Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Rock and Roll, Dude...

Judging by the level of use, this seems to be the hit of the Christmas gifts this year. It was hard to find, but thanks to my friend/coworker, Susan H, we got hold of one, and here we are.

It was on Daniel's list and he freaked out. Was thrilled. Overjoyed. And has played for approximately four hours today. When somebody else gets a chance to play, Daniel plays drums on the floor along with the song, which, actually I find rather helpful...

I think this is the guitar hero...

I gave it a try, early in the morning. Yes, that's me. Don't I look lovely? I was pretty good and even beat Daniel, but of course, that was four hours of practice ago....

This is what Daniel looks like when he's concentrating on 'Barracuda'.

This is Shannon, concentrating on 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot'...

This is the reaction to a letter from Santa, left alongside a few half-eaten cookies. Along with encouraging words and an admonition to clean the kitchen, Santa informed them that the elves hadn't quite finished with one of their gifts (darn that amazon.com!) and that although he couldn't tell them what it was, the initials were 'D.D.R.' For the uniformed, that's 'Dance Dance Revolution' - another Wii game. Fun, fun, fun.
It'll be here Saturday.
Note the matching Christmas pjs...

Christmas Day 2007

One of the best and most powerful traditions of our family Christmas is the sibling gift exchange. After checking out the stockings and seeing what Santa brought, we eat breakfast. Afterwards begins the gift-giving. One by one, starting with the youngest kid, they hand out the gifts they purchased, youngest to oldest. We all watch together as the gifts are unwrapped and revealed. I honestly think it's more fun (and heart-warming) to watch the giver during these exchanges, rather than the recipient. It's a meaningful and important time, as they usually put a great deal of thought and effort into the gifts they give one another.

Each exchange is followed by a hug, which is, in itself, a beautiful thing on Christmas morning.

Up until midnight on the 24th, we focus on Jesus - his birth, the angels, the traditional story, the interaction and worship with our community of faith and our neighbors. Last night all of us participated in some way in two consecutive services for our church family and the surrounding community. Drama, music, dance, teaching; we designed a service that would reflect the heart of the mission of our church while at the same time giving all in attendance a meaningful Christmas Eve worship experience. It was exhausting and stressful, but fulfilling. It's become integral to our family life; up until the late hours of Christmas Eve, it's simply what we do. My kids accept the responsibility (and the difficulties) without complaining or grumbling.

After church is finally over, we come home. We eat late - ham, rolls, green beans. We share time with our neighbors. We talk excitedly about the day to come.

Then we open one gift - something preselected by me. It's always - ALWAYS - new pajamas, which are promptly donned in anticipation of Christmas morning.

I have to play the Charlie Brown 'dance music' for them, and they all do the Charlie Brown dance. Silly, bopping up and down, they dance until I stop.

Then we sing together. Always 'Silent Night'. This year, David - precious, eight-year old, ever-more-trusting David - began the song himself. I tell the story of holding Sarah to my chest in 1990, one week old on Christmas Eve, while I picked out the melody of that same old carol on my ancient upright piano and cried, full of wonder and awe at the gift of the child in my arms.

Then we read the Christmas story, from Luke. They take turns. This year David read, too, in a voice clear and loud and confident. Praise God.

Syd lights a candle, the blue 'Christmas candle' we save for the occasion each year. The wick did not cooperate but the sentiment remained the same.

We pray together.

And then they go upstair, to sleep together on the floor in the same room (they told me today that they intended to do so until they were married with kids of their own). They know that they cannot get up until 6:00 a.m., and so they lock themselves in and cuddle up, fully expecting to be unable to sleep at all.

But they do sleep, and at 6:00 somebody wakes up, and they rush down the stairs and I wake up to the sound of shrieking and laughter and shouts of, "Look what I got!"

This morning it was, "I got a Shuffle!"

"Look at these awesome boots!"

"My hoodie that I wanted!"

"A transformer!"

"My drum pad!"

And, of course, Guitar Hero...

Following are a smattering of shots, in no particular order, from both my house and my mom's, where the frenzy of gift-giving and receiving continued....

Sarah gave David a battery operated chocolate milk maker and some syrup. I think he was moo-ing for the camera here...

David informed me later that the Bionicle was his favorite gift of all, courtesy of his grandmother.

David gave Grandma some dark chocolate...yum...

And Sarah gave her grandpa some turtles, another yearly tradition...

My bohemian, hippy girl loves this purse...

No explanation needed....

Syd's a diet Pepsi addict....Sarah thought she needed this bag...

Uncle Jonnie and Aunt Juanita are doing mission work in Mexico. They managed to send some awesome gifts for the kids, including about eight shirts apiece for the boys. In this pic, they are wearing them all at the same time...

Another one of the hugs....

Happy about the new hoodie...

Daniel got an entire cube of Mountain Dew....and a Browns jersey....

At the end of it all, this was the fate of each of us; everybody needed naps.

It was an awesome, wonderful, blessed day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Today was Sarah's seventeenth birthday. First of all, where did those years go?


Well, they're gone. And here we are.

Boyfriend Elijah and best friend Anna wanted to have a bona fide surprise party for her. Last year her friends gave her a minor surprise; a birthday cake at a sleepover that was close to her special day. This year, they wanted to do it right.

Such stress - from keeping it a secret, to getting the food together, to getting the people together...we had dinner at my parents' house to give the friends time to gather, and Sarah looked over once and said, "Mom, what's wrong? You look...tired..."

But it was a huge success. She never suspected a thing, was totally shocked and extremely pleased. At one point I overheard her say, "I feel so LOVED!" Her dad came, all her friends showed up, they gave her great gifts, and we had a wonderful time. A few snapshots from the evening:

Talk about a clean-cut, wholesome group of kids; at one point they said, "Let's sing!" We moved to the piano and did Christmas carols, including 'Silent Night' in German, thanks to Claudio, the foreign exchange student who came to the party...

They danced, too; put on a few fun songs on Jayne's iPod dock - thank you, Jayne! - and they did some funky line dancing. My girls are in the front - pink, red and white shirts.

They played cards; there's Shannon and Katie, our VCU Art Student friend.

These are a little out of order - but here's the birthday girl right after she walked in the door.

Anna planned the party and made the cake.

Here is Sarah reading Elijah's gift to her; the receipt for a SKYBUS plane ticket for a trip to Ohio in January. He's going with her, on her first plane ride! She'll be flying into COLUMBUS (hello, Bill!) and driving to Cleveland to visit her old friends back home...

"I've never been on a plane!!!"

Sarah and Shannon with their buddy Miles, who they met through their dad. He came up with Lonnie for the party.

The mastermind and the birthday girl.
Sometimes life just seems very, very good. I'm so happy today - seventeen years after this young woman made me a mother for the first time. I never imagined the riches her birth would bring to my life.

The One Who Knows
Time it was I had a dream - you're the dream come true
If I had the world to give, I'd give it all to you
I'll take you to the mountains, I will take you to the sea
I'll show you how this life became a miracle to me
You'll fly away
But take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done
You'll be the one who knows
All the things you treasure most will be the hardest ones
I will watch you struggle on before the answers come
But I won't make it harder, I'll be there to cheer you on
I'll shine the light that guides you down the road you're walking on
You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done
You'll be the one who knows
Before the mountains call to you before you leave this home
I want to teach your heart to trust as I will teach my own
But sometimes I will ask the moon where it shined upon you last
And shake my head and laugh and say, "It all went by so fast"
You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done
You'll be the one who knows -Dar Williams

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What Would YOU Do?

See post below for an explanation, such as it is...

Remember that tree we bought last week? We finally got it up and decorated, over a week later. It seemed to take forever - the main issue was getting everybody home at the same time, with a window of opportunity wide enough for us to get the stuff unpacked and on the tree. After an extremely long day - church and meetings and a party kept me, Syd and the two boys on the go from 7:00 a.m. until about 8:00 p.m. (while the older girls got a bit of a break and went to a different party and hung out with Elijah's family), we managed to land at home long enough to pull the Christmas decorating together.

A few traditions: Always a real tree. Always a conflict over 'WHITE LIGHTS ONLY!'(my choice) and 'LOTS OF COLORED LIGHTS'!!!! (kids' choice). This year I was slightly victorious, as all but one strand of colored lights were dead in the water. Always the same wall hanging (crafted by my mom) over the mantle. Always Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas music blaring ('The Happy Elf' and 'Frosty the Snowman' are favorites) - maybe some Charlie Brown, too. Always sorting through a hundred hand-crafted elementary school projects that sink into a more unsettling state of deterioration with each passing year. Always a fight over who put the star on the top last year, and whose turn it should be this year (we sorted it out and the honor went to Sydni).

This year I started a new tradition, and said goodbye to the three or four headless shepherds, decapitated Joseph and the tattered wisemen from our several nativity sets. Inspired by another blog, I am combining all of the visitors to the holy birth scene and making one majestic nativity set. It's going to look quite strange, but I could no longer handle headless Joseph, valiantly trying to do his best to stand by Mary and Jesus in the manger. I trashed those who could no longer keep up, although I felt guilty, as if I was being politically incorrect by putting the appendage-challenged statuettes out of the picture. Like I have some problem with the handicapped or something.

Anyway, the tree is up. It's done. I made more chocolate chip cookies. We ate grilled cheese.

It was a good night, and that's one huge thing checked off my list.

Shannon was making some sort of weird face...but look at the tree! Weeeeeee!!!!!!

I'm not really sure what was happening here, but we seem to have Rudolph and...a couple of show girls... And look at that tree!!!!!!!

And this would be the reindeer, I believe...
Where were the boys while all this nonsense was happening, you might ask?
Well, I'm not sure. They were here, somewhere....
Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Come and Play

Sydni had a great opportunity last Sunday. Along with several hundred other Richmond area music students and amateur musicians, she participated in a 'Come and Play' event with the Richmond Symphony. They spent 3 hours in rehearsal, followed by a performance for the public at the VCU Siegel Center.

The boys and I drove down to see the concert, and I'm so glad that we all had an opportunity to experience this event! Syd was exhausted, and her feet hurt, but she was able to make beautiful music under the baton of the associate conductor of the symphony, an energetic and exciting young woman named Erin Freeman. They played Christmas music along with a few classic orchestral pieces, and it was awesome! I'm so excited to see my kids participating in things like this - whether playing like Syd did, or just watching and listening, like the boys. I know it's giving them a taste of the world outside the narrow confines of public school and our regular routine.

She's in there, on the back right, holding her trombone in that mass of humanity.

David was worn out, after a long day of church (including his own performance in the kids' Christmas play that morning) and some heavy duty eight-year old outdoor activity in the beautiful weather. He crashed on my lap towards the end.

Syd and one of her best friends, Eve, after the performance.

David woke up, obviously. Here the boys were enjoying the urban vibe of downtown Richmond. Daniel's getting so tall!
Note the kid dragging his cello down the street.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hunting the Perfect Tree

My childhood involved a seasonal job; my cousins and I cut and sold Christmas trees grown on my granddad's farm, which surrounded our homes. I have fond memories of bundling up to stay warm for the 1/2 mile hike, carrying the saw and helping the 'town folks' pick out trees. We'd cut them if they couldn't do it, and we'd drag them back as well, or pull them behind a snowmobile.

Once we moved to Ohio, we were able to drive back to western Pennsylvania to what is now my uncle's tree farm. It was a nostalgic trip for me to have the same experience with my kids that I had years ago.

Now in Virginia, we try to continue the tradition. Saturday we had a three hour window where everybody was home at the same time, so we jumped in the Suburban and drove to one of the local tree farms.

The walking begins, all eyes peeled for the perfect evergreen. We were disappointed over and over; so many of the trees were tinged with yellow. No doubt this is due to the drought we have been experiencing...

Sydni, gorgeous in any setting.

"This is NOT the tree we want!"

"But I LOVE this one!"

We finally settled on a specimen we all agreed upon (no doubt spurred on by 30 minutes of aimless wandering) and starting sawing. Our tradition is that everybody gets a turn, starting with the youngest. David got us off to a good start...

...then it was Daniel's turn...

Syd's turn, while I made faces...

David decided that Shannon needed some encouragement...

Sarah put down the camera and took a turn herself.

I took my turn and the tree started to fall; Shannon grabbed the saw and got all the photographic glory!

Ta da!

Daniel and David got the 'privilege' of hauling it back to be measured and paid for.

I think that over time, these brothers are learning to appreciate one another, especially when they are working together. I'm proud of these boys.

We tried to take a snapshot for a Christmas card; I love candid shots for the holidays. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that all these pictures relate a happy family outing, tempers were short and moodiness ran rampant. With three teenage girls in the family and a 40+ mother, you never quite know how things might roll. We did attempt to take a few 'happy family' shots, but this was about the best of the lot.

I might just send it anyway; there's something so gosh-darned authentic about it...