Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Soiree

I can't believe it's already Labor Day weekend! My parents are in town and we'll be grilling out this evening. I'll have to string up the lights I got for my birthday "soiree" a couple months ago—about which I never shared here!

You may recall I'd been daydreaming about it for months, since Kate's "outsourced" fourth birthday party inspired me to plan a party for myself at my next birthday. I hung lights across our patio and crafted a variety of Pinterest-y hors d'oeuvres, and a few friends gathered to chat and sip sangria around our new adirondacks. My friend Maria did the photographic documentation for me :0)

You can find most of the recipes on my Pinterest board for the party: ginger brie bites, crab cakes, rose' sangria, caprese skewers, and of course tons of cheese!

I've been trying to share some of my various party posts on Pinterest (see the board of all of them: The Parsonage Family on Pinterest).

Check out and consider repinning:
Kate's Ice Cream Party
Claire's Rainbow Party
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Baby Shower
Bird's Nest Baby Shower
and, just this week: A Virtual Baby Shower!

Sneak peak: I'm planning a farm/harvest theme party for Claire's second birthday in a few months. Our little foster baby has a birthday a few weeks before Claire's, so if she's still with us, we'll have to throw her a little party as well! Ideas?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to Throw a Virtual Baby Shower

We've all got far-flung friends; Facebook and blogs make it easier than ever to stay in touch, but it's not always possible to make the long trip for special occasions.

Most of our best friends went to high school with my husband. That's what happens when you live in one spouse's hometown, I hear. One of those friends hasn't actually lived here since graduating high school, but she and Matt have always stayed close, and while she and I have only met in person three times, I think (two of which were our weddings!) we've grown closer over the years. Dear Lisa is expecting her first baby soon, and though it's long distance, I wanted to give her a shower so those of us still in Nashville could bless our old friend during this special time.

Hence, the virtual baby shower.

What is a virtual baby shower, you ask? Well, it's like any baby shower, except the guest of honor isn't physically there! It requires a little more advance planning, but overall I found it to be easier to host than a regular party! Just follow these steps:

Step 1: Schedule and Invite
After setting a date and time with the guest of honor (taking into account any time zone differences!) you need to send your invites with a little more time to spare than for most showers, and with a little more explanation. I designed this invite incorporating the keyboard and mouse imagery to set the tone.

The reason for the extra time is to accommodate the sending of your "baby shower in a box." Guests need to deliver their gifts to you (or send them directly to the mom-to-be) by a certain day 4-7 days prior to the shower.

Step 2: Prepare the Box
In addition to your gift and gifts from guests, include a bit of festivity that the guest of honor can easily set up for herself. A tabletop decoration is good, since it won't require hanging or much assembly. Think lightweight as well, since you'll be paying to ship it. I also included a pink lei she could wear (a tiara or ribbon-badge would be cute as well), and a couple of the plates and napkins we would be using. You want things to be as similar as possible on both sides to give a consistent aesthetic and help everyone feel part of one big cross-country party.
One place where that isn't totally possible is food. You need treats that will not go bad or be destroyed in transit. I asked my mother-in-law to make some of her wonderful miniature cutout cookies in baby-themed shapes; she'd made them previously for a long-distance shower we flew to Chicago to throw, and we knew they traveled well. Well-wrapped muffins or non-melting candies would work well also. I'd thought about tossing in some jordan almonds, but opted for more whimsical treats: candy necklaces and twisty straws, which I knew the little kids attending our side of the shower would enjoy too!

Step 3: Prep Your Side of Things
This was the part I found to be so much easier than a traditional shower. Since the guest of honor is off-site, not there to enjoy every detail of your "tablescape," and you don't want her to feel left out of the party, it's a good idea to keep things on-site low key. I decorated just one small area of the house—the area that would be on-camera when we Skyped with the mom-to-be—and kept the food simple. We had some pasta salad, fruit salad, store-bought mini-muffins, and some of the awesome cookies my MIL made.

Step 4: Skype!!
Or Google Hangout, whatever video chat provider you prefer. We Skyped for about an hour, chatting with our guest of honor, seeing the baby bump, getting a virtual tour of the nursery, and watching her open presents!

We did some baby-related trivia during our Skype session as well, though if you planned this part further in advance, you could include materials for games in the box to share with the mom-to-be: a roll of toilet paper to do the "guess-how-big-the-belly-is" game, or a printed word jumble game.
We all wish we could be close to special friends during such a special time in their lives, but social media makes virtual connection possible, and you can still celebrate together, though you're far apart.

Congrats, Lisa; we can't wait to meet Baby Jellybean!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Full House

A week ago, I shared how our house was soon to be overrun with little girls :0) We'd accepted a placement for a ten month old baby girl (blog code name: Baby Girl Chandler) and two nights later had a short-term guest baby for respite care while her foster mom was on vacation (for the sake of this one post, we'll blog-name her Allison). So, for four days and four nights, we had four little girls under our roof.

During that time, we juggled car seats and swapped cars, Matt and I sharing duties to get the kids to day care and to be tended at home. Ari the Entourage (my minivan) lived up to his name and his purpose, hauling around an entourage of little girls on a big circle around southeast Nashville, taking Kate and Claire to school, then dropping Allison off at her daycare, which was mercifully not too out of the way from our usual route, and taking Chandler to a drop-in child care place for a couple hours so I could get work done. (We're close to getting her in day care, but shot records and other logistical bits are hard to come by in these sorts of situations!)

Aside from the day care rounds, we enjoyed family dinners utilizing all the high chairs, eat seats, and boosters in our attic arsenal, brought out the baby toys and gear, learned to mix formula for the first time, and even took our entourage to a birthday party and to church (twice!) Matt and I feel awkward when people applaud us for fostering—it's our thing and no one should feel pressured to live their faith in this particular way—but I admit I do feel proud, not of the willingness to house and love random children, but of managing life with four kiddos at all! It's nothing compared to the Duggars or whatnot, but I get a crazy thrill from the physical and logistical challenge of simply getting four kids into and out of their car seats, getting them fed, getting them bathed and dressed and off to bed. As my dad commented on a Facebook photo I shared of all four kids in the back of the van, "I never realized until this moment how much you hated being an only child."

I didn't hate it, but I did always dream of having a dozen kids (then eight, then six, then four, as I understood more how babies got here and the means that big a brood would require). Matt and I love caring for kids, but don't want to put more than three through college! So yes, I love having a full house, though a cacophony of toddler tears can certainly drive a person crazy, and the stress of dressing and loading up four kids can make a chronically late person so anxious as to actually allow extra time to get somewhere!

We survived and enjoyed those four days, and now are settling into normal life with three, as Chandler could be with us a while. Kate and Claire have been amazing, welcoming and doting on our guest babies with such enthusiasm. Claire seems to have matured a good bit overnight, relishing her new role as a big sister. Since I was in the attic getting out the infant stuff anyway, I brought down the booster seat, and Claire was so proud to sit right up to the table instead of in her high chair. Rather than jealously fighting to keep Mommy to herself, she screams first thing in the morning to get "Baby!!" up and I have to physically prevent her from banging in the door to our guest room. (Our guests are always such better sleepers than our own, who fight bedtime, refuse naps, and get up well before 7 am each day.) My girls actually fought and cried this morning over who got to give Chandler her bottle. They are such good helpers, and I am so touched to see how naturally they internalize the values of compassion and hospitality we teach in our house.

As for pictures, I'm growing my skill in "Wilson"-style photography, referencing the neighbor on "Home Improvement" whose face was always concealed, as foster kids' must be. So here are a few carefully-shot images of our time as a family of six.

Pizza dinner the first night (love Kate's sassy face)

Playtime with three girls under age two

The aforementioned minivan pic

Chandler is a very small ten months, and enjoys the play mat

Big girl Claire trying out the big girl swing while Allison uses the baby swing
Claire wants to feed the baby herself--what a sweet big girl!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Little Girls

I have this song in my head tonight, though only upon watching the whole song again do I recognize just how un-DCS appropriate Ms. Hannigan's sentiments are. I have no desire to step on freckles or straighten curls, but we will definitely be dripping with little girls around here!

We agreed last week to take a little girl (13 mos.) for respite care later this week while her foster mom is out of town for five days. Then we got a call Monday to take another baby girl (10 mos.) into our care. Don't know how long this little one will be with us, but it does mean that from tomorrow through the weekend, the Kelley Haus will be chock full of little girls!

Day One with "Baby Girl Chandler," as I will call her here (gotta love a Friends reference), has gone well. Kate and Claire welcomed her wholeheartedly, and Claire hasn't even been jealous, just loving having "Baby!" here to dote on like a new doll or puppy. Tomorrow night comes our other guest and we'll enjoy a few days with FOUR girls age four and under (and 75% of those under two) in our house.

Lucky me, lucky me, look at what I'm dripping with: little girls!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Getaway to Charleston

Earlier this month, Matt and I took a little "just us" getaway to Charleston, South Carolina. I had been there before, but Matt never had, and we had a special plane fare voucher thing we wanted to take advantage of, so we decided it would be nice to have a little trip sans kiddos—the first since we've had kids! Sure, we've had an overnight to ourselves now and then, but it was the first actual vacation for just the two of us since going to NYC the month before conceiving Kate. (Now that I think of it, we went on a cruise while pregnant with her, but it wasn't quite the same!)

It was just three days, but we soaked up the lowcountry history and culture and fabulous cuisine—not to mention the sleeping in and late evenings out. (It's such a shock, one's first vacation with kids, to be confined to the hotel room by eight o'clock!) We walked the city by day, then took a late afternoon siesta before going to dinner around eight!

It wasn't exceptionally hot (just regular hot!), but very humid. We opened our hotel room curtains the first morning (after arriving after dark the night before) to see a torrential downpour. Fortunately it stopped by the time we finished breakfast, but the air was so wet, my camera lens fogged up constantly!
Our hotel was near the north end of the Museum Mile, which goes down historic Meeting Street, so we started there and just headed south with our map, pointing out the sites along the way and detouring to explore further when we wished. Our first real stop was the oldest synagogue in continuous use in North America. We're religion geeks, of course, and I especially love Judaica, so we stopped in for a tour. The stories about how this modern congregation has navigated the we've-always-done-it-this-ways of their 300-year history reminded us that all congregations have certain tendencies in common!

After walking through the old market, we had lunch at A.W. Shucks, and then continued along Museum Mile, stopping off to take in the Old Slave Mart Museum, on the site of Charleston's main slave market, established after 19th c. Charlestonians decided selling Africans publicly on streetcorners was uncouth! It was very interesting to learn more about the domestic slave trade. Maybe the most interesting fact was learning what a small percentage of trans-Atlantic captives were actually brought to the U.S.  Most ended up in the Caribbean and South America, and Brazil was actually the last to outlaw slavery.

Charleston is called the "Holy City" for the huge number of churches on this small peninsula. We walked through many of the church yards and cemeteries, and went inside a few that were open for visitors.

Finally, we made it to the south end of Museum Mile, the Battery, and looked at the colorful veranda-ed homes and out into the harbor.

Our feet were pretty sore by then, and the humidity was taking its toll, so after walking maybe halfway back, we finally found a trolley stop to hitch a free ride back to the hotel. As I mentioned, we enjoyed relaxing back at the hotel each evening before heading back out for dinner.

I hadn't realized what a "foodie" city Charleston is (though a restaurant-biz neighbor of ours did tell us he'd been down there for the Food & Wine Festival and recommended his favorite restaurant, High Cotton). Our favorite restaurant was the one practically next door to our hotel. Our flight from Charlotte on to Charleston was cancelled, so we ended up getting in five hours later than expected, and going to dinner at 10 p.m. our first night in town. We went to 39 Rue de Jean (fittingly located at 39 John St.) a fabulous French bistro. I had the duck confit, and it was amazing. The downside was that it made the subsequent great restaurants we enjoyed for the rest of the trip slightly less amazing.

Anyway, our second full day, we went out to Fort Sumter, which was Matt's must-do item of the trip. I'd been out there before (reminisce: MCC Revelations Choir Tour 1996!) but I appreciated the history and on-site museum a little more the second time around!

Back on the mainland, we had lunch at Sticky Fingers BBQ, notable to me for two reasons: (1) I'd eaten at the original Sticky Fingers in Charleston suburb Mt. Pleasant a few years back on an author visit, and (2) we buy Sticky Fingers sauce here at our local Kroger because it is one of only two brands I've found without high fructose corn syrup! (There was also a signed portrait of South Carolina-native Stephen Colbert there in the downtown Sticky Fingers!)
Our final day in Charleston we devoted to a few historic home tours: the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House. There are several great historic homes to tour in Charleston, and I haven't really discovered a favorite (in 1992, my family made sure to visit Calhoun Mansion, since some of "Scarlett," the TV miniseries sequel to "Gone With the Wind," was filmed there :) The plantations are great too, though we did not rent a car on this trip and just stayed in the downtown area the whole time.

With a flight to catch at 7:30 p.m., we spent the late afternoon soaking up the culture (sweetgrass baskets!) and relaxing in a park along the waterfront before having an early dinner of a few tapas and drinks during happy hour at the aforementioned recommended High Cotton.

After sitting on the runway a total of 90 minutes between our two flights and me swearing "it's just not worth flying anywhere!" we finally got back home, crashing into bed around midnight but getting to sleep in once again, since we'd so carefully planned for the grandparental babysitting to be at their house that night so we could relax just one more morning!

We sure missed our girls, of course (smiling wistfully at any small child we saw around Charleston or in the airports!) and were so glad to go pick them up that next day. They were glad to see us too and eagerly wore their souvenirs the next day to school—the dresses we bought for them in the old market, each embroidered with a palmetto, symbol of South Carolina!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ten Things I Want to Teach My Daughters

The other day, Kate and I were updating her magnetic calendar for August, when she picked up one of the holiday squares and said, “Look, compassion!” 

It was actually the square for the start of Passover, but with its picture of a chalice and matzo bread, I easily saw that the word she was looking for was “communion.” 

Good words either way. Better than when I mixed up “Protestant” and “prostitute” after seeing Pretty Woman at age ten. 

As preacher’s kids (rather, the kids of two religion dorks), Kate and Claire will learn lots of churchy words over the years. But learning compassion and the other values we emphasize is much more important than knowing that a “Sing Bible,” as Kate called it, is actually called a hymnal. 

Even at their young age, kids pick up a lot, especially when it comes to the guiding principles of our lives. Here are ten that I try to emphasize. Some are things I say regularly, mantras I repeat that become part of my own girls’ vocabulary. Some are things that will be more important as they grow older that only come up occasionally or in basic, childlike ways now. Some are things (most of them) that I still struggle to teach myself, but that I hope by instilling in them young, my girls will not struggle with when they are my age. 

1. God loves everyone and we should too. Jesus said everyone is our neighbor, and we should be kind to everyone, helping people when they need it. We don’t return evil for evil, even on the level of “he hit me first” in a preschool squabble.

2. We have more than we need, so we should be thankful for what we have and share with those who don’t have enough. I try to point out basic things that we are fortunate to have: a house, food in the pantry, a nearby grocery store—to help them realize not everyone has those things.

3. You can do anything you put your mind to. This was probably the biggest lesson my dad taught me, and I already talk to Kate about setting goals and working toward them. As child development experts suggest, we try to praise kids more for the effort they put into something, the way they tried hard or thought about something intently, rather than saying “you’re so smart,” (though I confess we say that too, sometimes!)

4. You are beautiful. Enjoy looking nice, in whatever style suits who you are, but never let someone else define what is beautiful or make you feel that you are not. Likewise, every person is beautiful, and you should never make someone else feel that they are not. We certainly try to praise inner beauty and strengths more (“You’re such a loving big sister,” “You have great balance,” “I love how you love to practice writing your letters,”) but with so many girls struggling with body image, I’m starting to think it’s not such a bad thing to help a girl feel good about her outward appearance too.

5. We don’t need most of what people are selling. We live in a media-saturated world, where even preschool-focused videos online are preceded by ads for grown-up products (often deodorant, interestingly, and Matt and I decided they should at least target the ad to parents, saying “Kids can smell fear—get Secret Ultra-Dry.”) To control the urge toward consumption, I try to make Kate aware of advertising and articulate my thought process aloud. For example, “They are trying to sell me a new couch, but we already have a good couch. We don’t need a new couch.”

6. Strict gender roles are silly. Boys can cook, change diapers, nurture kids, and wear pink if they want to! Girls can be firefighters, fix toilets, build things, and be pastors. We try to model this equality in our marriage, pointing out what a great cook Daddy is, and how Mommy assembled the new piece of furniture all by herself. We never, EVER make fun of boys for doing something “feminine,” or say something is “just for boys.” Gestation and lactation are just about the only trump cards we play on this issue in our house!

7. Real princesses don’t wear crowns and pink sparkles, and there are only like five of them in the world. Ok, this one is more a personal pet peeve, but as authors like Peggy Orenstein and Gigi Durham have argued, this girly obsession with commercialized princesses and pink everything really can have negative consequences, limiting what girls feel they can be or do.

8. It’s okay not to know. I heard Claire utter her first “why?” this morning. Kids have a lot of questions, and it’s easy as parents to try to answer them all. But there are some unanswerable questions out there, and I want my kids to be okay with not knowing. Like the other day when we were talking about whether someone could see us from heaven, Matt and I told Kate that no one knows for sure what heaven is like, so maybe people can watch their loved ones or maybe they’re too busy doing other stuff—who knows?

9. Don’t be in a hurry to get married. Your life does not begin when you get married, nor does a bare ring finger indicate you are less loveable or beautiful than someone who is married. I’m ashamed to say I really felt that way. Matt took his time proposing (not in a bad way—we only dated two years) because he wanted to be ready. I got ready after we got married, and it’s a lot harder that way.

10. Know thyself, as Socrates (or one of his peers) said. Knowing who you are and what you like is central to confidence and contentment, and while I learned this lesson years ago, I still struggle with comparing myself to others or feeling I “should” be a certain way. Focus on the things you enjoy and the things you are good at, and be content. Comparison is the enemy of joy.


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