Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas: the Bitter and the Sweet.

Once you reach a certain age, Christmas becomes a mix of bitter and sweet.

Once you reach a certain age, you have experienced dozens of Christmases that you got to enjoy as a kid with child-like wonder.  Then you grow up a little and get to experience it with a spouse- all the melding of traditions, showering each other with presents, and making new memories.  Then maybe a little time goes by and you get to see it again with children- the anticipation, the joy, and the love of the season.

But with age also comes losses that give these memories a tinge of sadness.  With age comes the responsibility of making a magical holiday for other people.  It takes more time, more energy, and more money to maintain this magic for the little people in our lives.

All of this has been on my mind the last few weeks as I have been creating our 15th Christmas with children.

And I love it: the music, the church services, the hustle bustle, the gift buying and wrapping, the planning, the baking, the decorations.  I have a pretty good system in place by now and for some unknown reason was rarely stressed about the whole thing this season.  I have gone through enough of these to know that somehow it all gets done.

But the bitter creeps in at the strangest times.  Of course I miss my father and his huge part of our holiday.  I miss hearing his deep voice singing in the choir at church.  I miss buying gifts for him and making gingerbread houses for him.  I miss his open-faced excitement of getting presents and unwrapping them precisely with his Swiss Army knife, savoring every moment.  I miss his love, his strength, his wisdom and his humor.

But I have done a boatload of healing this year, through both hard emotional work and the grace of God and His strength. So while in past years I felt stuck in this sadness and bitter, this year I can feel it, acknowledge it, and move on.  Preferably to the sweet.

And I cry.  I cry at the Christmas songs, I cry at the Sunday School Christmas pageant, I cry at the mere idea of Mary, the same age as my oldest daughter, traveling to a strange place and giving birth to her first born in a stable with the knowledge of the awesome responsibility ahead of her, all the time responding to God that her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in Him.

I went to see the Disney On Ice show and even cried when Mickey first came out of the giant cupcake.

I cried yesterday when I heard the awful news that a long ago friend named Chris had suddenly passed away.  Chris was a few years older than me and lived in the neighborhood that we moved into when we moved from the country into suburban life.  I was 10.  Chris was a happy, kind, cheerful, nice kid who showed me that boys could be non-yucky and uncomplicated.  Chris was just easy to be friends with. For an up-and-coming teenage girl, that was a true gift.  He was nice.  He was just nice.

He went on to high school and we remained friendly but lost touch over time.  I would run into him every few years, and he was always armed with a ready smile and genuine interest in how things were going for me.  The beauty of Facebook helped me to reconnect with him, and in the last few years I have rejoiced at his marriage to his wife Michelle, laughed at their clever announcement to the world that she was pregnant, and oohed and ahhhed over the newborn pictures of his son, Max, when he was born 10 months ago.  I was really happy for him.

So when Dan shared this awful news when I got home from a Girl Scout event (happy but tired from coraling 18 first and fifth grade girls for a few hours and all the Christmas preparations and events that have been lovely but make life rather full), I was stunned.  And grief stricken.

I mourned for that happy kid that I met all those years ago and the gift he gave me of being my friend.
I mourned for his son and his wife and the implications of what his loss will mean to them.
I mourned that this happened so close to Christmas, and that I'm sure there are gifts for him that will never be opened.
And that reminded me of those innocent babies in Sandy Hook, who were killed for no reason a few years ago by that madman, and the gifts their parents gave them that were never opened.

And when I scrolled through Facebook and saw all the beautiful tributes to Chris, mostly saying what I felt- how nice he was, how kind he was, how easy to smile, how benevolent- I cried all over again.  I hope he knew all these people loved him.

This year I have thought a lot about why being involved in my church is so important to me around Christmas.  And a big part of it for me is realizing the structure it provides:  no matter who we have lost or gained over the previous year, whatever joys or challenges we have faced, whatever bitter or sweet we have experienced, the church service will be there on Christmas Eve at 4pm with a Pastor delivering the Christmas message, the choir singing the Christmas hymns, and my church family standing there in the pews next to me, either celebrating the year or holding me up as I struggle to get through.

So yes, I have lived long enough now to make Christmas bittersweet.  These shadows of sadness are there in the corners.

But I have so, so much sweetness: my babies. My babies. My babies.

Sharing Christmas with them... the anticipation, the advent calendars, the peaceful Advent church services, the Christmas music in the car, the special ornaments on the tree, the Christmas cards that show how they've grown, the holiday movies and baking shows we watch together, the Christmas Eve pajamas, the annual reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. So much sweetness and joy.

In three days, another Christmas Eve will be upon us.  My gifts are all bought and mostly wrapped.  The cards are out, the outfits are ready, the plans are made, and all I have left is some baking to do.  I will love every minute of watching them, taking a million pictures, and savoring all that sweet.

I thank God every day for the health of my husband and children, the blessings He has placed on me this year, and the church that I am a part of.  I understand God's sovereignty in my life and accept it.

I understand and accept the bitter and the sweet.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jenna Turns Double Digits.

Our sweet baby girl Jenna Alicia turned 10 on May 11th.  
I could hardly believe how quickly the decade has gone.
We started the celebration early with a family birthday party at the end of April.  We had a nice Sunday afternoon to celebrate Jenna, complete with a garishly decorated birthday cake.  "Oh WOW!" I exclaimed when I picked it up. And not with joy and admiration.  But it still tasted yummy.

A few weeks later, it was the real day.  She carefully chose her outfit and hairstyle for the day.

I brought in chocolate chip cookie bars for her class to enjoy per her request.  Her biggest concern was her food for the day- she had a very specific list of things she wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  And not all of it exactly "went together" in the culinary sense, but hey, I was up to providing whatever she wanted.  She's a real foodie at heart.

For her present she requested the Girl of the Year from American Girl, Grace Thomas, who is a baker who loves Paris and has dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles.  Sound like anyone we all know and love??  She is a beautiful doll and a great addition to the collection.

Here's Jenna enjoying her steak dinner:

After dinner we scooted over to my mom's for dessert (where Jenna had clear direction of what kind of drinks and sides she wanted with the cake- orange soda, sprite, and maraschino cherries).  Gammie had secured a super-crazy birthday candle that shot firework-type sparklers in the air, rotated and played "Happy Birthday" until you literally cut the power wire.  It was incredible.  We loved the instructions, which may or may not have been written by a non-native English speaker:

 "Mistake" vs. "Exactitude"

We really enjoyed the "elegant handicraft".

All in all, it was a beautiful birthday for a beautiful little girl, who is really not little anymore.  Jenna is still the sweetest, gentlest girl with an inner rod of strength and depth that is awe-inducing.  Let me be clear: I will not mess with her as an adult.  So for now I can nag her about her always-messy room, encourage her to not be quite so absent-minded, and help her be more independent with her agonizing decisions about what to wear each day (she has a reputation to uphold, you know), but once she is all grown up... watch out.  We are encouraging her dream of being a doctor one day, because she clearly has the ability to slice someone open with out blinking an eye.  She is smart and funny and so loving it overwhelms me at times... and at the same time she has a great sense of discernment and knows exactly what she wants in life... she is ambitious and driven and a perfectionist and has no time for nonsense.  It is an amazing gift to be her mom and watch her grow up.

Happy birthday to my sweet Nenna!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chocolate Chip Muffin Obsession and Sisterhood.

I don't know how your kids operate, but my kids have a somewhat annoying quirk when it comes to food: I buy an item for them, like a new kind of granola bar or fruit or cookie, and they fall instantly in love with it.  Love love love.  Can't get enough.  Want to have it all the time. Blow through boxes/servings/packages of it.  Then, noticing their devotion to this new food, I find it on sale somewhere and think, "AHA! They love this stuff! I'll buy three boxes/servings/packages of it!"

And three days later, just when I am breaking into my newfound stash of food greatness, they scrunch up their little faces and say, "Ooooooohhh... I don't like that anymore."


Well, this week we had a similar adventure in the food department.  Michaela went grocery shopping with me on Sunday, which is very rare, and she loves to push the cart (because she is the Firstborn Child and She Is In Charge) and she also loves to just casually toss items that catch her eye in to the cart.  We went with a list of five things to get.  We spent, I kid you not, $48 total.

One of the things she picked out was chocolate chip muffin mix.  When we got home, Jenna immediately spied it and asked, "Wait! Who is the muffin mix for?"

And of course Michaela immediately answered, "It is for me and you can't have any."

And of course Jenna whipped her head to me and said, "Can you get more muffin mix for me?"

And I said, "Yes, I will stop at the store and get muffin mix for you."

That night Michaela tried to make her muffins but I was short an egg.  "Can you get eggs tomorrow?"

"Yes," I answered.

"And don't forget the muffin mix for me." Jenna adds.

"Yes," I answered.

The next morning, as Michaela is saying goodbye and heading to school, she says, "Don't forget the eggs!"
To which Jenna adds, "AND THE MUFFIN MIX!"

"OKAY OKAY OKAY!" I yell back at them both.

So I get the eggs and the muffin mix.  That day after school, Michaela announces she's going to make her muffins.  "Can you make mine, too?" asks Jenna. "NO! Just mine!" Michaela says and I give her a very dirty look and say, "Michaela, REALLY? Just make a double batch."

Alec, hearing that a baked good is being made, pipes up, "I can help!" and climbs up on the chair next to the counter.

Michaela makes the muffins and miraculously, "her pan" gets 12 full muffins while "Jenna's pan" gets 9 full and three baby muffins.  Hmmm. She pops the first pan in the oven and walks away.  I take them out when the timer goes off and pop in the next pan.  They stay in a minute or two longer and end up a bit darker.

"Why are my muffins darker?" Jenna asks.  "Why aren't they like Michaela's?"
"They were in the oven a touch longer. They're fine."

Michaela makes me separate her muffins onto one plate and Jenna's muffins onto another plate.

Both girls are adamant that no one else eats their designated muffins.
Which leaves Alec in limbo.  But he doesn't care.  He spends the next few days grabbing muffins indiscriminately off of whatever plate he can reach.

Before I know it, a few days goes by and whenever I see my kids, they are all stuffing muffins into their mouths and leaving a trail of chips and crumbs wherever they go.  Its like living with Hansel and Gretel.

Michaela comes home from school Tuesday afternoon and I very solemnly say to her, "I don't know how to tell you this... but I ate every one of your chocolate chip muffins today."


It was worth teasing her to see her reaction.

So I am happy to report that it is Thursday and only one muffin is left.

Hopefully the obsession has waned.
All I know is I am not buying three more boxes of muffin mix the next time I go to the store.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Out and About with Cheryl: There Are Robots Among Us.

It's been awhile since my last Out and About Edition, where I chronicle various bizarre/ funny/ quirky goings on as I encounter people in various stores and places I go as part of my very exciting stay-at- home-mom life.

1. So every couple of weeks I rotate where I go grocery shopping, mostly based on what kind of stuff I need to buy.  A few weeks ago I was in the checkout line at Shop Rite, a store I truly love, though only shop at maybe two of the four weeks of every month.  Some of the checkout girls are familiar to me, like my favorite older lady who clearly is a smoker and unintentionally talks way louder than she needs to and is always very wistfully disappointed with me when I tell her I do not, in fact, have any coupons this week. ("Any coupons today?" she asks, hopefully. "No, none today," I answer. "Oooohhh," she says, sighing and dropping her shoulders as though my groceries will now cost HER more money.)  Others I am not really familiar with.

I was checking out maybe a month ago when a girl I vaguely remember seeing there before greets and I smile and greet her back.  I try really hard to be pleasant and present with my checkers because I'm guessing a lot of people just kind of ignore them.  Well, she sort of looks at me funny and says, "Well, I haven't seen YOU in a while! How have you been?" aaaaall friendly-like, and I instantly get a stomachache because 1) I don't know her; 2) It is clear she thinks she knows me; and 3) I am afraid she has mistaken me for someone else and I am going to have to at some point gently correct her mistake.

Whereas I am all hesitant at this point, she is happy to have an audience and launches into an incredibly detailed story abut how she has found a MUCH BETTER JOB than this one, with MUCH BETTER PAY, and she starts in a few weeks and she wishes she could just quit here but they called her in and she doesn't want to leave on bad terms, you know what I mean, and I smile and nod and try not to engage.

When I am finally done and check out and bagged up, I smile and tell her "Well, good luck!" and scoot on out as fast as I can.  And before she asks me for my phone number so we can keep in touch.

Ironically, I was at the same store yesterday and saw her.  Maybe the new job didn't work out after all.

2.  I have been going to the Y regularly for a few weeks now, and have had fun challenging myself to try new machines and new classes as I start to lose the 30 pounds I have gained since my dad was diagnosed and Alec's brain went a little kooky.  I call it my Grief and Anxiety weight, and I will be more than thrilled to lose it.

I have tried yoga classes, Zumba classes, Nia classes, strength building classes, stair climbing machines, my old favorite friend the elliptical, treadmills, the indoor track and bikes.  I have enjoyed it and it has nicely filled my time and energy for the last few weeks.

The Y I go to is large and busy, and filled with people of all shapes, ages and sizes.  It does seem to skew a bit older during the day while I am there with the other mommies who either have all their kids in school or take advantage of the childcare offered.  So there are a few classes that are mostly filled with women generally between the ages of 60-80, and I like those classes because I feel like my out-of-shape-ness will be generally ignored.  Or let me say that I myself am less self-conscious around the nice old ladies.

So I took a Zumba class that is actually called Zumba Gold because it is for people in their golden years.  I had never tried Zumba before, but I am mildly coordinated and love music, and am about 25 years younger than who the class is targeted for, so I figured I should make out pretty well.

Holy crap.

I was ridiculous.

I could barely keep up with the teacher, so I instead stared at a 75 year old woman dancing in front of me and did what she did.  And after the 45 minutes, I looked with great awe at her as she was completely dry and energized by her dancing, clapping and smiling, and I was a hot sweaty puddle of exhaustion.  How is this possible? As I trudged upstairs after the class to do a little more on the elliptical (I'm telling you... its an affair I'm having), I looked downstairs and saw some of my Zumba Gold classmates calmly sitting down together drinking hot coffees and chatting.  I was stunned.

Then yesterday I took a class for the first time called Women on Weights.  This class is right after the yoga class I usually take, so I see the Women on Weights ladies lining up waiting for yoga to end and their class to start.  They look even older to me, and some of them are these wispy, thin, frail little things that I could probably throw over my ample German-peasant stout thighs and snap in half.

Once again, I grossly underestimated them.

As I am using my puny 6 pound weights in the class, struggling to do all the moves and keep up and am dripping- DRIPPING- all over my mat, sucking down my water and exhausted, once again I see my older classmates, these little wisps of things, who are pleasantly and kindly following every direction, dry as a bone, and the only thing they even begin to mention is that its a bit tough for them to keep having to get up and then get back on the floor to do a move on the mat.

On my way out, I have to actually sit down and rest in the lobby.  And as I am thinking about this experience, I come to only one conclusion:

They are robots.

Friendly, pleasant, gentle, silver-bobbed-haired, dry-as-a-bone robots.

There is no possible other explanation.

So watch out, people who live in my town.
They are all around us, watching us, learning our habits and routines, and embarrassing those of us who maybe are a bit out of shape and prone to sweating.

Be alert, and keep exercising.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


During the last weekend of our Winter Break, which was even a little too winter-y for me, a lifelong hardy, upstate NY kind of gal, I thought it would be fun to watch my son's head explode.

So we went to Legoland in Westchester.

We drove down and upon arrival, realized it was inside of a huge open-air mall, which was kind of neat- easy to find and great parking.  When you first go in, you're in a big room the has all kinds of interactive displays showing how Lego pieces are actually made.  Then you come into a big place where the NYC skyline has been recreated- all in Legos.  It even simulated the sun rising and setting, and when it gets dark in the city, all the thousands of tiny lights come on in the buildings.  We saw the Freedom Tower, Empire State building, Statue of Liberty and of course, Times Square, also known in my house as "where GMA is filmed each day."  I am hoping to take a trip to NYC this summer and show the kids these actual sights, so maybe this helped to whet their appetite.

It is safe to say at this point Alec's head was swiveling around and he was a scootch overwhelmed.

After that, you moved into a huge area that had a playgym in the middle and offshoot rooms all around with different Lego themes: Ninjago, Friends, etc.  Alec was more than happy to go into the play gym area and explore.

Then we checked out the racer area where you built your own car and timed how fast it went on the track.

 I think everyone's favorite part was the 4D movie.  The theater had cool blue lights on before the show.

Some Mommy/Alec selfie action:

We explored some other sections and on our way out got this last shot with a guy totally made of Legos.

When we got home on Sunday, Michaela wrote this on the whiteboard in our kitchen:

How I love that funny girl.
Legoland, overall, was a hit and a great end to our vacation!