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 🙂 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 🙂

The big girls were very excited and told 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 was really cold, so that was pretty much our only outdoor outing for the whole trip. We did have a lot of indoor entertainment, though 🙂 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 🙂

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 🙂

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 😉

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. 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!

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 🙂 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 🙂

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

Christmas 2016

Christmas of 2016 was an odd one for us. Having been in China, I’d missed nearly all of our church’s Advent worship gatherings. And while we did see Christmas decorations in China, we spent all of our time in the southern part of China (think: Florida), and my heart was focused on adoption, official appointments, bonding, attachment, and parenting, not on Christmas. We arrived home on the 23rd, so by Christmas, we were still crazy jet-lagged. And most of the at-home family was sick with a bad cold and cough.

We made the most of it, though, and tried to celebrate Christmas a bit. Matt and my mom had done some decorating, including setting up the Christmas tree. Of course, my mom and brother David were here when we got back, and my dad had been here before and then flown out to meet me and fly home with the girls and me, so we had a small contingent of family here to celebrate. Conventional wisdom is that you should keep your newly adopted child’s world small when they arrive home, limiting interactions primarily to immediate family until they learn what family really is. Larger Christmas celebrations with extended family don’t quite fall into that description, but we figured things in China were so chaotic that a few more days of chaos weren’t going to ruin everything, and we’d only have a few extra people. We’d limit holding FangFang and feeding her to just Matt and me, but we’d enjoy our time with family. All of them had been here helping while I was gone, and we wanted to give them the chance to meet FangFang and see MeiMei, and I wanted to see them.

Plus they agreed to handle the Christmas dinner preparations 🙂 True to their word, they did just that – with my mom’s help, David made us some awesome vegetarian lasagna, and my dad made his traditional cheese torte. They also handled most of the clean up and were just generally helpful in those crazy first few days home! And in the midst of the craziness, we managed to have some fun 🙂

We made and frosted our customary cut-out cookies!

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We’ll just pretend that Madeleine CaiQun was dressed for the occasion…

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The littles were, of course, more interested in eating than in frosting, and, what with it being Christmas and all, we allowed the indulgence 🙂

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On Christmas morning we decided not to drag it out but to let everyone dive into the gift opening.

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Everyone got gifts with which they were thrilled – it was a morning of blessings 🙂

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When you have OI and an always-planning mama, you and your brother may both get giant bean bags for Christmas! They’re tons of fun in general, but they’re also perfect for comfort after major fractures – this way we’ll have them when we need them, but we can also just enjoy them for now!

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We, of course, used the day together to continue to cultivate those precious new sibling relationships.

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Miranda really has stepped up to the task of welcoming FangFang into the family and being a loving big sister to her, and that has been such a sweet thing to see.

And of course my two big girls continued to enjoy being reunited! They have moments of sibling drama, but they also play together so well so much of the time.

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And we enjoyed our sweet treats – cheese torte for the win!

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And for me? Honestly, all I wanted was for my whole family to be home and together. However, Matt really outdid himself. When we bought our house, the room we both agreed was most in need of some updates was the upstairs bathroom, but there were always reasons to tackle other rooms first, so we still hadn’t gotten around to that one. While I was gone, Matt completely renovated it for me! The full details are here, but in essence, he took this:

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The whales, people. The whales. Also, not pictured: a door that never quite shut all the way.

And he turned it into this!

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I love it. This guy is a keeper.

It may not have been our most put-together, well-planned, healthiest, Christ-focused Christmas. But we did what we could, we enjoyed our time together, and we sought to bless each other and celebrate amidst the crazy, and for this year, we count that as a win 🙂

Looking Back: Wedding Trip Part Two

I wrote in October about the first part of our trip out to my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding, and while we’re in the midst of what is a rather different part of our lives right now, I do want to come back and touch on the wedding itself before the end of 2016! We’ve all loved Sharon since the first time we met her – I started making some not-at-all-subtle hints to my brother about marriage soon thereafter! – and we were thrilled for them to be embarking on the journey of marriage together, and we were all honored to be part of their special day.

They actually turned it into a full weekend of fun – our family and Sharon’s had pizza together at Daniel and Sharon’s cabin on Thursday night, and then on Friday the guys hung out and those of us girls who were in town got our nails done before the rehearsal dinner Friday evening.

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They actually invited their entire guest list to the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and a Sunday morning brunch, which was a lot of fun! It was nice to get to see some of our friends and extended family throughout the weekend, but of course the main event was Saturday 🙂

The guys got ready together and the girls together, and we did most of the photos before the wedding.

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

If you’re wondering why we look so cold…it’s because we were! The days leading up to the wedding had been beautiful, but the wedding day itself was only about 50 degrees, so while the day was gorgeous for photos, we were all freezing outside! We made the best of it, though 🙂 Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Here’s the happy couple with their dog, Dixie!

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Of course the most important part was the ceremony itself! The first time I teared up was when Danny was escorting Sharon’s mom, Patti, and my mom down the aisle. Patti had had a severe stroke about 9 months prior and was working hard in PT. She wanted to walk down the aisle, but as they started out, it became clear that she needed more support than Danny could offer with her on one arm and my mom on the other, so my mom came around to the other side, and they all walked down the aisle together.

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

The girls took their flower girl role very seriously.

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

The ceremony was beautiful, and the officiant did a good job of incorporating parts of their story and personalities into the day.

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

It was great to have so many people all coming together to celebrate the beginning of Daniel and Sharon’s marriage! This is the wedding party and both immediate families.

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

We’ve actually seen and gotten to know Sharon’s family better than might be normal for two sides of the family living all over the country, and that’s been sweet. We tried to be an encouragement to them after Patti’s stroke the summer before and very much appreciated their support after Matt’s heart attack in February, and it’s been cool to feel like the families are being knit together as Danny and Sharon have joined together in marriage.

The reception was at the beautiful vineyard and was a lot of fun!

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

Matt and I and our kids had to head out relatively early that night to get the kids to bed before they melted down, so we weren’t part of this photo, but we very much enjoyed seeing so many of our extended family members at the wedding!

Jennifer Gulley Photography www.jennifergulley.com

We were so happy to have Sharon joining the family officially, and we were all thankful to be part of this amazing day!

Note: All photos in this post (except the girls at the nail salon!), as you probably guessed by their quality, were not taken by me! They are courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law and were taken by Jennifer Gulley Photography.

on parenting my bigs

Our girls may be only 5 (and 5.5, Miranda would be quick to tell you!), but in our family, they’re the “bigs.” And as they get older, I find myself enjoying them more and more – or perhaps not even more, but in a different way. Their love of Mumford & Sons and Star Wars marked their entry into enjoyment of things that Matt and I also appreciate.

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watching Episode VI together

They are able to have increasingly complex conversations and be more and more helpful at home. They are often tasked with entertaining a baby for a few minutes at a time. And we’d even started having regular chores (unloading the dishwasher and sweeping)…until the dishwasher and the broom became 2 of Atticus’s favorite things, making it impossible for them to complete their assigned tasks without his interference!

We are realizing more and more the importance of one-on-one time and have been making an effort to spend bits of time with the girls as individuals.

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an Aldi outing with Madeleine CaiQun

And as they get older, we’re seeing them express pieces of their individuality and interests.

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Miranda, dressed in a swimsuit, listening to music on the digital piano my dad got us for Christmas

And yet, it’s so beautiful to see their sibling relationship continue to develop. Leading up to Christmas, they spent a series of nights alternating which sister’s twin bed they’d sleep in, snuggled close together.

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Mei mei even shared her beloved brown blanket with Miranda!

They maintain their own distinct roles within their relationship, though! I shared this conversation on Facebook the other day – it would be difficult to capture an exchange that more typified a relationship than this one!

Madeleine CaiQun – “Mom, if me and jie jie want to be flower girls in Uncle Danny and Sharon’s wedding, we’ll have to practice – it’s a big job for 5-year-old girls!!”

Miranda Grace – “I have practiced enough. I even knew how to do it before I practiced. Watch me.”

Only a few months apart in age, they still fall into those typical first-born and second-born roles 🙂

And as they grow, we are exploring new strategies to parent them. One of our more successful attempts has been a re-introduction of an afternoon rest time. After they gave up naps, I had had them spend an hour or so playing or looking at books in separate rooms each afternoon for some quiet time for them and work time for me, but once Atticus was born and began napping upstairs in the afternoons in one of the rooms we’d used for their rest times, I gave up on that idea. More recently, I’d let them watch tv while he napped, and I was able to accomplish a lot during those times, but I didn’t love the idea of them watching so much television. I do still let them watch a show or two most afternoons, but we have transitioned to using much of Atticus’s nap time for “blanket time.” I spread out a blanket on the living room floor for each child, and they’re each allowed to choose one basket of toys – even the kept-up-high-so-Atticus-can’t-get-them toys! – and play with them independently on their blankets.

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They love it! They have quite a bit of free play time each day, most of which they spend together, and I think they like having more of a low pressure, independent play time for a little while during the afternoons. Plus they get to play with some of the toys that have been gathering dust since Atticus became mobile!

It’s always nice when parenting strategies that we try seem to work well 🙂 Another one from which I’ve loved seeing the pay-off is our frequent attempts to give our kids a voice. We’ve invested pretty heavily in trying to communicate to them that we are all on the same team in our family and that we’re interested in their thoughts and feelings. We’ve worked hard at helping our girls identify and share their emotions (in true home-school mom fashion, I even have a feelings chart hanging prominently in our playroom!). And, as a parenting book I read recently suggested, sometimes when our girls are overwhelmed and aren’t able to verbalize their feelings, we’ve asked them if they’d like to draw pictures of how they’re feeling. Miranda has taken that suggestion to heart, and every once in a while she hands me a picture like this to communicate to me about what’s going on with her – I love it!

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I’m hoping and praying that as our bigs get bigger we’re able to continue to foster open communication with them! Though we have our challenges, of course, I feel so blessed to be their mom!