Block Party

Things have been mighty busy around here this week. Tonight we went to a block party at the end of our street and had a lot of fun! It was pot luck and I was completely lacking inspiration for what to make. (could have something to do with the sinus headache i was battling.) I still didn't know what I was going to do when I got to Whole Foods, so I grabbed their monthly flyer and perused the recipes in there. I found a simple recipe for Butternut Hummus and went for it.

I thought the butternut squash was never going to finish cooking, but the hummus turned out very well. I heard a couple of people commenting on how good it was, without knowing who had made it, so I was quite pleased with myself. Not that I came up with the idea on my own... but I executed it!

Anyway, the party was fun. There was plenty of food and drinks and Christmas lights and music. The whole thing was set up in a large bit of yard between two houses and I'd guess there were about 30 adults there, all from our block. The kids camped out in a backyard with Christmas videos on a big screen and the adults chatted around a fire pit. I planted myself on a comfy chair, near a heater and the fire, wrapped up in a blanket and chatted with whoever got close to me. (It is, ironically, about 20 degrees cooler than when I posted my complaint on Tuesday.)

Around 7:00, we herded our children into the car and drove around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. As anticipated, we enjoyed it more than they did, but I reminded them (as i did last year) that this is just what parents do to their children at Christmas time. Our parents did it to us. We do it to them. They will do it to their children. Doug calls it the Circle of Life.

We went back to the party for a bit after that, but everyone was cold and tired by that point. Now the kids are in bed, I'm typing and waiting for my toes to thaw, and Doug has headed back to the party. Maybe I'll wrap a few more presents while he's gone. Or maybe I'll sit here and snuggle with a warm cat until I can't stay awake anymore...


Dreaming of a White Moderately Chilly Christmas

I have lived in Texas for 34 years, 7 months, and 21 days. I have lived in Austin for 16 years, 4 months, and [some number of] days. So why do I still get surprised and disappointed when it's 81 degrees in the middle of December? I mean, the weather is beautiful and all, but it's supposed to be cold outside! How am I supposed to roast chestnuts on an open fire, have Jack Frost nipping at my nose, and all that jazz when it's 81 degrees out?!?

I blame TV and movies for this dissatisfaction with an aspect of my life that I cannot change. (well, okay, i could change it by moving out of state, but that's not happening.) Every Christmas movie involves snow. Half the shows I watch on TV take place in a city where people actually have to wear coats when they step out the front door. I do everything in my power to avoid commercials because I don't want to be brainwashed, but somehow I overlooked this one!

(What do you mean, I have control issues? You take that back! Now!)


Well, cold or not, I guess I'd better start wrapping these Christmas gifts...


Food Waste and Mummies

The food waste is pretty minimal this time. You remember that strange concoction that I made before Thanksgiving? Well, we all ate as much of it as we could stand to eat and this is what was leftover. Remind me not to put fresh cranberries in my dinner anymore, m'kay? There are still some herbs and a bit of canned pumpkin languishing in my fridge, so I may have to post another update soon. It all depends on how creative I get this week!
We took a family trip to San Antonio today, to see the Mummies of the World exhibit at the Witte Museum. All of the 1st Graders at Lila's school have been studying Ancient Egypt and that included a brief study of mummification. I saw a LivingSocial deal for this exhibit and it seemed like a perfect tie-in. It was grim, but fascinating! Eli was creeped out by the whole thing, except for the mummified cats, which he declared to be "cute". We were all creeped out by the mummified babies.
The museum seemed like a great one for kids, but we didn't get to explore beyond the mummy exhibit. Once we came out of that wing, it was lunchtime. We were planning to eat lunch, grab a little quiet time in the car, then head back for more fun. Unfortunately, the kids couldn't manage to stay quiet for even 5 minutes in the car and they gave no indication that their rowdiness and disrespect would get better outside of the car, so we called it a day and drove back home.
Lila had her own little adventure when she got separated from us and was temporarily lost. Doug and Eli (who had had all the dead bodies he could stand) left the exhibit first and went out to the lobby, or so I thought. Lila was ready to go about 5-7 minutes sooner than me, so I told her she could head out of the exhibit and wait with Dad. I assumed that had worked out. What really happened was that the boys had gone into an adjoining room, which was not visible from the lobby.
When Lila didn't see them, she went out the front doors to look. (I suppose she remembered an employee telling us at the beginning that we couldn't re-enter the mummy exhibit once we left.) Someone spotted her and directed her to a museum security guard. I came out of the exhibit a few minutes later, oblivious to the whole thing, and was headed for Doug and Eli when the security guard stopped me.
I thought he was about to hassle me about not having a ticket or something, but he said they were trying to find the parents of a lost little girl. I said, "Oh, that's probably my daughter!" I followed the man outside and there she was, sitting calmly with a couple of Fire Department EMTs who happened to be there at the same time. The whole thing scared her, naturally, but she was very brave and was able to give them her name, my name, my phone number, and what city we were from.
The security guard called my phone to let me know where Lila was, but that didn't do much good since we were made to power off our phones before going in to see the mummies. There was just one little tear on her cheek - very pitiful. I picked her up and held her tight and thanked the men for helping her. On the way back to the car, I asked her if she needed to talk about what happened. She said, "No." I asked her if she wanted to talk about what happened. She said, "No."
Over lunch, we did discuss a little bit about good protocol if you get separated from your group and we decided that we'd have a meet-up location from now on, whenever we go to a big place like that. I'm just thanking God that it all turned out as well as it did and not letting myself think about all the things that could have happened!


Second Chances

Sometimes I forget that God loves to give us second chances. I have had a rough week that was really starting to snowball. I have been irritable and had very little patience with the faults of others. The number of errands that needed to be run this week was well above average and that, on top of all the holiday activities that we've been planning, left me feeling over-scheduled and out of control. Nothing triggers the nasty side of my personality like the feeling that others are trying to exert control (real or imagined) over my life. So I found myself distancing myself from my husband, snapping at my children, and... basically, being a jerk.

During moments of clarity, I was aware of my behavior and it made me sick. It's not something that I like to admit, but empathy is a trait that I have to actively strive for in myself. It does not come naturally to me. When I stopped to listen to my own words to my kids, I could hear the sharp edge and lack of empathy behind the words and I felt awful. Toward the end of the week, Eli started getting sick and that, sadly, only made things worse.
I want to make my kids feel wrapped in love and cared-for when they are sick, but I was still suffering from this awful irritability. I was trying to be compassionate toward Eli, but finding myself angry when he didn't act or respond the way that I wanted him to. I was also struggling against resentment toward him and his illness for interfering with my plans. And that just made me feel like a bigger jerk.
Like I said, it was all beginning to snowball. By the time yesterday afternoon rolled around, I was in a full-blown funk. I had decided that I was "ruining Christmas" and didn't deserve to be anyone's mother. Unfortunately, the latter sentiment is an old refrain for me. I lay in bed for a long time last night, with a sick 4-year-old coughing on the back of my head, and felt sorry for myself. I woke up this morning feeling just as crummy. Blergh.
But, this is where the God of Second Chances comes in. Lila was not home, Renee was not home, Doug and Eli were in the backyard, and I found myself alone in the living room. I couldn't muster the motivation to do anything more than lay on the couch and stare... but that was the perfect place for God to speak to me. He showed me the lies that I was believing: that it was my job to create a perfect Christmas for my kids, that I was failing, that I should give up.
He reminded me of what Christmas really is and how its perfection has nothing to do with my actions. It seems so obvious now! Christmas is a celebration of Jesus, the greatest gift ever given. If our focus is on Jesus, then it is a perfect Christmas. Participating in traditions and planning activities can definitely be fun, and they are a good thing - as long as they are pointing our focus in the right direction, rather than dragging our attention away from Him.
I was grumpy and rude to my family. That sucks and I can't change it. But I can acknowledge my sin, ask for forgiveness, and rely on the strength of the Savior we celebrate to help me do better today. I won't be perfect, but that's okay because He is perfect and He loves to give us second chances!


Today's Tears

I have been in such a funk today, starting even before I heard about that horrible thing that happened this morning. Now that I've finally taken the time to sit down and find out more about what happened, I am in tears. I just can't stop crying. I am so thankful for my babies. I need to post this photo, for myself, to remind me of what I have and how precious it is. Never do I struggle more with the idea of life being outside my control than when I consider something happening to my children.


A Glimpse into my Mind

I recently had a bruise pop up on my right thigh. I have no idea how it got there, but it was dark purple and roughly the size of a Ritz cracker. It always annoys me when that happens because it seems unfair. I could drop an anvil on my head and it wouldn't leave a mark, but I just wake up one morning and I have this big bruise and no story to go with it! What good is a bruise without a story to go with it?!? Anyway, the bruise is nearly faded now, but I noticed that there is a pea-sized knot under the skin in roughly the same spot.

Doug had already seen the bruise and last night I introduced him to the knot. This conversation followed...

Doug: That's weird.

Me: I know! I think someone injected something into my leg while I was sleeping.

Doug: I think you're right. It was probably the aliens! That's where they injected the tiny alien tracking device. If you cut it out of your leg, it's going to sprout legs and start running around like an insect!

Me: OR it means that I'm actually a paranoid schizophrenic living in a mental institution and this whole wonderful life I think that I'm living is actually an elaborate delusion and this spot on my leg is where they injected me with medication and the injection site has made it's way into my delusion, which is either a fluke or it means that the medication is starting to work.

Doug: I think you're on to something there. Maybe you should talk to your psychiatrist about that.

Me: No, I never tell him the good stuff. It would only worry him.


A Turtle and A Penguin

Today's Advent Tree paper said, "Take photos with Santa!" We've never made a big deal out of the Santa Claus side of the holiday and our kids know that he's not real, but Lila thought it would be fun to do pictures. Eli had to be convinced. He thought the whole idea of a big hairy stranger in a red suit was on the creepy side. He also didn't understand why we wanted to try and take photos with someone who doesn't exist. Once we explained that we were not delusional, but were talking about someone in a costume, and once we agreed that one of us would be in the photo with them, he finally consented.
Soon after we made our list and set up the tree, we saw a flyer for a Family Night at Chick-fil-A that included photos with Santa, an Elf Cow, AND Nate the Great! We couldn't pass that up, so we shuffled our Advent Tree activities to make sure it would work out. Nate the Great is a fantastic balloon guy in Austin and he can draw quite a crowd on his own. Combine that with Chick-fil-A on Family Night and Santa Claus... a guaranteed madhouse!
Surprisingly, there was no line for our food and we found a booth right away. Getting the kids to take a deep breath and focus on eating was a little more tricky. We assured them that Santa and Nate were not going anywhere while we ate. Also surprisingly, there was no line for Santa. At all. I guess Chick-fil-A is not the kind of place you go for formal photos with the Big Guy, but it was perfect for a casual snapshot!
The painful part was standing in line for our balloon creations. Doug and I stood in line for an hour. The kids went and talked to friends for a while and they played in the play scape for a while, but I still had kids hanging from my body and stepping on my feet for far too long. Heck, I had kids I didn't even know bumping into my butt and pawing at my back. I've basically forbidden anyone in my family from touching me for the next 24 hours. We'll see how that goes.
But, long line aside, we accomplished what we went there for. Just look at those cute kids with their cute balloon animals. He can make some truly impressive creations, but there is a time restraint in this kind of situation. We might have him come to Eli's birthday party next year. I'll bet he can make a mean-looking monster truck!



This was, overall, a lovely day! We wrapped up the week's school work in about an hour and a half, which left most of the day for fun (and housework). The weather was gorgeous (for April) and the kids spent most of the day playing with doodle bugs in the back yard. They don't know it yet, but they are getting little Doodle Bug Playgrounds for Christmas. They are always trying to bring their little friends into the house. With these, I will let them!

We ate at a new-to-us restaurant tonight (Corazon at Castle Hill) and it was very tasty! They use El Milagro corn tortillas, which were better than any others we've had. The queso fundido had a delightful, smoked-cheese flavor to it. The butternut squash soup I had was simply wonderful. And they honored our Groupon, even though it expired a week ago. Bonus!

The bad news: I think there was some gluten slipped in there somewhere. Everything I ordered was supposed to be gluten-free, but I started feeling decidedly crummy about halfway through the meal. It was either the tortillas or the queso. It's only 8:15, but I'm already thinking of going to sleep. The only thing holding me back is my reluctance to give up the one night of the week when I don't feel too bad about staying up late because I know I don't have to get up as early in the morning!

I will leave you with a photo of the garlic clove that tickled my junior-high funny bone last night.

The end.


Food Waste Confession

Dead Orange

Dead Cilantro

Dead Cucumber

Dead Parsley

On the plus side, I made two very sizable dishes recently and we ate each one for multiple lunches and dinners until they were gone. No Waste Rules! We still have some buttermilk and leftover pumpkin puree that need to be used before they go bad. Those pumpkin pancakes that Doug promised me haven't materialized yet. Ooh, maybe he could use them to make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies! Tonight I made an arrabbiata pasta sauce that should be good for a few meals. Yum!
Also, I think we might make it through our current bunch of cilantro before it goes slimy! The recipe it went with only called for cilantro as a garnish. I used it as such and then chopped the whole bunch and put it in a storage container. I have been adding some to our salad every night since then. I don't know why I didn't think of this before! Cilantro is right up there with hummus in my list of most-loved foods and it's a great addition to salad!


Christmas Miscellany

I'm home this evening and it's so delightfully quiet. The only sounds are from the dishwasher and the clicking of the computer keys. Doug and the kids are on a hot cocoa date at Mozart's and I'm contemplating a cup of coffee myself. There's a chill in the air (relatively speaking). Maybe I'll open the windows, so I can curl up with my hot coffee and a good book in a cold room. I picked up a copy of 7 at the library again today and I really want to finish it before I have to return it this time!

This conversation happened earlier today and it cracked me up:

Eli: "Can we wrestle?"
Me: "Sure. . . . I'm gonna win!"
Eli: "Of course, you're not. . . . I'm so fast and I punch so much, I'm gonna win!"

And to finish off this random post. A few photos of the Christmas tree decorating.

Doug was the designated Ornament Unpacker.
The kids took turns hanging the ornaments on the tree.
And we made it through the whole process with only one broken item!


Advent Tree

One of my favorite blogs to follow is Angela's Adventures. She recently published a post about an advent calendar that she'd made. I thought it was a great idea and I was between diversions, so I decided to make one too! It involves making 25 fabric pockets, putting a slip of paper with various Christmas activities in each one, and hanging them on a small Christmas tree. It ended up being a lot of work, but I love the way it turned out.
My first mistake was waiting until December 1st to begin a project that ought to be done by... December 1st. In my defense, I didn't get the idea until three days before, so I couldn't have started much sooner if I'd tried. I like to say that I work better under pressure anyway. That's really just a Procrastinator's Justification, but I'm gonna go with it.
I went out and purchased all the necessary supplies: silver glitter ribbon, chocolate brown canvas (they didn't have the color of burlap I wanted), number stencils, white paint, and a real Christmas tree to hang all the little pockets on. The real tree is also a kind of experiment. I have seen such an improvement in my allergies since I went gluten-free and then (mostly) vegan that I thought maybe I can finally be in the same house as one without experiencing anaphylaxis.
Now, I can remember every dish that each member of my family has ordered at every restaurant we've eaten at in the past month (or more). I know lots of big words and I can spell and appropriately use most of them. I can trim the claws of even the most frightening house cat. But... I am terrified of my sewing machine. Terrified. This was the first project I've undertaken that involved any real sewing and I didn't (still don't) know how to use the thing.
I asked Irene (Doug's mom) to teach me and she was more than willing to help. Unfortunately, the machine, which belonged to my grandmother (still living, but no longer in need of a sewing machine), is missing the bobbin. I didn't have time the desire to go back to the fabric store, so I ended up sewing all the pockets by hand. I stayed up until midnight on the 1st, cutting and sewing, with some much appreciated help from my husband.
I decided to call it a night, with five pockets left to sew, when I accidentally impaled my finger on the blunt end of my sewing needle. Thankfully, I was able to finish the rest of the work after the kids went to bed the next night. Doug, Renee, and I sat around and watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation while I worked and the only mishap that occurred was when I ran out of silver glitter ribbon (as seen in photo).
Now the tree is up and there is a fun Christmas surprise tucked away in each pocket. We had a Family Meeting on Saturday morning to discuss what activities we wanted to include, so the kids know what is coming but not on which day. I am enjoying the intentionality of the whole thing. It's easy to say, "I want to have a family Christmas carol time," and then never get around to doing it. Those little slips of paper and the eager children who read them are going to make sure our "wants" actually happen this year!


Christmas Musings

First of all, I apologize for the spotty posts this past week. My goal is to write an update Monday through Friday evenings, while Doug is putting the kids to bed. However, there were a couple of odd nights last week when he had conference calls and I was the one putting them to bed. Since I wasn't able to sit down and type up a blog post during that designated time slot, I just didn't do it at all. It's one of the less charming aspects of my personality.
I've been thinking a lot about Christmas lately (naturally). I've been trying to figure out why it tends to be such a bittersweet time. We are celebrating Christ's birth, spending time with family & friends, and listening to jolly music. So why does the holiday season leave so many people depressed? The over-simplified answer for my life is that I don't do enough to celebrate Christ's birth (and all God's other miracles) and spend special time with loved ones during the rest of the year.
If I made every month a holiday, what kind of difference would that make in my outlook? I could have a party every month to celebrate my blessings. I could find special crafts and traditions for our family to do together all the time. I could light a candle at dinner every night to remind us of some wonderful aspect of God's character. We could read Bible stories as a family every week. We could be as excited and thoughtful about birthday gifts and random acts of kindess as we are about Christmas gifts.
I know there are many other reasons for people's sadness. For many, all the merriment can seem hollow and artificial. We may be separated from those loved ones we'd like to be spending time with. There might be financial difficulties that leave us feeling guilty over not being able to shower our children with gifts. And there is definitely a magic to the holiday season that changes once you are an adult. An inability to recreate that magic in your adult life can leave the holiday feeling rather lonely.
What am I missing? What else leads to holiday sadness? And what else can we do to change it in our own lives?