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Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Very Merry Christmas

We had such a really good, really sweet Christmas day!  A friend of mine said something to the effect of "Christmas when I was a kid in no way compares to Christmas now that I'm a mommy watching my own children experience Christmas."  So. True!  I enjoyed every last second watching the children experience Christmas this year, and I am so overwhelmed and so thankful that I was right there experiencing it with them!

We were up early on Christmas morning because we had to be at church at 7:30.  Yes.  In the morning.  On Christmas day.  My children are not particularly early risers (they get it so honest!), not even on Christmas day.  So they were not up early enough to open gifts before we went to church.  But I did snap a quick picture of them in their jammies with their stockings.  They didn't even go through their stockings until after church because there wasn't time for that either.

My favorite time on Christmas day was when we came back home after church, just the five of us, and opened gifts together.

I wish I was camera savvy enough to get a picture of all five of us together on Christmas morning in front of our tree.  But two separate pictures will just have to do.


And then it was time to open gifts.  We let them open a few gifts from our Georgia family on Christmas eve.  But most were opened on Christmas morning.  Seth and I get the children three gifts each, and we fill their stockings.  We also wrap all of their gifts (except I didn't wrap the bean bags this year because they were just too big).



When we open gifts with Seth's family, we open them one at a time so everyone can see what everyone else gets.  It's quite a process, and it takes awhile.  But this is what my kids are used to, and it's all they know.  So on Christmas morning, they did the same thing.  They took turns and opened their gifts one at a time.  I didn't tell them to do that.  That's just what they do.  And they love trying to guess what the others are going to unwrap and are so excited for each other's gifts.  I'm tell you, it was just the sweetest time together!

Mason saved his money for almost a year and learned a lot of lessons on the way.  He finally got an Xbox.  I guess you could say it was a birthday-Christmas-and-all-the-other-holidays-in-between gift!  He was actually very surprised.  He had no clue he was finally getting it for Christmas.  When he opened his gift from Pop and Mimi, his expression was priceless.  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera ready so I asked him to "do it again."  And this is what I got.  It's pretty close to the original!


Hannah Kate (and Ellie, too) had an American Girl Christmas.  They love their American Girl dolls and play with them ALL. THE. TIME.  They are constantly dressing them, playing school, playing kitchen, whatever.  I used to do that with my Barbies, but they could care less about Barbies.  They are American Girls all the way!

She's been asking for this kitten for her girl for over a year now.  She finally got it from Pop and Mimi.  I mean, she was absolutely giddy over this cat!

And now her American Girl has a "real" desk and lunchroom food and locker for when they play school.

One of Ellie's gifts was this super cute necklace.

The girl knows how to strike a pose.  I'm telling you, I don't know where she gets it from!

Ellie's box from Pop and Mimi was the biggest, and the kids spent the entire month trying to figure out what in the world was in the box!  None of them guessed correctly so I don't know who was more excited to find out what was in the box - Ellie or the big kids!

It's a sleeping bag!  When all of the Georgia cousins came last summer and slept in the playroom, everyone had a sleeping bag except Ellie.  Well, not anymore!

We always fill their stockings with practical gifts . . . you know, undies and socks and such.  Hannah Kate and Ellie had these super cute headbands in their stockings.  We gave Abbie one, also.



After we opened gifts, I went to the kitchen to finish my veggie dishes for lunch.  Mason and Seth were getting the Xbox set up, Hannah Kate was playing school with her American Girls and Ellie and her babies were with me.

Seth started drinking coffee every morning a couple of years ago.  I don't drink coffee.  Unless it's a treat from Starbuck's.  Our coffee maker would make you laugh.  So my parents got him a Keurig.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be liking this thing, too!

Sunday morning before I began our lesson, I asked each of the youth in my Sunday School class to share with us what their favorite gift was and why.  I'd known for several days that I was going to ask them this question so I'd already been thinking what my own answer would be.  But I didn't have just ONE favorite.  Every single gift I was given had a lot of meaning behind it, and I know each gift was very purposefully chosen.  So I decided I wasn't going to share because I couldn't.  But, of course, one of my girls interrupted and said, "Well, Mrs. Julie, what about you?"

I told them that I loved opening my box from my parents because I had no idea what was in there.  It was full of some things I'd asked for (the newest book by my current favorite author and a cookbook by my favorite chef) and some things that were total surprises (including a Yeti that is engraved with my initials!).

My bestie and my SIL gave me some really pretty arm candy that holds a lot of meaning and makes me super happy every time I see it.

I picked out, purchased and even wrapped my own gifts from Seth and the kids this year.  And I am TOTALLY okay with that!  But for the first time ever, my stocking got filled this year!  So that was a really sweet surprise.

We went to Seth's parents' for lunch and then opened gifts with his family afterwards.  That took awhile, and then the kids and I played the game of Life together.  I took very few pictures.  But here are the cousins very patiently waiting to open gifts (Avery and Beau didn't arrive until the following day).

And notice that Mason had an outfit change.  That super cute mustache tree tee I ordered for him (a size up from what he normally wears!) was too small!  So he wore it while we were opening family gifts and then changed before we went to MawMaw's!  We never even took the tag off.  We'll be gifting it to my nephews!

In the midst of opening gifts, I looked up to see this.  I don't know why.  It just makes me laugh.  Hannah Kate is laid out on top of the coffee table.  Obviously it was some else's turn to open a gift!

Hannah Kate and Ellie continued to have an American Girl Christmas with a few other things in between.  Mason got this bad boy.

At the end of the day, we came home.  The tree was lit.  All 25 candles on our Advent wreath were blazing.  The outside lights were twinkling.  It was just so perfect in every way.  

Merry Christmas to all.  And, to all, a good night.

I can hardly wait to do it all over again next year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merriest Christmas!

Charlie Brown:  I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn't have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.  Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus:  Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.  Lights, please.


Linus:  That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

That's not Linus.  That's my Mason.  And that's his recitation project this semester.  No prompts.  No cue cards.  Just hiding the Word in his heart.

Merriest Christmas, friends.

Indeed it is!

A Savior has been born.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

I have to say . . . I don't want it to be over.  I don't want it to end.  There are only two more days until we light the big candle.  There are only two more days of gifts and food and twinkling lights and Christmas trees and carols and all things red and green.  I really wish it could be Christmas time the whole year through!

I mean, it is.  For God so LOVED that He GAVE, and that's the gift of grace and mercy and love and promise that we unwrap EVERY DAY of every year no matter the date on the calendar.  But I really wish all of the other little extra stuff would last a little bit longer!  In the meantime, we are making the very most of it and laughing and having fun all the way!

Sunday morning we took a picture (or two or three) in front of the Advent tree before we went to church.



Sunday afternoon I joined some friends for an afternoon of painting and birthday celebrating.  I have to say . . . those circles stressed me out a bit, but I sure did have fun!  Honestly, it was so nice to have some "girl time" and do something that I enjoy doing.



On Monday the kids and I went to the grocery store so we could buy all of the groceries we needed for baking and brunching and lunching and snacking and every time in between.

Tuesday afternoon I did the baking.  I would love to tell you that the kids joined me in the kitchen and that we spent four hours mixing and stirring and dropping and decorating together.  But that is about the farthest from the truth there is!  

Seth took Mason and Ellie for a couple of errands so Hannah Kate and I started the baking.


One of the (many) things I remember most about Christmas is the baking my mama did.  Every year she'd bake pralines and divinity and fudge and all kinds of yummy goodies and then she'd pack each one of them away in her tins.  Those tins would be filled and then emptied and then stowed away until the next Christmas.  She still uses those same tins more than 30 years later!  I've never had any nice tins, and that was never something I'd buy for myself.  I always kept my meager goodies in disposable rubbermaid plastic containers.  But a couple of years ago, my mama took care of that for me.  She got me several brand new lovely tins.  I didn't bake last year because we went to Georgia for Christmas.  But this year I'm filling my tins!  There's something about those pretty tins that even MAKES me want to bake!  I love everything about this picture (especially the New Orleans streetcar I painted five years ago!), but I also especially love seeing those tins!


So here's the thing about my children.  They don't like to be away from each other for more than a couple of hours at a time!  They start getting nervous.  And then they start asking me when so-in-so is going to be back and what's taking so long.  That's exactly what happened on Tuesday.  By the time Seth got back with Mason and Ellie, Hannah Kate could hardly stand it.  Mason wasn't interested in what was going on in the kitchen, and Hannah Kate promptly followed him upstairs to play!  They left me by myself, and I didn't hear from them for the next two hours!  I did make them come down to take a picture so we could at least pretend like we were all up baking in the kitchen.  But you know the truth!



And then Abbie came over and spent the night.  Last night before bed, we all played Apple to Apples.  Y'all.  I'm not a board game (or card game) kind of girl.  But.  I played.  And I haven't laughed that hard in a long time!  If you aren't familiar with Apples to Apples . . . there are green cards, and there are red cards.  The green cards have adjectives/adverbs on them.  The red cards have nouns or action words on them.  Each player gets five red cards.  Each player takes a turn reading the word from a green card.  The other players have to give that player the red card that they think best matches the word on the green card.  For example, if the green card says sticky, syrup would be a great match.  But you probably aren't going to have syrup.  As a matter of fact, you might have artist, rainbow, brothers, power rangers and red roses on the red cards in your hands.  In that case, you might choose to use brothers, I guess.  You get the point.

So it was my turn to read the green card.  The word was slimy.  I honestly can't remember all of the words on the red cards I was given, but it was a no brainer.  I immediately chose the red card that said vanilla pudding.  I thought that was pretty genius.  But then SOMEONE (I'm not saying any names) flipped out.

Someone:  WHAT?!?  VANILLA PUDDING?!?  How in the world can you choose that over dessert?!?  I gave you DESSERT!!!

Me (really confused and going back through the red cards to see how I missed that one):  I don't have dessert.

Someone:  Yes you do!  That was MY CARD.

Me (nearly falling off the couch in uncontrollable laughter):  HOW DO YOU SPELL DESSERT?!?  Because the card you gave me is DESERT!!!

So, look.  Easy mistake.  I guess.  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  But you know what else?  If you aren't sure of the word on your card, they even list synonyms or a brief little explanation for you.  Apparently, SOMEONE missed "a hot, dry, very sandy place" on the bottom of their card!

Fun times, for sure!  We all agreed we want to play it on Christmas day with PawPaw . . . Good times right there!!!

Anyway.  This morning after breakfast the kids decorated gingerbread cookies.  Oh, don't worry.  Those gingerbread men were totally bought at the store in a pre-packaged kit with the icing and sprinkles, too!


This afternoon I took Abbie and Hannah Kate to paint.  It was such fun, and now we have another beautiful Christmas painting to add to our little collection.









Simply having a WONDERFUL Christmas time!  And just don't want it to end!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hannah Kate's Solo

As promised, here is Hannah Kate singing her first ever solo last Sunday at church.

Here is what I wrote about her solo:

Again, Hannah Kate is not my outgoing, extroverted one.  Sure, she's been on the stage before at her dance recitals and VBS and even in Christmas programs.  She's sung on stage a lot.  But never a solo.  Never a lead role.  She sang Breath of Heaven.  That's not the easiest song to sing and definitely not one I'd pick for a first-time solo.  But that's what it was.  She started practicing at home about a month ago.  We banged out a few notes on the piano, but mostly she listened to it and sang along.  I'm certainly no voice or technique teacher.  I just wanted her to be herself.  I took her to church the week before the dress rehearsal so she could practice on the stage with the mic in her hand to get a feel for everything.  Seth had already told me a few times that he just didn't know if she would do it or not.  He knew she COULD.  But he didn't know if she WOULD.  

It was just her and me in the sanctuary that day.  She was SO NERVOUS.  The mic was shaking in her hand, and she was just a rocking back and forth.  After she sang the first measure, she stopped and two big ole tears made their way down her cheeks.  I started singing, and she was finally able to sing with me.  We practiced a couple of more times that day, and I tried to encourage her the best I could.  I also told her she had to stop shaking and rocking.  So I had no idea what was going to happen at the dress rehearsal.  The choir would be there, but they would be behind her so she wouldn't actually be looking at them.  But there would still be other people there.  I was getting nervous.  But at dress rehearsal, she walked up in there like nothing had ever happened and like it was something she does everyday.  And she OWNED it.  And you know what?  She did it again last Sunday with an audience full of people staring at her.  I kept telling her over and over to watch me, that it was only the two of us in the room.  By that time, she'd memorized the words, but she still had the book in front of her.  She decided about halfway through the song to look around a bit, except she never moved her neck or her head.  Just her eyes went back and forth, back and forth.  So funny!

I am SO PROUD of my girl.  This video may not seem like much, but it represents something huge.  Hannah Kate stepped out of her comfort zone for this one.  This morning at our kids' Christmas party at church, I heard Abbie ask her if she would get on stage and do it again.  I couldn't hear all of Hannah Kate's response, but I did hear an "I don't know."  So.  It was a big deal to her, and, just like Mason, I love how she stepped right up there with boldness an courage and did it!



Oh, and one more thing.  I meant to write this the other day, but I forgot.  At the very end of the service, Cole and Hannah Kate came up one last time for the final scene.  After they spoke their lines, they went and sat on the bench at the nativity scene.  "Baby Jesus" (a doll) was laying in the little manger.  I had the choir standing and ready to sing.  I looked over there, and Hannah Kate had nonchalantly thrown her folder down ON TOP OF THE BABY JESUS!  I nearly. died.  I was trying to get her attention without causing a commotion, and I was hoping the choir would just keep on going and not get lost in the music or wonder what in the world I was doing.  I finally got her attention after what seemed like forever and told her to get that folder off of the sweet baby Jesus.  And then I laughed.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Christmas Traditions Kind of Weekend

Not only was last weekend full of birthday celebrations, but it was full of Christmas traditions, too.

Speaking of Christmas . . . here's a little Christmas cheer for you!  I mean, it doesn't get much Christmas-ier than this!

The "mail lady" sent the kids a Christmas box, and they had the best time opening it.  Reindeer antler headbands, blinking Rudolph noses and blinking Christmas light necklaces say it all!  But there was more.  I think our absolute favorite thing in that box is the glasses that make the Christmas lights on your tree turn into gingerbread men, snowmen or a reindeer (depending on which pair you're wearing).  They look like the old poster board 3D glasses you used to get before they came out with the fancy plastic ones.  Anyway, I'd never seen anything like that before, and we've had fun just staring at the lights while wearing our glasses.

Cindy claims the box was full of "random" Christmas goodies.  But.  There's nothing RANDOM about a plastic roach "on wheels."  Mason is all the time trying to scare people, and he gets so aggravated because he can't scare me.  He's not the quietest thing in the world so I always hear him coming.  But let me tell you.  He got me.  He got me GOOD.  He sent that fake roach wheeling across the floor, and I nearly DIED.  Y'all.  The thing is HUGE!  And it's so . . . real looking.  Grosses me out!  I don't think I've heard heard those three laugh so hard and so long before.  Mason will never let me live that one down.  It's kind of like the whoopee cushions that were in the Easter box.  I'm quite sure roaches have NOTHING to do with Christmas!


But they LOVED their box!


So.  Christmas traditions.  We did two of my FAVORITES last weekend.

Friday night we went to the living nativity at my second church home in Baton Rouge.  I say that because this church means a lot to me and has had a tremendous impact on my life and the lives of my children during the last five years.  They also host the Bible Study Fellowship class we attend.  Anyway, this is a relatively new tradition for us.  It's the third year we've done it.  And I. LOVE. IT!


We started the evening at a little Italian joint for supper.  


The living nativity is a drive thru presentation of all of the different scenes of the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  The costumes are wonderful, and this year there was even a camel in addition to the donkeys and sheep!  As you drive through, you read the Bible verses corresponding with that particular scene.  It's so simple, really, yet so profound.  It's a great visual of the Christmas story.

Ellie got to sit up front with her Daddy.


One of the things I love the best about this is that it's not just about Christmas, about the birth of Christ.  It's about his death, too.  But He's alive, and He's coming again!  This is the last scene of the presentation.

Afterwards we had beignets (French donuts) and hot chocolate (even though it was 75 degrees outside!) at a little coffee shop.  The kids love beignets!  And they aren't the only ones.


On Sunday our choir and children and youth presented the annual Christmas musical.  I loved last year's.  And I really felt all year like we could never top it.  Not that that's what it's about.  But anyway.  It was such a special one and one I will always remember.  But I realized at our dress rehearsal this year that this year would be special, too.  I would always remember it also.  And I will.

My kids LOVE being on stage.  They LOVE dressing up.  They LOVE talking into the microphone.  So they start in on me early in the fall about the Christmas program.  Mason begged to be Joseph.  Well, he was Joseph last year and had a pretty big part.  I told him that we needed to give someone else an opportunity to be Joseph.  So I asked one of the other boys, the one who always wants to participate but doesn't want a speaking part, to be Joseph.  And you know what?  He said yes!  He said (exact words) that even though he was nervous, he knew he could do it, and he just needed to do it because he thought this was his year!  And he was right.


Since Mason wanted so badly to have a speaking part, and I didn't have any other boy speaking parts, I asked him to say Luke 2:1-20.  Except he had to say it from memory.  All 20 verses.  He'd actually been working on this since September because that was his assigned Scripture memory for this semester.  So it worked out perfectly.


For the first time, Hannah Kate was Mary.  She's always been an angel.  But she began asking not long after last year's program when she could be Mary and sing a solo like Abbie did.  I was hesitant because she's not exactly my most outgoing one, but she really had her heart set on it.  So she was Mary and sang a solo.


Ellie also got to participate.  She was an angel.  This wasn't her first time on stage in the Christmas program though.  She was baby Jesus three years ago!


I wanted to record Hannah Kate's solo and Mason's recitation, but I didn't want them to know it was being recorded.  I couldn't do it anyway since I was directing.  So I gave my phone to some of my favorite girls and asked them to do it for me.  I didn't think that through all the way.  I had quite a laugh when I got my phone back and went through the pictures and videos that evening.  But you know what?  Those selfies are on MY phone, and that might or might not be a good idea because I can think of lots of things to do with those selfies!  Oh, but I laughed.  I love these girls!!  So fun!




And here's our "living nativity."  Presley was our "senior angel" this year.  She had a little speaking part that she memorized and totally owned it.  Cole did an awesome job as Joseph!  I think he might've liked it, too.  So you know what I'm going to do with that?  I'm going to remember that next time I need someone to have a speaking part in a play!

Ellie was so excited to be an angel!  At dress rehearsal, she came RUNNING down the aisle when it was time for her to go on stage (even though we'd said many times not to run but to walk).  Her costume was a little too long, and she tripped and fell face down about halfway down the aisle.  But she got up laughing and marched right up the steps to her spot.  She did so good!  I was very proud of her for standing so still and quiet for the duration of her time on stage.  She went right to her spot and didn't move.


Again, Hannah Kate is not my outgoing, extroverted one.  Sure, she's been on the stage before at her dance recitals and VBS and even in Christmas programs.  She's sung on stage a lot.  But never a solo.  Never a lead role.  She sang Breath of Heaven.  That's not the easiest song to sing and definitely not one I'd pick for a first-time solo.  But that's what it was.  She started practicing at home about a month ago.  We banged out a few notes on the piano, but mostly she listened to it and sang along.  I'm certainly no voice or technique teacher.  I just wanted her to be herself.  I took her to church the week before the dress rehearsal so she could practice on the stage with the mic in her hand to get a feel for everything.  Seth had already told me a few times that he just didn't know if she would do it or not.  He knew she COULD.  But he didn't know if she WOULD.  


It was just her and me in the sanctuary that day.  She was SO NERVOUS.  The mic was shaking in her hand, and she was just a rocking back and forth.  After she sang the first measure, she stopped and two big ole tears made their way down her cheeks.  I started singing, and she was finally able to sing with me.  We practiced a couple of more times that day, and I tried to encourage her the best I could.  I also told her she had to stop shaking and rocking.  So I had no idea what was going to happen at the dress rehearsal.  The choir would be there, but they would be behind her so she wouldn't actually be looking at them.  But there would still be other people there.  I was getting nervous.  But at dress rehearsal, she walked up in there like nothing had ever happened and like it was something she does everyday.  And she OWNED it.  And you know what?  She did it again last Sunday with an audience full of people staring at her.  I kept telling her over and over to watch me, that it was only the two of us in the room.  By that time, she'd memorized the words, but she still had the book in front of her.  She decided about halfway through the song to look around a bit, except she never moved her neck or her head.  Just her eyes went back and forth, back and forth.  So funny!


Here are Joseph and Mary.

And here's my girl singing her solo.

Y'all.  I was good.  I was real good the whole time Hannah Kate was singing.  Right after her song was Mason's recitation.  He took his place in front of the mic and started speaking.  And I lost it at that very moment.   

Mason.  Y'all.  I can't even describe it.  I'd asked him that morning if he wanted me to stand in front of him (so I could prompt him if needed) or behind him (where he wouldn't be able to see me).  He wanted me behind him.  So that's where I stood.  Seth nor I could see his face.  But that kid absolutely ROCKED it.  He didn't stutter, didn't stumble.  He spoke loud and clear and with authority.  ALL 20 VERSES.  BY HIMSELF.  I mean, I've been practicing with him since September, and I can't recite the whole thing!


Seth was sitting in the choir looking out on the congregation.  He said he saw several people turning around looking toward the back of the sanctuary.  I was standing on stage behind him so I wasn't prompting him.  There was no one with note cards sitting on the front row or in the aisle.  We don't have a screen in the back of the sanctuary either so there's nowhere to look to read anything.  I guess they thought someone was standing at the back with something for him to read off of.  But nope.  That dude had it memorized.  I mean, it wasn't even like he was reading it at all.  He was just telling the story.

The choir knew exactly what he was doing because they'd heard it at rehearsal.  He stumbled a bit there but not this time.  When he finished, several of them immediately started clapping, as did the congregation.  He took his place in the nativity scene.  And there was about five seconds of silence.  A holy hush.  I could hardly move.  I couldn't even look.  I was supposed to have the choir stand and sing, but I could hardly do it.  I don't even know how I did it at that point.


Because THAT was unforgettable.  I know it's not a big deal to most.  But for a kid with a learning disability, one that brought so much heartache and pain during those early years in school when he was trying to learn to read but just couldn't, that was HUGE.  And yet he has always pressed on, always persevered, always held his head high when he probably just wanted to run and hide and never come out again.  What Mason did on Sunday . . . that's what courage looks like.  That's what brave looks like.  That's what trusting Jesus looks like.  That day was just yet another reminder of why I'm so proud of him!


So, yep, I'm pretty sure this year's musical topped the last.  So I guess I need to start thinking about next year's!


Oh, and come back tomorrow to hear Hannah Kate's solo!  You're gonna have to wait until the 25th to hear Mason's recitation though!