Saturday, December 7, 2013

crazy for cranberry

 Yes, it's winter and Christmastime is here! Yellow was the color I was crazy for in the fall.  Now it seems I'm noticing beautiful shades of red amongst the generally neutral background of this season. It's a burst of life when everything else is lifeless.  It's joy!  It's festive! Swoon!
Because of my new found color love I made my first cranberry sauce. Hello! It's so amazing and it's sooo easy!  A bag of cranberries, an orange, a little shugah and cinnamon boiled down a bit and voila! So yes I'm a bit enchanted with this season, and (as I do every year at this time) I've been going over thoughts and memories from this year.  I thought I might update you on the birds in my nest.

Natalie, my sister always says, is a carbon copy of me.  I don't think that's so true because she is so very logical, and that is an attribute most definitely from my husband.  She is her own unique blend.  She is intuitive, a creator, a tender heart.  She was on swim team over the summer and took some ice skating lessons last winter, but her real love has not strayed from riding horses.  She plays the trumpet in band.  She makes the best scrambled eggs I have ever had.  I find her in bed every night avoiding bedtime deep in a book or crossword puzzle or sometimes a text conversation.  She started middle school this year.  When she was a toddler I saw infinite time with her.  This new stage has started a clock for me.  I feel my time with her is defined and not nearly enough. I wonder if I've taught her enough, and I feel the time pressing against me as there is so much more I want her to know.  I love that she is old enough to have real conversations with, and I love her sense of humor.

Ben is our dreamer.  In so many ways he is still a mystery to me.  He keeps so much of what he is thinking to himself, and then surprises me with a brilliant thought or a sweet comment.  He spends a lot of time building Legos, and I think in those times he's in a whimsical world all his own.  Sometimes I like to go there with him.   He plays baseball and golf.  He loves to have Nerf gun fights with the neighbor boys.  One day, while he was lying down in a neighbor's yard amid a war, I passed by him in the car and yelled hello.   He opened one eye and said, "Mom!  I can't talk. I'm supposed to be dead." Ah, of course.  He just spent a majority of the evening fighting off ninjas with the leftover cardboard tube from the wrapping paper.  Then when it uncoiled he pretended it was nunchucks.  I treasure his snuggles, and have spent many nights watching him fall asleep as a few tears slide down my face as I realize he is growing up and will not be a little boy too much longer.

Hallie is our shooting star.  She hurls herself at life in a way that's inspiring.  She is bright-eyed, sunny, and possibly a bit too friendly to strangers.  She is curious about everything and eager to learn.  I often find that she has undressed herself from her day clothes, and redressed herself in her ballet outfit and shoes.  Similarly, I often find her dancing and twirling around the house and then pointing her toe in a grand gesture.  Frequently I find her hiding something, cutting up something, or talking to something imaginary.  She has a fondness for ugly toys (like Trumphia the purple, rubber elephant).  She has a stubbornness that is annoying and endearing because I love that she already knows how to stand her ground.  Her love sometimes takes my breath away.

We've had a very full and very blessed year.  We've had time I do not take for granted with family, with old friends, and with new friends.  Natalie asked to be baptized this summer after camp, and we celebrated with her on a Saturday in July.  Michael's brother, Philip, married Mary on a beautiful day in May.  My sister, Alison, married Jason on a beach in September, and I now have two step-nieces (cousins!).  My brother, Michael, proposed to his girlfriend, Merissa, so we have another wedding this coming year.  We had Sophie come stay with us from Germany for three amazing months, and now have a new friend (yay!) across a very big ocean (boo!).  Natalie celebrated our birthdays at Biltmore with Sophie in September, and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect, magical day.  We went to Disney in October, and that was full of memories none of us will soon forget.  We went to Destin with Michael's family at the end of July.  I took the kids to Hilton Head with my dad and Merissa and my sister came up for a few days too.  So, like I said, it's been very full and very blessed!  May this new year bring you many blessings as well!  Happy Christmas season everyone!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the post about Disney

I'm writing this so when someone asks advice about Disney (and I think with Disney you need all the help you can get)  I can direct them here.  Or I can direct myself here because you tend to forget everything, and chances are we won't have another Disney trip for a very long time.  Okay so... where to stay.
There are pros and cons with staying on Disney property, and depending on what type of trip you are doing and your budget I have different advice.  We stayed at Fantasy World Resort only about 3 miles from Disney property.  To stay at the cheapest hotel(s) on Disney (our travel agent was pricing us for the World of Sports one) it was $1,000 more than this resort.  I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and clean it was.  Finding a room for a family of six was a challenge, and this resort has 2 story condos 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms and a queen size sleeper sofa.  They also had a washer/dryer,  a nice, updated kitchen, and water slides/lazy river/splash pad in the pool area.  The negative to this place is that the shuttle times were very inconvenient.  For example going to Disney we had to catch the 8:30 am shuttle and the next one wasn't until 11 and that night the pick up times were 5:45 and 8:45- the park closed at 7.  So the first night we took a taxi home and after that we took our car and parked there.  It is $15 to park and that is good for any of the parks all day.  If you have the money the Contemporary Resort would be great b/c the monorail runs right through it. If I had a baby (and the money) I would stay there.  It also takes ages to get into Magic Kingdom b/c you have to take two monorails.  It's like getting in Ft. Knox.  Ok, not like that, but when you have eager children awaiting Mickey and rides and princess and Disney galore it drives you a little nuts.  It took us over an hour to get from our hotel shuttle stop to the actual entrance to the park.  If I was dreaming up a vacation with no budget I think I would stay in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  That place looks!!  You also might want to check out "friends of Disney" hotels that shuttle you to the park.  There was a Doubletree we passed across from Downtown Disney that looked really nice and close to everything.

The parks-- they are overwhelming!  We only had one day in each park (actually only 3 of the parks) b/c we are cheap and the park hopper is not.  So, my husband would like to go with no plan and just ride what you come upon.  I, however, do not work this way.  At least not with a mixed gender group of all different ages-- 15, 11, 8, and 3- ha!  No, for me it was like a military operation- divide and conquer!  So yes, we split up several times so the big kids could ride say Splash Mountain while the little princess met with the princesses.  Fast passes are awesome, but they also require strategy as you can only get one during one time period.  So there are some lines you are just going to have to stand in, so we tried to pick rides to stand in line for the move quickly- like Small World and the Magic Carpets.  Also, I made a big mistake, and did not realize we were there on one of the day designated for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party so you needed an extra ticket to stay past 7 p.m. which meant no fireworks for us, and sadly that's my favorite part!
Okay a few tips if you are cheap like me.  The Target in Orlando has some Disney shirts/souvenirs much cheaper than you will find in the parks.  I took Natalie for her 4th birthday and she wanted a little plastic crown for $10 and I found it at Target than night for $3- that was 7 years ago but you get the picture.  It's worth checking out. I also found some Minnie ears and a Minnie shirt for H at our Target a month before our trip.  I bought journals in the dollar bins at the art store before we left and some stickers to decorate them for autographs.  While I was there I bought a tube of glow in the dark bracelets for a dollar that the kids loved.  I had envisioned them wearing those during the fireworks, but they liked wearing them just to walk around in the dark.  I also read somewhere that you can order old Disney pins on Amazon for really cheap.  I didn't think my kids would be very into the pin trading that you can do with Disney employees, but by the third day that's what they wanted as their souvenir and the cheapest pin is $8 at the parks (if you don't know about pin trading Google it).  I also gave my kids some money before we got to the parks.  I think that helped them decide if it was really something they wanted.  I thought the fan/spray water bottle was a waste of money, but Natalie bought it with her money and ended up using the lanyard part of it to display her pins (a nice man walked by with a whole ziploc bag filled with pins and gave her a handful to trade with), and we were all begging to get sprayed with her water fan.  It was 95 degrees that day- in October!! Something to think about.  

Food--  Disney let's you bring in backpacks /snacks/ water bottles.  They check your bags and there was no problem with my goldfish and sandwiches.  I've heard you can't bring in juice boxes with straws to Animal Kingdom.  We did not buy the Disney meal plan.  We had breakfast and dinner in our condo and ate lunch in the parks.  If you want to eat in the castle with the princesses or at the new Be Our Guest restaurant get reservations way ahead of time.  It says on one of the Disney websites how far in advance, but one month is not nearly enough in advance.  We did get reservations at the Rainforest Cafe in Animal K. I have no idea what the normal wait was, but we still had to wait about 20 mins. (with reservations a month in advance!).
What we loved-- I loved The Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom.  Hallie and I saw that while the others went on Everest and the Rapids rides.  It was like Cirque de Soleil for kids.  I so wished the others could have seen it, but it wasn't until the end of the day that I discovered it.  Splash Mountain was a big hit with my older two.  The characters are so great, but when my older two were little they were terrified of that sort of thing.  H absolutely loved them, and some of our best memories are with them.  Test Track was perfect for my son and even H loved it, but we went to get a fast pass for that about 10 a.m. and our time to come back was 7 that night!  Dinosaur was much scarier than I thought, and Hallie hid under blanket and cried.  Yeah.  That ride is all in the dark with lots of huge dinosaurs that pop out at you.  Perfect for B though, and the girls loved screaming the entire time.  In Epcot they have a Phineas and Ferb secret agent thing you can do.  Ben really loved it, and he chose to do his in Mexico.  It was so busy that day, and it was very hard to maneuver around all the people.  That said, it was very cool.  The phone you have directs you to different places and gives directions for your clues. For instance, we had to stand at the fountain and find the pinatas.  When we got to them and pressed the button some secret numbers flashed out of the pinatas for about 5 seconds.  We also about jumped out of our skin when a mini skeleton started talking to us before realizing it was the clue.  Anyway, the kids get way more involved in the countries when they have a mission.  The girls, meanwhile, sat on the fountain waiting for him to finish up looking extremely bored.  It took us about 30 mins. but you can do more than one if that's your thing and you have the time.  They also have an adventure book thing you can do in Animal K if you have the time for it the kids could get into that.  Once again that was more Ben's thing.  In Epcot they have a place called Club Cool.  It's a Coca-Cola store that has several stations set up to try sodas from around the world (for free).  So we all had fun being taste-testers though some got dumped out really quickly.  I think the ginger-ale ish one was the winner for them, but I loved one I think from Mexico that wasn't so sweet and was fruit tasting.  I think maybe it was watermelon.  Anyway.  Oh, I also like the Dole pineapple ice cream booth across from the Swiss Family Robinson tree house.  If it is your birthday/anniversary/first time at the parks tell them at the ticket booth and they will give you a free button to wear.  That was so unexpected and nice for N's birthday b/c so many park employees (including characters) would say sweet little happy birthday type things.  She even got serenaded by a little band.
Okay, I think that's all the advice I have.  The first time we went I stayed with a friend and spent one day in Magic Kingdom for N's 4th birthday. I had no plan, and it was the perfect day.  So really it's amazing there, everyone is so nice, and you will have a great time!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I'm in a strange place right now.  We still feel the heat of summer but all the responsibilities of fall.  I really just want to head to the pool and forget everything for the day, but I have school pick-ups, dinner, homework, and baseball ahead of me still.  So for a few moments I'm savoring Pinterest and falling in love with art again.  I found some boards of illustrations that I just love.  I've saved them for Natalie (and probably really myself, and maybe Ben and sometime Hallie)  to let our imaginations run free with.  This reminds me of Hallie so very much...
I'm still working on this place of having a preschooler along with older ages and very different interests.  I do enjoy Hallie's age so much.  Her new ballet class is the cutest thing I've maybe ever seen.  My heart feels so full watching the girls with high buns, messy ponytails, or tight curls dance ( I use this verb loosely) around in their little pink tutus and ballet shoes.  Then I have a new 3rd grader, middle schooler, and for now we have sweet Sophie (with us from Germany) in high school.  I love all of these ages for different reasons, but it's something that I'm working on to have my head in all of these different places- ages- interests- emotions- schedules (!).
This summer has rejuvenated me and left me in a bit of a dreamy state.  I let schedules go and chores relax and I so enjoyed my kids and let my imagination roam.  We listened to and read books, we played on the beach, we learned through adventures.  This is why I think I was in a state of shock when school started again, and I wanted to dig in my heels ( in sand preferably), and refuse to begin all the strictness of a school year schedule.  After a few weeks of adjusting and reflecting on summer and how it's filled my heart I think I'm ready now.... here comes fall, and I'm thankful for new seasons.
I found this verse this summer and love it so much.  I see a woman that is free and so happy, and I imagine what we all could do if we lived without fear.  "She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future." Proverbs 31:25

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

summer lovin'

Hello summer, how we've missed you.  We started our summer adventures with the Lost Sea.  What I loved the most about it was that Ben got a little scared in that dark cave and wanted to hold my hand.  I can't remember the last time he has wanted that, so I treasured those few moments!  It was a tad boring. However, being in a real cave with real stalagmites is very different from reading about them, so I'm hoping they had some sort of educational experience or maybe felt like Indiana Jones for an hour.  They have a sweet shop in the "village" next to the cave, so we stopped in for ice cream.  Hallie asked me when we were going on the adventure while in the cave, and I told her that this was the adventure.  To which she replied, "This not adbenture, this cave."  Then yesterday (a few weeks later) she said she wanted to go on "anoder ice cream adbenture".  Clearly she was not so impressed with the cave.
This week we went to the Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge and Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg.  Our Titanic was way better than I thought it would be.  I'm only sad they didn't allow cameras inside because there were so many things I would have loved to get a photo of.  The kids especially loved the giant iceburg that was really made of ice and trying to stand on the deck of the ship that was nearly vertical.  Hallie also had a very long conversation with an animated bear.  The aquarium was fun too.  It's just that I think I pushed everyone to their limits with two big trips in one day.  The aquarium was quite full, and we were constantly running into people.  Ben loved picking up a horseshoe crab and touching a stingray.  The shark lagoon was very cool, and Ben was excited to see the dinosaur exhibit.  Natalie and I made it through an entire Beacon Street Girl audio book during the drive about a girl visiting Paris.  We really enjoyed it, and by the time we made it home I felt like I had really been on a journey overseas.
Besides that we are very much enjoying sleeping in. Nat loves swim team.  Ben spends a lot of time building legos and planning Nerf gun wars.  Hallie entertains us constantly with her antics.  We've been spending many days at the pool and with family and friends.  In the interest of being real I will also say there is begging for ice cream at 9 am, a poison ivy and allergic reaction to a sting incidents, and Natalie has a summer cold coming on.  But in the deep days of winter I forgot life could be this good, and what I really love is that all my kids are together all day every day.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

the post about moms

M and I took a much needed breather this past weekend to celebrate our 11th anniversary.  We got married on Mother's Day weekend, and it usually ends up that we are celebrating both moms and our marriage that weekend.  Maybe I should have felt guilty that I got to sleep in on Mother's Day in a trendy hotel with the children allll the way across town. Maybe I should have felt guilty while savoring breakfast slowly and smugly watching other mothers scold toddlers for jumping in the fountains in their Sunday best.  And maybe I did for a minute, but then I remembered visiting a friend last week that looked at me with tears in her eyes wondering how you "do this" (btw not the first or last time a new mom has/will say this).  Then I teared up too because I remember those early baby day when you have a grinch belly, and you're more tired than you ever knew you could be, and though you love this new little bundle even more than you even knew you could you are also pretty overwhelmed with...well everything.  I thought about the model of Tennessee made out of salt dough and complete with crops and gumdrops (for the cities) that Natalie and I stayed up late making last week.  The adventures in potty training lately with Hallie (cue lots of carpet cleaner).  The lunch with a friend that I would have very much liked to catch up with instead of frantically gulping down my burrito while making sure H didn't run off.   And I thought of my sister who was thrown a bit into the middle of motherhood with soon to be (awesome!) stepkids, and has declared that she has permanent bags under her eyes (welcome to the club).  So, yes, I savored every bit of the kid-free weekend with my husband.

Having said all of that (smile), on our way back into town we were going to have one last hurrah and catch an early matinee then decided we wanted to see the kids more.  Ben made a book for me that is so precious...and a little too truthful about me - ha!  He had to write an acrostic for me and the E in my name was Eating lots of chocolate- thanks Ben.  But we got such a good laugh out of it, and I really was so touched.  That book must have taken days!  Natalie gave me a painted pot with a flower in it, but my favorite moment with her since then was today.  She was really ill at the thought of her pig lung dissection today, and she was so flushed I thought she really might be sick.  She braved it out and went to school then came home with news that (though it smelled terrible) it was so cool.  She said people were passing out around her or running for fresh air, but she loved it.  Hallie is still at the really sweet stage where she lights up every time you come home.  She very often throws her arms around me and says, "Oh, Mommy I love you so much."
So, I guess what I'm saying is this Mother's Day I was thinking a lot about how this must be such a  hard day for so many women who want to be moms or have lost children or miss grown children faraway and the list goes on.  I was thinking so much (and still am!) about how blessed I am.  I have always always wanted to be a mom, and I love them so much!  But I think it's also okay to not feel guilty for wanting to take a walk/nap/movie/anything alone.  It's a day to acknowledge that mothering is a very hard job, and not because we don't love them but because we love them so much.  I'm so thankful to the (informal) league of moms in my life that have given me advice and encouragement and a "I've been there".  You are more awesome than you know.

Friday, February 22, 2013

little girl big heart

I have to say a few things about my littlest girl because for all the annoying two year old things she does (just ask her brother and sister about that!) she is the sweetest little thing.
Her latest thing is to come up to me holding a stuffed animal gently in her folded arms (a different one each day), and look up at me with the most pitiful look and say, "Ohhh, they're lost.  They have no mommy."  This is followed by dramatic sighing and carrying on over the "baby" while I commiserate with her.  She eventually finds a mommy for the baby and then plays happily with something else knowing her good deed for the day is done.  Well, that's what I assume.  I have no idea what's going on  in that two year old head.  The funniest of these lost mom episodes was a few weeks ago at the library. She ran up to me and grabbed my hand and led me to some small girl she had cornered in the book aisles.  The little girl looked very confused as Hallie stroked the girl's arm and explained to me that she was lost with no mommy.  I stifled a giggle, and pointed out the small girl's mom just further down the aisle looking at books on tape.  Hallie slowly looked over at small girl to make sure I was making the correct assessment to which the small girl replied by standing there with her arms at her sides and the same confused expression.  As a way of explaining to the girl (and maybe herself) she said, "Your mom there my mom here" and gave a proud smile. Satisfied that she had, again, done her job she gave the girl a big hug (still nothing from small girl) and waved good-bye.
She worries about anyone that is crying and will ask repeatedly if someone is okay after they've been hurt. And if I ask her if she can help with something she'll say, "Shorrre, I can."  I love to see love and care coming out of my tiny girl.  It reminds me of what my number one task is every day and that is simply to love with my whole heart.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

because I heart photo shoots

I really, really love photo shoots.  I love finding a beautiful spot.  I love finding that perfect light.  And I love that shot that makes my heart skip a beat.
My kids don't love photo shoots.  :)  Therefore, I have to photograph friends...and friends of friends.  So I have to share these shots of my friend Cara's baby, Caitlin.  The winter light had been beautiful the two afternoons before this shoot, but baby girl was sick so we waited it out.  The day they came over we had an ice storm and there was no sun anywhere an.y.where., so I tried a few spots and was so pleased (like jump and click my heels together pleased) to have found a spot with decent light and with the background she just looks dreamy.

And here is one of Hallie and Caitlin's brother Gavin- couple of the year. :)

And this is from the other day at my parents but I had to share.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 21, 2013

the road home

I've always loved the drive to my parent's house.  Several towering magnolias and rows of pansies adorn the front of the neighborhood. The first houses on either side have very large yards.  One field has always had horses, and now the other one has Shetland ponies.  Every time we turn in the kids get excited about the horses and want to see if they are out in the big field.  Occasionally we will be treated to something like a flock of turkeys crossing the road, horses neighing hello over the side of the fence, or some version of nature singing.  I'm thinking of one tree in particular that blooms gorgeous pink tufts of flowers in the spring.  As the years have passed I will nod approval or a nose wrinkle to the changes in houses and landscape.

My parent's house is at the bottom of a steep hill.  One that was great for sledding as a kid (the few times we had snow).  The first time I saw the house, when I was ten, I thought it looked like a hotel.  Maybe it was the large wall of stone that reminded me of a lodge or something.  It also had a small island in the middle of the driveway with a tree and plants.  I spent so many days pretending that I was stranded on that island or that our bikes were boats.  One year I invented this game where I would wheel my brother around in a wheelbarrow for a pretend safari.  The backyard was equally magical with a small forest that is straight uphill so it seemed to go on forever.  In the right season with a certain amount of rain we had a creek with tiny waterfalls that, back then, seemed like a river of possibilities.
These days though the house doesn't hold any of that magic for me.  It's outdated really, the island was paved over, and the house is an epic mess, and I've long ago stopped caring about the woods and creek.  Though my family still provides constant entertainment.  One day I walked in and looked everywhere for my mom.  Her car was outside so I knew she had to be somewhere, but the house has a lot of rooms and places to hide (even unintentionally).  So after searching I stood there stumped until something caught my eye in my peripheral vision... my mom.  I could see through the window to a lower part of the the roof.  She was on her stomach, in her pajamas,  red hair askew, holding a rifle-type of gun out in front of her and squinting with one eye.  She was blazing mad at a woodpecker that was ruining her sleep.
I visit my parent's house with a strange mix of disenchantment, humor, and comfort.  Sometimes I'm so in the mood for a cup of their coffee with almond cream and the newest issue of People (the two things that are predictable about their house).  Sometimes the mess irritates me and all of the magic about that house is gone.  Then on days like today the magic comes back.

My kids came home a few weeks ago excited and breathless about this new find in our neighborhood.  They found a creek "somewhere near the back of our house" is what they said.  When I first heard about it I felt this giddy happy feeling both because I was happy they are playing outside and because I remember my adventures in my parent's yard as a kid.  I realized after a few days I should visit this place myself since, come to think of it, I had no idea where a creek would be near us.  Well, it turns out my children were using a vast amount of imagination as the "creek" was a nice and expensive landscaping option next to a good-looking house a street in back of us.  I was horrified to find Ben scraping the once clean spaces between the smooth, large rocks with a large stick.  Ahem.  So on our day off school today I took them to the place I knew they could wander and pretend.  A place they could play with sticks in a real creek. It's funny the things that bond us, and funny the happiness nostalgia sometimes holds.  Today I took a little trip back in time. I'm glad I can share with my kids a place I once loved to play and let their imaginations run wild.

Friday, January 4, 2013

more of this

My brain has gone a little fuzzy with all the Christmas excitement and activity, then post-Christmas cleaning and organizing, then packing for Jacksonville, vacationing, coming back.  Now, seemingly, all of a sudden I'm back in a whole new year.  The only resolution I'm making this year is to just enjoy.  To put  down the dishes or vacuum or paintbrush or whatever it may be and enjoy my husband and my kids.  I don't want to miss the moments that they want me to just hold them or tell me a story.   

Our visit to Jacksonville was so fun and special.  After hearing my dad talk up the fort in St. Augustine every year on the way to visit my grandparents I finally got to see it for myself.  I texted him while we were there and wrote "Point for Papa.  This place is awesome!" My sister's boyfriend's kids are a total dolls and a total riot.  When we stood overlooking the ocean, atop the fort, Kendall stood there in amazement and said, "Holy Christmas nuts!" in her tiny, excited voice.  And really how cute is she all bundled like a snowman?!  I also got to drink in a little HGTV.  We canceled our cable earlier this year in an attempt get our kids outside more than on the couch (it worked), but I do miss HGTV so when I walked by the TV at Ali's, and House Hunters was on I just forgot what I was doing and sat there.  For an hour.  Yeah, we needed to cancel it for me too.
 Although it wasn't as warm as I hoped FL would be it was so nice to just walk to the beach and breathe in the salty air and listen to the wind and waves.  My sister and I spent a little time one night watching the full moon shine on the ocean as the waves rolled in. It was magic and made so much more special spending precious time with my sis. When hugging goodbye I always hold back tears and tell myself I'll see her again before too long, but I feel like it's punishment to be that far from people you love.  

The best parts of 2012 were filled with reading books, cooking pretend and real food together, laughing, little voices singing, exploring, playing with friends, some really good dates (Blackberry Farm- sigh) with my love, snuggles, our little trips (mainly to the park, library, and zoo), and enjoying each other.  So that is what I want for 2013- more of this.