Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Houses and Homes and Rebel Girls

I'm working this week. I can't complain- I spent pretty much all of today watching online CLE videos to earn enough legal education credits to stay licensed for the next year, but ugh, I've never worked between Christmas and New Year's and I DON'T LIKE IT. I feel like it put a really hard stop on Christmas and I prefer the let it peter out on its way to New Year's with lots of trips to local parks and the zoo to ease the way.

also Lego building... LOTTTS of Lego building

So let's go back to the cozy magic of Christmas Eve. I didn't have room in the last post to discuss the present I was MOST excited about.

I mentioned a while ago that my parents sold my childhood home (and now the lake house too) and purchased a new house on a lake near my childhood home, basically combining their two houses into one- near work, and on a lake. It's great for them- they're completely thrilled and the house looks beautiful, but it gutted me in an unexpected way to know the house that built me wasn't ours anymore.

As I've written before, not everyone gets to return to their childhood home whenever they want and not everyone has purely happy memories when they get there. I do and I did, and so I made a watercolor print from a picture I took of the house when I went to Kingwood this past February. A PTA Board member friend of mine does beautiful calligraphy work and I asked her to put our family anthem on the top and our address and years in the house at the bottom. I love it so much.

They did too. As I wrote on the back- I hope James and I build a home our children feel as warmly and strongly about as I feel about 4335 Hill Forest Drive. I made 5x7's for me and my two siblings as well. It's a special place. We'll make new memories wherever we are, but that house holds an awful lot of them. My copy sits on my dresser and makes me smile every time I pick out my jewelry in the morning.

Other gifts were also big successes. For the first time ever, Landon had actual, specific gift requests and he got both of them- his Ninjago Cave Chaos lego set and his deeply desired Cheetah Racer, and he declared it the "best Christmas EVER." A surprise hit was the $5 moose hat I threw in my Old Navy checkout after realizing the girls would both have fancy ear-wear and he wouldn't.

He LOVES it. It was 80 degrees outside today (wtf) and he still wore it outside. I love when things like that work out.

Cora adored everything she got - princess dresses, new baby doll, and pink princess boots(!!!!!). The boots are awful- bright pink pleather with plastic princess faces glued on the side- and when I saw them in Target I knew she had to have them. She's worn them every day (when not wearing her Rapunzel shoes) and she carefully places them next to her bed while she sleeps at night. She made sure to explain each princess's identity to Gigi multiple times. She knew her Gigi likes to talk shoes.

Claire has played a lot of pet vet. Landon's cheetah (the stuffed animal not the racer) had a broken leg and after they performed a very serious emergency surgery, Landon put a bandaid on his cheetah's fur and was then shocked - SHOCKED - when he couldn't just peel it off later. Oh Landon, so very smart and yet sometimes so... Landon. Claire also pulled out a loose tooth yesterday! The makes for lost tooth #3. The first two were lost in Wisconsin and Minnesota back in August and were swallowed both times, so she was VERY excited to have evidence of her big girl milestone.

And we started Little House in the Big Woods last night, after she got the box set for Christmas, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I LOVED those books and I'm so excited to read them again with her.

Almost as excited as I am about THIS BOOK which finally came in the mail yesterday:

It's SO. GOOD. You should buy it if there are any children in your life or immediate vicinity. I had planned to read a story a night for the next 100 days, but that was thwarted immediately by my inability to get through a single one without crying. So Landon took over the reading and quickly made his way through the first 10 for the girls.

The stories are so great. They're each just one page long, with a beautifully illustrated portrait on the other. The women are from all walks of life, all eras of time, and all different professions- a mathematician, an artist, an author, a moto cross racer, an astronomer, a model, and so much more. Little snippets of the work and accomplishments of extraordinary women. And the stories definitely aren't just for girls- Landon finished the whole book that night and loved it. It's one of the best things I've bought in a long time.

Along with the ear muffs, obviously.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Making Spirits Bright

Christmas! It came, it went, it was super fun! I believe Cora's face here says it all.

But obviously I'm going to say more (and I apologize in advance for the pictures; I'm condensing a lot of days with a lot of happenings and this is my virtual photo album). First up, the day before the day before: I got up really early on Friday morning to do my half-day of work, emailed a draft memo to my boss by 11, and then got busy getting the house ready for guests. By noon, everything was done and we got the kids ready to (finally!) go see Santa! We'd originally planned to go to the Arboretum the previous weekend, but with a high of 28 and one kid recovering from Mycoplasma we decided that kind of trip was outside even our rather wide comfort zone. So this year, we opted for Stockyard Santa! Cora was SO excited and we thought maybe this year, unlike the previous two, perhaps her visit would not be filled with sobs and betrayal.

The Stockyards are north of town and outside my 5 mile driving radius, so we really never go. Our last visit was when my parents came soon after we moved here in 2012. I completely forgot how fun it is- longhorns and horses everywhere, games, mechanical bulls, giant mazes, shops, food, etc. It's so charming and there's so much history.

We entered Stockyard Station, dragged the kids away from the candy shop, and waited in the very short line with our still-very-excited Cora and then it was our turn! ... and then Cora decided that NOPE, I have no idea who that man is and I will not stand by him.

I will stand in front of him with great reluctance.

I will not give him the benefit of my tears. I will allow you to hold me in his proximity, but I will not smile.

Five seconds later, she was handed a stuffed horse as a parting gift and now, armed with her horsie and safely behind the dividing rope line, she let Santa back in her circle of trust. "Santa! Do you see my horse?!" she exclaimed. But Santa was now busy holding a baby and didn't hear her, so back on the shit list he went again. Luckily there was a big bench outside she found acceptable for a sibling pictures sans-Santa.

And then everyone got to pick one activity- Claire picked pony rides and after a moment's pause, so did Cora. And no one was EVER been more delighted by such a short, plodding, pony ride. Ever.

People actually stopped to watch her there was just so much joy happening in there. Landon picked the giant maze, so James went with him. The girls and I watched from up above, feeling very superior every time they walked into a dead end. It was a good time.

And then, after a little more cleaning and organizing, my parents and brother arrived! And bearing trays from our favorite Italian restaurant in Humble and the kids' giant present-- an Air Pogo Swing!

I'd discovered it in a friend's backyard many months ago and immediately texted it my parents as a Christmas idea. Growing up my dad made us a rope swing suspended between two trees in our backyard and it was the BEST. My dad could swing us SO high and spin us so fast (the equally dreaded and delightful "death spin") and we made up routines to music and did all kinds of tricks that now seem equally impossible and dumb. The Air Pogo is like our rope swing, but with the added bonus of a giant metal spring inside the tube so you can bounce and swing at the same time. What could be better?

It's fun for all ages.

Seriously, all.

Since the box was giant and unwrappable, the kids got to see it that Friday night and the men installed it on Saturday. It was in use for pretty much every minute after that. And the kids just now ran outside to swing on it some more as I type.

[I had to go outside to swing too; now it's 10 p.m.] Moving on -- on Christmas Eve day, my mom and I did a little shopping (new gold dotted wine glasses for me and a giant mirror her her at Homegoods!), I taught my barre class (with my mom as a student!), and then we picked up our traditional Christmas Day tamales. We hung out and then got fancied up for the 5:00 service at a local church and took some pictures. Cora had just woken up from her 4.5 hour nap and was unimpressed with the festive situation happening in her house.

The church service was excellent and we even got one picture of our whole Christmas 2016 crew in the hallway!

And the ladies, because we were all accidentally coordinating.

And then it was back home for our traditional fancy Christmas Eve dinner, which is one of my favorite parts of the whole holiday. Christmas Day is casual and full of pj's and leggings, but I love being a little fancy on Christmas Eve. I set the table with my wedding china and crystal and made marinated flank steak, twice baked potatoes (okay, Central Market made those), asparagus casserole, mandarin salad, rolls, and wine. It was delicious.

And then it was time for PJs and the unwrapping of presents! The kids were ready way before we were, so they were redirected to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas while we finished cleaning the kitchen. But finally, pj's were donned by all, mulled wine was warmed and poured (soooo good), popcorn (including a decent replica of the famous Chicago Mix!) was placed in bowls, and it was time to begin.

And it was everything I hoped it would be. I was super excited about the gifts I picked out this year and everyone loved them. The big kids each got a new ski coat for our trip next week and Cora (who will have Claire's hand-me-down) got two princess nightgowns, which she changed into repeatedly throughout the unwrapping. My grandparents always give me money to buy the kids something and with that I got Landon a Lego set he'd been dying to have. It was really the first Christmas he'd ever consistently asked for something - usually he is completely nonspecific and is delighted by everything, but it was outside our budget, so I bought him something else and even had it wrapped under the tree when I happened to google the set again last week and found it ON SALE for $99 at Toys R Us, making it the exact amount my grandparents give him, so dammit, I unwrapped the other one, returned it, and bought the new one. And the look on his face made it 100% worth it.

Claire got a fancy "grown-up" winter outfit with pea coat, as requested. And Cora got a Bitty Baby with red hair and hazel eyes, just like her. The baby's name is "Baby" and she is very loved.

My sister and brother got Cora the holiday barbie (reaction pictured above, and below) and the Belle princess dress, which Cora insisted on wearing out to see the Santa gifts on Christmas morning.

Claire got two super snazzy outfits and Landon got another Ninjago Lego set because he's suddenly way into those.

It was a really fun, cozy, magical evening. My coworkers and I had a big group discussion at work about everyone's Christmas traditions and while I love hearing everyone's, I must admit I always come away feeling so glad I have mine. I love the cozy magic of Christmas Eve unwrapping. It's dark outside, the lights are twinkling, everyone has snacks and wine and music is softly playing. We get to stay up late- SUCH a treat as a kid, taking turns opening gifts, savoring the magic. It's so special and the memories are so soft and hazily sparkly.

Claire made me a card; one line of it said, "You are in my heart." and I died a little

And then I love that we have Santa gifts on Christmas morning. The getting up early, the anticipation, the thrill of walking out to the living room to find whatever Santa brought you. It's the perfect split and I love savoring both parts. This year was our first year to have Christmas in our own home and I absolutely loved it.

Christmas morning was just as magical. Landon got a deeply longed-for "Cheetah Racer" remote control car, Claire got a "pet vet" kit- the exact one I played with for HOURS at my best friend Tiffany's house as a kid (she actually just graduated from vet school, making her an actual pet vet, and making me feel unjustifiably proud all those hours we ran that vet clinic out of her walk-in closet), and Cora got a baby cradle and high chair.

Everything was a hit. We keep things pretty simple- one ~$50 present per kid plus stocking stuffers and it always seems like plenty. And James and I put a few fun things in each other's stockings, like this ridiculously cool lighter he put in mine so I could light my candles every night when I take my bath without stealing the one he uses to light our outdoor grill. Then he and my brother promptly tried to light everything in our house on fire just to "test" it. (It works.)

Brunch was delicious, even my non-rising cinnamon rolls, and then we were too full to eat the delicious linner I also had planned. We went on a walk, we air pogo'd, we chatted, and then my parents and brother headed back to Houston with a few of my delicious linner (dunch? it's lunch/dinner) sandwiches to go. Cora took a nap, James took a nap, Claire played with all of Cora's toys, and Landon started building his beloved 1,000 piece Lego set, and I-- I opened up the Roku I bought James for Christmas solely so I could watch Seasons 2 and 3 of The Great British Baking Show and I WATCHED THEM. Or at least the first two episodes of Season 2. It was a wonderful Christmas Day.

Then I went to go wake up James and accidentally lay down next to him instead and fell asleep for another 30 minutes. Also wonderful. And then we packed up and went to see the 5:45 showing of Sing! It was cute and fun and a great way to end the day.

Unfortunately my day actually ended in a horrific headache with pain so intense I was dizzy and nauseated for about 3 hours. I would have gone to urgent care- we even called to find one open, but I couldn't drive and we didn't want to wake the kids to bring them. I have suffered from headaches since high school and some of them have been really really bad, but this one was the first to be so intense it scared me. Luckily a big dose of pain meds and sleeping pills knocked me out hard enough to fall asleep, though I could feel the pain in my head through my dreams, and I woke up with only echoes of the pain at 7 a.m. this morning. It was really bad. I basically have no memory of the night after about 9 p.m., even though I know I didn't go to bed until about 11.

But today is better. We went to the zoo, no one was there and the animals were super active. Cora wore her Rapunzel shoes and ran the whole way. We went to Target and bought more bins to organize things and you know how happy that makes me. We ate out at my favorite hamburger and french fry place and that made me even happier. And then I watched another episode of GBBS and went through my Christmas pictures before eating a dinner of leftover Italian food and playing Monopoly with the kids. It was a good day.

And the earmuffs were the surprise stocking stuffer hit of the year. $3.99 from Children' Place. Everyone should get some.

I hope you all had wonderful holidays, full of pj's or plaid leggings, mulled wine and/or other delicious things, with friends, family, and/or delighted children. And a pogo swing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Super Star Polar Bears

It's been a big week in the Lag Liv house! First, I found a matching holiday princess nightgown for Claire and nothing in Cora's life has ever been so exciting.

And even bigger news- a multi-week mystery has been solved! Cora compliments our clothes every day, "Oh mom, I love your dress!" or "Daddy, you look so nice!" But periodically over the last few weeks she has intermittently and cheerfully told James and me "I like your polar bear!" And since we haven't been in possession of any polar bears we've just thanked her and moved on. But finally, yesterday, James figured it out. Polar Bear = Pullover. Isn't that just the best? If you're lucky enough to be wearing a pullover right now, do you not feel happier knowing a 3-year-old wearing a princess dress likes your polar bear? We are never correcting that. Compliment a polar bear today.

In other big events this week, Claire was able to perform in the talent show! She stayed home from school all day, was diagnosed with a cold after she and James spent 2 hours at the pediatrician, and took a 3 hour nap. When I got home from work she said she really wanted to perform and her temperature was normal, so I spackled on a little under-eye concealer, added a dash of blush, and some tinted chapstick and she looked almost like herself!

She had a moment of stage fright before the program began, suddenly telling me, "well maybe I don't feel so good..." But after we talked about it, she concluded that actually she felt okay, she was just a little nervous. and then I reminded her she'd already performed for the whole school on Friday and an auditorium of parents was actually going to be a much smaller audience and we were all just so excited to see our kids perform. She decided the show could go on after that.

And go on it did!

When she got to the talent show try-outs, she found out another little girl was going to sing her same song, so the teacher-coordinator suggested they perform together. It turns out, her new partner was actually in Landon's class and I was friends with her mom so it worked out perfectly! And Sofie certainly knew her way around a microphone!

They did so great and I loved the display of confidence and girl power up on the stage.

(And Claire woke up on Tuesday fever-free and ready to conquer the day, so unlike the Spelling Bee, the talent show does not cause Mycoplasma.)

And now, Landon! After getting 2nd in the Science Fair and Final Six in the Spelling Bee, this week he was up for Battle of the Books!

BOB is an awesome competition that began in our district last year. It starts in the 3rd grade and all the students read the same 7 award-winning books, take the standard AR tests, and then the students in each 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade class with the highest composite scores on the tests become that class's team. Each team has a captain - Landon was his - and selects a name.

Each grade competes separately, so we were there for the 3rd grade round. The moderator read a question about one of the books out loud - something about the plot, main theme, etc. (i.e., "in which book did the main character learn that humor can make tough times easier?") - and then the students have 10 seconds to confer among themselves until the bell dings and then the captain must hold up the placard with the name of the book as their answer.

It was SO fun. None of the teams can see each other, so while the answer was announced after each question, they had no idea what they other teams had answered or where they stood. At the end of Round 1, Landon's team was tied for first with his best friend's team! So just those two teams went on to Round 2. After about a dozen more questions, they were still tied, so we went on to a sudden-death Round 3. The first team to get a question wrong was out and the one with the right answer was the winner who would go on to Districts at TCU in May to compete with another 30+ schools!

It was so tense! Of course James and I hadn't read any of the books (or even knew the names; Landon handles these things on his own) so unlike the spelling bee, we never knew if they were right until the answer was announced. Finally, after maybe another 12 rounds, the other team held up one book name and Landon, after fleetingly picking up the same name, shook his head and grabbed another placard just as the bell ding'd. James and I were gripping each other's arm- what if he'd vetoed his team to the wrong choice! The other team looked so confident.

But they won!! It was so exciting. All of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes were in the auditorium watching and I just LOVE when reading (like spelling) gets to be the COOLEST for just a little while.

As a reward for winning they got little trophies and a new list of 9 longer, harder books to read by May! We can't wait. What a fun competition.

On the grown-up side of things, James closed the swim school for the week (and until January 9th), so it is delightful to have him home before 7 p.m. He's getting the kids from school, so we had Tara come at 5 yesterday so he could meet me downtown and we could pretend to be two crazy kids heading to a happy hour after work, something we've never been since I started my legal career with a 1-year-old. We tried out a new restaurant with a great happy hour menu and it was so fun! Three margaritas, barbacoa nachos, chicken sopes, a salsa trio, and taco platter for less than $50? Yes please!

And then we were all done with our bill paid by 6:30 and had no idea what to do with ourselves. So we went home and watched Home Alone 2 with the kids. It was kind of a perfect night.

Also perfect? These leggings I accidentally purchased when I went to yoga yesterday. I did revolved dancer and sugar cane for the first time and felt the occasion should be commemorated, but mostly, I'm just weak for plaid. Expect to see them in future Christmas pictures.

I hope you are all enjoying a fun, festive, and plaid-filled few days leading to Christmas, and if you're not, that you make the mulled wine recipe I linked to Sunday, and can give yourself a little time to sip it in a quiet place. Like your bathroom or parked car in the driveway. Yetis were made for this.

Or be like Cora and grab a karaoke purse that sings your favorite Frozen song (and ONLY your favorite Frozen song) and a spot on the couch. Wear your favorite princess nightdress and sing your favorite song over and over and over again like an old man at a bar, yelling at anyone who tries to join you. Whatever you need to recharge.

Happy Holidays everyone!