The Christmas Letter

Normally, I’d have the Christmas cards in the mail by now, but I’m running behind this year.  One thing I’m struggling with is the Christmas letter.  I started writing one when the kids were little.  All of the relatives want to hear the news and I’m not a big fan of getting on the phone.

Growing up, ‘Christmas letter’ was like a bad phrase to me.  Our family only received one card with a letter, and my mom and I made fun of that letter dreadfully, dubbing the child of that family “Wonder Child”.  She could play every instrument handed to her with perfection, got grades which were so high no scale could record them, etc.  To me, it was just a way to over-the-top brag about your kids.

Fast forward to my turn to write one of these ‘brag’ epistles.  I didn’t want it to be a glorification of my children.  We have our struggles just like everyone else.

Apparently the letter is well received.  My mom complained a couple years ago that she didn’t get a copy but always heard about it.  I told her that it’s just a recap of the year and she’s the one person I do call, so she already knows everything that I write about.  Never the less, I took the hint and gave her photocopies of every letter I had saved a copy of for myself.

I try to write the letter for myself as much as for family.  Early on, I read in a magazine that you should keep a copy of the letter for yourself as it’s a snapshot of your family’s history.  I don’t have the first two or three letters that were written, but I have the rest and I do pull them out to read now and then.

What types of things do I include?

My son’s kindergarten year when he’d try to go to school with his pjs on under his clothing, making him look like the Michelin tire man.  He did not know how he always got caught.

The family vacation when our children agreed that their favorite moment (and we did a lot of great stuff) was when they got to see a horse poop.  (They were not happy when they found out about the letters in recent years and read through them to find this item.)

My kids calling an area on our walk home from school “Bacon Valley” because of the catalpa beans all over the quite flat sidewalk.

Making a paper chain.

Of course I talk about awards and honors too.  I just make sure I’m not making the kids out to be angels of perfection.

I guess part of my struggle this year is that I always talk about our family vacation, and when our oldest was getting ready for college this past spring a family member took offense to DH setting up a Go-Fund-Me.  He thought we could “well afford” college.  His kids didn’t go.  He didn’t know that a public university in our state runs $25,000 a year, rough numbers.

He also doesn’t know that while we have some awesome vacations, we do a lot of things that allow us to be able to afford them.  The Christmas letter doesn’t talk about the food and drink we haul with us to cut down on eating out and buying snacks along the way.  We all have fabric slings for water bottles, and I have a stash of Kool Aid singles.  This takes the place of buying pop or other beverages through the day.  There’s more, but you get the point.  The economies that allow us to have great vacations as a family aren’t in the letter.  Nor is there room.  Nor would anyone want to hear them year after year.

DH didn’t have family vacations growing up because his parents owned a business.  They worked all the time.  This is important to him because he didn’t have it, and it’s important to me because I did have family trips.

I’m not letting this family’s member opinion stop me from telling our news, because the trip is always a highlight for us.  We have built so many great memories through the years and we now we have a college student.  We may not have another trip with all five of us.  The times they are a-changin’.

So I will keep writing the letters for me and share the news with family along the ride.  After all, Wonder Child surely gave her parents a lot of joy to bring them to write such glowing reports.

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Back to Routine

I enjoy the holidays, but being a creature of routine, am infinitely happy when the house is quiet and orderly again.  DD1 was excited to get back to college, which is just another punctuation mark as to how she feels there.  She’ll be just as happy to back home after finals.  My son was back at school, hubby at work, and DD2 at her home school work.  Ahhh.

I was not made to host big holiday meals.  I really don’t enjoy cooking.  My mother-in-law loves to cook and is quite lavish when she has us over around Christmas.  I can cook, but am only okay at it.  I enjoy baking and am decent with that.  Thank Heaven that DH doesn’t like to have a traditional Christmas dinner!  We only did that when Dad was alive and he and Mom came here on Christmas day.

My Thanksgiving meal is bare bones and simple.  DH likes Stove Top and gravy from a jar, which helps.  Truly, he is not a fan of those in home made form.  I usually make one non-traditional dish for my kiddos, who are not a fan of turkey and trimmings.  The past two years it’s been spaghetti casserole – an alfredo version as my kids are also not huge fans of tomato sauce.  I’m still exhausted at the end of the day.

When I was a teen/young twenty-something, I thought that I would make cut-out sugar cookies for every holiday and decorate to an inch of the home’s life.  Reality is that I make the sugar cookies for Christmas and occasionally one other holiday in the year and I don’t decorate for any other holiday at all.

The cats helped me out with that.  We never put the Easter baskets out until the night before because they ate the grass.  The baskets sat out for a couple of days with the goodies before one cat ingested too much plastic grass and I’d whip the baskets back into storage.  The other cat chewed and stole Christmas bows from the packages, while the first was known for yarfing up pretty much every day, often several times a day.  Yes, she saw the vet over it, but she was just a yarfer.  So, with these facts in mind, presents didn’t go under the tree until after the kids went to bed on Christmas Eve.

It will be strange to not have a kitty around this Christmas, but we are working on remodeling so new kitties can come live with us.  Next year the bottom of the tree will be devoid of ornaments again.  One thing I love is seeing a cat under the tree all safe and snug, and it’s great when they play with wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

We put the tree up while DD1 was home, although it was touch-and-go as to whether or not the projects would be to the point where we’d have the space.  DH wants to get the popcorn ceiling in the front room down ASAP, so the tree may have to come down on the 26th, whereas we usually leave it up until the first of the new year.  I’m anxious to get rid of the popcorn too.  You just don’t realize how dark and dingy it looks until a smooth ceiling is in the room next to it.

The church formal Christmas party is in two weeks, so I need to kick it in to gear and finish DD2’s dress.  Sometimes I need a deadline to light the fire.  It’s partially sewn, but has a lot of work yet to be done.

Our color printer died (we have a b&w for home school) and we had not printed the picture of the kids for the Christmas cards yet.  Fortunately, I had a deal for Shutterfly and we didn’t have to pay too much.  Now I hope they’ll come when they’re supposed to, although I haven’t started the cards yet.  Anyway, the relatives would be quite put out if no picture was enclosed.

So much yet to do.  Yet here I sit on the computer.  Good luck with all of your own preparations for the holidays!

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Feeling Good

Today my daughter got in another half hour practice of driving.  That’s huge for her.  She took driver ed. almost a year and a half ago, and up until Friday had only logged 30 minutes of practice time.  Her sensory processing disorder (SPD) brings her massive anxiety, and when I would suggest practicing, her body would visibly tense up.  Friday I asked her, and at first she got all quiet and her body was almost shrinking with anxiety.  I let it go, but twenty minutes later she came back and said “okay”.

She hesitated this morning, but went anyway.  Obviously it’s unsafe to drive when in the grips of anxiety, but her dad and I don’t want her to shut the door on driving as it’s a needed skill.  Especially for someone who wants to own lots of animals.  You can’t raise farm animals in the city.

When we got home I unclogged the kid’s bathroom sink without pain.  A few years ago I heard about a great little tool called a Zip It.  It’s a plastic yellow stick about 18 inches long with ‘barbs’ on it, and you simply put it down the drain and it catches hold of the hair.  With myself and both of my girls sporting long hair, and the kids all having thick hair, the drains clog up once every year or so.  DH hates dealing with plumbing, and this is a great (and easy) way for me to help him out.  That $3 tool was a fantastic investment.

The kids Christmas gifts are all wrapped.  That’s a big job completed to leave me time to work on the cards.  I’ve started the annual letter, but am a bit stuck.  I work to keep it real and a touch humorous with things I want to remember about the year as well as updating family.

DD2’s senior pictures arrived from Shutterfly and are ready for the cards as well.  We have a friend who takes awesome pictures and she did so great that both grandmas had about five pictures they were deciding between.  I ended up getting 4×6 prints of the poses that ‘lost’ so they can have them all.

DD1 is coming home tonight for the first time since school started.  We’re all geeked about it.  She keeps saying how much she misses church, which makes me feel good.  She watches the services on livestream, but it’s not the same.  She misses singing in choir (it’s killing her to not be part of the Christmas program) and the toddler class she helps in.  It’s also like a family gathering every service.  I love our church.

DD1 is tutoring DH’s cousin’s daughter.  Our cousin, as we call her.  She is loving spending time with this young lady and it’s helping the young lady as well.  I told DD1 that I’d spring for a small Christmas gift for this cousin and her brother, so we’ll do a little shopping while she’s home.

I think it’s going to be a great week and oh yeah, it’s Thanksgiving too!  I purpose to be thankful every day, but it will be wonderful to have all my chickadees and both our moms here together on Thursday.

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Renovation

Before we adopt a new cat(s), we need to replace some flooring.  The flooring which needs to be replaced is in the two rooms of the house with which we’ve done nothing, not even painting.  We’ve been in this house for nearly seventeen years.  Why have we not tackled these rooms?  Budget.

This is our first house, and we took the savings account awfully low to make the down payment.  Once in the house we focused on projects which were mostly manual labor which we could do ourselves.  There was plenty of landscaping type work to keep us busy for the first year.  The previous owners rarely ventured outside.  According to neighbors, they actually shooed their son back inside the one time he was seen outside playing.

We’ve had a plan for these rooms for a long time, but other projects took priority.  We’ve worked hard to avoid debt in any upgrades, repairs, etc. needed on the house.  As we discussed new flooring, we realized it would be the perfect time to paint the walls.  Wait – if we’re going to take the popcorn ceiling down, that should be done before anything else as it will be messy.  Then we can also finally change out the ugly chandelier.  The base boards also need to be replaced as they were affected along with the floor.

I think we’ll pause there and wait a bit before completing the rest of the plan for the rooms, but even this much will make a huge difference.

But wait – the master bath shower decided to leak and a large hole was cut in the ceiling downstairs to find the leak and then have it fixed. Now, the hole is in the process of repair which displaces the homework/home school table.  The dining room table is displaced as we took down the popcorn and are now in the middle of painting the ceiling.  Thanksgiving is about a week away and is here.

I’m just hoping that things stay on track enough to be able to use the dining room again soon, get the school work table back where it belongs, and have the Christmas tree space cleared so we can put it up and decorate while DD1 is home from college.

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Shopping With My Teen Son

Our school district had a professional development day yesterday.  The kids love sleeping in, but I find these days disruptive.  I say this as a home school teacher who keeps her daughter on the same schedule as her public school child.  The teachers are supposedly in training, but all I see are empty school buildings when I need to stop in.

Anyway.  I took advantage of the day to take my son shopping.  He’s been growing like crazy and needed new long sleeve shirts and a new winter coat.  His current  coat keep everything but his forearms warm.  We found all the needed shirts at our first stop as well as the coat, but took a picture of the coat and checked out other stores to see what else was out there.

We got to Target and I was encouraged to see the entire corner of the women’s section filled with a variety of coats.  Then we got to the men’s section.  One style.  Four colors.  It fit on one side of a display.  That is not a selection.

I spoke to an employee on the floor and she rather flippantly said, “Women win.” when I pointed out the complete lack of men’s options.  My reply was “Guys still need clothes.”

The space allotted for men’s clothing was equal to the space for men’s accessories, and a good portion of that is dedicated to t-shirts.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to Target to shop for my son.

I understand that women have more options than men in the area of clothing, and they tend to shop more.  I don’t work in clothing marketing, but I know that guys don’t just want super hero t-shirts.

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An Adventure and Other Stuff

Our stove recently tried to kill us.  I took dinner out of the oven last week to discover that the temperature had shot from 450 degrees (set to 400) up to 600 or more.  My thermometer only goes up to 600.  This range was thirty years old and we had replaced all of the burner elements and nine years ago had to replace the oven heating element – it burnt like a sparkler while I was preheating the oven. Fortunately it stopped burning shortly after I turned the heat off.

I’m not fancy in my appliance tastes and we bought another electric coil top.  We were about to get off white, when DH looked at stainless steel for kicks.  They had a mostly black stove with the front in stainless on sale for the same price and it looks better, so we went for that.  I’m not a chef, nor do I love to cook.  I enjoy baking, but only cook to keep us fed, so I’ve not ever felt the need for my kitchen to be a chef’s dream.

It’s odd having the oven be the temperature that it is supposed to be.  How will we ever adjust to life without over cooked/slightly burnt food?  I’ve been battling with the oven temperature for quite some time, so I’m not sorry to be finished with that.

It’s time to prepare for the holidays.  I love the new varieties of Christmas lights and indulged in a few new sets.  My miniature trees will look better with the tiny LED lights on them.  I’ve been a bit lax in decorating the past couple of years, so I want to make sure I go beyond the minimum this year.

I love to shop for the kids all year long.  It’s fun to keep my eyes open for the things which will make them smile.  Sometimes we find something together on clearance, but the kids are good about forgetting about it by December.  It’s time to finish up the shopping and start wrapping.

Our cat loved bows and would steal them from the packages, so we never put gifts out until the night before.  Now that our kitty has passed, we’re wondering if we’ll use bows or not.

We’re really anxious to have another fur ball to love, so renovation must commence.  My kitties peed and pooped on a few carpets and those must be replaced to keep a new kitty from doing the same thing.  Of course it’s becoming a huge project, but the two rooms have been waiting for attention for 17 years (since we moved in).

First, the popcorn needs to be removed from the ceiling.  Second, we paint and replace the chandelier – an ugly thing of brass and a million glass panels.  Then the floor and base boards get changed out.  Lots to do!  Hopefully we’ll get ambitious and finish a good deal before Christmas.

 

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Conferences

The other night brought my son’s first conference night of his high school career.  Somehow I managed to get to all six of his teachers, despite waiting about an hour for his math teacher.  He was in big demand.  I was about to call him popular, but it’s possible that many parents weren’t happy.

This is only my second round of conferences at this high school.  My eldest was a teacher’s dream, and didn’t struggle until the last semester of Calculus and second year physics.  Ask me if I took anything close to those classes – even in college!  My computer engineer DH gave all the homework help for those.  From sixth grade up, I’d send a mass e-mail to DD1’s teachers stating that I didn’t have any concerns, and unless they did I would skip conferences and save the five minutes for a parent who did have concerns.

Now we come to my son.  He had severe speech issues when young, which brought three and a half years of private speech therapy and seven months of occupational therapy.  Thank Heaven for good insurance coverage, a fantastic local therapy center, and being a stay-at-home to facilitate all of the shuttling back and forth as well as the continued therapy practice at home!  He didn’t speak intelligibly to the world in general until the end of kindergarten, which is apparently when a lot of the muscles which support speech go through a huge developmental phase.  He was diagnosed with expressive language disorder and apraxia.  The apraxia also left him with spelling issues which showed up beginning in second grade, but I didn’t figure out there was anything beyond laziness behind his spelling until the end of third grade.

I was helping him study for a spelling test and noticed some strange things, then looked back through his old spelling tests and a pattern emerged.  Research on line pointed to the apraxia and DS’s set of speech circumstances rearing their ugly heads again.  Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that his second and third grade teachers never said anything, but I guess they chalked it up to laziness too.  All that to say that I have to let his teachers know about the spelling issue, although he’s gotten better through the years (brute memorization).

He also has some sensory issues, which contribute to atrocious hand writing.  It looks like he’s still in second grade.  So, I have to bring that up too.  I’ve tried to get him to work on handwriting, spelling, and typing through the years but he’s a stubborn one.

He’s also fairly disorganized.  His folders in middle school had papers sticking out every which way.  This year he’s forgotten homework assignments (left at home in the text book – uses the on-line version at school), mixed up dead lines for assignments, etc.

Sigh.

He’s a bright kid, and his teachers say that too. He’s a good kid, and his teachers comment on his conduct and manners.  Two of them also said he could have an A in the class if he put his mind to it.  I have a suspicion that he could have an A in all of his classes if he put his mind to it.  Heaven help me to help this child as he matures.

I want him to have the world open to him when he graduates, and not be limited by so-so grades.  We live in a competitive world, and DH and I were concerned about the cost of college for DD1.  Her sky high grades and SAT score almost didn’t help her.  Middle class families don’t qualify for much these days.  Thankfully DH heard about a good university that would grant tuition for the right GPA and SAT score.  That made school affordable.  I don’t know how we would have done it otherwise.

DS likes the school our daughter is now attending.  I’m hoping that’s incentive to get the grades up to the level he’s capable of attaining.

 

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