Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Can Happen in a Year

I never saw this picture coming.

Last Christmas we were not in a good place. Oh, man, it was ugly. I had made complete peace with the fact that our marriage was over. I felt the approval of heaven that I could move on, and I was ready. Excited, even. When I took down the tree last year, I kept all of his ornaments separate. I put them in their own box and tucked them in the hall closet so I could give them to him this year. To put on his own tree. In his own house. To do whatever he wanted with his own Christmas.

A lot has happened between then and now. He has his own place. And I'm not ready for that to change yet, to be honest. But somewhere around August things inside of me started shifting around, rather uncomfortably. I baby-stepped. I'm timid, with good reason. But softening, on most days.

A lot of wonderful things happened in 2013. I was not afraid to be alone. I drew boundaries for maybe the first time in my life. I graduated from nursing school and passed the board exams. I got a job, the best kind of job for me, and I'm slowly learning and gaining confidence. And a great deal of humility.

With that humility has also come a different sort of love for the man that I married. I am grateful that this year we were together. All eight of us. And it was happy and sincere. He loved getting into the Christmas spirit and giving and serving. He's so good at that anyway. It was comfortable to be together. There was happiness and cooperation. And laughing, lots of laughing. I don't have all the answers, but right now I'm asking myself different questions than I was at this time last year.

And I recognize that this picture signifies one of the most unexpected miracles of 2013.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favorite Gift

I heard of this company called Artisan State on Facebook. Just one of those ads that pops up in the newsfeed, that I usually ignore. But this one caught my eye. When I knew that Dylan was coming for Christmas, and I knew that he only wanted money as his gift, I wanted to think of something else I could do for him that would be personal and meaningful. My boy is about to turn 18. He's all grown up. He'll graduate from high school in a few months and his years of childhood are behind him. We enter a different phase. I wanted something to capsulate the memories of his childhood. Something that put in front of his face all of the good times and blessings, despite the trials. Something that made him feel supremely loved and cherished. And I wanted him to know the feelings of my heart for him in a permanent way.

Artisan State makes these amazing books. This one is called the Little Black Book and it starts at just $20 for 20 pages. I added some pages to mine. It's like a board book, very good quality, and it can come packaged in a very handsome gift box with a lid. You can add writing and you can choose your own layouts. I had a very hard time narrowing down pictures from Dylan's entire life, but I decided on pictures that showed his milestones, family traditions, and lots of pictures of the two of us together through the years.

In the inside front cover, I wrote him a letter. I did my best to sum up my heart for him as he enters this new phase of his life.

Here are a few of the pages in his book. Holding it in my hands and looking through it was so emotional for me before I wrapped it up. It was my little boy's childhood before my eyes. I read my words to him, and I looked at each page before I wrapped it up.

I was so excited to give it to him. And he loved it. The other kids loved it and want one as well, but this year this was my special gift of love to Dylan.

I am in no way being sponsored by Artisan State, but I wanted to share a good thing.

Christmas Day

The star on the top means it's time for Santa to come! And thank goodness he did this year. Santa always pulls through, even when it seems impossible in November.

Notice that the kitty found a temporary cozy place until he can get himself back under the tree.

Scenes from a sleepy Christmas morning:

(Conor bought Dylan a box of Slim Jims.)

Yes, more Legos.

And a bigger-boy version of Moby Dick! (Working up to the real thing.)

This was one of my favorite ideas this year. Several of the kids asked for money. Dylan is trying to save for a car. I didn't just want to hand him cash, so I thought of this way to give it to him:

A beautiful wall quilt from my mom!

Adam took Conor shopping for me. He told his dad he wanted to get me something to organize with and Adam said he searched and searched until he decided on this expandable drawer organizer. I actually really needed this! My boy knows his mama!

Sean and Caitlin came over later and opened presents. Adam wrapped $2 bills up in an entire roll of paper towels for Sean.

And for Caitlin? One of the best ideas I've ever had.

Gas Relief. She was definitely confused. She said, "I don't have a problem!"

But when she opened it up, she saw the joke. Gas cards! Every driving teen needs some gas relief!

A house full of happy kids.

All six of them together!

 Love this boy!

You blink, and then they're huge. That's how it happens.

That afternoon, we got to drive out to the Perkins' home and spend a few hours with them. And let me offer you some advice: If you ever find yourself with the entire Perkins family, ask them to sing for you. And then tell them not to stop. Ever.

By Christmas night, I was blissfully exhausted.

And so completely content.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve was cozy, even though the weather was unseasonably warm outside. We stayed at home and just enjoyed time together. The boys had a great game of Settlers of Catan going. At first we told Conor he could only play on someone's "team" but he fought for the right to play solo and eventually won when he could answer every question about the rules of the game that was thrown at him. 

Back there in the livingroom, Braulio was giving Lyndsay her Christmas present.

Some Tom's! He was so proud of himself.

I was in the kitchen baking Brown Butter Snickerdoodles for Santa. He loves those best.

The kids put their presents under the tree and I was so happy to see this: Not only did he get me presents this year, but he even wrote "LOVE" on them! I had to take a picture! (He said, "I knew you would.")

After singing a Christmas carol and reading the account in Luke of the Savior's birth, it was time to open the traditional Christmas Eve jammies.

My jammied big-kids block the tree.

Three awesome boys.

And one awesome girl.

I'd baked cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, but Dylan couldn't wait. He didn't even care how he cut them, he just plopped a pile on a plate and went to town.

YUM. Another tradition that's not going anywhere.

And then Conor wrote his letter to Santa. His first one was unsupervised and contained a list of things he wanted. I had to intercept that one to tell him it was too late for requests. This letter was to be nothing but 'thank yous', so he wrote another one and kept it short and sweet.

Ready for Santa!

And when the teenagers were finally in bed around midnight, Santa came to visit.