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valentine wrap-up

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In an effort to come through on my promise to update you on our Valentine crafts from this year and last, I’m wrapping up my series of Valentine posts with photos from two projects from last year: a craft I made for the kids’ preschool teachers and Quinn’s simple but cute Valentine cards.

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Last year’s holiday season was a little crazy since it was our first one with three little ones. Despite my best hopes, I wasn’t able to put together anything special for the teachers in December, so Valentine’s Day was the perfect opportunity to thank them for the great work they do when things were a little calmer.

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I opted to make coffee cup cozies. They are simple to put together and easy to make in bulk, so I was able to make one for each of the boys’ teachers, the teacher assistant, the director, the music and yoga instructor, the enrichment teacher, and the two dedicated art teachers in a couple of evenings.

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I included a coffee shop gift card inside the sleeve for the teachers that worked with my kids on a daily basis that I hadn’t even managed to get a small store bought gift in December. They do such incredible work with the kids and absolutely deserved the gesture, small as it was.

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I lined the sleeves with a bright red and white dot fabric I had on hand and found little heart buttons that made for a cute latch. The teachers were really pleased with the gifts, which they can hopefully continue to use throughout the year.

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We kept Quinn’s cards simple. He was two last year and ready for a hands on project, but nothing that would take too much time or effort. Hand prints are a great go to project for little hands since they are adorable no matter how messy. We added little punched out hearts and a cute message inside, and the cards were done.

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That’s it for the Valentine’s blitz this year. Looking forward to gathering ideas for the next time around.

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Xavier's Valentine 2014

Yes, I’ve been away for a while despite wonderful intentions to tell you all about our fall and winter adventures. But I’m back, guilt free, to spend the week telling you about how wonderful the children’s Valentines turned out this year (and to update you on last year’s Valentine projects, since, well, I have the photos so I may as well pack it all in to one wonderful Valentine fest.)

This year’s successes are due in very large part to my mother’s willingness to let us be her guinea pigs to try out some of the new flash equipment she got for Christmas. I literally threw some red clothes and a few Valentine’s props in a bag with a couple of vague ideas in mind on our way out the door to visit her and the rest of the magic is all hers. I’m so ridiculously excited about how the photos–and the Valentines–turned out, especially with the last minute nature of the whole thing.

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Up first is Xavier. He is exchanging Valentines with all 21 classmates and his two teachers and, because of the monumental task of having a couple dozen early readers match names to handmade mailboxes, they are actually taking the entire week to deliver them. He had to bring all of them in to school, hand addressed, yesterday.

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By far the most cooperative photo model these days, it was tough to pick one photo for his card.

I had seen some sample Valentines where someone had taken photos of a child holding a blank heart and used that space as the canvas for the child to write each friend’s name, so that was our goal. We used a white foam craft heart we had left over from a previous year’s stockpile of craft supplies. I didn’t want the cards to get so big that they wouldn’t fit through the opening in each shoebox mailbox at school, but I also didn’t want to make the heart so small that my budding writer wouldn’t have enough space to fit some of his longer classmates’ names. Since I was printing the cards myself on 8.5 x 11 sheets of photo paper, I could make them whatever dimensions I liked, so I went with a tall and narrow design that would fit through each mail slot, but leave enough room for names. The printed cards are 4 x 8 inches.

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After some trial and error, we discovered that a Sharpie worked best on the glossy photo surface and a black crayon was perfect for signing each card on the back without having any writing show through the front in the light.

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I’m really happy with the results and so is Xavier. Of course, some of the longer names were tough to fit completely in the white heart, but they are still perfectly legible and no less adorable (in my humble opinion). All in all, it was a fun and surprisingly easy project that gave Xavier some ownership without getting too difficult and tedious.

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Tomorrow, I’ll share the Valentines Xavier and I made for his preschool class last year, a much different, but equally fun project.

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{this moment}

Quinn in Tree

{A Friday ritual inspired by Soule Mama.}

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Family Photo
It’s a fair question.

And the answer is both dramatic and incredibly mundate. In November of 2011, just after taking the photos of Quinn’s first haircut featured in my last post almost two years ago, I began to feel that by then familiar feeling that I’ve never quite gotten used to: morning sickness. And despite my deepest hopes and my excitement over the impending birth of our third child, the nausea and sickness came quickly and stuck around for the better part of the pregnancy. It was more intense and longer lasting than before, and it was accompanied by all kinds of new ailments that resulted, I’m guessing, from the fact that my body had been through this all before and just wanted a chance to mix it up a bit. On one occasion, I confided in a very good friend that I could just see it in people’s faces when they asked me how I was doing and, months into the pregnancy, I recounted yet another story of just how uncomfortable, how sick, and how drained I was, they were just so tired of hearing about it. “You know you can always talk to me about how you’re feeling,” she told me helpfully. Yes, I knew that, I told her, and I was so grateful, “But the truth is, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about it.” It was often a struggle to make it through the day with the boys; countless evenings saw me collapsing on the sofa as soon as Jeremy made it through the door, begging him to once again handle dinner, bath time, and bedtime on his own.

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Of course, it was all worth it when little Ada joined our lives the following June. It has been so amazing, as it always is, to watch her grow from newborn to giggling baby, to crawler, to toddling one-year-old. And it is a different, but wonderful, experience to see her do it all with her two big brothers at her side, coddling her, cuddling her, surprising themselves with their absolute awe of her.

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But it has also been utterly exhausting and overwhelming. There is something about that third little person in your charge, that extra body to manage, mouth to feed, bottom to wipe, that just tips one over the proverbial edge. And while the chaos can be wonderfully intoxicating, it can also be grating, annoying, and downright infuriating. Especially when the little buggers have such a knack for sensing stress. Sometimes it’s as if they smell my fear and their eyes just light up with glee at the prospect of the ridiculous mayhem they now have the power to unleash.

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And unleash they do.

When my uncomfortable pregnancy was over, we barely had time to catch our breath before we were thrown into the heat wave that caused a days’ long power outage and had us living with my parents for the better part of a week with a brand new baby and two preschoolers, the missed deadlines for the summer camps I promised Xavier I’d sign him up for, the missed vacation and two days spent at the hospital with Ada when, at five weeks old, she became the inevitable fourth victim in the family to get hand, foot, and mouth disease, the acrobatics of juggling the vice presidency at the kids’ cooperative preschool and all of their many activities throughout the school year, not to mention my very slow but steady work on my dissertation. And in addition to all of these surprises and commitments, there was the day-to-day management of three little ones under the age of five who seemed to be taking turns being alternately incredibly patient and infuriatingly difficult, like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

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Ada’s first year went by so quickly. Despite the madness, I’ve done my best to capture it. In obvious ways, it’s much more difficult to stay on top of the milestones and the all important photographs and videos. Long gone are the days I could just sit on the floor with my newborn and drink that little one in. In some ways, though, it’s been easier to document her life. I feel like I have a much better understanding of just how fast it goes and I push myself to capture as much of it as I can. And somehow, it’s easier with a whole family of people–and not just Jeremy and I–who are downright giddy at each of her little milestones, who genuinely delight in each and every one of them. Pushing myself to try to take in and capture as much as I can–all of those little crazy moments with those three crazy kids–feels just like that: pushing. It’s an effort, but an effort that’s worth it, but is often made with a little one climbing onto my back and another chirping away and pulling at my sleeve.

But something odd has happened in these last few months. It’s not a dramatic change, but a perfectly gradual and ever-evolving transition. This year, at the beginning of what we call like to call “birthday season” (as all of our birthdays are in the spring and summer), Quinn celebrated his third birthday with a train party. And he just seemed to be coming into his own, celebrating with the children he’s grown up with and, for the first time, all of his preschool friends. It was a wonder to watch him, happy and wonderfully aware of all of our birthday rituals. Then, Xavier graduated from preschool, a step that is not inherently a big deal, but really felt huge around here because of just how downright proud that little boy was of himself (and proud he should be). He felt so big, so accomplished, and he simply beamed with self-confidence in a way that just made you want to hold onto the moment forever.

His graduation reminded me of my mental accounting of what our first year with Ada would be like when I was still pregnant with her and I realized that things were never going to ‘settle down’ the way they seemed to right before Quinn’s birth. I told myself that the first year with Ada would be absolutely crazy. With the exception of a precious few preschool hours and a few hours with a babysitter watching the kids while I tried to cram in all my work on my dissertation, I would have all of the children home with me for the entire year and they would all be younger than five. I expected it to be crazy and overwhelming. But then, I reminded myself, Xavier will go off to school, and that would simply be the beginning of that same cycle for each of the kids, each of them going off to school in turn, and the house growing quietier and quietier during the day. It will eventually slow down, I told myself, and I will finally catch my breath, but I’ll also be a little sad, and I’ll have to try to remember that in the most chaotic moments.

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This summer, with Xavier’s impending entry to elementary school on the horizon and my warning to myself in the back of my mind, I really tried to pack it all in. Honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it. I signed up Xavier for a zillion different summer camps and as soon as Quinn was potty trained, I added him to the mix. I planned beach vacations, a couple of trips to the cabin, birthday parties for Xavier and Ada, swim lessons, and so many more activities, and topped them all off with a decision to drive to and from Bar Harbor, Maine for our annual vacation in mid-August. It was too much. But so many parts of it were just so wonderful.

And on the heels of this insanity and repeated reminders to myself to do a better job of paring down the list next summer, I also find myself for the very first time in my life not wanting the summer to end. Fall is my absolute favorite season, the crispness of it, the smells, the colors, the activities, the start of new things, the start of the new school year. And despite my absolute joy at Xavier’s journey into kindergarten, I’ve been ridiculously weepy and sentimental about the whole thing.

So here I am, not quite hitting my stride, not quite finding the perfect balance. But somehow, I’ve discovered that what’s most important for me right now is deciding to embrace the chaos when I can, take deep breaths when the craziness seems too much to handle, and try as hard as I can to capture what I can and accept imperfection when I need to (which, let’s face it, is a daily occurrence).

And in the midst of this chaos and change and the mundane but hectic work of each day, I find myself missing this space, using it as a way to record, as motivation to finish projects, take more photographs, share with you. Not because things have settled down enough to allow me the time to do it. Because, let’s be frank, I absolutely do not have the time do this. But I’m going to do it anyway.

This is me deciding to occasionally take a few moments to ignore the piles of unsent thank you notes mounted on my desk, the drafted dissertation chapters awaiting my attention, the children pulling at my shirt. I’ll decide to be okay with letting some other thing drop by the wayside to do the important work of recording and remembering, finding joy in the reflection.

I hope you’re up for it. This ride just got a whole lot wilder.

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Today

Today, the first anniversary of my brother’s death, was both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be in ways that seem almost impossible to explain. I feel lucky that two of the highlights of my day were witnessing a new friend experience the very beginnings of labor and delivering a gift to a family at preschool who just had a new baby. It is such a gift to be reminded of the new life coming in to this world when remembering someone who left it too soon. This is what I will think about tonight as I light a candle and remember.

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Ahem.

So it’s been a little while (read: more than a year) since I’ve last posted. Lots of stuff has happened since then, some great, some–well, let’s face it–pretty crappy. Here’s my best effort at a whirlwind update of the bestest stuff. (No need to rehash the bad stuff, at least not in this space, not when I am trying to lure you back.) Quinn got bigger. And bigger. And he added cuteness and fearlessness in equal, ample, parts. (I’m telling you, that kid is afraid of nothing and gets away with everything.) Quinn turned one in April and Xavier turned three in July (as they are so kindly demonstrating above). We moved into a bigger house after we decided that, indeed, while a townhouse with an open floor plan is a great concept when you are a newlywed couple, it is not such a fabulous thing when it means the master bedroom, nursery (containing one very lightly sleeping newborn), and office share one continuous space. Despite the craziness of the year, I successfully defended my field statements last fall (the equivalent of passing comprehensive exams for those of you familiar with the trials and tribulations of doctoral work) and then defended my dissertation proposal this past spring, which lands me squarely–and officially–in Dissertationland. After a summer during which I had extended stays in Candyland and FurnitureShoppingLand (and still our dining room sits empty–sigh), I am hoping the fall brings me back there to stay for a bit (that is, if I would like to graduate sometime before my eldest son begins college). But I’m also hoping to pack in some other very important stuff: pumpkin patch visits, apple picking, apple sauce and apple butter making, lots and lots of leaf raking (one of the perks of living among many many tall trees), and, of course, blogging. Here’s hoping you’ll have me back…

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Welcome to my new digs. It is only fitting that I begin this new blog by explaining why I abandoned the last one. It really had very little to do with my inability to commit. Honest. Really, I had three major reasons.

First, I’ve always thought major life events (in this case, the birth of my new son and a few other pending changes that you’ll have to stay tuned to find out about) are great times to make big life changes and new starts. And after letting the old blog sit dormant for so many months, boy did I need a new start. Which leads me to reason number two. It seemed a much less daunting task to simply start over than try to bring the old blog up to date. I’m aiming to escape both the work and the guilt.

Okay, I will admit that these sound like the reasons of a bona fide Quitter with a capital “Q.” But the most important reason I started a new blog is to a better job of what I set out to do in the first one. I am not giving up on the concept of the blog, just the space. My last blog was fiction in the sense that I set it up as a family blog that both my husband and I could edit and contribute to when, in reality, he never wrote a word and never really had any inclination to do so, by his own admission. In fairness, the blog was always my idea that he supported, but he never suggested he be an active part of keeping it going. It became awkward to write on behalf of a collective “we” when the content really reflected my own thoughts, or, more accurately (and more awkwardly), my best guess at what our collective family voice would sound like. Not only was it uncomfortable for me to write in such an awkward way, it was unfair to Jeremy to use such a bland voice when he really is a very clever man, even if he has no intention of immortalizing said cleverness in writing.

In this new space, you can expect tidbits about what me, the kids, and my aforementioned clever husband are up to, our latest projects and adventures, and other day to day stuff. As to my skill at cleverness, I’ll let you make your own judgment.

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