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Six months

Clara has made it through her first half year of life!  Six months is a big milestone.  I pulled out the high chair and bibs and now she gets to sit at the table and “eat” (play with) solid food with us–so far, the biggest hit has been pineapple.  She also got “big girl” pacifiers, moving from the 0-6 month size to the 6-18 month size.  I’m excited about the new pacifiers, because she has ones with handles/knobs that glow in the dark, making them easier to find in the middle of the night.  I don’t know if glow-in-the-dark pacifiers didn’t exist before or if I just never saw them, but I thought they were a brilliant idea when I came across them a couple months ago.

clara-6-months-small

The first three weeks of 2017 have gone well.  I worked hard to clean up the “green room,” which is sort of a second living room in our house.  Our intention was that it would be a play/reading/study room for the boys after we moved here, but it has been a disaster area for most of the time we’ve lived here.  Toys and books were strewn everywhere, making it difficult to even walk across the room.  It has been cleaned several times, but the cleanliness has been short-lived.  Usually, after all the effort I put into organizing everything, putting all the parts to the toys and games back together, and finding space on the floor to play, the boys have been so excited to have the toys and space back to a usable state that they promptly pulled everything out to play with and then left it in a mess.  Meanwhile, after seeing all my efforts nullified so quickly, I lost motivation to try to keep it clean.

This time, I came up with a plan to do things differently, in order to get a different outcome.  As I cleaned and organized, I put things away in closets, out of sight.  I made a list and took pictures of everything, then I printed the pictures out and put them in a little photo album.  I explained to the family that we are now operating on a library system.  Only one toy can be checked out at a time.  It has to be cleaned up and returned in order to get another toy.  I gave Simon a “library card” that he can slide into the pocket of the picture in the photo album of whatever he is checking out.  I also put a box in the corner of the room for miscellaneous things that need to get put away (like a random Lego piece that I found somewhere in the house, but I don’t feel like hauling out the tub of Legos to put away at that moment).

So far, one week in, it’s working.  It is a bit inconvenient for me sometimes because I have to put the checked-in toys away and get out the new ones, instead of Simon being able to do it independently.  However, it’s worth it because it is forcing him to clean up after himself before moving on to a new toy, which is a habit I have long tried to instill without great success.  Cleaning up never takes very long because there is only one toy out to be cleaned up.  Having the floor clear has promoted exercising too–our mini basketball and mini hockey equipment has gotten more use over the past week than it did in the past several months.

clean-green-room-small

The past week, we’ve had several sunny days and days with temperatures above freezing, which restores my faith that spring will come.  I know that we’re still in for plenty more winter, but we will make it through.

While there are certainly things I want to accomplish, I’m not formally making any resolutions for this calendar year.  However, I did make a resolution at the beginning of the liturgical year–the beginning of Advent– to do more to incorporate the various holidays and seasons of the church year into our family life.  I’m not going to attempt to celebrate everything, but I am hoping to start some new family traditions while increasing our awareness of the liturgical year.  Plus, it’s fun to have things to celebrate.

Advent went well, as I previously described.  Lighting the Advent wreath and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” were already family traditions.  New this year was celebrating St. Nicholas’s feast day.  We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but the boys each left a shoe on the kitchen floor before bed the night before and found candy and a clementine in their shoe in the morning.  What kid wouldn’t like that?

We failed at celebrating Christmas, from a religious perspective.  We usually go to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, which is probably my favorite church service of the year, but we didn’t make it to church on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day this year.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus when we were putting Simon to bed, but that was it.

Since returning home, we are trying something new for the Christmas season by singing a Christmas carol instead of saying grace before dinner.  It’s sort of an extension of our Advent singing.  Next year, I want to replace the candles on the Advent wreath with white candles for the Christmas season, but tall white candles were sold out when I tried to buy some.

I’m going to make a traditional French galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany on January 6th.  I’ll put a bean in it and whoever finds it gets to wear a crown and be the king for the day.  We’ll sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” that day.

After Epiphany, we’ll go back to ordinary time and our ordinary grace before meals.  It’s fun to have holidays and do special things, but they wouldn’t be special if we didn’t have ordinary times in between.

5 months

I didn’t write a 5-month update or do a photo shoot for Clara; life was just too busy.  Here’s a picture from Christmas day, 4 days after she turned 5 months old:

clara-christmas

I am typing this in our van on the drive back home from visiting my parents.  It was good to see my family, to see my parents’ new house, and to see some friends we don’t get to see often.  It was also tiring and stressful.  “Vacationing” with young kids is more work than staying home and the parade of visitors (three days in a row with different people visiting) didn’t help.

I’ve made it through the last month or so by hibernating as much as possible.  Shortly after my 4-month update, I decided to take a nap before it was time to go to a Saturday hockey practice and let Don just deal with it.  He got to experience Simon’s resistance and see what I was dealing with, and now Simon doesn’t go to hockey any more.  Without hockey or gymnastics, we no longer have regular outings at fixed times during the week.  I go grocery shopping every week, but that’s flexible; I can go at a time that fits between Clara’s naps or put it off a day if it works better with other things going on.  Of course, there are one-time things to deal with (lots of them in December–geez people, could we space the parties and potlucks throughout the year instead of doing them all within a couple weeks?).

My life is pretty limited; I mostly stay home and in the house except for grocery shopping and church and those one-time things that come up.  But that’s what I need to do right now to keep my stress level under control, because going anywhere in the snow and cold with two young kids is a lot of work.  As long as I get a reasonable amount of sleep and enough time to myself either during naps or after the kids are in bed, I can deal with it.  I know that it won’t always be like this.  Spring will come, Clara will grow, and life will get easier.

 

 

A year of changes

I’ve been reflecting on how many major life changes my family has experienced in the past year.  There’s been a lot going on.

A year ago, my parents didn’t know yet that I was pregnant (we told them at Christmas).  My parents, my brothers, and my grandmother were all living in the houses they had lived in for years.  My dad was still working at his job.

In the past year, my grandmother moved to an assisted living facility and then passed away.  My dad retired.  One of my brothers came out as a transgender woman and has had surgery.  My other brother sold his house, left his job, moved in with his wife (they had been living separately for about a year since she moved to take a new job), and found a new job.  Clara was born and has grown–she’ll be five months old tomorrow.  Peter started middle school (how did I get old enough to have a child in middle school?)  My parents sold their house and moved into a new one.  Those are just the big things that easily come to mind.

That’s a lot to deal with in one year.  I’m hoping for a little less upheaval in 2017.

Mid-December thoughts

We’ve been doing a pretty good job with Advent.  We have our Advent wreath set up on a side table in the dining room and instead of our usual prayers before dinner, we light the candle(s), as appropriate, and sing a verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (the first verse for the first week of Advent, the second verse for the second week, etc).  We have an Advent calendar with little chocolates that my mom sent.  The boys take turns lighting and blowing out the candles and eating the chocolates (odd days are Peter’s and even days are Simon’s).  My mom also sent a nativity set that she made out of felt and we have it up on the wall in our living room.  The various pieces aren’t attached–the felt just sort of sticks together–so you can move them around.  It’s been good for Simon to learn the main characters in the nativity story.

unruly-sheep

We’re not quite as ready for Christmas.  We finally got our tree up last weekend, but it’s just a little 4 foot artificial tree.  We have barely any other decorations–there’s a paper plate Christmas tree Simon made last year and a red and green paper chain we’re using to count down the days until Christmas (Simon gets to rip off a link each evening) and I think that’s it.  Don and I finally sat down last weekend and came up with some plans for gifts and got some things ordered.  We’re not 100% done buying stuff as there are a few things we need to pick up locally, and not a thing is wrapped yet, but we’ll get there.

I enjoy Christmas goodies, but I’m not one of those people who churns out dozens and dozens of treats in a huge baking fest.  I usually attempt to make one thing per week so we don’t overload.  This year, the thought of making cookies (or anything else with small, individual servings) stresses me out, so I haven’t gone there.  So far, my holiday baking has been chocolate chip pumpkin bread, Nanaimo bars, and banana bread.  Not especially Christmas-y, but still yummy.  I haven’t decided what I will make next week, if anything.  I may skip it because we’ll be heading down to my parents’ house and it’ll be enough work getting ready for the trip.

We’ve been having a blizzard here; today is Peter’s third consecutive day home from school.  On the whole, it’s been good having him home.  Simon and I have continued with lessons as usual (this is the last week we’re doing before taking a break for Christmas).  Peter’s had plenty of time to read, play with Simon, watch tv and a movie, and play on the Wii, and I’ve also pressed him into service with chores each day.  He’s cleaned both bathrooms, cleaned the microwave, made the banana bread, washed the sheets, and is currently procrastinating finishing the dishes (that I nearly had done yesterday, but which have piled up a bit today as he has put off doing them).  I appreciate the work he has done.  Even though he probably wouldn’t admit it, I think he appreciates learning how to do some of these chores.  Unfortunately, he has such long school days (he leaves before 7 am, gets home around 4:30, and has homework and saxophone practice, plus Boy Scouts and fencing) that we don’t have him do much in the way of chores most of the time.

 

Team Pink

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, Don and I went out shopping together and ran into an acquaintance who had just had a baby girl a few weeks earlier.  She confirmed that we still didn’t know whether we were having a boy or a girl, then commented, “If you end up on Team Pink, we’ll have to set up some play dates.”

This comment has bugged me ever since (as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing a blog post about it over four months later).  It’s not just the implication that our kids should only play together if they are the same sex, though I’m not too sure about that.  It’s the “Team Pink.”

When I was an elementary school teacher, I had a habit of observing the girls in the primary-grade classes and counting how many were not wearing something pink.  There might be one or two girls in a classroom who weren’t, and they were almost certainly wearing the runner-up “girl” color, purple.  It was a rare day that I saw a single young girl who wasn’t wearing at least one thing that was pink or purple.

Why do we do this to girls in our culture?  Why do we brand them with such a specific marker of their femininity?  We consider gender such an important part of a person’s identity that from babyhood, we feel a need to make sure people can clearly tell whether our children are male or female (since babies are basically unisex-looking if you can’t see their private parts).  My baby girl wears both “girl” clothes and hand-me-down “boy” clothes.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my daughter wearing a pale blue outfit or a brightly colored striped shirt with a frog on it, and I’m not offended if someone assumes that she’s a boy, but when I politely correct them, they seem quite embarrassed.  I’m going against the social norm.  She even looked out-of-place wearing a white onesie in her newborn picture on the hospital website; scrolling through the site, I noticed that the other babies were all clearly dressed in gender-specific going-home outfits.

In our culture, girls wear girl clothes and boys wear boy clothes.  Woe unto those who transgress–particularly boys who wear feminine-appearing clothing (girls have a little more leeway in wearing boyish clothing).  It seems to me that the girl clothing stereotype is more limited (pink, purple, hearts, flowers, butterflies, princesses) than the boy clothing stereotype (blue, green, brown, black, gray, sports, trucks, airplanes, trains, dinosaurs, wild animals, bugs, rock music, pirates/skulls, superheroes).  Why can’t girl clothing reflect a wider range of interests?  Or why can’t we have gender-neutral children’s clothing?  Not for all kids, all the time, but just some.  Just as an option.  I couldn’t even find gender-neutral baby clothes past the 3 month size.

This bugs me, but I don’t have an answer to it.  When I dress my daughter in pink, I feel like I’m pigeonholing her in this cultural stereotype.  When I dress her in navy blue or brown, I feel like I’m making her stick out.  At her age, she doesn’t know the difference.  How will I navigate this as she gets older and more aware?  I don’t want to limit her or have her limit herself to narrow “girly” tastes, but I also know that being a non-conformist can be a burden.  I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

 

Easy, no-fuss Advent wreath

Do you want to celebrate Advent in your home but not spend money on a fancy Advent wreath or expend time and effort trying to be crafty and make your own?  I was in that position six years ago and I came up with something that has worked well for my family.  I’ll share with you how to make a super easy Advent wreath.

Materials:  a plain artificial wreath, 4 glass candle holders, 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle

Set the wreath on a table or countertop and arrange the artificial branches to look nice.  Put the candleholders on the table inside the wreath, evenly spaced, touching the wreath.  Put a candle in each candleholder.  Voilà!  You’re done!

So technically, the candleholders aren’t attached to the wreath, but they’re close enough, and they kind of blend in because they’re glass.

Here are a couple pictures:

advent-wreath-side

Advent wreath side view

advent-wreath-top

Advent wreath top view

I got all the materials at a craft store.  I can’t recall how much I spent, but I was going for cheap and I didn’t feel that it broke the bank.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money or time to make a beautiful wreath to aid your celebration of Advent.