December 31, 2011

Catching Up on Christmas

Wow, three weeks away from the blog and so much to catch up on!

Our Christmas was just perfect! We spent the weekend before Christmas in Columbia celebrating with my extended family, eating lots of food and opening a million presents for Mac. And a few for us too!

That night we made a little change in Mac's room:

That's right, friends: Mac is the proud owner of a new big boy bed.

With the exception of one or two naptime hiccups, the last two weeks have gone very well! He loves it so far and asks to read and sing and just plain hang out in his "bebo" bed quite often.

Once we finish up the final touches on his room, I'll do another before and after post with the full scoop.

Too excited to open his eyes!

The following weekend, after a nice lazy "Christmas break" week, we kicked off the celebrations by having my parents up for Christmas Eve.

They brought Mac (more) presents and even his stuffed-to-the-gills stocking from their house. I really need to do a separate post about their stocking traditions and creative stuffers; they set the bar high!
Can I interest you in some hand sanitizer?

I'm glad our Christmas tree's theme this year was "unbreakable," because it proved to be quite necessary.
Mac kindly undecorated the bottom two-thirds of our tree, assisted with ribbon removal and also lent a hand with present arrangements. It was a hands on Christmas all around!
Candy canes, many smashed and broken by the time Santa came, were the most appreciated piece of decor in our home. Ahh, two-year-olds.

After a beautiful Christmas Eve service at Grace's downtown campus, Santa B and I stayed up far too late staring down this:

Clearly my "I'm tired, my back hurts, are you almost done?" glances contributed significantly to Bradley's efforts, because by Christmas morning this is what Mac saw in the sunroom:
Our little chef was beside himself! The first thing he wanted to do, as any culinary professional would, was wash his hands before prepping the food. Such a silly boy!

Then he got busy with the real cooking, pulling every last piece of Melissa & Doug food (thanks, Mimi and Grandpa!) out of each cabinet, stacking them into baskets, microwaving them as needed and creating original dishes like ketchup on loaf bread with a side of onions. Mmm.

After playing for a bit, we made our way to Bradley's parents' house, just an hour or so from ours, for more Christmas fun. Our six-month-old nephew and his parents were in town, so the fun was multiplied!
The adults had fun even if the kids didn't. Control your excitement, Mac.

Uncle Todd and Aunt Laura saved the showstopper for last, though, when they gave Mac a shiny new ride-on tractor! He was beside himself.
Mac zoomed around at 2mph and dumped that gold bow out about ten million times.

All was right with the world until it was time to come in for supper.

That's essentially how I feel about Christmas being over, too.

We're moments away from 2012 and I'm doing one of my least favorite things - undecorating.

Mac, I feel your pain. (Although he's spending NYE with his grandparents in Columbia tonight, so I guarantee you there are no tears. Or naps, but that's another story for another day.)

We hope your Christmas was every bit as sweet!

December 9, 2011

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Other Insults

Last night Bradley and I rewatched a 30 Rock episode that included this gem:
"What Christmas card did we end up sending out?"

(Reads front) "Happy holidays..." (Opens card) " what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!"
That punchline packs a whopper because it's totally true. Not that we know what terrorists say come December, of course, because who'd want to make small talk with such folks? The kicker is the idea that we can get so up in arms about the semantics of holiday greetings.

I've heard lots of talk lately about the words we use to wish each other well this time of year.

I can see the issue from a number of perspectives. As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas. I wish people I know Merry Christmas because they too are celebrating Jesus' birth.

That said, I don't find it an insult if a cashier wishes me Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or plain ol' Happy Friday.

Sharing one's best wishes for this season is hardly akin to a put-down. And while I don't celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Boxing Day, for that matter, I don't wince at the words.

Like individuals, businesses select their own festive decorations and should have the ability to recognize whatever holidays they wish. After all, we do celebrate more than one holiday this time of year, even if Christmas is our main focus.

I just wrapped up Thanksgiving, am excited for Christmas and plan to sleep right through New Year's. I think an enthusiastic "Happy holidays!" covers all of those occasions perfectly.

On the other hand, I don't want to be held back from wishing others a Merry Christmas if those are the words that flow from my pen or come out of my mouth. There's nothing unkind or untoward about that sentiment, particularly when said with an impossible-to-misread kind of smile.

I love living in the South, but around here we sometimes take for granted that everyone believes what we do. If you don't celebrate the birth of Christ, please don't take it personally if I wish you a Merry Christmas. Besides Easter, which really is the completion of Christmas and the crux of our faith, Christmas is the happiest time of year for believers. Take that wish as an extension of our joy.

As a child, I was thoroughly confused by a neighbor who put up a Christmas tree but said his family didn't believe in Jesus. The two seemed intrinsically linked to me.

Nowadays, schools have 'holiday trees' and many cultural traditions (stockings, trees, gifts) are celebrated whether or not a family believes in the religious significance of Christmas. So it goes.

For my family, the Advent season is a special time of year because of Jesus. For others, it's not. I won't be offended if they wish me Happy Holidays and I hope they won't crinkle their noses if I unknowingly wish them a happy holiday-they-don't-really-celebrate.

Don't we all mean well?

Another blogger summed it up perfectly in a post you must read:

"Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I wonder if the best thing that could happen to this country is for Christ to be taken out of Christmas—for Advent to be made distinct from all the consumerism of the holidays and for the name of Christ to be invoked in the context of shocking forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love. The Incarnation survived the Roman Empire, not because it was common but because it was strange, not because it was forced on people but because it captivated people.

Let’s celebrate the holidays, of course, but let’s live the incarnation. Let’s advocate for the poor, the forgotten, the lonely, and the lost. Let’s wage war against hunger and oppression and modern-day slavery.

Let’s be the kind of people who get worked up on behalf of others rather than ourselves."


Ben Stein, who does not celebrate Christmas, had this to say:

"I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away."

If you're tempted to boycott a department store because their banner celebrates more holidays than just yours, please don't. Bestow all the Happy Christmases (if you're British, of course) you can, but take the meaning of what you're saying to heart.

Would it be a victory if we pouted and stomped our feet and got people to call their decorated trees (nowhere to be seen the night of Jesus' birth) by the name Christmas just to please us? Would it bring anyone closer to Christ or draw them to the Gospel? Hardly.

So, from us to you, happy everything, friends. And Merry Christmas in particular. We're celebrating for a reason in our house, but wherever you are, we hope you spend this season grateful and happy. Thank you for all of your sweet wishes this season.

December 8, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Mac-Mac the not-so-excited reindeer

Growing up, my family had a number of fun, meaningful traditions surrounding the Advent season. Christmas was such a celebration, something I eagerly anticipated each year.

Some of our traditions were small, far from significant to the meaning of the season - just little habits we incorporated into our Christmases. Others were lined up to build into Advent's meaning and remind us of the real reason for Christmas.

As Mac grows and we prepare to welcome another little one, I'm excited to start our own Smith family traditions.

A few of my favorite Christmas traditions as a child:

  • We had an Advent calendar every year. Sometimes there were chocolates in it, sometimes other small treats (Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers!); either way my brother and I so looked forward to opening them as we counted down to Christmas. Because it was just the two of us, I opened the odd-numbered days and he opened the even-numbered ones.

  • Each year we'd select a child to buy for, typically sharing our respective genders and ages, and go pick out gifts with our parents. Selecting and wrapping everything meant a lot more than just donating money; I loved having a hand in the giving and imagining what these gifts might mean to someone else. It instituted a real sense of gratitude in us.

  • Our stockings had, and still do have, little bells on them so you could hear if they were, um, inspected. My parents take stocking stuffers very seriously, so it was quite tempting to peek or rummage around inside before Christmas morning.

  • Every December my parents, far craftier than I, would help us with some Christmas-related project. Making our own ornaments, creating a nativity scene, painting faux Christmas windows (these must be seen to be understood), decorating plates, cutting potatoes into stamps and making our own wrapping paper - the list goes on. My brother and I always had a hand in creating something to commemorate the year; I may still have the glue gun burns to prove it!

  • On Christmas Eve, after my family got home from our church's candlelight service, my dad read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke 2. As we got older, my brother and I got to read part of the story as well - something that felt like a big honor on such a special night.

  • After we read Luke 2, my brother or I (always alternating - Mom's big on fairness!) would place baby Jesus in our nativity scene. As children it didn't make sense to us why baby Jesus was already in the manger all month, so that issue was nipped in the bud by waiting 'til his "birth night." It was such a thrill be the one to place him in the stable, signifying that Jesus had come, just as we were promised!

  • On Christmas Eve, we were each allowed to open one present, and it was always the same: Christmas pajamas. (Oh how I need new pajamas now! May have to start this tradition back up.) We went to sleep covered in flannel snowflakes, which made for very cute pictures the next day.

  • On Christmas morning, we couldn't come out of our rooms until we put our robes on (over our new Christmas pjs, of course) and made our beds. Our bedrooms were upstairs, so we had to dress, brush our teeth and get presentable before coming downstairs together. This part was agonizing! I suppose the point was to make sure no one slid down the bannister at dawn to peek at Santa's presents solo?

  • Speaking of presents, Mom and Dad wrapped their gifts to us, but Santa's were beautifully laid out, unwrapped.

  • Dad set up a video camera most Christmas mornings. I'd pay money never to have to watch the videos from 1993 to 1996. Eep.

  • We didn't have a ritual for opening our gifts one by one, but as we've gotten older and the frenzy around Christmas morning has died down, we have tried to take turns and see what everyone else got. After all of our presents were open, we'd move to the den to open up stockings.

  • Our stockings were so much fun! Candies, CDs, sweet treats, lip gloss, lotions, candles and fun stocking stuffers were a given, but every now and then a surprise (a watch! new earrings!) was thrown in to mix things up. You never know what to expect, and I am glad Bradley has his own stocking at their house now so he can participate. Our stockings are woefully empty here at chez Smith...

  • Mom would make coffee, holiday cider and sweet rolls for us to eat after all of the present-getting hoopla was over. Then it was time to celebrate Christmas all over again with each side of the family!
I'd love to hear what your families do for Christmas and any meaningful, simple or downright childlike ideas you're putting into practice this year. No time like the present to start making memories!

December 6, 2011

Don't Call Me Mama

I'm not unique in that I wear many different hats; we all do.

Just today I overslept and rushed to make breakfast, pack a lunchbox, restock a backpack diaper stash, brush teeth, dress a toddler, make myself presentable, let the dog out, grab an umbrella and drop Mac safely off at school in forty minutes flat.

While he was gone I scrambled to pick up Christmas clutter for a visitor who's not coming 'til Thursday. Oops.

I fielded client emails, worked for a bit, called the home warranty company, the doctor and the pharmacy, then looked over paint chips and fabric swatches for our little girl's nursery.

After crunching numbers and finding some papers, I skipped lunch to meet an accountant about my first full year of small business taxes. Said meeting ran five minutes over, so I barely made it to school in time to get Macky - who is now refusing to nap.

My remaining to do items for this afternoon include meal planning, grocery shopping, making soup (what else on such a gray day?) for dinner, preparing to host a small group Christmas party, folding ten billion loads of laundry, hanging out with my husband and resting my heavily pregnant self.

What am I getting at? Like you, I do a lot of things. I am a lot of things. I work at home as a wife and mom; I work from home, too.

It took this big talker 16 months to squeeze "Mama" into his massive vocabulary.
I still revel in it.

The things I'm most proud of in this world, however, are my marriage and our son. Hands down. These are my people, the one I've chosen and the one I carried.

I'm tied to these two in every possible way, and I find a strange freedom in that. This is the life I've been given and, on an hourly basis, the life I choose. I am so grateful.

(Even when I'm frustrated, behind, exhausted, confused, under-organized, frazzled, at a loss, overwhelmed or having one of "those" days, weeks, or months, I'm always thankful. Even if it's masked a bit by all my whining.)

Then I read this piece last week about a woman who fought back tears and hid her flushing face after a hairstylist identified her as a "mom," demographically speaking. I was a little puzzled.

The author suggests that women drop the identity of motherhood, one that is far more permanently and powerfully branded on us than on our male counterparts or even our husbands.

In a way, I understand. No one wants to be that mom, the slovenly and flustered woman sprinting three yards behind her kids, screeching at them to behave. Always late, never showered, rarely able to discuss anything besides the gory, disastrous details of childbirth or potty-training.

No woman wants to feel that she's "just" a mom or "just" an anything, for that matter. We're all busy, growing, multi-faceted beings.

But I think the writer missed the mark. While there are few labels I'd want to wear as my only identifiers, there would be no shame in one of those being mom. Or believer, wife, daughter or friend. The parts of my life I'm most passionate about and engaged in are going to be the easiest to identify me by, and probably the most accurate.

I think what she's hinting at is the fear that women, unlike most men, are minimized by parenthood. Do people see me differently now, especially pregnant, than they did three or four years ago? Sure.

My body, my personality, my life, my age, my "cool" factor - everything has changed these last two or so years. Why wouldn't they view me differently? People who judge me or minimize my abilities because I have a child are missing out, though.

From my point of view, I've been given a gift and am in a very specific season of life where I'm needed. In twenty years, I won't be a mom in the same way I am now. I'll be a hands-off counselor mom, not a find the shoes/kiss the boo-boo/change the diaper/ward off the tantrum mom. This time is fleeting, and it's a privilege no matter how bleary-eyed or short-fused I get.

For people to believe I can contribute anything less to society because I am a mother makes little sense at its heart: if anything, I am contributing society. Little people. A future generation. The folks who will take care of us when we're all past our "worried what my hairstylist labels me as" days - if we're fortunate.

I've walked the line, especially in my first weeks back at full-time work after Mac was born, between proud parenthood and concern over the perception that raising a child will overtake my life.

But you know what? It can't overtake my life because it is my life.

Even if I were in Beijing brokering the sale of a billion dollar company, my thoughts and my heart and my concerns would lie in the care and well-being of my children. (Typing that in the plural still makes me tear up.) There might be a million other facts tumbling around in my brain, but I'd still drop everything in a heartbeat for the role that matters most, the one only I can fill.

So, moms, don't feel belittled. Even if you do wear yoga pants to the grocery store after a full day of not doing yoga. Even if your business suit has spit up stains or your under-eye bags need a luggage rack and you have no idea what movies won an Oscar this year.

And non-parents, take a moment to think about how many things you do well. Don't fall into the trap of presuming a person can only be defined by one task, even if it's her biggest and most important role.

So that's my diatribe today: Mom shouldn't be or feel like an insult. And even if it is, it's still a gift.

May Mac never doubt that, even covered in his drool or tearing him, weeping, away from the "race car" grocery cart, I am proud to be his mom. I hope he can be as proud to be my son - at least 'til middle school rolls around...

December 1, 2011

Daddy's Boy

Mac has entered a total Daddy's boy phase.

He wants to dress like B, talk like B, hang out in "Daddy's shop" and build furniture, ride the John Deere lawnmower ("Daddy's tractor") and generally engage in tiny testosterone-building activities. The era of Mama is over.

I have found a way to capitalize on this, though, by coming up with utterly ridiculous nicknames and having Mac repeat them just to prove he's Daddy's bugaboo/handsome boy/chunk-chunk*, not Mama's.

(Excuse the grainy, about-to-die camera footage.)

To add insult to injury, Mac now responds to my "I love you" with "Yeah." I'm working on that, with mixed results. (I've warned B not to respond like that, either. Not good for a girl's ego, y'all!)

*To be fair, I called Mac "fat-fat" and "chunk-chunk" when he was in the 3rd weight percentile at nine months old. These days he tips the scales at 37 pounds, so it's a more accurate description - but it has always been a term of endearment. And it just sounds so cute coming out of his mouth!

November 29, 2011

Still Thankful

Our little house had a wonderful Thanksgiving. All four grandparents and one attentive uncle around our table had Mac over the moon on Turkey Day.

Having everyone help wash dishes had me pretty darn grateful, too.

The next day, we all needed a detox - the adults from our holiday feast and Mac from the constant excitement of fawning grandparent attention.

Luckily, the precious Watson family came by for a pick-me-up! Kristen, Charles and Wynn, our favorite Gamecock-loving Floridians, stopped in on their way out of town and I'm so thankful.

We didn't get nearly enough pictures, but Mac was so giddy from their visit (enough to share one of "his" porch pumpkins with little Wynn) that he smiled all afternoon.

Mac's "Aunt Kitten" got a little snuggle from him on the front porch while her handsome boy was asleep in the car.

B managed to snap a few pics of the post-visit excitement:

In an unrelated note, that last sweet shot reminds me so much of this one:

I just blinked and nearly two years passed. How on Earth did that happen?

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving as well! I'll find out at the doctor this morning just how much that turkey stuck to my ribs - or baby girl's. It was worth every bite!

November 28, 2011

Time to Pick Out Cards!

It's not even December yet but somehow I'm already "behind" when it comes to the pre-Christmas prep craziness. Eep!

From the looks of Twitter and Facebook, I'm the only gal on the block who doesn't have her Christmas cards stuffed, stamped and addressed just days after Thanksgiving. Oh well!

This year I'll be ordering my Christmas cards from Tiny Prints. We've used them several times before for our (inevitably very-close-to-late) Christmas cards, as well as Mac's birth announcements and party invitations.

The trickiest part in picking out a design is the fact that we don't have a photo of our family just yet. Getting shots of the three of us is harder than it sounds, and I'm growing rounder by the moment - so my vanity will likely weed out 99% of the pics taken of us from here on out.

If you get a Christmas card that has a stock photo of a gorgeous, smiling, tanned and distinctly not us family, at least you'll know why.

Here are a few of my top choices:

Do you have a favorite? Am I the only one who's woefully behind on her card-picking? And who wants to come take our picture?

*Tiny Prints is giving me 50 free cards in exchange for this post. I'm excited to order but likely would have purchased my card from their selections anyhow. And I talk about everything anyway, so I'm sure you would have heard about it.

November 23, 2011

Talking Turkey: Thanksgiving Recipes

I decided to kick off my third trimester in a big way - by hosting Thanksgiving!

To be fair, I "hosted" in our old home two years ago. Mac was seven weeks old, though, and I believe my biggest contribution was dairy-free mashed potatoes for myself (we thought Mac was lactose intolerant) and perhaps a steamed veggie.

This year I'm planning to do a bit more. Not a ton more, thankfully, as our sweet parents are each bringing more than an armful of side dishes to load up the table. This holiday we'll have my parents, B's parents and my brother, in addition to our gang of three. I'm so excited!

Here's the rundown of what we'll be gorging ourselves on enjoying tomorrow:

Turkey and gravy
Ham (For someone who evidently doesn't like turkey. Can you imagine?!)
Biscuits and homemade bread
Cranberry sauce
Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes
Fried Creamed Corn
Cornbread Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Fruit Salad
Chocolate Cake
Paula Deen's Creamy Lemon Bars
Ooey-Gooey Peanut Butter Brownies

Yes, this is all for seven adults and one toddler.

The best part? Our generous families are bringing more than half of what you see listed. My grandmother, who had hoped to join us but won't be able to, is even sending up a few of her favorites. My aunt offered but I told her I truly don't know how we could manage another morsel!

While Bradley tackles the turkey I'll be making my very favorite carb on Earth (and that's saying something) - mashed potatoes. It's my mom's recipe, but I've become an expert at it over the years. Particularly pregnant years!

In addition, I'll also be making traditional Southern-style green beans, similar to these, and trying out Paula Deen's fried creamed corn.

For dessert, I'm making a tried and true crowd-pleaser: ooey-gooey peanut butter brownies. And they're from Cooking Light! As if you needed another reason to partake.

There were a few more recipes (roasted squash, an autumn soup, a pumpkin bread) I wanted to add to the mix, but our table can only hold so much.

The remainder of our menu, plus a few surprises, is all being delivered when the grandparents arrive. So much fun!

In the meantime, I'll be cleaning, ironing placemats, prepping, organizing and Scotchgarding the chairs and ottoman that were just delivered. (Upholsterers that pick up on Friday and deliver on Thanksgiving Eve? I'm in love!)

This year, it won't be the tryptophan that puts me into a coma post-Turkey Day; it'll be a lot of excitement and a hefty helping of pregnancy tiredness. And, if I'm honest, just a smidge too many mashed potatoes.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving, friends! What will you be eating tomorrow?

November 21, 2011

A Monday Minute

This Monday has been a little manic, but two videos have made my rainy but beautiful day. Hope they do the same for you!

I don't listen to the radio much, as I prefer to pick my own tunes whenever possible (control issues much?), but I haven't been able to stop humming Moves Like Jagger since late August. When I heard Little Big Town's banjo-pickin' cover, it put a new spin on the tune running through my brain for the millionth time....

You know by now that I'm the pastiest girl who ever dreamed of having swagger, so I took great joy in watching Tigger, Eeyore and especially Pooh pull off the cat-daddy, Dougie, shuffle and other general tomfoolery at a theme park.

Not the moves they learned for everyday Hundred Acre Wood hang-outs, but it made me giggle nonetheless. (Especially what kicks off at 0:25 and 1:25.)

Although I just realized I've been out-danced by grown men wearing cartoon character costumes. Could this be a new low for my (lack of) dance skills?

Happy Monday!

November 15, 2011

Need a Laugh?

Is your week moving as slowly as mine? Need a laugh? Enjoy the following giggle on me.

Let me preface things by saying I had my glucose test this morning. While I, a sweets lover to my ever-expanding core, don't loathe the mandatory sugar consumption as most pregnant ladies do, it does make me a bit jittery and queasy.

All that glucose so early in the morning - and consumed so quickly? Even I tend to pause between bites of cake...but I digress. Bottom line: early morning, jittery, typical doctor's office ("prick me, poke me, let a med student observe me") nerves.

I had to stop mid-appointment because it was my "time," the one-hour mark after I consumed my syrupy morning mocktail. Around the corner I went to get my blood drawn and, while I was there, I made a second (this time non-mandatory) pit stop in the ladies' room.

Since it was low on soap, I returned to my exam room and, while chatting in full Anne (read: nonstop) fashion with an OB and his med student du jour, began to wash my hands.

The doctor's office soap dispensers and hand sanitizer bottles look deceptively similar, so when it didn't foam at first, I just kept washing. I'd get clean either way, right?

Alas, it was thicker than sanitizer and still not foaming. Probably because it was the gel they use for ultrasounds and hearing the baby's heartbeat through a Doppler. Thick, gooey, practically un-wipe-off-able gel. And I was "washing" my hands with it. Much to the med student's enjoyment.

The nurse and I enjoyed a laugh about it after my fabulous (kind, poker-faced and unflappable) doctor and his adolescent sidekick skedaddled. But wow - next time I'll read the bottle.

So how was your day?

November 10, 2011

What Matters

Hi, friends! Wow, what a week it has been.

Bradley's sweet grandmother passed away over the weekend at 98 years old, healthy until the week she died and a tremendous blessing to each of us who knew her.

The days that followed put my life and "pressing" tasks into perspective like little else has recently.

Amidst the travel, the arrangements, the sadness, the big family meals, the services and a little more travel, things became very clear - what matters and what doesn't.

The things that matter last a lifetime, even a lifetime that stretches toward the century mark.

The things that don't matter sadly tend to be the things that weigh me down the most, the items on my to do list that cause me the most stress.

I'm thankful, in a sad time, for a godly woman who lived her life as a widow for 63 years, devoting her time to family and serving the Lord. I'm grateful for the people she shaped and the ability to know her briefly. I'm so glad Mac was able to meet her and that we can tell her how she smiled and said, "I knew another Mac Smith a long time ago..."

I appreciate everyone's prayers for Bradley and his family and most especially for the tremendous peace they have felt in the midst of everything.

We're slowly getting back into the swing of things over here, but I hope I don't lose sight, as "real life" picks back up, of what matters.

November 1, 2011

A Chilly, Choo-Choo Halloween

I may be alone in this, but Halloween isn't my favorite holiday. I don't dream up costumes six months in advance, have never dressed up as a "racy" pumpkin/angel/nurse and could live without "spooky" house and yard decorations.

I adore orange and can put away Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with the best of 'em, but otherwise there typically has been little to get me going about the festivities. (I know, I know. Bah humbug, right? I did say I love candy!)

This year, though, our little Thomas the Tank Engine made everything worthwhile. We didn't go door to door, but he was thrilled to see a few friends when we stopped by to show off his "tick or deet" request and excited "choo choo!"

The evening got chilly fast, but Mac was too busy hopping around to care. Watching him enjoy every last second of the night made it SO fun.

If this is what Halloween looks like for us from here on out, sign me up! And I may even browse the Target sale aisle to add a few strictly Halloween pieces to our "fall home decor" lineup. Maybe.

October 28, 2011

Our Favorite Baby and Kid Gifts

Until I had Mac, I was a little lost as to what constituted a "good" baby gift. I could find cute things or useful things, but what was both?

As he ages, my gift-giving abilities expand a bit. Were we invited to a five-year-old's birthday party, I'd be plum out of luck. But I feel like we've got a great handle on the two and under (and the baby-to-be) crowd.

Like many parents, we're not enthusiastic about migraine-inducing toys that flash, whistle, sing, dance, hop, buzz and never seem to die. We've found that Mac gets far more enjoyment, and thousands more hours of play, out of presents that engage his imagination.

(See also: Stuff People Are Trying to Buy Your Baby is Nice But Pointless)

As Mac has given and received more gifts, we've learned so much! The best part? His favorite and best loved toys aren't the priciest!

Little folks have a knack for loving the simple (or even the box the simple gift is in!), so I remind myself not to stress about finding something for the discerning one-year-old in our lives.

Our favorite gifts are always books. Beyond the classic baby titles, we've discovered (through the generosity of friends!) a number of other new, well-loved books:
I Love You, Stinky Face
All of the Curious George books
The Berenstain Bears books
Anything by Sandra Boynton
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

All in all, you can't go wrong with a book. Board books for the first few years, then hardback. Unless other toddlers are gentler readers than ours.

Non-book gift ideas:
*Personalized plates and bowls - great for when toddlers join the family table!

*Melissa & Doug Puzzle Maze: All the fun of a puzzle without pieces to lose? Win-win!
*Melissa & Doug Animal Magnets: Hours of fun in a box, or on our refrigerator, as it were.
*Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Set: Mac just got these, but he loves his "tooz" already.

And, while I'm on the topic, here are a few of my favorite gifts for babies-to-be:

All I need in my bag for quick errands - holds a travel pack of wipes and two or three diapers.

Curves around your neck as a burp cloth or snaps as a 360-degree bib for baby.

We never swaddled Mac in these, but they're the perfect weight and size for layering. We used them all the time.
Beautifully designed and the most absorbent ones we had. I wish we'd stocked up!

What are your favorite gifts to give the smallest people on your Christmas list? Care to help us branch out from our book and puzzle routine?

October 27, 2011

Finally - a Bump Picture!

No, sillies - not mine. (Hard for me to imagine people would care to see my stomach on the interwebs...) Jessica's!

Does anyone else find it interesting that she quite publicly saved herself for marriage the first go 'round, but is (by all accounts) expecting a baby before round two?

In her defense, it's none of our business if she's pregnant or not. And I didn't pay the rumors much attention (any woman without washboard abs is pregnant in tabloid-land) until this week.

The bump, however, speaks for itself. As do the boots, come to think of it. Eep, Jess. Your name is on an international fashion label; were these Martian boots really the best you could do?

That said, I feel it's wildly inappropriate for an obstetrician to speculate on how far along she is based on the size of her stomach. Whether I agree with his "six months" approximation or not, the very guess from a doctor feels icky, no?

Ladies in the tri-state area, I wouldn't use Dr. Dave David for that reason alone. And also because - Dave David? Really? (I'm starting to feel like Amy Poehler here.)

Hats off to J. Simp, though, for avoiding the mom uniform I've been sporting: jeans with brightly colored flats and a scarf. And a shirt, obviously, but I felt like that went without saying.

I like to pretend like I'm trying, but I'm nowhere near her all-black, space-wedge boot look. And I'm ok with that.

October 25, 2011

New Mom Meal Plan

I don't know about your town, but all signs here point to a baby boom in the next six months. The stork is extra busy around these parts and there are flocks of underfed, sleep-deprived new parents to prove it.

My favorite way to meet new babies is to come bearing supper. (Sweet Kristen lives by her mom's adage, "Knock with your feet!" I laugh about this when I have a toddler by the hand, a baby gift, a bag of food and my keys. I promise I'm not kicking your doors in, new moms!)

The uptick in new mom meals made recently has given me flashbacks of the unadulterated gratitude such suppers brought out in me. A moment of company plus a meal for our family once you're gone? Wow. Best gift ever.

I'm no Paula Deen, nor am I the world's most normal eater (we'll discuss my bizarre list of pickiness over super-plain sandwiches sometime), but I'm getting better with practice.

Casseroles aren't really my thing - too much cheese, not quite enough variety. I realize I'm the only person south of the Mason-Dixon who feels this way, and that's ok.

Other one-dish meals, though, can be easy to fix and very much appreciated.

Here are a few of my latest fall favorites to bring to homes after the stork stops in. Add in a side of salad and, depending on the meal, either corn muffins or Italian bread and voila - you're a gourmet chef!

*Pioneer Woman's White Chili - Such a favorite around here. We're having it tonight, actually!

*Aunt Lynn's Lasagna - She may not be a household name to you, but my aunt's recipe quickly became a classic during my college years. When she'd send up two at a time, I became the most popular girl in my building overnight!

*Butternut Squash Soup - Again, a Smith family favorite. Creamy, easy to double and perfect for chilly nights.

*Pasta e Fagioli Soup - Patterned after an Olive Garden recipe, this is such a hearty meal. Perfect in a big mason jar, the ultimate "don't return me" dish. If only it came with the addictive OG breadsticks...

*Chick-fil-A Deliciousness - While I haven't actually delivered one of these meals, some thoughtful friends who know us all too well brought us CFA after Mac was born. Boy, did we enjoy it!

My grandmother visited once with a Chick-fil-A lunch in hand, a homemade banana pudding for later and a gallon of CFA sweet tea to top it all off. I nearly died of excitement!

Bottom line: don't be intimidated when cooking for new mom friends; all they're really hoping for is a bright spot in a hectic day.

Pick up take-out, make sandwiches, bring by a gift card - just come. Leave enough for leftovers and be sure your containers are tossable.

Start and end the visit with a big hug and assure the mom that she, the baby (and the house, if she's a stress case like me!) could not look better if she tried. But that you really, really hope she didn't try.

What are your favorite recipes for new parents? Any casseroles to try that will change my mind?

October 18, 2011

Fat (Talk) Tuesday

There's irony in the fact that I came across this video just after examining a "pregnancy weight gain chart" online*. We'll get into that another time...

Right now, I'm beginning to process the full (figurative) weight of our future daughter - the blessing she is already and the high bar I need to set as we raise her. Especially for myself.

I'm going to be a girl mom. It will be my responsibility to help shape and shepherd the heart of a sensitive, sweet being who may always, as I do, worry about how she looks. I'm terrified.

Take a look at this video and think about the many casual phrases we toss about in daily conversation. The "jokes" we laugh off about our looks and bodies.

Notice our constant references to backsides, stomachs, hips, "cankles" and "thunder thighs." I could give you a list of the (genuinely funny!) things I've said about myself, but you'd probably just roll your eyes - and rightfully so.

Pick up on each thoughtless comment about ourselves at mealtimes, after dessert, while trying on clothes or when we catch our reflection in a mirror. How aware we should be of these when little ears are picking up on them!

I don't mean to dismiss the value of healthy living or the effects genuine obesity can have on a woman. That's another issue entirely. I do, however, intend to clean up my fat talking act - and fast.

If I've learned anything from my two years of parenthood, it's that children absorb far more than we realize they do. Mac spits things back out that I don't even remember saying - but I know I have. (No toddler says "oh my word" and "oh no!" this often. Or corrects the dog with a, "No, sir. We do not do that." Mind like a steel trap, I tell ya.)

Just as damaging as any four-letter word can be the subversive, easily overlooked insults to ourselves. Our children, who for a time feel like extensions of us, can only absorb those same ideas - and oh how I'd like to save this little girl from every ounce of heartache fat talk has caused me.

The truth? (It's difficult even to type this, fighting the urge to qualify or deprecate or joke.) I've never been obese, or even overweight. But I have spent the bulk of my years feeling large, misshapen, puffy, odd, awkward, out of the ordinary, "curvier," bigger than other girls, too tall, disproportionate and just plain unpretty.

Scripture tells me I'm created in God's image, that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. For a lot of years, and in a million moments since I've "grown out" of those feelings, I would have disagreed. How I wish I could tell you I've just switched off those instincts.

My prayer now, not just for Fat Talk-Free Week but for all of my girl-raising days to come, is that I talk about what matters. My heart, my hopes, the world around me, the lives of others, what I'm doing and who I can help - notsomuch about how I look while I'm doing it.

I'm grateful for a healthy body that has carried a beautiful boy and is growing another baby as I type. I'm thankful for a life easy enough that my mind can even wander to such superficial thoughts as the size of my thighs.

I'm glad to be able to get around, to care for our family and myself without assistance. And I'm grateful for the people in my life who make me laugh so hard I feel beautiful - while forgetting about looks altogether.

For those of you who are raising daughters, or who are daughters yourselves, how do you combat the urge to 'fat talk'? How can we fight the subtle 'you're not good enough' messages we unintentionally send to girls without putting too much of a focus on looks in general?

This week, I'm going to talk about things that matter. And cellulite, my friends, does not.

*More irony? Wanting to take down pics from yesterday's post because they are "unflattering." And being afraid that they're not unflattering, just accurate. And looking at pictures of oneself long enough to have such opinions. Oh, I have work to do.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."-Psalm 139:14

October 17, 2011

A New Day

To be this happy on a Monday is a rare and much appreciated treat. Very thankful for the prayers, emails, comments and calls so many of you sent our way after last week's session. I'm thrilled to report that it is a new day!

Naps are back, scream time gets shorter by the day and our happy, rested boy is back. For the most part. Toddlerhood brings challenges all its own, and I know those will take a while to work out. (As will the incisors.) But what a blessed gift sleep is!

Our happier, napping Mac had a wonderful weekend with his family. We visited the park and took a long walk with friends, picked a few "punkings" with Daddy, made pancakes, laid low and just had a quiet, relaxing two days together. Heavenly.

Mac has fabulous taste in pumpkins, even befriending this one:

I'm posting a few pics, but keep in mind I changed right from workout/playground (read: sweaty and unkempt) clothes and sprinted to the pumpkin patch. Hence the fabulous coiffure you may notice.

Regardless, it was a great way to spend an afternoon and the weekend has melted into a lovely start to this week. Here's hoping the same is true for all of you!

Now to go catch up on all the things left undone amidst the screamy, sickly, scared-this-would-last-forever reality I've been experiencing these past few weeks.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your sweet words and support.

Happy Monday!


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