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I Don’t Get My Way at Christmas

I think most of what makes it FEEL like Christmas is based on our childhood memories.

For me, I love a leisurely Christmas morning, with just Chris and the kids. That’s how we always did it growing up, because we lived in the same area as all of our extended family.

However, Chris and I haven’t lived near family in over 13 years. Christmas usually involves traveling.

This makes laid-back Christmas mornings almost impossible.

We have opened presents as a family on Christmas Eve and then headed to the airport. Some Christmas mornings, we’ve woken up in a hotel to a “complimentary” Christmas breakfast. There’s been times the kids opened stockings in the car. We’ve attended Christmas services at the grandparents’ church. One year, we ate Christmas dinner at Waffle House, because it was the only thing open on the way to family.

Every holiday is different. And rarely like Christmases I remember from childhood.

A few years ago, we didn’t travel anywhere for Christmas. I was thrilled. Finally, my nice, peaceful Christmas morning! On the correct date. Just the family.

Except, the kids weren’t impressed. “This is boring.” “I wish we’d gone to see family.” “There’s nothing to do.” “Why did we stay home?”

And I realized my “normal” Christmas wasn’t theirs. To my kids, Christmas is road trips and visiting grandparents in another state. It’s hotels and airports. Luggage and presents all jammed into the trunk. Exploring in the woods of Arkansas or playing in Wisconsin snow.

So now my Christmas expectations are a lot more flexible. We still set aside time for just our family. But it’s ok that we have to work it around the road trip.

It turns out, having a more open mind about what is a “real” Christmas is a good thing.

This year, our traveling took us through the city of an adoptive-mom-friend, so she and I were able to have coffee and chat in person, which was a huge treat. Next, we are headed to spend Christmas with Enoch’s birth family. And we will finish up our holiday trip at Chris’ parents’ house.

So, as much as I love my nostalgic holiday customs, I’m learning that beauty comes in opening up to new kinds of Christmas traditions too. Especially when I see my kids’ joy in making their own memories.

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When You Take City Kids to the Farm

If you are ever in Wisconsin and you think to yourself, “I just want to FEEL Wisconsin. I want to smell stinky cow air. I want to see corn growing. I want to touch farm animals and taste Wisconsin-y things.” If you ever think thoughts like this, there is a place for you.

Go to Mulberry Lane Farm. (There are probably lots of other places to smell cow and see corn, but this is the place my parents always take my city kids.)

I’m not big on the country life, but it’s pretty cool for a farmy type place. The scenery is picturesque and the grounds are about as clean as a farm can be. The animals are all very tolerant of people touching and holding and squeezing them.

Because we didn’t go to the farm on the day Leah expected us to, she spent a whole afternoon moaning about wanting to see kittens. Two days later, when we were actually going to the farm, she felt she needed to stay home, because she was afraid to milk the cow and ride the ponies.

Leaving 7-year-olds at home alone is frowned upon in most States. So we told her to get her booty in the van, because she was going anyway.

We started our farm tour in the chicken-holding pen.

My big kids refused to hold chickens. Something about not wanting to get pooped on. Enoch was willing to tentatively poke a feather with one finger when I held a chicken up by him.

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Next was the goats.

Leah refused to let the goats eat corn out of her hand. Isaiah tried to avoid walking on goat poop, which was about as easy as walking on water. Enoch tried to grab the goats’ ears, which he found amusing. I imagine the goats did not.

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Then we visited the sheep pen.

The big kids tried to dodge more poop on the ground and they both refused to touch the sheep because they were “dirty.” There were also a couple of calves in the pen that they would not touch.

We got to the pony rides.

Isaiah self-declared himself too old. I declared Enoch too young. So the boys and I parked in the shade. Leah decided she wasn’t, after all, afraid to ride the ponies. She came running back to me like a conquering hero when her turn was done, “I did it! I rode the little one!” Bravery comes in all sizes.

We moved on to the cow-milking station.

My kids were the ones with their backs pressed to the fence, as far from the cow as possible. There was no way they were going to touch a cow udder, which Isaiah said was basically the cow’s “private parts.”

Next was a hay ride.

This was overall a hit. Enoch enjoyed trying to fist handfuls of hay into his mouth. Isaiah “pretend” complained about having to see farm sights. Leah was a little concerned that the ride was too fast. But everyone seemed open to doing it again, should the opportunity arise.

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When the tour was done, they released us to find the bunnies, kittens and chicks.

This was the part my city kids had been waiting for. (OK, I’m not going to lie. I’d been waiting for it too.)

The big kids were good at cuddling bunnies. Enoch chortled when I rubbed a bunny on his cheek. Then he grabbed its paw and held on for dear life. The bunny seemed remarkably calm under the circumstances.

The kittens were pretty much the same story, except Enoch chortled and grabbed them by their loose kitten skin. Leah kept telling me she saw a sign saying the kittens were ready to “adopt,” like this was relevant information for our life.

When we got to the chicks, I decided that baby birds might not be able to handle Enoch love.  Turns out, Isaiah has impressive bird catching and holding abilities.

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We ended the day at the farm’s playground.

The kids had been asking about the “park” all day, like there was some kind of gravitational force pulling them in. They played in a sandbox and climbed on things. Enoch tried to rip up as much grass as he could and eat it.

So here is a recap of our visit to the farm:

My small people went to a farm, which they enjoyed, as long as they didn’t have to touch anything but kittens and bunnies (which they could find in any pet shop). And so they could play at a park. City kids.

farmboytractor   farmgirltractor

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Husband Vs. Wife, Vacation Style

My husband and I have very different approaches to vacation.

I like no plans, no agenda, and the ability to sleep in and lay around reading. So basically, I want to relax!

He wants to do things. All the things that can possibly be done. He wants a schedule and every second maximized for ultimate productivity.

The kids? Typically, they just want to swim in the hotel pool.

Last week, we took the first actual family vacation we’d had in 6 years. The last time, the kids got diarrhea. On a road trip. So you can see why it took us awhile to try again.

But we wanted to take the big kids to Disney before they were too old to care. And we’d been promising Isaiah a visit to Legoland for years, and the “don’t care” ship had almost sailed there too.

So we scheduled a vacation to Orlando.

husbandorganizedvacationIn the weeks leading up to our trip, Chris repeatedly went over the itinerary he was planning for us. This was not so I would know what was going on. No, he was trying to wear me down by repetition, so that I would just accept the busyness.

His PLAN was no joke. He had apps to predict crowd flow and weather and wait-time on rides and who knows what all. He scheduled our Fast Passes to harmoniously coincide so that he could ride roller coasters while I took the kids on baby-safe rides.

As he went over the proposed schedule, I refused to commit to anything. I mean, how am I supposed to know how I’ll be feeling by the next Thursday and if I’m going to want to go to the beach and then back to Disney for the Electric Parade? I can let you know on Thursday. I might just want to lay around that day (That was not even an option).

So I guess we kind of compromised when we got there.

Our first day, the park opened at 9:00, so I suggested we leave the condo by 10:00. He agreed, but said, “You know this is really hard for me, right?” Because if the park opened at 9:00, he wanted to be there at 8:45.

And I just had to find ways to get my relaxing reading in, in spite of the schedule.

babysleepingvacationI’m not a huge fan of rides anyway, so as soon as the baby fell asleep in the stroller, I was like, “I’m out! Park me in some shade.”

Chris kept offering to sit with the baby so I could ride stuff. I wanted to be like, “Are you crazy?! Why would I leave my book, this bench and the shade to go stand in line in the hot sun?” But instead, I just said self-sacrificingly, “No, that’s fine. You go ahead.”

I mean, I still wouldn’t say it was exactly a restful trip. But I got a few moments in. And Chris was able to keep our itinerary organized. So we were both happy.

Of course, the kids’ favorite part (as always) was the pool at the condo. We flew all the way to Orlando so they could swim in a pool…

It might be another 6 years until the next “vacation.”

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Beaches

I’ve never been a beach person.

I mean, the sand finding its way into unmentionable places, and the walking around almost naked, and the so. much. hot. sun. Not a fan.

I’m not talking about West Coast beaches. Those are my fav. They’re majestic and rocky and glorious. And the water is made out of ice cubes. So you just look at those beaches. Look and don’t touch. Perfect.

But my brother-in-law and his fiancee are getting married on a Florida beach this weekend, so I’m getting acquainted with beaches.

I bought a swimsuit a few years ago. I’ve worn it a couple of times to places like hotel swimming pools in an effort to break myself into the almost nakedness. Louisville has done a pretty good job of breaking me into being HOT ALL THE TIME.

And the kids barely remember the California beaches, so I was tentatively excited about this vacation.

You know? I think I like the beach. Still not loving the sun. But the waves have my heart.

Except when it comes to the kids.

Isaiah knows no water fear. His favorite ocean pass time is to throw himself into a wave and go limp with his face under the water. LIKE HE’S DEAD. I can’t handle it.

Leah is kind of afraid of the water, so she heads into it a little and then freaks out because she needs to be rescued. And she gets salt and sand in her eyes every two minutes.

Both of them have this weird ability to do the opposite of what Chris and I are doing. When we sit down at the edge of the water to let the waves gently caress our toes, they head out into the deep and do the floppy dead fish thing. When we decide to play in the waves, they go make sandcastle on the shore.

So yes, I like the beach. I just don’t think I like the beach with kids.

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Family Vacation, A Comedy of Errors

If you know my husband, you know he’s an overachiever.  Chris never does anything half way.  He doesn’t even do things 100%.  He goes above and beyond, every time.  Of course I should remember that this applies to family vacations as well.

We had a few days off and I wanted to go see my best friend and her new baby.  So Chris paired this with a visit to another family we’re friends with and a trip to DC.   This still sounded manageable, but a couple days before we left he called up our friends in NYC and added the Big Apple onto our trip as well.  Now, I should have been alarmed, but that man can talk me into anything.

(To preface this trip, all of us had been sick with some kind of stomach bug the week before.  But it seemed to clear up in 24 hours, so it shouldn’t have affected our trip in anyway.)

We set off with great excitement on what Isaiah dubbed a “Family Adventure”.  First stop was New York.  We did a whirlwind drive through tour of the city and caught up with our friends.  The next morning, as we were about to hop in the car, my son developed a bought of diarrhea.  Mind you, this is a good 4 days after his “24 hour bug” had been all cleared up. We got that situation as under control as possible and set out on the next leg of our journey.

I had already nixed DC from our trip, since I wanted to relax and didn’t think two major cities in two days counted as relaxing.  So all we had to do was get to our hotel in Maryland, where we could rest, swim, hit the mall, etc.

Chris had specifically chosen a hotel with an indoor pool… which turned out to be closed.  Four-year-olds only have two emotions: elated and devastated. So it took awhile to calm Isaiah down, but we promised him that we would make sure the hotel for the next night had a pool.

At least we still had the mall, right?  Yeah… no.  This was what we call a “po’dunk mall”.  I have no idea what that means, but you get the idea.  Still, there was a play place and pet store.  We were finishing up with the Thomas Trains in Barnes and Noble when the diarrhea hit again.

We made it back to the hotel in sort of one piece.  Chris got on the phone with the friends who were supposed to be our next stop and it turned out their whole family was sick in bed too.  So they weren’t so sure about a visit.  And then Leah decided to stay up all night with an upset stomach.

After our sleepless night, I started to think bringing my children around my friend’s baby was not a great plan.  All we wanted to do was pack the kids in the car and head home.  But we had promised Isaiah a pool.  So we loaded our apparently sick children into the car and set off for a hotel Chris had booked outside of Pittsburgh.

And it was fun!  Surprise, surprise, something started to go right!  Not only did the hotel have a working pool, they also had an indoor jungle gym and game area.  The kids actually slept through the night.  The hotel breakfast wasn’t too bad.  And kid Imodium?  It works!

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Dream Center

Chris and I just got back from LA, where we got to take a team of 25 to the Dream Center. We had a lot of fun and many great experiences. Here are some highlights from the trip:I got a bit of a tan!

The showers had doors/curtains… this is not always guaranteed when going on a missions trip.

When we passed out food, the people LOVED pineapples. I don’t know why I found this so thrilling, but when they got super excited about pineapples, it made my day.

We found a taco truck that made real Mexico style tacos. They were amazing… just as good as I remembered them.

The people who were a part of the Dream Center Discipleship had the sweetest spirits. Whoever runs that program is defintily getting something right.

We went to a concert for Nashville Star (the Country version of American Idol). A guy from the Dream Center, Coffey Anderson, was a finalist and had his “hometown concert” there. I’m not sure this was a highlight, but it was interesting.

When we visited Hollywood, they asked Chris and I and a couple of our girls to be on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show. They were going to have us participate in a belly flop contest… but we had to meet up with our group, so we turned them down. My 15 minutes of fame, and I missed it!

The best part of the trip was getting to hang out with our students! I loved getting to know them even better and to see them step out in their giftings and stretch themselves. Each one of them amazed me with how incredible they are!

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Quick Trip to DC

I wanted to write a brilliant blog entry about our little one day trip to DC with our Pastor’s family, but I’m just not feeling it. The further away from the trip we get, the less I’m feeling it. So I’ll just give a brief overview.

We started out very early Monday AM and drove until the start of the Metro, which we rode that into DC.

First we went to the Smithsonian… I think it was the Museum of Natural History and Science or something like that. It looked a lot like the museum in the movie Night At the Museum, if that helps. Anyway, it was very cool, but the kids got tired quick.

After the Smithsonian, we wanted to see the sights of DC. Unfortunately it was lots colder in DC than in Pittsburgh. We all froze! But we got some fun pictures and I saw some things up close that I’d only seen from a distance before. I’ve been in DC a couple times, but never for sightseeing.

The squirrels in DC are very friendly, especially when you feed them cereal. Chris actually got one to eat out of his hand! He has a video of it on his blog.

For the pictures, go to our kid’s site, firstgrandchild.com!

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Flying Is For the Birds

So I promised the story of our flight home. If you read Chris’ blog, you’ve already heard it, but here it is… Hannah style:

We walked into the Little Rock airport and entered… THE TWILIGHT ZONE! OK, not quite, but it was the most congested, disorganized, chaotic ticketing area I’ve ever dealt with. There were massive lines and not enough room for all the people. We did self check-in, where you entered yourself into the computer and then the attendants basically yelled your name until they found you to place the baggage claim stickers on your stuff. We had to beg them to notate infant in arms on our tickets. They didn’t seem to think we’d need it, but I’ve had enough security agents check it on my ticket in the past, that I wasn’t going to go without it.

Next we had to drag our luggage over to the security scanners. Now, I remember this being common when I flew in the months following 9/11, but most airports have abandoned this cluttered system for something much more civilized. But in Little Rock, they still have it in place. I felt really secure when the guard yelled out to the crowd waiting to deliver their luggage to him, “if your bags are unlocked, you can just leave them!” So we piled our luggage on top of the already built up mounds of baggage that they had yet to deal with. I’m not paranoid or anything, but anyone could come along and shove anything into a random bag… makes you wonder about the “security” of their security system.

We were already feeling like frazzled cattle being herded around, but the actual security lines definitely were the icing on the cake. In most airports, security is an orderly and dignified (besides the fact that you have to practically undress) process. But Little Rock was sticking to the cattle mentality, with a security guard shouting (yes, shouting) directions about what needed to go in little plastic bags, and threatening that if we didn’t do it right, he’d make us go back to the end of the line and do it all over again, complete with listening to his speech again. Once he was done shouting at each group and felt they were properly educated he’d release them to go through the actual security check point. The metal detector felt gentle after that treatment!

With all this chaos, we felt tired before we even started flying. We finally boarded our plane to Memphis and settled in for the flight. But such ease was not to be. We had started to taxi out when the pilot cut the engines and informed us he had bad news. There was a weather situation in Memphis and our “wheels up” time was an hour and a half. When you are flying by yourself you say, “That stinks, hope my next flight is also held up by the weather, I’ll just read my book.” But when you have a 4 year old and a 1 1/2 year old, you think, “My life is over.” Thankfully they let us deplane briefly so the kids got to stretch their legs, but when we re-boarded, it still took us another half hour to get in the air.

We finally arrived in Memphis and sure enough, our next flight had also been delayed by the weather, so we assumed everything would return to normal. We boarded that plane and sat for awhile and then the Captain got on the speakers and said he had bad news… due to lack of a ground crew, our flight was canceled!

Chris was the first person in line with the gate agent, trying to make new reservations. They told him that they couldn’t get all of us on the same flight until Friday (this was Wednesday)! He assured them that wouldn’t work so they offered to fly us into Cleveland. We took it and Pastor was so nice as to drive the 2 hours to Cleveland and get us.

So we should have gotten home at 5 PM on Wednesday and instead we got home at 1 AM Thursday. But we were just glad to get home.

Of course they lost our luggage. It was supposed to appear in Pittsburgh the next day, but for some reason they sent half of it to Atlanta. This had us a little worried, since they talked about “if” it showed up from Atlanta, they would get it to us. They finally brought it to us late Thursday night. Thank You, Jesus!

Nothing like a grueling day of flying to end your vacation with.

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Arkansas Visit

We just got back from visiting Chris’ family in Arkansas. Besides the obvious enjoyment of seeing family we don’t get to see that often, here are some highlights from my trip:

I ate at the same restaurant as Mike Huckabee’s wife! Yes, for true. We were sitting at lunch after church and Chris saw her walk in and told me, “That’s Mike Huckabee’s wife!” I said, “No it’s not.” After a little arguing, he had me convinced. I shouldn’t have been so faithless, since both the Huckabees are from Chris’ home town. What fully convinced me was that every time a new person joined their table, Chris’ mom said something like, “And that’s her sister-in-law. That’s her brother-in-law.” I guess I just didn’t believe former presidential candidates’ spouses ate at restaurants like normal people. We kept hoping that Mike Huckabee would walk in, but no such luck. Celebrity sightings in Hope, AR! Who knew?

The second most exciting thing that happened to me is that we found out that Leah takes after her Mommy. She HATES the out of doors! Chris’ parents have a miniature pony for the kids, so we took Leah outside to give it a try. She wanted no part of sitting on that horse! At first we thought she was just scared of the horse, but long after we took her off, she was whining and asking everyone to hold her. Chris put her down on the grass and that really freaked her out. My daughter was literally scared of being outside! I love it!

She also learned to say, “Praise Jesus!” on the trip. Gran had a little book where you pushed buttons and it played Sunday school songs. Isaiah would sing them to Leah and Leah would end the songs by saying, “Pws Jsus!”

Going back to the horse. His name was Porche and he was absolutely adorable. I hope my kids appreciate him better the next time they visit. Isaiah didn’t like him any better than Leah, but Isaiah’s concern was that he was too high up. Isaiah seems to have inherited my fear of heights, something I’m not so happy to bequeath to my child.

Plus, Isaiah just wanted to play in the dirt. Everyday! Papa had a big pile of dirt and Isaiah had a digger truck. What a perfect combo! Everyday he begged until he got to dig and he cried every time he had to come in.

Leah also learned to say Papa on the trip, although she never actually said it in front of Chris’ dad. We even got on the plane to go home and she started saying Papa… a little late!

More about the plane trip home, next time!

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On My Own

So, in my investigation into who makes the messes around our house, I’ve narrowed it down to 2 suspects… and neither of them is me.

Chris took a team of our youth to Baja, Mexico for a missions/leadership building trip. He’s been gone for 2 weeks! And during that time, Isaiah is at Papa and Gran’s in Arkansas. So it’s just Leah and me, and of course Chester. And the housework is surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) light!

Chris called one day and I put him on speaker phone. When Leah heard his voice, her whole face lit up! She made a happy grunting sound and then she said, “Da da!” Awww… She’s also trying to say Chester. She’s a little unsure of herself so she just whispers something like, “Teh-Teh” or “Cheh”.

Speaking of the evil beast we harbor in our home, he ran away tonight… AGAIN. I was bringing him in the house and his collar just slipped off; I don’t even know how. He took off and I knew there was no way I was going to catch him. He stayed within my sight for a bit, but he never let me get close and then I couldn’t see him at all. I left the back door open so that if he decided to come back he would have a way in. After an hour and a half he strolled in like nothing had happened, with a big wad of black junk in his mouth. He happily dropped that on the carpet and ran upstairs to get a drink.

I offered him a treat and enticed him into the pantry and shut it, so I could inspect whatever it was he’d deposited in my home. My worst fears were correct. It was a beyond rotten animal of some kind. I don’t know if if was a rabbit or some type of large rodent, but it was the most disgusting thing ever! I got a tongs type thing, but I couldn’t bring myself to grab it with that, because you could still tell what its feet were and it was just too horrifying. For a while I just stood down there and squealed and debated if I should call Pastor. Finally I shoved it into an old cardboard box with the help of another box and threw the whole thing down the hill, into the woods. Yes, I know it might be bad for the environment, but cardboard is recyclable, so I’m sure it’s kind of biodegradable. And there was no way I was going to do anything else with it!

So my husband comes home tomorrow night. And this is a very good thing, because I’ve had it with this on my own stuff!

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