Dec 142016
 
people waiting for the start of a parade

Gathering for the start of the downtown Fredericksburg Christmas Parade

At the moment, I am a bit frazzled by the Christmas season. I find myself in awe that every year we voluntarily agree to take on all these extra duties. Added to the regular mix of taking care of and educating four children, I am now a full-time shipping and receiving clerk, with a living room full of boxes. I also double as a personal shopper and bookkeeper, managing the purchasing and budgeting for all of our gifts. As if all this isn’t enough, as we put up the tree last weekend to my children’s great delight, I found myself questioning the sanity of this practice. If it wasn’t Christmas, who in their right mind would move the furniture to put a huge tree in the house!

But I promise I am not the grinch of the season. We have been having lots of fun as well and I wanted to briefly share a few of these moments.

We kicked off our Christmas celebrations by attending the Christmas parade in downtown Fredericksburg. This is the first time I have actually made it out to the parade. I was duly warned that since the parade started around 5:00 p.m. it would turn very cold. So, in my infinite wisdom, I brought chairs and a huge blanket with us. We had two additional children coming with us. My husband was out of town on business so this was a solo project.

We had to park quite far away and I shepherded the transit of six children, two portable chairs, four heavy folding chairs and a large blanket over several blocks. This was a frantic process which required numerous stops to rest.

We finally reached a good spot on the parade route and set up camp. There were enormous crowds and the only spot available to place our chairs was adjacent to a bike rack. We jammed two chairs in the bike rack space and three more chairs squeezed so closely behind it is amazing we were able to sit. The bike rack ended up being a strategic crowd control measure. It gave us guaranteed space on one side. We loaned our extra chair to another family. As soon as the parade started, people jammed in to stand right behind our chairs and we were pretty much cemented in for the duration.

pick-up truck decorated in lights

The parade kicked off with lots of pick-up trucks, lights and baton twirling.

people dressed in inflatable ornament costumes, their legs exposed

The best costume…..some leggy ornaments.

marching band with lighted instruments

One of many marching bands. All of the bands were excellent and had great LED lights wrapped around their instruments.

gymnasts in a Christmas parade performing handstands

We got a taste for some of the city’s talent, including many gymnasts and dancers. These gymnasts were doing handstands throughout the parade route! (Also, notice the dogs in the foreground. They got lots of attention from the parade participants.)

horses in a Christmas parade

Equestrians representing a local horse club. “Ditch your car. Ride a horse!” one cried out.

float in a Christmas parade

There weren’t too many elaborate floats. Most were pick-up trucks or commercial rigs with a few lights or towing a small bed of children. This was one of the more detailed floats.

toddler pointing to Christmas parade in excitement

My son was a HUGE fan of the parade.

About halfway through the parade, the older children said, “We’re cold. Can we go now?” Unfortunately, with our enormous load of children and chairs and the huge crowds, there was no way for us to leave. “Snuggle under the blanket! It will be over soon!” My toddler son, however, was positively thrilled by the parade and was the most enthusiastic observer, waving to all the participants.

My phone battery died before the parade ended so I didn’t get a shot of the finale with Santa on a giant sleigh float. Once the parade ended, however, the next adventure for us began.

After we waited for the crowds to die down a bit, we paused to reconsider our carrying strategy to get all the gear back to the car. Amazingly, one of my children brought a jump rope with them to the parade so we used that to tie the four folding chairs together. I was the designated lifter of said chairs and the one problem with this strategy was that four chairs are super heavy!

We waddled down the street a block at a time, pausing to rest frequently. With the phone out of battery, we had to rely on our memory of where the car was. We got fairly close to the car but were missing the cross street we walked down. We tried asking various strangers if we were headed the right direction. No one seemed to know downtown Fredericksburg at all.

Since it seemed like it could be a while until we found the car, I ditched the chairs at a corner, making note of the cross street to pick them up later. I picked up the toddler to improve our traveling pace.

Finally, a mom with a stroller pointed us in a direction and we headed that way. Unfortunately, this took us in a completely wrong direction and we ended up somewhere near the University of Mary Washington. We ran into numerous college students and asked them for directions but they were worse than the parade strangers having almost no idea of even well-known attractions in the city. If it was anything outside of a one block radius of the campus, they had no idea.

Eventually, we wandered down a street and found the Sugar Shack Donuts. We all remembered driving past this on the way in. We tried to ask some police officers at the donut shop to point us the right direction but they were busy questioning or arresting some college students so we decided to try to remember our way back to the car.

Fortunately, my landmark memory kicked in and we got on the right track. As we got within 3 blocks of the car, the mom who had pointed me in the wrong direction came driving up, “I’m so sorry!” she cried. She offered to give us a ride the remaining 3 blocks to our car but we just thanked her and hoofed it.

It was funny to see the children, who were complaining about being cold and so tired they were going to fall down, start RUNNING to the car once they saw it. They were so thrilled. We all felt the rush of evading danger, as though we were survivors of some life-threatening emergency.

map of how lost we got finding the car

Map of our own “parade” route trying to find the car. Orange = the path we were supposed to take. Blue = the convoluted path we took back to the car

We all loaded into the warmth of the car and plugged in the cell phone to charge and navigate back to the chairs. They were still there waiting for us.

After all this exercise, the children heartily devoured two large pizzas and a grand time was had by all.

I’m not sure I will attempt this parade again but it was fun to do once. If you ever go to a night parade in December, a few organizing tips:

1) bring chairs (but not folding chairs)
2) bring a blanket for the wind chill
3) drop your stuff at a convenient safe place close to your parade spot and pick it up on the way
4) charge your cell phone fully beforehand!

 Posted by on December 14, 2016 General Tagged with: , ,
Nov 292015
 
Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

What a grand weekend it has been!

There has been so much to worry about in the news lately with the Paris shootings and the escalating situation in Syria. While consciously, I know that I am in little danger, you can’t be exposed to news like this and not internalize it in some way. A few days after the Paris shootings, I woke up one morning from a dream in which gunmen were chasing me and I was trying to find my children and escape.

Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome respite. I needed that time to reconnect with family, reaffirm that everyone was safe and free my mind to focus on fun things like eating and shopping.

Thanksgiving came by all too quickly for us. I was ill with the flu and pneumonia the first part of November and lost about half the month in recovery. My wonderful sister came to the rescue and invited to host Thanksgiving at her house. I told her I wanted to contribute something to the feast.

“Bring whatever you like but ZERO pressure!”

For our family, Thanksgiving has become a cooking holiday. We don’t live near much family so we end up cooking a lot of the meal ourselves. It has become one of our new traditions to try out new recipes and the kids have taken to becoming dessert chefs for the meal. I asked my girls what they wanted to prepare and we settled on pumpkin pie and chocolate-something.

My need for safety and reassurance permeated my cooking as well. I decided that I should learn to make an apple pie. I don’t think I have ever made one before. There is nothing more American than apple pie and I wanted a reminder of tradition and all the things that make the U.S. a great country.

The day before Thanksgiving was pie day. While I was originally going to work with each girl individually to make her recipe, my eldest son announced that he was going to be cooking too. So, we shifted to brother-sister teams. Each brother-sister pair made a pie and then I, along with my chef-in-training son made the apple pie. Fortunately, all came out delicious!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

The finished pie ready for baking!

The finished pie ready for baking!

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth's sweet potato pie smoothie.

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth’s sweet potato pie smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

Next up, team chocolate chip!

Next up, team chocolate chip!

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

Pie ready for baking!

Pie ready for baking!

My son's enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see.  He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My son’s enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see. He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My homemade pie crust.  Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

My homemade pie crust. Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

Lattice-topped apple pie...a classic.

Lattice-topped apple pie…a classic.

The finished pies and salad.  I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

The finished pies and salad. I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

We loaded up into the car and drove to my sister’s house. She prepared a huge feast of numerous delectable dishes as well as a gorgeous 20-pound turkey! We ate to grand sufficiency and had a wonderful time.

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Yum!

Yum!

Below are links to the recipes we tried this year. All were supremely delicious!

Have any Thanksgiving memories or recipes to share? Please comment!

 Posted by on November 29, 2015 General Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 012015
 
Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

Giving a first lesson in using the machine.

As I hope to explain soon, it has been an eventful last few weeks around here. As is our tradition, it was time to make the Halloween costumes. This year it was pretty much a miracle that they got done. Despite having my flu shot earlier this month, I came down with full blown flu. I couldn’t get out of bed for two days. In moments of wakefulness, I got done what I could and in the end it all pulled together but it was looking pretty uncertain there for a while.

This year’s costumes:

The children started putting in their costume requests around July. My eldest daughter, who always likes to be something pretty, said she wanted to be a peacock. “That could be cool,” I thought. Then a few days later she said she changed her mind and wanted to be a phoenix. A phoenix! The use of this word made my homeschool heart beat proudly. She is a new Harry Potter fan and this may have been part of the inspiration.

I had just finished a massive cleanout of the kids closets and knew that the old cherry costume from our Mario brothers costumes was ready to be cut up and reused. So we did. It was starting to look a bit like a baseball mascot. My daughter informed me that we needed feathers. I came up with a streamer like feather design using scraps of orange, yellow and red fabric. The feathers really made the look and made the costume so much fun to wear as well.

The finished Phoenix!

The finished Phoenix!

We tried to set up the costumes in pairs, so for the baby, we decided he would be Harry Potter to go with the phoenix. Fortunately for me, the site MyFroggyStuff just happened to post a Harry Potter costume tutorial for a Barbie doll. I used the ideas to make the cape, scaling them up for an infant. All the other pieces we found in the closet. And the glasses are the baby glasses my daughter had to wear. (We just used them for the picture and then took them off.)

Baby Harry Potter

Baby Harry Potter

This was a nice costume pairing as this sister would truly do anything for her little brother, even being his protective phoenix.

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When it came to the next pair of costumes, my daughter informed me that she wanted to be an “snow pea” from the Plants Versus Zombies video game. She has a tendency to pick humorous botanical-themed costumes. If you haven’t seen it, Plants Versus Zombies is really quite clever. The characters are very imaginative and they all have different powers. You have to choose your plant defense line carefully, kind of like a game of chess.

I knew I would need to do something special for the large head. For some reason, papier mache was my first thought. I built a frame from strips from a Little Caesar’s pizza box and then got to the mache part with magazine strips and a final coat of paper towels (a tip I saw online). I told my husband, “You know you live in suburban Washington when your papier mache frame is made of Little Caesar’s pizza boxes and The Economist magazine.

This costume was the one that didn’t look quite right until the very very end. I wasn’t sure I really liked my mask at all …. until I painted the eyes on, and that made all the difference! The snow pea was a hit everywhere we went.

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Once my daughter indicated she would be a snow pea, her brother indicated he was going to be a gargantuar, one of the biggest, scariest zombies. The gargantuar looks a bit like Frankenstein. He carries a “bonker” sort of weapon and usually has a small imp riding on his back. This was a big challenge. I made him a papier mache Frankenstein hat, painting it for a red headed Frankenstein. We transformed one of our stuffed animals into the imp and made a “bonker” from one of his plastic golf club toys.

When it was all done, my son informed me that he didn’t want to wear his costume! We came to a compromise that he had to wear it for some pictures and that he could just wear parts of it for trick or treating. My son’s photo shoot was hilarious. He has internalized every motion of the gargantuar including how slowly it moves, when it bonks and then it walks forward. It was a perfect imitation!

The gargantuar!

The gargantuar!

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

Closeup of gargantuar and imp.

It was so fitting that these two chose to be enemies of each other. Their relationship can sometimes be tense and here it was playing out in the Halloween costumes!

As for me, I ran completely out of time for my costume. I wanted to do a good job as “Phryne Fisher” of the Miss Fisher mystery stories. Sadly, I ran out of time and just got the wig done. My neighbors always find it amusing when I dress up too and they all said I was pretty unrecognizable! If I had more time, I would have done a better job accessorizing and styling but illness was limiting my energy.

My sad Miss Fisher.  May have to try this again some year.

My sad Miss Fisher. May have to try this again some year.

All of our Halloween costumes were scrounged from things we already had on hand. I didn’t buy anything. So the costumes effectively cost us nothing!

I realized that our tradition of making our own Halloween costumes has a lot to do with a deep part of my parenting philosophy for my children. Specifically, there are two key messages I am trying to get across to my children:

We want you to dream unique dreams for yourself.

Once you have a dream, your dad and I will do whatever it takes to help you make that dream come true.

Even though my girls know who Elsa is and other popular characters, those aren’t the first ideas they think of. They don’t ask for a prepackaged costume from the store. They seem to enjoy being part of the creative process of making our own. I am so proud of them for this. It makes me feel like I am doing at least one part of my job right.

Hope you had a wonderful Halloween!

 Posted by on November 1, 2015 General Tagged with: , ,
Dec 282014
 
Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa's workshop!

Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa’s workshop!

My husband has been bugging me to clean out our basement for some time now. There are a lot of things to go through but a large pile of toys was one of the problem areas. These were hard to get rid of for me for a couple of reasons. They were extremely sentimental to me and were given to us by sweet people we love. My children still liked a lot of them and they were all quite nice toys that seemed to me should be worth something to someone. I told my husband that I planned to give them away to needy families for Christmas.

A week before Christmas I had made exactly zero progress on this project (as there were a million other things to get done). I didn’t really have time to do this project but something inside me was bugging me to get on this.

My husband doubted that anyone would even want these old, used toys. If you donate to groups like Toys 4 Tots, you will note that they only want “new” items. Nobody wants used.

I told my husband that I would try a test. I would post a quick list of the toys to CraigsList in the “free” section. If there was no interest, I would round up a donation for Goodwill. So, I went down to the basement and began pulling out a small selection of our old toys. I took a photo, wrote a description and posted to CraigsList. I showed the list to my husband.

"We have new-in-box toys stored in the basement?"

Yes, we did! Mixed in with the old stuff were new, completely unwrapped toys. These were duplicates we had received for holiday or birthday gifts that I had never quite gotten around to returning or the kind of toys that my children just don’t appreciate and never play with.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

At first, there was no response. A few hours went by, however, and I had 5 or 6 responses. We didn’t ask anyone for details about why they needed the toys but some volunteered.

Thank you so much,
Living with family.
Husband working three jobs to make ends meet.
Thank you for blessing my daughter

I have a 2yr old little girl and would like to get whatever you are willing to give.

My grandson will be very happy. I’m taking my hubby to get surgery tomorrow. He has stage 4 throat cancer.

It seemed like most of our recipients were hardworking, resourceful people. They were the sort of people you are happy to help out!

The new toys were of course the most popular. I was gradually whittling my list down. I took items off the posting list as they were spoken for. There were a few used baby toys left and I went to bed with the listing up.

I awoke to 6 or 7 responses wanting the baby toys! I took the posting down and wrote everyone who had responded by then telling them I had more toys to go through and would probably be able to come up with something for everyone.

I spent the day washing and tidying up the used toys. I sprayed them down with my favorite orange-scented Lysol to remove any dirt or germs. I rounded up all the tiny pieces for each set that my children often strew throughout the house. I packed them up into boxes or bags, wrapped them and bagged them for delivery, writing each person’s name and address on the bag.

"You want me to drive where?"

I needed my husband’s assistance on the last leg of this project. Even though every person I interacted with seemed like a kind, decent person, I realized that I still needed to exercise caution when interacting with random strangers on the Internet. These nice people had all trusted me with their addresses and the fact that there could be children at each address.

The first group of deliveries.

The first group of deliveries.

Just to be extra safe, I sent my “muscle” (a.k.a. husband) to do the delivery work. I let everyone know that my husband would be dropping off on their porch and gave them a rough time window. My husband ended up in some interesting places, including unpaved county roads.

This experience made me wonder if Mrs. Claus isn’t getting short shrift to Santa. Would it surprise anyone to know that Mrs. Claus might be the driving force behind the legend? Sure, Santa gets all the photo ops driving around in the sleigh and filling the stockings but is it really Mrs. Claus’ kindness toward children and her goading of Santa that makes Christmas happen at all?

My husband was so thrilled to be finally getting rid of stuff out of the basement, that he gladly drove our used stuff all over town. When I had the first shipment ready, I told him we might want to wait until the next shipment was ready to do the delivery.

"No, let's do a first round and I'll go again if necessary."

Since this was our first “Santa” experience, this ended up being an excellent idea. For the first test run, we were delivering to 4 houses. That evening I heard from two of our recipients who indicated they did not get their shipments.

At first, we feared that someone might have taken the presents but some investigation showed that Santa had a few delivery errors—in one case delivering to the house across the street and in other to the house next door. My husband was disappointed and personally fixed one of the deliveries. The other, seemed to have been fixed by a neighbor who saw the address on my delivery bag and realized there had been a mistake.

It was interesting to learn interacting with some of these families that disappointment is an intense emotion for them. When the deliveries were temporarily missing, one family adopted a mindset of “I’m going to do whatever I can to find this package.” But it was more common to have families adopt a defeatist attitude of “Oh well, things like this always happen to me. I guess we tried.” I can’t imagine how much life must have to kick you in the teeth to want to give up so easily. Fortunately, we were able to find the shipments and not disappoint any of our families.

I went back into the basement the next day looking to find deliveries for the remaining 6 families. Somehow, yet again, we came up with something for everyone. We washed up toys, put in fresh batteries, tested everything to make sure it worked, wrapped and packaged. Out went Santa again—two days before Christmas — this time with a 100% success rate.

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

In the end, we gave away about 39 packages of toys, helped out 10 families and roughly 17 children. It cost us nothing other than our time.

Our recipients were so grateful:

We received your gift wrapped toys! Thank you so much! Happy holidays once again.

Thank you so much again for the gifts. My kids are gonna love them.

Just want to say thank you again. He really enjoyed everything.

But these families gave us a lot in return. They gave us a more peaceful and serene home with less clutter. They gave me the motivation to start cleaning out the basement! They also helped us to remember our blessings and to think more kindly of those in need. Many times in the news, the needy are portrayed as a kind of drain on society. This project helped us to remember their humanity and see how wonderful these people can be as well.

This project made a huge impact on my children. When we were deciding which toys to give away, our kids had a much easier time letting something go when they realized that it might be someone’s entire Christmas present. They also stopped whining about their own first world Christmas problems immediately when I reminded them of the children we were helping who would be glad to have as much as they did. I even think my husband had at least a little fun dropping off the deliveries.

"We should do this every year!"

I was surprised to hear my husband say. For him, it honestly has nothing to do with the charitable aspect of this project. He just likes to see the stuff go out of our house and me cleaning out the basement!

I now have a better appreciation of how wasteful it is for me to have extra, unneeded toys in my house when there are many people who would gladly give them a good home. As we go through the year, I will have a better eye for what might be better off blessing someone else. It will really help me in my decluttering efforts in 2015!

 Posted by on December 28, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Nov 022014
 

2014-11-02-costumekids

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I have been married to my sewing machine for the past few weeks. My children began applying the pressure two weeks ago. “Mom, there are exactly 11 days until Halloween and you need to sew our costumes!” We have been so busy that it all came together in a last-minute crush of sewing.

While in years past, we have generally had a sort of theme for our family costumes, this year, everyone chose their own costume and we were a motley mix of things.

My 6-year-old’s costume was the first one finished. She insisted that she needed to be a jack ‘o lantern this year–one that she could pop out of and surprise people. I created the costume out of inexpensive lining fabric and polyester batting material. It came out rather well with some nice dimension to it. We also changed the design at the last stages so that the leg area remained open for greater leg movement. We paired it with my favorite black and orange tights we had on hand as well as a black dance leotard from her closet and black heeled shoes. It was a great fit for her exuberant personality.

2014-11-02-pumpkin-halloween

2014-11-02-pumpkin

2014-11-02-pumpkin-crouching

2014-11-02-pumpkin-dance

A pumpkin in fifth position.

A pumpkin in fifth position.

2014-11-02-pumpkin-jump

My eldest daughter always likes to be something beautiful on Halloween. This year, we were inspired by a book on vintage Barbies that was a Christmas present a few years back. I thought it would be fun to choose a mod-style Barbie from the 1960’s but my daughter preferred a more 1950’s Jackie O-style look in “midnight pink.” I sewed all but the gloves and faux fur stole, which we purchased. We look forward to her re-wearing this costume when we attend the ballet.

The look we used for Halloween trick-or-treating.

The look we used for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Having a little fun with hair and makeup and a photo shoot a few days later trying to make her look as much like the Barbie picture as we could.

Having a little fun with hair and makeup and a photo shoot a few days later trying to make her look as much like the Barbie picture as we could.

2014-11-02-barbie02

2014-11-02-barbie04

2014-11-02-barbie05-rear

Will the real Barbie please stand up?

Will the real Barbie please stand up?

For my son, we tried to recreate one of his favorite toys of the moment, the Transformers Rescue Bot. While he much prefers the transformers in their vehicle format, he will tolerate them transforming into robots for brief occasions. This costume took quite a lot of sewing effort. There are many details in superhero costumes. I simplified it as much as I could. Unfortunately, my son cried and cried as we put this costume on. “Take it off!” he cried. After a little convincing, her was willing to wear it trick-or-treating.

2014-11-02-sadrescuebot

2014-11-02-rescuebot-side

2014-11-02-rescuebot-smile

Our Transformers inspiration.

Our Transformers inspiration.

With all the sewing for the children, there was no time for my own costume. I wanted to use my costume to announce to our neighbors our upcoming new addition. I found an orange dress in my closet that suited perfectly as a Halloween maternity tunic when paired with a black turtleneck. Then in 5 minutes, I cut out some pieces of black fabric and glued them on. Voila! It was a fun way to spread the news.

The Halloween themed pregnancy announcement.  Baby's first costume.

The Halloween themed pregnancy announcement. Baby’s first costume.

We had a perfect evening for Halloween trick or treating. It was not so chilly that we needed to cover up our costumes with coats. We received many wonderful treats from our neighbors and had fun seeing all the costumes of our friends. It seems Elsa from Frozen was the most popular costume for girls this year and that Mexican-inspired Day of the Dead costumes were the trendiest.

Our treat sacks this year included Halloween hand soap, fruit snacks, Halloween-themed Pop Tarts and a few chocolates.

Our treat sacks this year included Halloween hand soap, fruit snacks, Halloween-themed Pop Tarts and a few chocolates.

It is the very end of fall here in Virginia. There are not many leaves left on the trees but the ones that remain have turned brilliant shades of red and orange. The woods seem ablaze in gorgeous color.

Fall brilliance.

Fall brilliance.

The dogwood leaves are some of the most colorful right now, paired with their red fall berries.

The dogwood leaves are some of the most colorful right now, paired with their red fall berries.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

 Posted by on November 2, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,