Friday, December 29, 2023

Christmas in Dallas!

As always, there is much to catch up on, but we're going to dive right into Christmas because I have many words and pictures and I'm still just so happy with the whole thing.
When we bought our house last year, one of the things that excited me most was the idea of hosting my whole family for Christmas. 8 adults, 8 kids - we now had 5 bedrooms and 5 baths and everyone could stay and be all cozy and bright together. As we designed our pool, I pictured baby cousins on the sun shelf and playing with the bubbler, while big cousins jumped off the diving board and played in the waterfall (and adults sat in the hottub sipping margaritas). As we picked out furniture for the kids' rooms, I knew the queen beds everyone was now getting could also fit adults. Our kitchen table could extend to seat 12. Our gameroom had a giant couch that could fit all the cousins and then some and I ordered 3x the top rated air mattress on Amazon.
The weekend before Christmas, James had a big swim meet and I spent two days baking ALL THE THINGS, supervising the kids cleaning their rooms and bathrooms (and closets and anything I could pretend was connected to our hosting), and generally preparing our house to become an inn.
One thing we also did to prepare was tell the kids we would be collecting their phones before people arrived on the 23rd, turning them off and hiding them until the last group left on the 26th. We were giving everyone- including them!- the gift of being present, and while they weren't thrilled with the news (we gave them time to text their friends farewell and Merry Christmas), it was one of the best things we've done in the last few years as parents of teens. I fully believe phones are both addicting and part of life and it's our job to help our kids learn how to function in a still (mostly? occasionally?) interpersonal world, but I also think sometimes we can remove the burden of self-regulation and just be parents, putting down a firm boundary and helping our children soak up Christmas the way we got to do as kids. And with ALL of their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents under one room for 3 days, it seemed like a good time to do it.
No phones meant that any minute of downtime - between meals, between swims, between anything - rather than retreating to a screen, they chatted with their grandparents and aunts and uncles, played with their tiny cousins and soaked up their little happy holiday moments, and were just around and available and present, and it was in the quiet in-between moments that I felt it most. We're missing something when we all retreat to a personal device in moments of stillness and it was a good reminder for James and me too (we kept our phones away as well, though we did get to keep them on). And I really think they appreciated it too (one or two even said so), even if they were all happy to be reunited with their phones on the 26th.
For logistics, we had my parents in "their" room in the office downstairs. The couch turns into a queen bed and they have their own full bathroom with a door that closes off both rooms together. My brother, sister-in-law, and the twins got Landon's room with its queen bed, ample floor space, and full bath. My sister, brother-in-law, and little Sage got Cora's room with its queen bed and twin trundle, which is connected by a full bathroom to Claire's big room that housed Claire and Rio in her queen bed and Cora and Skyla in the queen blow up bed. Landon took the gameroom where he chose the couch over another blow up and both cats took refuge with him each night. James and I got our room, at least until the last night when Cora popped a fever and ended up in a twin blow up on our floor. But there was plenty of room for everyone, even with a sick kid contingency- every family got their own bedroom and bathroom and it was honestly just so great.
Back to Saturday! The house was sparkling when everyone arrived mid-afternoon. We gave tours- my brother and sister had never been here!- and all got ready in a flurry of activity for our family portrait session at 3 p.m. We don't have the pictures back yet, so I have no evidence of this, but I feel like we all looked fabulous.
We got home and swam in the (heated) pool- our Colorado cousins were thrilled- and turned on the mini fire pit for Gigi who is always in a slightly different climate than the rest of us.
I catered fajitas from our favorite Dallas Mexican restaurant- they do such a great job and it was a treat for everyone (including me!) particularly because they also deliver their incredible frozen margaritas.
We had a grownups + 2-year-old table and a kids' table and all the kids watched a movie in the gameroom before bed.
The adults played Double Deck Canceling Hearts in honor of my grandpa and I went to sleep with a full heart.
For those who have been reading a while, you know that Christmas Eve is our big day. It's the big meal, all the presents (except Santa), and all the sparkles and lights of a magical night. We had tickets for the Arboretum in the morning, but the rain held us off. The kids played in the gameroom, watched a movie, and made general localized chaos, while we waited for the clouds to pass. They did and we ended up with the entire Children's Garden at the Dallas Arboretum entirely to ourselves. It was awesome and the kids (and adults) loved it just as much as I imagined.
We explored the Christmas Village, spent forever admiring the Koi, and got everyone almost tired by the time we left.
By the late afternoon the skies were bright blue and we were swimming and splashing, as one does on a Texas Christmas Eve.
We had Italianos for dinner, which my parents brought up from Kingwood. They haven't lived there in years, but it's become an essential part of our Christmas traditions. Buffalo plaid is another tradition. Some of these have been passed down since my kids wore them.
Another tradition is opening the gifts one by one, from youngest to oldest. Kids and presents in pajamas on Christmas Eve night are all my favorite.
Along with mama's first Chanel, a beautiful necklace from James.
We tucked the kids in bed with Christmas stories and cookies for Santa and began the Santafication process ourselves. Champagne (and Chanel) was required.
Christmas Day was happy and full of Santa presents, pj's, champagne toasts, a delicious breakfast by my sister, and cinnamon rolls.
4/8 of the cousins got something involving a motor or wheels, so we headed up the street to the church parking lot for some drive time.
My parents and brother and his family headed back to Houston, while my sister and crew stayed another night. We went to the park, walked the lake, did more swimming, had a movie break in which two big cousins (Claire and Cora) fell fast asleep at 3 pm, and ate pizza for dinner.
The last of our guests drove out the morning of the 26th. The kids got their phones back, we put away all the Christmas decorations, did 87 loads of laundry, and I took an accidental 2.5 hour nap.
And just like that our big holiday hosting gig was over. It was just the best. We miss the tiny cousins, especially Milo who was utterly adored by my sister's girls.
Maggie also loved having her tiny humans back. She feels most at home with them as her pack.
All in all, it was just a really great Christmas holiday for the Rice clan. Now we're in the glorious space between Christmas and New Year's where you don't know what day it is or what you're supposed to be doing. I've worked out every day, attempted to work (with minimal success), and worn sweats morning, noon, and night. We've been watching movies and snuggling and eating leftovers and it's pretty great. This time last year we were still missing most of our furniture and I just feel so lucky and happy to be at home, all on the couch, watching Jumanji/Father of the Bride/Baby Boom/Percy Jackson and whatever else we pull up.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season too!

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Holiday Sugar and Sparkles

First of all, thank you so so much for your helpful comments and emails and messages about ADHD.
This is very new and the 27-page evaluation results packet brings as many hard sought answers as it does questions on what to do with the answers we now have. It's further complicated by Claire having only one semester left in middle school, a still-fresh move that means both of us are without our support systems, James and I realizing how very much academic and social struggle has been happening behind a seemingly placid surface, and just generally being thirteen which is hard without any help. But we have information and resources and lists and love. Thanks for yours.

On to holiday magic!
I mentioned last year that as the kids get older and busier I've had to stake claim to a weekend in December for all our Christmas traditions. And this year, Forced Fike Family Festive Fun Time was the past weekend, delicately forced between two different 2-day swim meets, household chores, and too many trips to Target.
But it DID happen and there was enough sugar and sparkles to carry us through the rest of the month for sure.
Despite the weekend already being fairly busy, it was the only one before Christams where no one had any evening commitments. Both Landon and Cora's meets did not have finals, so everyone would be home from about 3 pm on. So depending on who was swimming where, James and I split up cheering in the stands duty (both our swimmers did great!), and then James was to focus on getting the outdoor Christmas lights up while I forced kids to clean out closets (a lesser celebrated pre-Christmas tradition) and prepped baking.
I've learned to spread out the sugar cookie labor, making the dough on Friday night so it can chill in the fridge and then doing the rolling and baking on Saturday. We were supposed to do the tree Saturday night and decorate the cookies on Sunday, but after being surrounded by cookies for many hours all I wanted to do was eat 7 of them, so we switched the agenda and dove right into the sugary goodness of icing and sprinkles.
Per my recent personal health initiative I have not had a sugar infusion like that in quite some time and let me say, those cookies and all the extra frosting I ate off my decorating plate were truly worth the wait. Keep your sugar special, I now say, this was NOT just a Tuesday.
As always, the decorating reflected the personalities of the decorators. Cora spent 37 minutes per cookie, completing all of 4. This one is a precise replica of our Fort Worth house.
Landon, who has foregone dessert and deliciousness for the last two years due to his dedication to swimming (a dedication James and I have both made clear can include sugar, but teenagers know best), deigned to decorate approximately six, all with brown frosting and all with various sprinkle-created physical deformities and backstories that had the girls rolling.
James did maybe a dozen? which is a big improvement from years' past, and Claire and I did the remaining 100+, focusing more on quantity than quality (and I ensured every cookie I made had at least 10 red hots snuggled into the sugar frosting).
Milo did not help even a little and slept through it all.
On Sunday, we had Cora's meet, James had to go to Fort Worth for a swim school lunch, and I made Landon clean out his closet and drawers only to make him do it again once I got home again because he removed one single item on his own, but when I went through I magically found at least 15 things to give away, including four "boys size large" items he hasn't been able to fit into since well before our move, meaning these items were selected to be packed, moved, unpacked in the rental, and then packed and unpacked again in our forever house and just HOWWHYWHAT. I can't believe I let him go without oversight for that long.

After an early dinner we turned on the Raffi Christmas album and got down to decorating.
Everyone wore their matching pajamas, including Maggie, and it was cozy and sparkly, with a side of all the sugar we'd worked so hard on the day before.
We watched a family movie and then James and I watched the first episode of Slow Horses Season 3 (that show is SO GOOD, if you are not watching yet I'm jealous you get to start fresh).

On Monday morning I got up early to get my walk along the lake in before work and I just love seeing our tree in the early morning light. Or any light really.
And while I'd rather stay home and in pajamas for the month of December, watching movies and making lists of things to bake (up this weekend: cinnamon rolls, cinnamon spice candied pecans, chex mix (I sub cheez-its for peanuts and the world is better for it), and the best scones I've ever had), if I must be a real grownup and go to work, I'm glad I get to come home to my people and pets, the sparkles on my tree, and the sugar cookies in my pantry.

Happiest holidays to all.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

November Recap: 10 Things

Well, November happened. As my last post anticipated, it was a lot.

But a lot of it was very good and now we're 1/3 the way into December and I'm just trying to keep up.
I usually talk through pictures, but I've been using an archival version of Picasa from about 2008 to edit my photos for the last 15 years and now my iPhone updated its iOS so photos are stored as HEICs which my vintage Picasa can't recognize because those files didn't exist when it was born, so I don't understand how to upload photos to my computer, edit them, and then post them because I've only ever had one system for doing that and Photoshop and Lightroom make me cry and Google photos doesn't make sense to me. I might now be too old to be a blogger. Internet operating systems have evolved past my rudimentary understanding of the magic that makes all this work.

[Which is to say, if anyone has an EASY photo program that works for them but also keeps your original organization in your picture folders I would love to hear about it.]

So, I don't know how to organize this. We'll see what the random uploads directly from my phone into blogger (another vintage interface that probably everyone has moved on from but it's the only one I understand) hold for us.
(Moose is not optimistic.)

(1) I had my uterine ablation and tubal ligation and it was easy and smooth and I watched TV and napped for a day and then was back to normal almost too soon. For the first time in 23 years I'm off birth control pills AND don't have periods and that's nice. That body system served me well, but I'm all done now. Yay and thank you, next.

(2) I gave the eulogy at my grandfather's funeral. It was a beautiful ceremony and having the dinner and day to celebrate and honor him with our close extended family was very special. There was laughter and tears and so much love. I miss him so much, but I know how lucky I was to have him, and I know both how much he loved me and that he knew how much I loved him. He would have loved all of us being together for him and I felt him there with us.
(3) The day after we got back from the funeral everyone 3/5 of our family had a swim meet (the same swim meet!) over the weekend.
They all did great, especially Cora (it was her first "real" meet) and James is quietly holding out hope she'll pick swimming over soccer one day. In his words, "oh my god, she's so good. the potential!" But for now she's a soccer girl who swims on the side and we're exploring the world of club soccer much to my personal overwhelm.

(4) Cora turned 10 on Sunday, 3 days post-funeral and on the last day of a long swim meet. We had her party that afternoon and I was literally making her cake as kids were walking in the door. We heated the pool and had a dog themed pool party and it was perfect.
Maggie was an honored guest.
Cora picked burgers for dinner (specifically "dad's burgers, on the grill") and said she had enough cake, so we put her candles in the burger bun. We love her so much.
My third baby is 10. I no longer have any children in single digits, which is... kind of sad really. We've truly loved having young kids so very much, but I also think we've enjoyed every phase and enjoy our increasingly bigger kids too.

(5) I had trips to NYC, Houston, and DC all in 2.5 weeks. It was a lot. I wore some great outfits.
This feels like my silk slipskirt era. I'm obsessed with that houndstooth one from Vince.
Also this skirt was my great Marshall's find of 2023. Gorgeous Elie Tahari for $79 instead of $400. It looks even better with heels, the other black top I paired with it, my Grandma Jo's gold necklace and some fab earrings, but this is the best pic of the skirt. I adore it.
I had an event at the St. Regis in DC for high tea and it was lovely.
I went full sparkle and faux leather for that one, and the evening events I had that night. Why not?
(6) We took the kids to NYC for Thanksgiving! Six days after I got back from my work trip there, we boarded a plane on Thanksgiving day and took the kids to the Big Apple for the first time and it was GREAT.
I love New York and my goal is for one of my children to love it enough to live there so I can visit often.
Landon told me it was "too much everything," so he's a no for now. Cora wants to study and rescue animals and she felt NYC was not the right habitat for that, but Claire loved it and I think she might be my big city girl.
We saw "The Play That Goes Wrong" which we HIGHLY recommend. The kids laughed so hard, I think Cora was crying. We all absolutely loved it and all three kids said it was their favorite thing about New York on the plane ride home.
The girls and I saw Six!. The third time for me, second time for them, I tried to convince them to see something new, but I also wasn't at all sad to see Six! again. It's so fun. We loved it just as much as the first time.
We didn't do nearly as much of the traditional touristy and sight seeing stuff I thought we would. They didn't care about seeing famous buildings, but they LOVED Central Park so we spent hours and hours there, watching them run and climb rocks and explore one of the best parks in the world. We walked all of midtown, enjoyed the store windows, shopped the Christmas market at Bryant Park, and ate rainbow bagels for breakfast.
It was a magical time to be in the city and a great way to kick off the holiday season.
(7) Landon had a big meet last weekend and my parents drove over to watch and he went all best times and qualified for Sectionals for the first time!

Interestingly, it was in the 50 free, and not the 100 fly or 100 back which are his main events. Turns out maybe he's a spring freestyler? Regardless, it was very exciting and now he's moving up to the National group for club practice and really seeing results from all the hard work he's put into swimming the last few years. I caught this picture of him leaving for school yesterday morning and wow. I really do have a 16 year old baby Landon.
(8) It's finally not 100 million degrees outside so Maggie and I have resumed our 4 mile lake walks in the morning before work.
She is relieved to get back to her fitness.

(9) This has been a tough month/semester for Claire. It hurts to watch your kid hurt and middle school can hurt an awful lot.
We also just got an ADHD diagnosis that explains a lot of unexplainable things we've been observing through academic, social, and emotional fallout, but which raises a lot of questions too. I'll delete this paragraph later, but if anyone has great resources for understanding ADHD in teen girls or therapies you recommend, I'm all ears. We've finally got her severe anxiety and OCD under control and nearly all ADHD medications are contraindicated (they're uppers that can make anxiety much worse and we CANNOT have that). So it's hard.

(10) I had my firm's client/partner holiday party this week. The dress code was "holiday chic" which to me meant black sparkly jumpsuit. James interpreted it differently.
(Bonus 11) I've been really focusing on getting back to a healthy maintenance phase of weight, food, and fitness. I travel so much, and so often for events, that it's hard not fall victim to a lack of regular exercise and too many mid-week multi-course meals and drinks. Even indulging in what feels like a very small amount (adding an appetizer and/or dessert at a nice meal, the champagne at hotel check-in because it's been a long day of travel, the m&ms on the plane... all reasonable, all not things I normally have on a Tuesday) still ends up being too much and I just wasn't feeling great.

For the last 2.5 months I have focused on: not drinking at work events (they're all during the week, they mess with my sleep when it's already sub-par when I travel, and I never drink more than 1-2 so why?), making healthy choices at restaurants (unless it's a special meal with a friend I'm meeting up with, the mantra I'm constantly muttering to myself is, "it's just a Tuesday, mimic normal Tuesday choices."), exercising EVERY SINGLE DAY no matter what (hotel room workouts and city walks are my go-to and even if I can only get 20 minutes in, I move my body every damn day), and going to bed early. I've re-convinced my indulgence-loving brain that worked on a government salary for too long that work trips are not vacations and not every meal in another city can be a treat. It's just a Tuesday.

After 6 frustrating weeks of absolutely no results, I'm suddenly down 15 pounds from where I started in late August and it feels so good and simple and maintainable. It's just acting like I act at home, but doing it everywhere else I happen to be. It also makes things like family gatherings and holidays truly special. Speaking of, we're doing sugar cookies this weekend and I will absolutely be enjoying a few (dozen) of those.

Happy Holidays all, I've missed you.