Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leaves and Dip

While Charli enjoys a snack of "leaves and dip",

Claire gets a sink bath in grandma's kitchen.
She would stay in here until she became a raisin if we let her.

She loves cup.

Claire Pulls Up!

In an attempt to bounce out excess energy the other day, I stripped down my air mattress and set Charlotte free. Claire has only been truly crawling for a week or two so she surprised us when she pulled up to standing on the mattress that was violently shaking with her big sister's bouncing. Go Claire!

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Oh my. The way she balances saying every thought that enters her little mind with being so darned cute that it's easily forgivable is a combo I envy. Lately, my Charli has been coming up with phrases that are simultaneously shocking and endearing. And I am learning how to react, or in some cases, not react. 3 examples from the last week:

1. My brother Michael (a.k.a. Uncle Mikey) ignored our mom's prior warning about not dying his hair in her new bathroom sink. As he came out of the bathroom sporting a new jet black 'do, my mom grabbed him and told him AGAIN, and loudly, never to use that sink. "Use the basement utility sink, for crying out loud!" He smiled, mumbled something, and quickly exited stage left. The wheels in Charli's head were obviously turning, taking it all in. And a moment later, she faced my mom and exclaimed "You told Mikey! Holy cow!" Now, I'm not sure what age it becomes okay to say "holy ... anything", but it was so unexpected here that I burst into laughter along with everyone else. You told him! Wow, what next?

2. It seems that most of the memorable/naughty/hilarious things around here happen while I'm on the phone or otherwise distracted for a few minutes. As was the case the other day. I was engrossed in a phone conversation with a friend and from the next room, Charli appears. Naked. And with a large plastic bag dragging behind her. And the corner of said bag was carefully tucked between her baby butt-cheeks as she paraded past me. What really caught my attention, however, was her explanation. "Look mom. I'm just like Santa Claus!" It was a stretch, sure (I've never seen a nude St. Nick with the sack in his crack), but a clever association on her part nonetheless. I laughed unabashedly this time. And took a picture that will haunt her in years to come.

3. And last night. For a bedtime snack, I allowed her a rare doughnut. 1/6 of one actually. First she carefully ate small pieces that were well-frosted. Then she gobbled up her mandarin oranges. Then, me: "Hey Charli, I'll cut up the rest of that doughnut for you. The parts without frosting are good too." And her, with major attitude: "Mom, I don't NEED that!" Wow, alrighty then! I only wish I had your restraint around sugary treats, little girl.

How It Shouldn't Be

Long-distance relationships. I'm "good" at them I guess, but that doesn't mean I like them that way. I miss my husband, soldier, friend.

Silence = Trouble

Last week, while I was in the midst of vacuuming and mopping, Claire began calling out from her bed. Charli, as usual, went in to greet her little sister. I figured it was a tame enough situation to let go unsupervised for a few minutes - Claire was safe in her pack-n-play, right?! Not necessarily.

This is what I walked in to find: Charlotte grinning nervously and piles of pillows along with various balls and toys nearly filling the pack-n-play.

Claire, fortunately, was having a grand time with it all.
She is an unnaturally happy little person, despite her big sister's antics.

Silly Socks and Shapeable Soap

My favorite inexpensive product of this holiday season has to be Bath and Body Works shapeable soap. It comes in "twisted peppermint" fragrance and is just plain fun! And did I mention cheap? It cost $3 in the store before Christmas and when our one bottle ran out (it goes a long way!) we started looking for more. The stores are sold out and it's no longer online from Bath and Body. Apparently others loved the product too because they are selling for $12 on Ebay. Must remember to stock up next season!

It isn't just a "foam" soap, it actually stays in shape and floats in the tub.

P.S. We found bathtime is made even MORE fun when socks are left on. How crazy are we?!

Coffee and Collisions

Last night I went from lounging in jammies to a last-minute date with my little sister. We spent a completely unproductive 2 hours in a bookstore sipping chai tea and frappeccinos. Any casual passerby would have learned much about us by our respective stacks of books to be browsed. Example: "How to be a Cowboy" (her) vs. "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress" (me). Oh, and then there was the laugh over running into an old acquaintance / wannabe cowboy who once wanted to be my man. It was fun to reminisce but I certainly don't miss the days when my love was still up for grabs. A great, relaxing, refreshing night all around.

And then there was this morning. I lugged the girls to church and back, including a stop for essentials at the grocery store. We arrived home and just as I had unloaded everything and everyone from the car, Claire tumbled out of her carseat - from counter-height - and landed on the tile floor. Directly on her face. Blood and bruises and bellows ensued. Here we are, 2 hours later, and fortunately she finally fell asleep and my nerves are a little less frayed. I'm told I have a talent for staying calm when things come unglued, but when my kids are involved, my serenity goes out the window. At least on the inside! And poor Claire...I think she just realized for the first time today the world's capacity for causing her pain. She cried for almost 2 hours, which is saying something for perhaps the world's most chilled out, happy little chica. My Claire-bear.

Oh well, tonight it's on over to my dad's for his famous dinner of chicken and rice. The day is sure to turn around and end on a happier note!

The Treasure Under My Feet

"Patience is a hard discipline. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the... resolution of a conflict. Patience is not a waiting passivity until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let's be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand." (Henri Nouwen)
It is a constant battle I face; it is so easy to approach the present as a sort of interim, as if today is something to be got through so that "real" life can finally begin. Right now, "real" life for me would be living in northwest Grand Rapids, Micah securing a 9-5 job, my possibly having a part-time nursing job, being primarily home with the girls, having plenty of money (why, oh why can't we just be satisfied with "enough"?!), and having most of the extraneous details and situations fall into place too. Ha, who am I kidding? To wait for that bucket list to actually happen all at once would doom me to a life of discontent. To wait for "real life" would be no life at all. I know this in my head. Yet I keep waiting for something to click, lights to flash, and VOILA: a neat little life for Caitlin appears! This quote struck me today because it does not condemn the hope to have something different for tomorrow; rather, it's a reminder that today is just as REAL and just as worthy of my time and energy and appreciation. Truly, it is a treasure if we look for it.

Today I am going to be thankful to have free time (a.k.a. boredom). I am going to use it to love on my girls one at a time (a.k.a. not multi-tasking with laundry, etc.). I will call my husband and think about how much I love him and how grateful I am for what he does and sacrifices for me (a.k.a. not dwelling on my loneliness without him). I will stop to give my sister a hug (teenage heart-ache stings, and she won't be a teenager in need of hugs forever). I will thank God for the treasures he places in my lap and the ones he hides under my feet.

A Quick Look Back, And Hope For Tomorrow

Looking back, 2009 seems like the year that lasted longer than a year. Everything that way it could only have taken 365 days. My precious Claire was born. Micah missed it, but returned from Iraq/war three months later. Frantic job search. Deep soul search. Whirlwind reunion summer. Joy in finding work; sorrow in another goodbye. Learning the rental process from every angle. Evaluations and re-evaluations. Move to Kentucky; more goodbyes. Learn to be a family again; more joy. Holiday homecoming. More questions. Abundant love.

Talking. Growing. Faith. Doubt. Joy. Children. Sadness. Chaos. Boredom. Weakness. Love. Overcoming. Relationships. God. Never. Fails.

This is what always happens when I consciously slow down in order to think about this last year or so. My brain starts off just fine, in Full-Sentence Mode if you will. Before long it deteriorates into fragments, then single words, sometimes completely unrelated thoughts. 2009 was unquestionably the fullest year of my 25-year existence thus far. And any attempt at a simple recap is doomed because I can't, for the life of me, even pick a general feeling to describe it. The greatest highs and deepest lows found their way into me and without such a faithful God, loving husband, and supportive family, it could have been very wearing. But I am loved, cared-for, and listened to, and thus feel exceedingly blessed. I wouldn't wish to re-live last year, but I am grateful for it and wouldn't give it back.

It is safe to say that '09 was a blessed year. I realized the love present in my marriage like I never have before; through thick and thin we went, and loved. It brings me endless joy to watch our children grow up with health and brightness and hilarity in their every development. My girls are my treasures. Every one of my needs were met. I grew closer to several of my favorite friends. There were opportunities for fun and for stretching. I learned so much. Like to not only seek wisdom and guidance in many directions, but to filter it appropriately. And to fight for what is important to me and best for those I love most, even at the risk of hurt feelings or disapproval along the way.

My biggest and favorite lesson/realization of the year: I have a significant yet oh-so-tiny place in the great scheme of things. God is God and I am not. As all-important as life (or money, loneliness, doubt, future-planning, arguments, child-raising, etc.) can seem, there is so much more that is going on in God's creation and his plan for redemption. So much more and so much bigger. Bigger than me. I have a place, but it isn't about me. Thank you, Lord, for that!

And so, going into 2010, I hope to grow in awareness of my relationship to things in this life and with God. I will strive to grow in grace by submitting my cares more fully to Him. Each day, I will begin with "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven." And I will make an effort to be more aware (globally and in my own home) of how heaven is being brought to earth.

And so on we go, armed with the experiences from the past year, boldly into the next. Full of hope, arm-in-arm with fellow life-travelers, confident in the One we follow. Happy New Year!

Arts and Crafts, Daddy Style

Following a yummy early dinner at Logan's, Micah and Charli embarked on an effort to create original art using a medium of sponge paints and toddler-friendly stampers.
Everything started out pretty tame...

But her every movement was in fast-motion.
And each stamp was applied with great force.

Before long, her sweatshirt was removed "because it was getting messy". The paint-face on her bare tummy looks rather deliberate to me - just look at those two mischievous faces!
Somehow I don't think Charlotte was responsible for these.
She had a super fun time with her dad, who certainly knows how to have fun with crafts!

Every Day Is A Snow Day!

All bundled up to go play in the snow with daddy. The sled is still at grandma's house, so they stuck to making snow angels in the backyard.
Oh, and throwing snowballs at me as I tried to capture the moment with a picture out the back door. "No, no, Daddy!"
Harley Charli? Hmmm.

Special Kitties

The girls and I went over to grandma's house to take baths last night. However, the evening's highlight was looking at the "special kitties" - miniature ceramic cats that my mom collected as a little girl. They are presented in a large bag, each individually wrapped in a paper towel square. One-by-one grandma removes the kitties and Charli, with rapt fascination, gingerly opens each of them. Well, gingerly by a 2-year-old's standards anyway.

Waiting eagerly for grandma to come back with the kitties!

Claire and I played with toys in the meantime :) Her favorite part of the evening was sampling new types of solid foods - cheesy potatoes and oat bread among them.

The first kitty of the night emerges, with as much fanfare as the very first time.
Being very careful, because they are "so old".
Each kitty is careful examined, and imitated if it's suiting (licking a "paw", batting at the air, begging for milk).

Her "Aww, how CUTE!" face.

Meijer Gardens on a Wintry Day

Although I am back in the habit of carrying my camera with me when I leave the house, I still need to take more pictures of our eventful days. These pictures are all in a 5 minute span when I had free hands. We went with Brett, Rachel, Kaylin, and Ethan to see the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibit at Frederick Meijer Gardens. I would have loved to have spent a leisurely morning meandering among the trees and reading about the cultural backgrounds of each. But of course that was not to be since we had two toddlers and two infants on our hands. We still had a fun time with our friends. The trees were exquisite. Charli and Kaylin especially enjoyed the extensive miniature working train and trolley tracks that wound through the indoor garden rooms. After our visit to the gardens, we re-energized with lunch at Friday's. Charlotte still looks for Jo-Jo :)

My favorite tree - Austria. Or maybe Brazil; the feathers were pretty on that one. So hard to choose!
Our boys and their girls.

"He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle..."

Looking Back: Wonderment in Reverse (from Winter 2008)

Tonight a toddler reversed the roles. Since her birth over a year ago I have conscientiously introduced Charlotte to stimulating environments and drawn her attention, however fleeting, to objects and sounds that her developing senses might find fascinating.

It was post-bath/snack/book and nearing bedtime as I began to pull the front window blinds closed for the night. Charlotte, on my hip, waved "bye-bye" to a passing car as she often does and I paused mid-pull to let her watch the car disappear from sight. It was in this very routine moment that she pointed and exclaimed "DAT!" Her version of "what's that?" is something I hear dozens of times daily but this was more than a question; I believe it was her first experience of utter awe. Following her little finger into the heavens, a single star (though so bright, I suspect it may be a planet) twinkled brightly. I immediately made the shift from the bedtime-can't-come-soon-enough-tired-mom to only-slightly-contrived-enthusiasm as I introduced "STAR" into her vocabulary and sang a round or two of Twinkle-Twinkle. Not yet recognizing the magnitude of her discovery, I left Charlotte gazing out the window in a state of thorough fascination in order to do some unnecessary task (of this I am ashamed). My dishes almost done, this 2-foot-tall little person comes "ma-ma-ma"ing into the kitchen - eyes still as big as saucers - and pulls me with her little hand and big determination back to the window. "Dat! STA!," she insists. She points. And repeats. And I finally, finally get it. I am struck with a one-year-old's wonder. And having her show me something so majestic is vastly more fulfilling than any 'discovery' I've ever led her to. A minute later we are laying on a blanket on the floor looking up at a star. We softly practice saying the word star to each other...Her: "sta", Me: "yes, staR". My focus and thrill is torn between the wonder of the heavens and wonder next to me on the floor and is pulled seamlessly together in awe and gratitude of the Creator and giver of them both. I am more thankful. I am more aware of everyday -or night- beauty. I am more aware of how I ought to simply be more aware. And all it took was a toddler. I love you, Charlotte. And thank you, Lord.

Bath Time At Grandma's

Grama gave Charli new "shapeable soap" for Christmas. (Why weren't such cool things around when I was a kid?!) Julia received a thorough bath that night!
This child's nickname should be Twisty. She is constantly on the move.
Claire helping to get Julia clean.
Not the most flattering picture of either of us, but there is always something cute about a baby in a towel, right?

Chuck E. Cheese with Grandma

Claire was all about this ride and irritated that I thought she needed any support. And Charli is my little people-watcher.

She got lucky. She got the funnest grandma ever!

Little Tin Man

Shoe Store

Girls love shoes, or so they tell me. I've never had much of a shoe fetish but my darling daughter may be different. She LOVES the shoe store! However, she is under the impression that the "shoe store man" is in the business of giving away shoes out of the goodness of his heart. "Thank you man!!!" she exclaims as we exit with a new pair of fast velcro footwear. Someday that bubble will burst, but for now it makes us both happy. Try living through your kids' bubbles once in awhile; I promise you'll smile.

Little Mascot

She thinks she IS an Eagle. Charlotte has recently claimed Ali's basketball teammates as her own friends. Basement dance parties and ball games alike - Charli is (or wants to be) in the middle of it. She always has a hug for each player after the game and even treks off to the locker room with the big girls. "Let's go Eagles, let's go!"

Icing, Sprinkles, Cookies - Oh my!

Try as I might to be that calm, cool, mess-appreciating momma, some things are just better left for evenings at grandma's house. A sprinkle here, a lick there...Charli had the best time decorating 2 big gingerbread cookies. The finished product wasn't quite magazine-cover quality, but they were a thing of beauty to all of us and a pride to the 2-year-old decorator.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

He Knows If You've Been Naughty...

She talked big. "Go see Santa?" "Charli sit on his lap?" "He's sooooo nice!"

But then, once the big moment arrived, the cart seemed safer.


Unless you are the mom of a toddler, you may think that the primary reason for going to the mall is to shop. But for us, the play area and carousel are the main draws! It's great. The moms get to talk while the kids burn off some energy before going home and (bonus!) taking an extra long nap.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Candy Cane Miracles

My mom planned a big meal and fun evening with our dear friends from Haiti, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. They are as sweet and beautiful and fun as ever. I think it may have been my favorite holiday get-together thus far. What fun!

Charli, Allie, Nylah, and Claire played so nicely together. Aren't they the cutest?!

The buffet line.

Ali and Vaudry have an interesting friendship.

Charli and Nylah making a joyful noise :)

A leetle-teeny cupcake for Vaudry - Happy Birthday!

Nylah just turned 3, Happy Birthday sweetie!

Some of the gang enjoying dinner of roast beef, redskin potatoes, carrots, homemade pickles, cottage cheese, and lots of fruit. Delicious!

Charli was more than happy to share her baby dolls with any willing participant.

Claire's first roll - she approves!

Mom told us the story of her "Candy Cane Miracle". Feeling utterly overwhelmed this holiday season, she stepped out to her cross/clothes line to talk with God. In the midst of pouring out her stresses regarding menus and gifts and miscellaneous Christmas preparations and the realiziation that she FORGOT CANDY CANES FOR THE STOCKINGS (!!!!), she glanced up into the sky that had been endlessly overcast for days. And in the heavens was a single break in the clouds in the perfect shape of a celestial candy cane. She, always being one to see God in the little things, saw it as an obvious and loving reminder that God is there in the details and that His story is what should really be overwhelming our hearts. When she glanced back up into the sky, the break in the clouds had completely disappeared.

Micah and his ladies - precious to me!

Charli and daddy hanging out with their new friend, Nylah.
Allie is such a little artist and totally enjoyed her Christmas gift of sparkly gel colors from my mom.