Christmas 2017

It has been several years since we have traveled for Christmas, but this year we made the trip to Wisconsin, where I grew up and where my mom still lives, to spend Christmas with my mom, my dad, and my brother David (Daniel was out east with his wife Sharon and her family).

It was probably a good thing that we were heading north instead of hosting people here. Traveling for FangFang’s latest surgery and then continuing to help her recover once home, plus trying to get in a bit of schooling with the big kids, and just live life (feed everyone at least 3 meals a day, make sure everyone has clean underwear, and keep everyone alive) was pretty much all I could handle the couple weeks before we left. This was the extent of my Christmas decorating.

And you know why that was up? It’s because my mom made it with Miranda last year while I was in China, and Miranda didn’t want to take it down, so it stayed up all year. And ripped. And I just left it there. We did no Christmas tree at home, no Christmas crafts. We did watch some Christmas movies ๐Ÿ™‚ Matt did some Advent stuff with the kids. And I started reading through the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan with them…and then failed to finish it. But this year’s holiday season was one of realizing that we could not do it all and that we needed to prioritize what was most important, focus on that, and not sweat the rest. We talked about Christmas being a celebration of Jesus’s birth and what that meant. We listened to Christmas music. And we looked forward to heading to Wisconsin to be with family ๐Ÿ™‚

The big girls were very excited and toldย many people that while everyone staying here was probably going to have a green Christmas in Missouri, we would be enjoying a white Christmas in Wisconsin. They were rather disappointed when we arrived to only small patches of snow on the ground. David and I took all the kids for a walk a couple days after we got to Wisconsin, and they collected all the snow they could find in this stroller and then brought it home and dumped it outside the window of my old room, where the big girls were sleeping, so they could look out at it to enjoy a white Christmas!

Unfortunately, it wasย really cold, so that was pretty much our only outdoor outing for the whole trip. We did have a lot of indoor entertainment, though ๐Ÿ™‚ Madeleine CaiQun’s siblings got her a paleontology excavation kit for Christmas, and she chipped away at it (sometimes with a bit of help from Miranda) until she had uncovered every single bone and put together her dinosaur model!

Miranda has been interested in learning more about how to sew, so she dove into this sewing kit project as soon as she received it!

We’ve learned, over the years, that our kids do better with a “Christmas season,” as opposed to one giant, overwhelming morning of a million presents and no time to enjoy any of them, so we started letting them open presents, one or two at a time, several days before Christmas.

Even so, Christmas morning was a big deal ๐Ÿ™‚

I love these photos of my kiddos spending time with family and enjoying their gifts <3

We made our traditional Christmas cut-out cookies and frosted them the evening of Christmas Day. Somehow the frosting turned out super runny this year, which made things more difficult than usual, but we managed to enjoy the evening and make some nice cookies ๐Ÿ™‚

The time in Wisconsin was, overall, very relaxing. We didn’t go out much – it was freezing cold, and Matt had a sinus infection that sent him to urgent care (and then back to bed) early on in our trip, so we ended up spending a lot of time just relaxing at my mom’s. That wasn’t all bad, though. Matt made a lot of small artworks. I read some books. The kids played and had space to really enjoy their time with extended family. Miranda played more games of Yahtzee with my dad than I could count. We received several more cooperative games for Christmas gifts, and we all enjoyed playing those together. There was time to play with Playmobil and puzzles and, of course, dinosaurs. Some of us adults frequently played cards after kids were in bed…and Atticus woke up a couple times and sat with me while we finished our games ๐Ÿ˜‰

And we did get out a bit. In addition to our Chicagoland trips, I finished reading Wonder out loud to the big girls, so the two of them and my mom and David and I went and saw the movie one evening.ย And after Matt started recovering, we were able to go out and connect with a few friends in the area. Miranda found a fellow climber in my cousin’s daughter, which was so fun to see!

Overall, it was one of the most relaxing Wisconsin trips we’ve had. I think we often pack them full of things to do and people to see, and while I love getting out and enjoying other places away from home and connecting with friends and family, our last few weeks leading up to Christmas were intense that it was probably perfect timing for us to have some pretty low key time with family. It was a good Christmas celebration!

Bookends to Our Travels: A Night and a Day in Chicagoland

It has been a little over 10 years since Matt moved to Missouri from Chicagoland and almost 10 years since I made the same move. We’re content where we are – but still – my heart longs for Chicago. I love this city.

We headed north to celebrate Christmas this year, and while most of our time was spent in Wisconsin with family, Matt and I were able to make 2 trips down to Chicagoland, one at the beginning of our trip and one at the end.

Every year my office has a holiday party, and most of the time, it would be nearly impossible for us to attend, but this year we thought it could work! My mom agreed to watch our kids, so Matt and I headed down to the city for the party.

Even traffic in Chicago is romantic to me. You feel like you’re part of a huge monolith, something greater than yourself, pushing on toward progress. You can watch the city skyline, not knowing the story of each person in the cars or trains around you, but knowing that you are all part of this grand city together.

Eventually we made it to the party, which was so much fun! We had a private party at Bespoke Cuisine, where we worked together (with actual chefs) to create an appetizer, a salad, a main dish, and a dessert, all of which were exquisite, for our dinner. Many of the employees with my company have joined in the years since we’ve moved away from Chicagoland, so I don’t know them well, but I’ve known some of my colleagues for years and years, and it was such a joy to get to spend a few hours catching up with them in person!

I’m so thankful for the ways in which my job has flexed with our life over the years, and it has been a huge part of facilitating everything we are passionate about. It was really nice to get to spend some time with these people who have been a huge part of our lives for nearly 15 years!

The next time we went to Chicagoland, we brought the whole crew! One of Matt’s and my favorite places in Chicago is the Field Museum. We knew that with our kids’ current fascination with dinosaurs, they would be ecstatic about the opportunity to see Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. Given our flexible travel schedule this trip and the fact that Sue will soon be taken down, not to appear in her new location in the museum until 2019, we thought this would be the perfect time to make the trip.

All of the kids were suitably impressed ๐Ÿ™‚

As a homeschooling mom, I could not love stuff like this any more. We’re exploring the kids’ interests and passions and all learning together. SO COOL.

We did see some of the other collections (notably the Egyptian area), but we spent most of our time in the rest of the dinosaur exhibits ๐Ÿ™‚

It was an expensive day, but we place a high value on experiences like this one. We love to spend time together, and we love to learn and to provide our kids with the opportunity to explore, in person, topics they’ve been reading about. They had many thoughts about dinosaur sizes and strength and time periods and other details they were learning about as we were making our way through the exhibits.ย It was an amazing day of exploring and learning together, and we were so, so glad we took advantage of the opportunity to make it happen!

And on our way back up to Wisconsin, we got to drive along my favorite Chicago route, Lakeshore Drive, and stop and see some good, long-time friends!

I’m so thankful for that day and thankful it all came together! It was nourishing to my soul to be able to spend some time in our old city this trip.

Our Little Atticus Boy is 3!

At the end of November, our little Atticus boy turned 3!

It was actually a really hard day for me – because I was in Omaha with FangFangย and not with him. I’d known for quite a while that her tibias needed to be rodded, and I knew that if at all possible, she and I and another adult needed to go to Omaha for the surgery. FangFang, at age 4 and with a history of trauma, is completely opposed to my leaving the room after surgery. She doesn’t want to stay with a nurse, and she doesn’t want to stay with child life. This is understandable – but makes it difficult for me to do surgery trips with her as the sole adult (unless I can carry everything we’ll need for our stay in one trip and have no interest in eating for the duration of our time in the hospital). I talked with my mom about her availability, and I talked with a friend whom FangFang loves about her availability, and it just kept coming back to that week of Atticus’s birthday – that’s when it worked for my mom to travel with us to do surgery.

So I talked to some other mamas of kids with medical needs, who assured me that, yes, they had occasionally missed a birthday for one of their other kids, and it had all been okay; I spent a day crying; and then I e-mailed to schedule the surgery.

Fortunately, Atticus is young enough that he has no real ties to the specific day, and he was quite happy to celebrate his birthday early. In fact, it was probably even more fun for him, because we had family in town for Thanksgiving. We did love getting to celebrate with everyone!

Our little guy is obsessed with dinosaurs these days. Just about every present he received was dinosaur-related. There were dinosaur toys…

…there were dinosaur books…

…and there were dinosaur clothes!

Atticus, like our other children, has what our pediatrician calls a “strong personality.” One way in which this manifests itself is his pronouncements that certain clothes are good and others are not, seemingly at random. We have kiddos who have sensory challenges and preferences, and this isn’t that – it’s just a decision he makes. So, unfortunately, while he wants to wear dinosaur clothes on a daily basis, he has also announced that half of these items of clothing are unwearable! Youngest child or not, he has no problem developing firm opinions of his own and making them known.

He isย almost completely potty trained (hallelujah, I’m almost done with daytime diapers!!!!), which actually makes this clothing dilemma less of a big deal, because he is my only kiddo who has had most success with the nude method of potty training…so he mostly runs around naked all day long when we’re at home ๐Ÿ™‚ We may not be a conventional family, but it works for us ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, back to our birthday boy and his dinosaurs ๐Ÿ™‚ Even with many new birthday dinosaur presents, he is still excited every time he finds a new dino item. He was my grocery shopping buddy soon after his birthday, and he saw this walking, roaring dinosaur at Aldi, and he was so excited when I said he could use his birthday money from my dad to purchase it!

Aside from his dinosaur focus, he also requested an ice cream focus for his birthday ๐Ÿ™‚ He choose pizza and ice cream for his birthday dinner, which was greatly enjoyed by everyone!

About 3.5 years ago, when we found out that the baby with whom we were pregnant was a boy, I was a bit intimidated. I wondered whether I’d be a good boy-mom. I wondered if I’d love him the way I loved my girls. And now, with a little 3-year-old boy in my life, I can say unequivocally that this little guy is a treasure. Our Atta-boy has hilarious thoughts – I mentioned to him the other day something about when he was born in the hospital, and his response was, “I was not born in the hospital! I was born on the coffee table!” The girls and I dissolved in laughter, and I assured him that he was in fact, born in the hospital, and I offered photographs as proof (which he, fortunately, accepted!).

He’s a climber and a jumper, but he’s also a snuggler. He loves to laugh and play. I could not love this little guy more <3 I’m so thankful for the 3 years we’ve had with him so far and look forward to many more!

Thanksgiving with Family 2017

This year my whole family came to our place to celebrate Thanksgiving! My brothers both arrived the weekend before the holiday, so we got to spend an entire week together, which was great, since it had been over a year since all three of us had had that much time together. And because we had a good amount of time, we were able do a lot of fun activities ๐Ÿ™‚ First up was a trip to the park.

My dad arrived early in the week, as well, and he and Matt and my brothers took all the kids bowling, while I got some work done at home. Everyone reported having a great time!

My mom arrived on Tuesday, which was also her birthday! At her request, we had chocolate cupcakes and ice cream to celebrate ๐Ÿ™‚

There was much late night card-playing after the kiddos were in bed.

And of course we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving meal as we celebrated the holiday together!

Sharon was actually only able to be there for Thursday and Friday, but we enjoyed the time we did have with her!

Friday night we started what I hope will be a new family tradition – a book discussion! Matt had read Hillbilly Elegy and really wanted to talk about it with my mom, and we thought we’d see if other people wanted to read and discuss it, too. Not everyone was super interested in that book, but they were on board with having a book discussion, so we agreed on Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. It was a fascinating read, an interesting exploration of family dynamics, identity, conformity, and creativity, and it was fun to discuss it all as a family.

Saturday morning, Miranda was thrilled to bring my mom and David to watch her horseback riding lesson.

And thanks to the great weather, there was more park time that afternoon!

It’s hard living far away from all of our family members – but we are super thankful for the time we do get to have with them. It was so nice to be all together for Thanksgiving <3

Looking Back: Summer Travels 2017

I love traveling – not so much the hours of preparations and packing that go into taking a family of 6 on trips but definitely the traveling itself. I like sitting in the front seat with Matt, reading books together or chatting or listening to music. I love getting to catch up with friends and family and revisit places near and dear to me, as well as exploring new places. I want my kids to have the experience of a world that is broader than just their hometown. My hope is that, as they get older and become better travelers, we’ll be able to introduce all of our kids to more and more places around the world. This summer we kept it pretty simple – 2 trips, both heading north.

The first was to celebrate the wedding of these two cool kids <3

I’ve known Natalie since I was in college, sometimes baby-sitting for her and her brother, but often just hanging out with her and her family. For years, she was something of a little sister to me, and I just adore her. She has become a lovely, thoughtful, passionate woman who serves the Lord, and it was an honor to be part of hers and Jonathan’s special day.

Heading to Chicagoland for their big day also gave us a chance to visit a city we love and catch up with some more dear friends! We saw and got to talk with so many friends at the wedding, and we got to stay with some other long-time friends. Frank and Sheri and their kids, Noah, Jackson, Natalie, and Ellie, have also been an incredible blessing in our lives over the years, and we were so thankful to get to spend the weekend with Frank and Sheri and the girls! We got to talk about literature and politics and eat Thai food and play games and sit outside in their back yard around a fire and just generally enjoy one another’s company, and it was such a nice time!

Atticus was in love with their dog, Chewy, and actually slept in his dogย bed (without Chewy) for part of the night!

Later in the summer we made another trip north, this time centered around a family reunion in Wisconsin.

We’d also met up with a couple of my cousins and their kids pre-family-reunion to give the kids a chance to get reacquainted before the big party, which was a lot of fun!

And we took advantage of our time in town to hang out with other friends, as well. Here we are with my 2nd grade teacher, now a dear friend, and one of her daughters.

We also took in some local attractions, including the Milwaukee Public Museum. What Milwaukee-area child doesn’t have fond memories of hanging out with these graphic dinosaur models?!?

After a few days in Milwaukee, my mom and our family drove out to the Twin Cities to visit some long-time family friends. David was one of my mom’s grad school professors, and through him, my mom met and became friends with his daughter, Tricia, who, along with her husband Michael, eventually had 3 children around the same ages as my brothers and me. We grew up as pseudo-family, and we’ve continued those relationships through the years, with them even visiting us here in Missouri a few years ago. Ella, who is a few years younger than me, has two kids around the same ages as my kids, so there were plenty of playmates and plenty of toys, and we did a lot of fun, kid-friendly activities, visiting the zoo and some parks, having some ice cream (of course!), and just generally enjoying our time together!

It was great to get to reconnect with family and friends this summer and revisit some favorite places! We’re thankful for these opportunities to travel and hope to have more in the future!