Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A St. Patty's Day Announcement...

I haven't felt like blogging much lately, but had to make this little announcement :0)

Happy St. Pat's! You may recall it's a favorite holiday here in The Parsonage Family, but I've been too sick and tired to prepare much fun for the family today. Store-bought green and white cupcakes. That's it.

Food in general and especially cooking disgust me right now, so there will be no shepherd's pie or corned beef and cabbage, and I think the girls will be grateful for that. As grateful as they should be to their little sibling for Mommy's impulse-based cravings (before the overall food-aversion kicked in):
"Mommy, can we stop for ice cream?"
"Ice cream? Sure! Sounds good!"
"Mommy, can we buy some candy in the checkout lane?"
"Sure! How about Twizzlers?"

The girls are really excited, and we are looking forward to our fifth "forever family" member, arriving mid-October.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

BGC Updates

So, yesterday, I spent nine hours at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Fortunately, I was still able to get six hours of work done. But between the time of waiting and working, I was accompanying BGC as she had her cochlear implant surgery.

We're old pros on the surgery floor now (there's more protocol than you think--this time I actually obeyed the rules and didn't take a to-go cup of coffee into the waiting room, where food and drink are not allowed, out of respect for all the kids awaiting surgery, who haven't been allowed to eat or drink in many hours!)

Our last two visits were for her hip surgery. She was in that spica cast from August 11 to November 4. That's a long time. I posted my tips for caring for a baby in a spica cast on Vanderbilt's Wishing Well blog, if you want to learn more about it!

You may be surprised she's still with us. It's been almost 18 months. I can't remember the last update I gave, but she's had two different families presented as potential pre-adoptive families, and both have backed out. She even had a couple overnight visits with the second one, who we thought was perfect but ended up having some sudden personal issues to deal with.

There's a third I've talked to, but in an unexpected twist, BGC's day care teacher and her husband actually have felt called to adopt her! They're not foster parents or in any adoptive agency process, but because of the established relationship, DCS plans to expedite their approval so BGC can go live with them!! They'll have to take all the foster care training classes and wait six months and endure the Termination of Parental Rights proceedings for BGC's birth parents, but they can start making a forever family together, and that is really exciting. She's 28 months old already, so it would be nice to have some permanency for her by her third birthday!

Developmentally, BGC is getting close to standing up and then cruising. After getting the spica off, she bounced right back to crawling very quickly. Her fine motor and communication skills had improved so much in the time we were unable to work on gross motor skills. Her communication is limited to less than ten signs, but her overall interpersonal skills have grown. Now with the cochlear implant on her weaker side, and keeping the hearing aid on her somewhat stronger side, she should grow by leaps and bounds in the coming months. But that will be for her new family to enjoy :0)

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Saving Photo Christmas Cards

I love the photo Christmas (and New Year) cards so many people send out this time of year. And while I have no trouble tossing the generic winter- or manger-scene cards in the recycling bin at the end of the season, I like to save the photo cards that so encapsulate the year and changing lives of friends and family. For the past seven years, I've saved those cards as part of my Christmas scrapbooking, showcasing them alongside our own family Christmas card for the year.

I've done it in several ways, so allow me to share a few possibilities!

The first couple times, I simply made a collage-type scrapbook page using the photos from some of the photo cards we received—not all, I don't think, though it's probably most of them, since photo cards weren't quite as common in the mid-oughts as they are now :0)

Another approach is to build a pocket into the scrapbook page. Our card and a headline are front and center, but a pasted-in pocket (an actual envelope, in one case) holds all the other photo cards, accessible through the top of the page protector.

A new approach was in order once we started doing two-sided cards on nice cardstock. For the past few years then, I've done a separate page protector (cut down to size and sealed) for our family's card, so that front and back can be viewed easily.  The other cards are in a page protector of their own with tie closure embellishment (string between two brads) to keep it closed.

Last year, I made the pockets for all and for ours out of the same page protector, running it through the sewing machine to seal off our card at the bottom and doing the tie-closure again at the top. The downside of that design is that only one friend/family card is very visible on the front and one on the back, because the pocket is so small. Typically, I like to flare the cards out some, with favorites near the top so I can see several even without opening the pocket.

This year, I was less crafty about it and just purchased a pack of Project Life envelope pages. I added a little embellishment at the top, but otherwise let the nice plastic envelope do its job. It has a nice 4x6 pocket on the front for a journaling card to explain the envelope's contents, but I left it empty to let the cards inside speak for themselves. (And I look forward to using the other two envelopes in the pack for Kate's schoolwork and other big items to save!)

I made a simple cut-down page protector for our own card.

I love looking back at our own family's cards through the years, and last year I crafted a decoration to let me and any guests to our home see the progression of our family through those cards, from our marriage to pregnancy, one child to two, and so on. Burlap, a wide sparkly ribbon, and a bunch of paper clips with scraps of ribbon on each one were all it took.

I hope these ideas prompt you to get creative in saving those photo cards from family and friends, and in the words of our card this year, we are WISHING YOU PEACE, LOVE, AND JOY this season and always.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Traditions and Expectations

The girls and I took our fourth annual "jammie Christmas light drive," where we don our Christmas jammies and drive around to look at lights.

This was a tradition born of high expectations. Three years ago, when Claire was about six weeks old, I was home with both girls one evening while Matt was at the weekly pastoral care class he was taking. Bedtime was hard in those days, as Kate wouldn't leave Claire and I alone to nurse, wouldn't stay in her room, etc. I was tired, and knew that both girls tended to fall asleep easily in the car, so I brilliantly suggested we put on our jammies and take a drive. "Wouldn't that be CRAZY?" I told little almost-three year old Kate, trying to get her excited.

So I put the girls in their coordinating Christmas jammies, got them strapped into car seats, put the Christmas music on and drove. And drove. And drove and drove and drove. More than an hour, I weaved through neighborhood after neighborhood. And those girls never fell asleep! I finally returned home having to do the bedtime struggle I'd been trying to avoid.

The tradition was born, however, and in subsequent years lost the utilitarian expectations and was elevated to "special holiday family tradition." Those are the best, and also the worst. Fun things that don't cost anything are what make the cultural Christmas season so special, but they also—in the vein of one of our other yearly traditions, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"—tend to elevate stress by setting up unrealistic expectations.

The second year, when Claire was barely one and Kate almost four, I threatened not to go on the drive the particular night we had planned, because Kate was being uncooperative. I was still learning one of the cardinal rules of parenting—don't make threats you don't want to make good on, threats that hurt you worse that it hurts them. She continued to disobey, so we said there would be no drive. Then I was so bummed out, I took it back and we went anyway, though angst was high and it was far from a relaxed and joyful ride.

The third year, last year, I only remember that I was much more into it than anyone else in the car. "Why doesn't anyone else care about this super-special family holiday tradition?!?!"

This year, tonight, when the kids were picking at their dinner, I made no idle threats about not going if they didn't clean their plates. Afterwards, we took baths and put on jammies (non-matching ones!!), and while Matt stayed home to tweak the sermon and put BGC to bed, the big girls and I excitedly loaded up the rental sleigh (car's in the shop) and set out with high hopes.

We were still in our neighborhood when I made the mistake of commenting on the stars in the sky, dim compared to the lights on the houses, but still visible and beautiful.
"I can't see the stars!"
"Why isn't the Christmas star out?"
"Open my window so I can see the stars!"

We weren't too much further away when Kate started loudly singing "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay..." over top of "What Child is This?" on the radio. To her credit, she knew the whole song and how the game is played. I continued to sing with the radio, but didn't shush her. She later concluded that every house without Christmas lights belonged to a family that celebrates Hanukkah.

As we approached the first of the more ostentatious displays, where people were pulling over to get out and look, I put the child lock on the windows, because Claire's lowering of the window made the air and music do that annoying whoopita-whoopita thing. Claire began to throw a fit about wanting her window down, and was approaching full-blown tantrum status as Kate and I got out to look closer and take a picture.

All was calm by the time we got to the second super-ostentatious house, owned by some super holiday-loving people, and we all got out of the car to see Santa (the homeowner) in the driveway and get candy canes from his wife. The house next door has a lighted sign reading "DITTO" and a limo and two party busses drove by. We went to another house where a sign said "tune to 96.9 FM," so we did and found that the blinking lights were synchronized to the music. Amazing!

Then Claire fell asleep. And Kate and I drove through another neighborhood, talking about our favorite displays and what we should try on our house next year. (My vote: lighted greenery bunting across the front porch and more white lights on the bushes. Kate's: blinking colored lights all over her climbing tree that fills our front yard.) We returned home happy and content, declaring that hour-long, twenty-mile journey the best jammie Christmas light drive ever.

I keep saying, if the holidays are stressing you out, you're doing it wrong. Lowering expectations and letting the craziness become part of the tradition lets us enjoy the holidays for what they are.

On a related note, I enjoyed an unexpected special time with Kate yesterday that brought full circle a day of screwed up expectations from years before. Kate got sick on the bus yesterday morning, so I picked her up from school and she had to miss her class party on the half-day before Christmas break began. I had noticed that a cute movie Kate would like was available through Amazon Prime, so we cuddled up on the couch to watch "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl." We've read most of the American Girl books together, so Kate was familiar with the character. I love American Girl, had two of them growing up, and Kate is looking forward to getting her own someday.

The Kit movie is actually quite significant to me because six and a half years ago, I'd planned to go see it with my mom on my birthday. This was the year I was pregnant with Kate, and decided to take the Intelligender test (an at home, pee-based gender predictor claiming 90% accuracy—checking their site now, they have a lot more disclaimers!) on my birthday, just past the ten-week mark. I'd hoped and expected to be having a girl. The test told me I was having a boy, and I was so bummed about this, I didn't want to go see the American Girl movie that would just make me sadder about not having a little girl to share things like that with. I totally ruined my own birthday and gave Matt much fodder for mocking me for years to come.

I'll chalk my melodramatic reaction of July 2008 up to pregnancy hormones, but nonetheless, it was so special for me to cuddle up yesterday with my firstborn girl and watch that fun movie. She liked it too, and of course was shocked to hear how some test long ago said she would be a BOY!

Getting set on one's expectations is a fast route to disappointment, but enjoying life's twists and turns gives laughs, memories, and more special moments, twenty miles or six years down the road.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#TBT Drama Camp

Kate enjoys singing and acting out scenes she's seen—quoting funny lines or imitating inflections she likes. So, we knew that classes at Nashville's children's theatre were an obvious choice. Her first experience was a Fall Break drama camp last month. At her age, the class involved lots of games and imagination exercises.

A few phone pics I snapped at the parents' open class...

She can't wait to do more drama classes, and who knows what's in her future?

I did shows all through high school, and did backstage work during college, but way back when, I was just a little deer in a summer drama class, wearing my Brownie uniform pants and a felt headband my mom made. (That's obviously a bunny to my right, an owl to my left, and I think maybe Class of 2001 there was a raccoon?)

And before that, I put on this one-girl-show of Cinderella on our family room hearth. Those teddy bears were my wicked stepsisters!

The grand finale, of course, had me in a crown and glass slippers (jellies!) dancing with my Prince Charming Bear!

Both of our recent birthday parties have ended with impromptu shows. We love Kate's dramatics, and whether she sticks to at-home skits, shines on the high school stage, or goes even further, it's great to nurture this interest of hers and grow her confidence and imagination even more!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Advent Inspiration

Having edited books, a magazine, and a website, I've learned the quirks of the timelines of each media type.

When I edited Ministry Matters, we had to be useful to pastors in their planning for various seasons and events of the church year. So, we kicked off our Advent content with a "Christmas in July" week to help pastors planning their sermons, worship, and outreach efforts for the following November and December.

When I edited Circuit Rider, a quarterly magazine for United Methodist leaders, each issue went to prepress about 6-8 weeks before it arrived in mailboxes, and work on the issue began months before that. So, the issue pastors might read as Advent draws close was on my brain way back in the spring.

Book publishing takes a lot longer. This is surprising for a lot of first time authors, I find. They spend six months or a year (or more, depending on the book) working on a book and are disheartened to hear that it will likely be almost another year before it hits the bookshelves (or the preorders are finally shipped, as the case may be in this online age). So with 9-12 months' gap between manuscript and release, I was working on Advent books way back in . . . the previous Advent!

Yes, this long timeline actually worked out nicely in that last year I had the pleasure of working on Advent books actually DURING Advent! Rather than the dissociative state of writing "plan your summer mission trip" at Christmastime, I got to sit by the tree as I edited, wrote, and compiled essays, prayers, and biblical reflections about incarnation, messianic hopes, preparing for Jesus' coming, and the kingdom of God.

It was a special thing, and now (a year later) I get to share those amazing Advent books with YOU to inspire you THIS Advent . . . which starts in only ten days--whoops!--better order fast!

Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah

If you love Handel's Messiah, love Christmas music, or love anybody who's into sacred music, this book is a gem. It has forty reflections (good, theological stuff--not just fluff) exploring the scriptures that make up the libretto of Handel's Messiah. From "Comfort ye, comfort ye" (Isaiah 40:1-5) to "Amen" (Revelation 5:14) and every "behold" and "hallelujah" along the way, these essays from a variety of pastors and theologians dig into the meaning behind every Bible passage in the oratorio. Good for a daily Advent devotional, reading by the tree, or gifting to your favorite choir director.

Feasting on the Word Advent Companion

This one is for the pastor in your life (or, knowing a lot of our friends, YOU!) Part of WJK's popular "Feasting on the Word" line of preaching and worship resources, this one offers ideas and tools for Advent and Christmas. Planned thematically (not by the lectionary) this book includes sermon-prep Bible commentaries and complete worship services for the four Sundays of Advent, four midweek services, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It's a bit late to use for this year's Advent (unless you're a last-minute kind of guy or gal) but maybe for next year. Plus, there is also a Feasting on the Word Lenten Companion for your Lent and Easter planning!

Fighting the Battle against STUFF this Christmas

I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of STUFF in our house. For at least five years (my memory of life before kids is hazy) I have declared myself to be fighting a battle against all the stuff in my house. I confess, I usually call it the "War on Crap." But that sounds a little crass. Either way, by "stuff" or "crap," I'm not meaning to insult the quality of objects filling my house, much of which has been gifted to us—and increasingly, to our kids—by kind, generous, thoughtful people.

"Stuff" is the excess, the clutter, the unneeded and often unused things that fill our homes. Stuff doesn't just take up space, but energy as well as we maintain an increasingly cluttered space.

Judging from the number of articles I see to this effect on Facebook these days, and the response when I share them, I know I'm not alone. A lot of parents of young children feel this way. Kids aren't great at picking up after themselves, parents tire of picking up after them, and generous people are always eager to add to the collection of toys and other things, especially at Christmas. I've seen articles from the angle of how to purge the stuff once you have it, and I try to thin the herd as I can, but it's hard for me to part with things a loved one gave so kindly, and I'd rather find ways to free ourselves from the excess and consumerism in the first place, rather than enabling a "revolving door of stuff."

As one other mom asked me when I shared one such article, "how do you tell these generous people to dial it back a bit, without hurting their feelings?" I don't have a great answer. The time I've spent trying to get every word of this post right shows what a touchy issue it can be.

First rule of thumb, I don't say anything to the people outside our family (except on birthday invitations, when I've started saying "no gifts please"). I do tell my kids' grandmothers over and over how much the kids have already and how hard it is to keep the house neat with so much stuff, etc., but I also know how the giving of gifts is special for the giver as well as the receiver. So while I say, "Don't get them anything; they have enough!!" I know that is not realistic and that I need to make some reasonable suggestions.

Rather, I think suggesting alternatives to stuff-gifts is a good way to introduce new ways of gift-giving that kids love, parents can appreciate, and (in some cases) the giver can enjoy alongside the child. Things that won't wind up scattered all over the floor of their room—and every other room! Or, at the very least, bring a fun twist to things we need anyway.

So here is my list of non-stuff gifts one might consider this Christmas.

Experience Gifts
  • passes to go roller skating or ice skating
  • tickets to a kid-friendly concert, play, or sporting event
  • restaurant date to a fun place like Rainforest Café or even a fast food place with a playground
  • movie date with a big tub of popcorn
  • gift card for an ice cream shop
  • visit to a museum or science center
  • registration for a season of soccer or a series of swim lessons
  • subscription to ABCmouse.com or a magazine like Highlights
  • ingredients for a recipe to make together
  • seeds to plant and watch grow
  • art supplies, bubbles, chalk
  • supplies and instructions for a science experiment
  • a fun food like the ingredients for s'mores or cookies the child can decorate
  • stickers or temporary tattoos
  • balloons
  • a disposable camera
  • a notebook and fun pen
Fun Necessities
  • socks or tights with a fun pattern (even underwear if you're a close family member!)
  • a light-up or character toothbrush
  • lotion, body wash, or bubble bath
  • hair accessories
  • shoes or clothes
  • room décor (a bulletin board, special pillow, or art for their wall)
  • a cool box in which to house all their little "treasures"
And for the grown-ups...
  • restaurant gift card
  • gourmet food items (wine and cheese, a fancy dessert, etc.)
  • free babysitting
  • tickets to a concert, play, or sporting event
  • mani/pedi gift card
  • overnight at a hotel
  • gift card for something they wouldn't ordinarily get for themselves

What do you get someone who already has too much?

Something they keep in their hearts and memories, not on their shelves.
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