "do" more with the kids. We will read the Christmas story a bit more than other Bible stories this month. We will talk about the why behind our traditions. But this year there won't be lists of ways to make it amazing or extra service projects or specific scriptures to read on specific days.

Hope, Love, Joy, Peace.

This is what the Advent candles represent. Yes, I just looked it up. To remind us that before Christ came there was darkness and when He came, He brought Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

Instead of doing more to show my kids what Christmas and Jesus are all about, I think I am going to focus on being present with my kids. I think they'd like that a lot more actually than me stressing over some crazy craft.

I do want my kids to see that their Mom places her Hope in Christ and not herself. For me right now that looks like acknowledging my failures (i.e. when I yell at my kids, lose my cool with my kids, use a bad word around my kids....etc.) and asking for their forgiveness when I need it. Messing up is actually a great way to share the Gospel with my kids.

I do want my kids to see that their Mom can Love them because she was first Loved by Him. This looks a lot like just being kind most of the time. Remembering they are people I am raising, not tasks I am managing.

I want my kids to see that knowing Christ brings unshakeable Joy into my world. Again,  for me right now this is mainly not throwing a temper tantrum just because they do.

I want to make it obvious that my heart is not troubled by the chaos around me because I have Peace within me. I think you can probably guess my application of this one by now.

If I can live that out this month, I have a feeling my kids will catch on to the meaning of Christmas. With or without pink and purple candles.

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