Thursday, January 30, 2014

All Things Christmas 2013

Wow...Christmas was over a month ago and I'm just barely getting these in during the month of January!  But our Christmas season was good and thus I still want to share even if it is quite late (what can I say...January wasn't our best month)!

I was so excited for Christmas this year- not just because it was Liam's first, but also because I really felt like I could enjoy it this year and do all of the fun things that we love (unlike last year when I was so very sick and found doing anything difficult).  So this year I tried to do one "Christmasy" thing each day with the kids.  We didn't do every day of course, but most days we managed to find some time together to do a Christmas craft or activity or some baking!  I didn't get pictures each day (because, I'm finding, that it can be rather challenging to take pictures while holding a sweet, squirmy little baby)!  But here are some of them...

The very first thing we did the day after Thanksgiving was bake Chai Spice Boys and Girls with Joe's mom! These are turning out to be one of my favorite Christmas cookies! When we got home we decorated them. I even decided to let the kids use icing bags for the first time to decorate! Sadly I made the icing a little too runny and all three of us ended up with icing overflowing out of our bags!:) But they were still yummy!  
This year it was very cold the day we went to pick out our Christmas tree. This meant that we spent about 10 minutes total getting our tree. If it were up to me and the weather allowed I would probably choose to wander around until we found just the right one...but that kind of cold weather meant we all agreed on one 
pretty quickly!
My favorite present! And shortly after Thanksgiving our elf, Marco, returned! We had lots of fun with him again this year, except that a few times Marco "decided" to stay in the same place for more than one day (like when he was duck taped underneath the kitchen table, or trapped outside the window looking in, or hanging out with Jesus inside the manger)! Yes, let's just say that he "decided" to stay and extra night in those spots and not that Joe and I were so tired at night that we forgot to move the elf (multiple times)! The morning of St. Nicholas Day. What I will always remember most about this is how when Lily and Eli went to get their shoes to leave out for St. Nic. that Eli came running back with both of his shoes (one for him and one for Liam)! It was so sweet on his part to be thinking of his baby brother without even be asked (and reminds me of the thoughtful heart Eli has for others).  
This year both Lily and Eli got beaver ornaments. Eli had broken the tail off of his before it even made it to the tree that morning (but thankfully it was easily fixed)!
And one of the crafts that we did this year was snow globes (a repeat of last year because it was such a hit)! 
We also did hand print wreaths, beaded candy canes, and vintage winterberry containers- but I didn't get 
any pictures of those.
The cutest little elf ever!
And these glittery stick trees were my very favorite craft this year... and I think they will make a repeat performance (in various sizes) for next year because they were so easy and turned out so beautiful!  
Such concentration!
Marco again...this time making snow angels in the kitchen...silly elf! And this was Lily's school Christmas pageant! One of the many great things about her school is that it celebrates the real meaning of Christmas. They acted out the nativity and everything and Lily was the barn 
And I couldn't resist taking this picture of one of our friend's boys! Singing the barn yard song!  
One of our annual favorites...chocolate covered pretzels...  
Maybe next year Liam can get covered in chocolate too...this year he was content to watch!  
Beading garland for our little Christmas trees...  
Except after just a few minutes Eli decided it was much more fun to roll the beads down his race track!    
And this was the aftermath! We got enough for one tree. Oh well (you win some and loose some)! And these beauties were from Lily's school Christmas party! Yes, you read that right! Lily's teacher (the wonderful Mrs. Sedgewick) lives on a little farm and she invited her whole class and their families to her house for the party! The kids loved seeing the cows and chickens!  
Yes, the girl with half her body inside with the cows would be my girl! I think this trip solidified for us that we need to have cows someday (soon, hopefully)! Once inside they had snacks (even for these little brothers, who Mrs. Sedgewick so thoughtfully included). And read the Christmas story together! Please take notice here of my little Lily's hair. Yes, that's hay in her hair. I think she got a little too over zealous with the feeding of the animals!:) And she even had gifts for them...a homemade Christmas playdough kit! Which they played with right away! What a fun party! What an amazing teacher! And what you see here are the kids working on their gifts for this years "giving basket." This year we made pom pom necklaces, cinnamon applesauce ornaments, and chocolate krinkle cookies for the kids to give away throughout the Christmas season. Here they are working on making pom poms. And yes, Eli's ear is bleeding a bit...earlier in the season his ear was wind burned or frost bitten and it was pretty sore for a bit.  A few days before Christmas we spent the day having a birthday party for Jesus. A new thing we did this year was to make birthday cards for Jesus sharing with Him one thing about Him that we really love.   Lots of love for Jesus!  
And we made a simple birthday cake.  
And we had our yearly birthday dinner by candlelight. And this year we celebrated Advent and the coming of Jesus each night before bed by reading our Advent book and lighting our new Advent candles. I'm certain this will be a tradition we look forward to for many years to come. And the night of Jesus' party we tried (as we do every year) to read "An Angels Story." And half way through the story this year we decided that this book is just a little too much for our young children. Next year I think we'll have to choose a new special story that we read each year (other than all of our regular Christmas books) and we'll come back to this one when the kids are all a little older! But this Advent candle wreath was a huge hit each night with our kids. And it made our nightly Advent reading (and the reading of other Christmas books each night) feel even more special.  
Just a few shots of some Christmas cuties!:) And then on Christmas Eve we had a little surprise for the children... We have been thinking about getting the kids a small fish tank for a while now. And this seemed like just the right time! We let them open this one present a little early so that they could go that afternoon to each pick out a fish. And, I might add, that while they were fish shopping Liam took a nap and I had the most lovely, peaceful afternoon at home (enjoying a quiet lunch by myself for the first time probably in years)!:) Let me introduce you to Goldy (Lily's fish) and Blub Blub (Eli's fish)... A couple weeks later we added two more fish (Heidi and Lightning)! And then while we waited to celebrate Christmas on Skype with my family Eli decided to build a car ramp/track with some of the presents! Little did he know that my parents bought him pieces to make his own Hot Wheels race track (that was and continues to be a big hit)! And after celebrating with my parents we made and left food out for Santa's reindeer...  
It was a beautiful, icy day...  
Then after our favorite "all appetizers" dinner we went to church for my very favorite Christmas Eve service. And that's where our own little Christmas miracle occurred. For the first time EVER our whole family made it all the way through the service. That's right...3 young children, near bed time, fueled by appetizers, and a baby who didn't even nap that evening made it all the way through the service!! As we sang Silent Night with our candles lit (and held onto so sweetly and carefully by the children) Joe and I couldn't help but look on in 
And then we came home to discover Santa's sack left for us filled with Christmas pajamas for all!  
Christmas jammies were changed into, milk and cookies were left, "Twas The Night Before Christmas" was
read and all headed off to bed... 
And then Santa's elves got to work... Homemade tents and campfire! And once all of the gifts were out and the stockings were stuffed we ALL went to sleep and the baby (oh that sweet baby) slept for 7 hours straight for the first time in months (Merry Christmas to me)! And then it was Christmas morning... And I was so relieved that Lily was SO happy with her Santa gift (an art set and easel) because it's not at all what she asked Santa for (because apparently the fairy doll she did ask for was on back order). I guess her mama (I mean Santa) knows her pretty well!  
And that girl got right to work making a picture of the Nativity (reminding us all what we were really 
And Eli enjoyed his remote controlled rattlesnake from Santa...  
And so did Sadie...  
Flying monkeys!  
And all tried to wait patiently for their turn!:)
I think he liked the paper as much as the gift! Adorable! Originally we thought that we would have to rush through Christmas morning a bit in order to get down to Joe's family for Christmas lunch (lunch this year because his sister had to work later that afternoon). But as it turned out the ice storm we got a few days earlier left Joe's family without power for many days including Christmas day! So we postponed our Christmas with Joe's family until the next day and instead we spent a very leisurely Christmas day at home. It was quite lovely actually.  
I put together a little scavenger hunt for them to find their last gift (sand buckets for our trip to Florida)! Such unexpected and laid back fun for Christmas day! And this beautiful picture of Christmas day was taken by Lily- my little budding photographer! And it was just so beautiful outside with the ice coating the trees that we had to go outside for a little walk in the woods (pictures mostly taken by Lily)... So beautiful! We finished our hike with a little sliding! And we went home and enjoyed some leftover appetizers (because we significantly underestimated the size of the turkey we took out to defrost the night before and it didn't finish cooking until around 9 p.m.that night)!:) And that's how this Christmas and centered around Christ and family and even a little bit more laid back than we were expecting. A Merry Christmas indeed!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let's be real...

The last week and a half has been hard.

My friend, Jess, shared on Facebook this weekend that her week was hard too.  Her husband was out of town and she was just feeling DONE with her kids (gee, that sounds familiar).  She shared how most people look at her and think that she's got her "s**t" together, but in reality that's not always the case.
I'm sorry Jess, but as I read your post it actually made me feel a bit better.  Maybe misery really does love company. Anyway, it's had me thinking a lot (this whole week has) and this is my outlet so I'm just going to share.  Let's be real shall we...

 I am a total optimist by nature.  Most of the time this is a really healthy thing.  Occasionally I am living in denial.  At the same time, if you really know me, you know that I'm also pretty real with my life and my feelings.  I lived part of high school and college and beyond in performance, but that just doesn't work very well for me.  It's pretty hard actually because I tend to be a person who has a difficult time concealing my feelings and emotions.

So to recap...I'm generally a pretty real, genuine person who's not afraid to let people see the hard things (mostly).  But I'm also an optimist so I tend to focus on the positive.  So although I'm generally willing to let people see the hard things it's just not always what they see.  Make sense?

The vast majority of what you see on my blog is reality.  I really do love to plan ridiculous birthday parties for my kids (not because I have to, but because I really do enjoy doing it).  I'll admit, however, that most of the formal sibling photo shoots (where they are all together) are a bit forced and not really as enjoyable in person.  I'm going to keep doing it anyway.  I'm a glutton for punishment.  Anyway...

The reality is that my life is pretty darn good.  And compared to 90% of the world's population my life is darn amazing.  But the reality is that is can also be hard and I rarely have all of my "stuff" together.  And the last week and a half has been hard.  Pretty crappy actually (figuratively and literally).  As an optimist this is sort of hard to say, but it's the truth.

Mostly it's that I'm tired.  Really, really tired.  I guess that 6 months of feeding a baby every two hours morning, noon, and night will do that to a person.  This is not a's reality.  I wouldn't change it for the world, but I'm still tired.

At the recommendation of our doctor and at the insistence of my husband we started sleep training a week and a half (or so) ago.  I'll write more about this later, but for now let's suffice it to say that it was every bit as hard as I was expecting.  There were hours of screaming, long sleepless nights, and lots of tears (from my babe and from me).

 The first night that my sweet Liam actually slept through (rather than screamed through) the 2 a.m. time slot was the night that our puppy got sick.  And by sick I mean that we woke up at 2 a.m. to find that she had explosive diarrhea ALL OVER our bedroom.  How we slept through this is beyond me (clearly we are exhausted).  We spent an hour and a half (yep, that would be 2:00-4:30 a.m.) scrubbing down the floor, changing sheets, giving the dog a bath, scrapping off her dog bed (which might be the first thing that has ever literally made me gag).  We still don't really know what happened, but if the smell was any indication I believe that she ate something dead and it then exploded out her behind all over our bedroom.  The cruel irony that this happened the first night that Liam slept was not lost on us.

And two days later my husband left for a conference in New York.  This is a conference that Campus Crusade puts on for the students in our region.  You might remember that I have been the one to take our students to this conference the last couple of years and I loved it.  I got to be with students, share a hotel room with my girlfriends, eat out at some of my favorite restaurants, use my photography skills in ministry, and see God work.  I also got to get away for a few days from my role as mother.  It was good.  It was healthy.

But this year my role as mama and primary food source for the babe had to take priority.  So, away my husband went for 5 days and 4 nights.  And all the while leading up to this I STILL hadn't slept through the middle of the night stretch because the baby and puppy were alternating waking me up at night.  This is true.  It happened.  For numerous nights in a row one of them would wake me up.  The next night it would be the other.  I swear that they were conspiring together against me.

So Joe left.  And promptly broke down.  Well, I should say that the truck broke down.  First in New Hampshire and then finally in Vermont where he was forced to stop and get a hotel for the night while he waited for the mechanic to open the next morning.  When it was all said and done we had to shell out $1,000 to get our truck back on the road.  This would have been hard enough except that Joe would have been able to do all of the repairs himself in our driveway if he had been home with his tools.  Nope.  Instead we had no choice but to pay the big bucks to get him back on the road.  This was incredibly frustrating for the both of us.  Money is tight around here right now.  And with the new year came a new resolve for us to be even more careful with how we spent our money.  Let's just say that this truck repair wasn't in the budget.

So there was that.  And then shortly after that our internet service stopped working.  The day after he left I spent pretty much every single moment of Liam's morning and early afternoon naps on the phone with our internet provider and they tried to fix it for me.  After the 3rd phone call wasted what precious little time I had that day the lady finally told me that they would have to send somebody out to fix it.  And then she told me that they couldn't send somebody out for 4-5 days!

This is where things got ugly.  I called Joe (who had finally made it to the conference) and I just sort of broke down.  What can I say...I was exhausted.  And I don't say that as an exaggeration to make my point.  I was literally exhausted.  I was also totally overwhelmed by the truck repair bill.  And the thought of the internet being down the entire time he was gone was the last straw for me.  We don't have cable and I hate how quiet it is at night when he's gone (it makes me nervous) so I often watch shows online (sometimes just for background noise) to keep my mind from wandering too far!

So, the internet was the last straw.  And I called Joe in tears.  I was trying to explain to him about the internet all the while crying and stammering over and over again that, "I was just so tired" and "why did we start sleep training before this conference" and things like that.  Mostly I was tired.  Lack of sleep does crazy things to a person's brain.

My poor husband.  He listened and did the best he could to comfort me from many states away.  Somehow he managed to make me feel like I wasn't a total lunatic.  Even though I kinda was.

But that was the worst of it. After that I slowly managed to pull myself together.  The kids weren't terrible.  They weren't great either.  They were their typical 6 and 4 year old selves...fighting with each other and making constant messes and noise. Oh the noise!  Because they are kids and this is normal.  I probably yelled a few too many times during those 5 days.  And more than once I begged them to just try to be helpful instead of making more trouble.  We had some fun too of course.  But by the end I was pretty much done.  Those children?  I love those children more than I can even explain.  And I would literally give my life for theirs.  And yet at the end of five days alone with them the mere sound of their voices made me want to run from the house screaming.

That's the reality.  It was nothing really all that over the top.  Just the reality that I need my husband and that parenting solo is hard.  And that sleep is VERY important to healthy functioning (for everybody).  And that although it might look good from the outside the reality is that I don't always have my stuff together.  I just don't.  I wish I did, but I am a work in progress and I often need help from the Lord, and my friends, and our family.

My husband is back home and we are recovering from the aftermath of his time away.  Liam has slept through the middle of the night two night in a row now.  The house is still a disaster.  But things are beginning to look up.

Thanks for letting me process and be real.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

11 Years Ago...

Eleven years!  Eleven years ago I was 25 years old.  So young.  I didn't know what I didn't know.  I'm not sure what business I had making a decision that would affect the rest of my life.  But by the grace of God eleven years ago yesterday I made one of the very best decisions of my life.  I married Joe Cousins.

We were so young...

But God has been so good to us and he has been so good to me...

And eleven years later I am so grateful for what God has done...

Monday, January 6, 2014

5 Months!

Liam wasn't quite all smiles (like he usually is) for his little 5 month photo shoot.  It was just two days before Christmas and we were without power and he was fairly content (just not super smiley) but I did get these...

This little guy is doing great.
 I was originally planning to hold off until 6 months until we started solid food, but at the recommendation of his doctor we decided to start just a little bit earlier in hopes that it might help him start sleeping better at's not. But, he is a great eater and unlike his brother before him he has taken really well to baby food! He seems to enjoy both rice cereal and baby oatmeal (such a relief after what we went through with Eli)! Here's his first feeding...
I'm sure that we'll have some even better pictures now that he started eating sweet potatoes yesterday!:)
 At his last check up a few weeks ago he was solidly around the 50th percentile for just about everything (height, weight...) and he's surpassing pretty much all of the developmental milestones! The one thing though that he doesn't seem super interested in is rolling over. He has rolled over a few times. The first time I had put him on the living room floor on his back and I went down to the basement to do some laundry. Joe and the kids were upstairs near him and when I came up he was on his stomach. I assumed at first that Joe had moved him. Nope...he rolled over and we all missed it. But Joe watched him shortly after roll over a few more times. And then I witnessed it too...that day and the next he rolled over from his stomach to his back a few times. The next day I took these pictures... He was trying to roll while I had the camera out. But he just could't quite make it! So I put him on his belly. And he tried a little bit more... And then he got tired and just thought he would take a rest and suck his thumb. Who needs to roll over when you are this adorable? And that's been about it for the rolling. He just doesn't seem all that interested in it anymore! He'll scoot around in circles on his back, but he apparently sees no need for rolling!
So, he might not roll much, but have I mentioned that he's the best baby ever?  Seriously.  Two nights ago we went to a friend's house for dinner and games and despite the fact that he hadn't slept in many hours and that we were keeping him up well past his bed time he was perfectly content...even chilling out in his car seat while we all ate dinner.  Amazing.  So to test our luck we decided to take the whole family to see the movie Frozen this afternoon.  I never would have dared to take a baby this age to a movie before, but once again our little Liam was a trooper. At one point he was watching the movie too for a bit and even laughing!  During the whole movie he fussed only once and all I had to do was stand up with him in the back for a couple of minutes and then he happily fell asleep in my arms for the rest of the movie!
Best. Baby. Ever.
Let's hope I'm saying the same thing in a few nights when we start sleep training!:(
 And that was month 5 for our sweet little guy!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year!

Another year has come and gone.  As always there was good and bad in 2013...though I believe that the good far outweighed the bad this year and for that I am so thankful!  So, here are my best and worst moments of 2013 (I'll start with the worst to get it out of the way)...

Worst Moments of 2013 (in the order in which they occurred):

  1. The 15 minutes immediately after Liam's 20 week ultrasound...when the nurse let us know that she had some concerns about the appearance of his bowel which led to a phone call just a few minutes later with the doctor who was calling from home (on his day off, on a holiday) to let us know the number of very scary things that could be seriously wrong with our baby boy.  Those were awful, heart stopping moments, as we tried to wrap our brain around everything we were being told.
     2.  Loosing our beloved dog, Indy, in March.  The night before we had to have him put down was especially awful because he was struggling so much to breath and was clearly in pain.  Finding out the next day that his body was riddled with cancer was hard and having so say goodbye to our first baby was horrible.  He'll forever hold a place in my heart that one.

      3.  Eli falling from the swing and splitting open the back of his head and the resulting crazy couple of hours in urgent care.  I've shared the story on here already, but suffice it to say that a very pregnant mama,  a bleeding, hysterical 3 year old and multiple hours in a waiting room do not make for a pleasant combination. 

      4.  About a week and a half before Liam was born I decided to try a new face cream that was in our bathroom that somebody had given me (I ran out of my regular face cream). I broke out in a red, bumpy, itchy rash all over my face and neck!  I was certain that after a day or two it would be better, but on the third day I woke up and it was worse.  I was very pregnant, huge, uncomfortable, my back hurt, I was borderline diabetic, and my face was covered in a rash and I was DONE...I was so done and just broke down in tears.  I felt desperate not to be pregnant anymore and yet I hated the thought of giving birth (or having my baby see me for the first time) covered in a rash!:)  It's funny now...but it wasn't then!:)

      5.  A little over a month after Liam was born we went through a brief stretch where we were having a hard time getting him to take naps during the day.  He would be up for hours and hours at a time and the more sleep he missed the more overtired and fussy he would become (and then it would be even harder to get him to sleep).  One day he barely slept at all and I was just exhausted and overwhelmed.  So I started looking for the book on baby sleep that we have.  Except that I couldn't find the book...anywhere!  And in my exhausted and overwhelmed and emotional state this was just the last straw.  I went on a rampage though the house, tearing things a part and yelling, as if my baby's very survival depended upon finding the book.  Until I just couldn't take it anymore and collapsed in a heap of tears in our mudroom.  And approximately one minute later my friend Beth happened to knock on the door to discover me in the sad, sad state I was in.  She let me cry and talked me down a bit...and amazingly even helped me find the book!

     6.   Early this fall Eli decided to jump off of Lily's loft bed onto the beanbag chair below...except that he missed the beanbag.  This resulted in a trip to the ER...just me and the baby and Eli (Joe was out of town and Lily went with a friend).   After two and a half hours in the waiting room we were finally admitted and promptly deposited in a dimly lite hallway.  Seriously, they left us in a hallway.  That's where we finally saw a doctor and found out (thankfully) that Eli's foot wasn't broken...just wish they could have told us that hours earlier after the x-ray!

    7.   One evening this fall Joe was doing his internship hours at the hospital and I took all three kids with me to Target to do a little shopping.  It was ONE OF THOSE trips...the kids were fussy and not listening and I just wanted to finish and get home.  I had told Eli to sit down in the basket of the cart about one thousand times...but the car seat (with Liam) was right in front of me and blocking some of my view (and I was distracted) so I didn't realize that Eli had stood up (AGAIN).  When I went to push the cart forward the motion sent him head over heels out of the card and he landed on his head with a thud like I have never heard before (literally this may have been the worst sound I have ever heard).  I raced to him certain to find lots of blood and something awful.  He never lost consciousness and there was, amazingly, no blood.  There was a couple of lumps and he screamed his head off for the better part of half an hour, but he was okay.  Those moments and the two hours following were pretty awful.

The Best Moments of 2013 (in the order in which they occurred):

     1.   In January Joe was away on a ministry trip.  He called late one night after the kid's were in bed to tell me that he was at the airport and on his way home (a full day early)!  I really don't like it when he's away, so this was such a wonderful, fun surprise!

     2.   Getting the news, after Liam's 20 week ultrasound, that all of his tests were normal and that we were in the clear for a number of very serious illnesses!  The night my doctor called we had a group of students over for dinner.  We had just finished eating and the students were having a meeting with Joe in our living room when the phone rang.  When I heard my doctor's voice my heart must have skipped a few beats.  It was great to be able to share the news with Joe and our students.  That was such a great evening.

     3.   Watching Joe ride his bike into the driveway one afternoon in March and moments later finding out that we had been given the go-ahead to stay in Maine and not move to New Hampshire.  Those moments really changed everything for our family!

     4.   Finding out at Liam's 32 week ultrasound that his bowel appeared normal and that whatever problem might have been there seemed to resolve itself.  Such sweet relief.  

     5.   Liam's arrival.  In particular there was this sweet time shortly after his birth (after he was all cleaned up and checked over) when he was snuggling up with me and he was making the sweetest little cooing sounds.  It was one of the best moments of my life.

     6.   Lily's first day of kindergarten at her new school.  It was a blessing for me to be able to take her and see her off...she was so excited and happy!  That day was just the first of many wonderful days of school this fall for our girl.  After all of the debate and going back and forth it was absolutely the right decision for her and our whole family!

     7.   Sharing the gospel with Eli in his bed one night and being with him as he prayed and asked Jesus to come into his heart.  One of those moments that I will never, ever forget...and one that has such incredible eternal value!

     8.    Every morning when I wake up looking at the sweet smile of my precious baby boy.  I never expected to co-sleep with my baby, but Liam had other plans.  And though some of the nights are long and tiring it all seems worth it when I hear him happily making noises in the morning and I watch his face light up as I open my eyes and he sees me!  Melt my heart every time.

There are a few things that I have realized about 2013.  First, it seems that half of my worst moments involved Eli being in some sort of accident.  Oh, here's hoping that he's growing out of that stage.  We are a few days into 2014 without any major bodily harm so that's a start!:)  And second, I could have listed many, many more best moments.  2013 really was a good year with some incredible, life changing moments.  I am so very thankful!