Monday, December 26, 2011

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Dave wrote this post for us. Enjoy!

I have long been desensitized to the comings and goings of items on, under, and around the Christmas tree. The self-induced blindness was a necessary coping mechanism for me as an obsessive compulsive person, borderlining on disorder, sharing the Christmas season with, first animals and now, children.

The process began about eight years ago after Amanda and I put up the tree in our first home and the kittens promptly undecorated the bottom branches, climbed ¾ the way to the top and perched on the inside of a branch for a nap. Two days later, we returned from shopping and did not see the tree in the window of the house. It was in the floor and we picked it up and reset it with the ornaments we could find, a process we repeated two more times before Christmas Day arrived.

During that first Christmas, we adopted a rule that any ornament we found on the floor after it “fell” from the tree would be placed in a box and salvaged for next year. We had a fully decorated tree top by Christmas, with more natural looking lower branches.

The next Christmas I knew what to expect and I had well learned to not see ornaments and scraps of papers from the wrapped presents in the floor. We had also added a new member to the fold who kept some control over, or at least provided interference to, the kitten activities with the Christmas tree. The cats of course did not appreciate having to succumb to the larger physical presence, and hence authority, of Georgia Brown Dog regarding the Christmas decorations. And that is why they tried to kill her.

When Georgia came into the house the year after the cats, we knew she would likely be interested in chewing the Christmas ornaments, as would any other four month old Labrador retriever. For this reason, we decorated the bottom of the tree with plastic, wooden and cloth ornaments, placing just a few glass balls toward the top. The day after the decorating was complete, I heard a crunching in the kitchen and walked in to find Georgia chomping on little pieces of glass, bleeding from the mouth and attempting to understand what had become of the pretty purple ball that had just been in front of her. By extreme fortune, she had a scheduled vet appointment the next day and had no damage from the incident. While I did not see the situation resulting in that ball falling from the tree, I have no doubt that the cats we fully involved and acted with full knowledge of the results of their actions.

With such a history, I was decently prepared for the addition of children to the list of Christmas tree admirers and undecorators in our home. I have become skilled at kicking an ornament, sending it gliding across the hardwood floor, so it comes to rest underneath the tree. I no longer have to pick the decorations up and put them back on the tree and torn wrapping paper doesn’t not bother me as long as the gift underneath is not completely visible. Partial visibility is solved not by re-wrapping, but by turning the other direction. [Note from Amanda: Now that Ella is learning to write, many of the presents weren't just partially unwrapped, they also had her name scrawled across them in Magic Marker. You are a special person if you got one of those presents this Christmas!] If a strand of lights goes out, so be it. Out of necessity, I pay very little attention and we are all much happier for it.

This was my first year with two mobile children at Christmas and I could have easily driven myself crazy had the cats and dog not taught me to cope with the tree situation. By Christmas morning, the presents underneath our tree sat in the midst of several ornaments, shreds of paper and other small pieces of trash, and toys. Luke’s “drop it wherever the urge to move on to something else hits” mentality combined with my “don’t stress about what’s going on under the tree” attitude allowed the underneath of the tree to become somewhat of a toy box for the children.

And then on Christmas morning, I was completely taken aback and stunned to the point of tears by what transpired from underneath and around that tree. We had a living room full of presents and Ella was helping her Mommy hand them out. I don’t know the exact number, but there were presents from four separate households dispersed. The process took about fifteen minutes. After the morning presents were handed out, a few were left under the tree that were for our afternoon guests. When everyone had their presents, I expected Ella would tear into her stack, as would be expected for any three year old. Instead, the following conversation transpired.

Ella (moving to the back corner of the tree where the presents for the afternoon company were): Mommy, you have a few more over here.
Amanda: No baby. Those are for this afternoon.
Ella: No Mommy, these are for you.

And Ella retrieved her own small purses from the underneath the Christmas tree and handed them to Amanda saying, “These are your presents Mommy.” And Amanda opened each one to find that Ella had wrapped a few items inside to give to her for Christmas.
Ella's presents for Mommy
I sat in awe and thanked God that I had not moved any of the “toys” from underneath the tree and for the wonder of children at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

R.I.P. Jewel E. Cat

My engagement kitten, Jewel E. Cat, died today. She was apparently asleep up under the truck of one of the sub-contractors and she didn't wake up until he started it. Dave was pulling into the driveway when that happened and saw her run into the backyard. He came into the house and asked me to come out and we walked and whistled for her (that's how we've always called our cats). Gypsy was with me and when we got to the trailer parked at the back fence, Gypsy howled a pitiful cry. I bent down to look under the trailer and found Jewel. She was already dead.

My heart hurts for how scared she must have been. It hurts for Dave who had to bury her; it hurts because I have to explain this to Ella tomorrow. It hurts most of all for Gypsy because she lost her buddy.

She was a good cat. She followed us everywhere; she was always in the middle of whatever we were doing. Just this weekend, she went on a walk with us and played in the playhouse while the kids were swinging. She has supervised every phase of this construction project, including needing to be rescued from high places - twice. She was ridiculously fearless about sticking her foot in every hole she could find. She was a huntress; we haven't had to worry about rodents or snakes since she was allowed to go outside. She was the first reason that all of our Christmas ornaments were plastic and she once knocked the tree to the floor when she jumped into the top of it. She welcomed our babies without so much as a hiss and she especially loved all of their stuff. She used to love all over Georgia, rubbing in and out of her legs and kissing her nose to nose. When she was a kitten, we couldn't eat a bowl of ice cream in the same room with her without being completely harrassed. She loved to play in the plastic grocery sacks when I emptied them and she would jump several feet in the air to pounce on them. She fell into the bathtub with me more than once because she couldn't keep her paws out of the water; and she once fell on my face in the shower because she was walking around the top of it and slipped. She was curious to a fault and I've worried that her incessant need to explore every strange vehicle in our driveway would end tragically. I'm sick that it actually happened.

I don't have any kitten pictures to share because we weren't digital then, but I found a few good ones of her all grown up. She was 8 years old this past August.
She loved hiding in the wrapping paper.
We never did a project without her supervision.
She thought the Boppy was for her.
She couldn't be bothered to move from her princess perch.
She loved her dog and forced her to share her bed.
Even though they fought sometimes, she was Gypsy's buddy.
Godspeed, Jewel. We'll see you at the Rainbow Bridge.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Ella had her gymnastics Christmas performance this weekend and she was totally excited to see other little girls wearing the same leotard as hers. They didn't all have pink hands and arms though, because I'm sure their mothers don't let them graffiti themselves with magic markers. We let her get away with it because she learned it from Nana.. and they are washable. Bathtime is more fun if the water turns green when you step into it because you've colored the entire bottom of your foot.

She also had her preschool musical last week and she said her part right into the microphone without missing a beat. She even sang the songs this year. I still can't believe she volunteered for a speaking part. Amazing.

Now, she's teaching us the songs. We've had to sing Away in a Manger too many times to count because that's what the angel on our Nativity scene sings and she uses it for the music. When she got tired of that, she decided to speed it up a bit so she turned on our pole dancing stuffed cat that sings M.C. Hammer's Can't Touch This and belted the words to Hooray for Baby Jesus! over the top of it. It was quite something, but hey, you can't have music practice without music.

Last night we walked through a Night in Bethlehem so, between that and the musical, there has been lots of Nativity play in our house. Right now, she is pretending to be Mary, Dave is Joseph, and a baby doll in the toy pack 'n play is the baby Jesus in the manger. I think she mostly likes bossing Dave around about the baby. My favorite quote from him this weekend: "No body ever carried around a manger." Oh, I should also disclose that Luke is a shepherd ("Shepherds can't hold the baby Jesus!"), Georgia is the angel, and I am the camel. I'm telling myself it's because I make a great camel noise - which Luke imitated as soon as we walked by the camel in Bethlehem last night. He also made such a great sheep noise that the shepherds in the field asked if they could keep him. He would have stayed in the market place all night if we'd let him, especially playing the drum in the music shop.

Here's our Nativity set at play. Joseph and one wise man are missing because they had to take a trip. Mary is just staying with the baby until they get back.
Mary, taking care of the baby.

Joseph and the wise man riding the carousel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Magic

I read something this morning that got me thinking about what makes Christmas magical for me. As I thought through it, I realized how much I've changed in my lifetime, but especially in recent years.

When I was little, of course it was all about the anticipation of presents. I don't remember Santa ever really being a part of the magic because I was 5 when a friend in my kindergarten class told me he wasn't real.

As I got older, but still pre-driving age, it became not only about the presents but also about traditions - seeing all of my cousins on Christmas Adam (the night before Christmas Eve), loading up in a van with them to look at Christmas lights, listening to Christmas music on the drive home from Grandma's house on Christmas Eve and shivering because the windows were rolled down so Jan could cool off because Grandma always kept the house too warm (and oh how I can relate to that now!), yummy breakfast on Christmas morning at Daddy's, and finally the transfer to my mom's house that afternoon for the rest of Christmas break, which usually included reading a stack of new books she gave me even though she hated seeing me "with my nose in a book all the time."

Sometime in highschool, when the family started changing (boyfriends, girlfriends, marriages, divorces), Christmas lost it's magic for a while.

Then God sent me Dave and Christmas got magical again, even during the darkest period of my life, he brought magic to Christmas. It wasn't just magic in the form of romance and renewed anticipation (because Dave Roper loves Christmas more than any person I know); it was because he gave me the first Christmas gift. The baby Jesus.

"But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” - Luke 2:10-12
I was 13 when I prayed the prayer of salvation, but I wandered around for a lot of years after that not really knowing what it meant, certainly not understanding what a gift that little baby was. Dave changed all that when he told me point blank, in his very Dave way, "You think that you get to heaven by being a good person and doing good things? You're wrong." He then proceeded to tell me exactly how you get to heaven and he took me to church. Again and again and again until we were both convinced that I understood that it takes more than works to get to heaven. It takes faith. It was only after that that he married me.

Then the magic of Christmas became about candlelight communion and awestruck reverence for a tiny baby who would be my Savior. It became about waking up with my husband on Christmas morning and traveling to see our families.

Then our family started to grow. The year I was pregnant with Ella was also the first year our church did the Night in Bethlehem production. I worked and worked, lived and breathed the city of Bethlehem for a solid month and do you know what happened? I suddenly had a new perpective of God's greatest gift, that of a pregnant woman. How must she have felt with such an unbelievable story of immaculate conception, knowing that she carried the child of God?

"But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

Then we had Luke and I got to sit in the stable and play the part of Mary and see the recreated magic of people on a journey to find a baby. I got to sit quietly and think about what it would be like to know that my tiny baby would the world's savior. Did she know?

"When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2: 17-19
And now the magic of Christmas is about a 3 year old voice sharing the story of Jesus, from birth to resurrection, with her animals in the shower. It's about my 16 month old son bringing me the baby Jesus from our Nativity playset so I could give him kisses, and entire evenings of acting out the Christmas story with the same playset. (Thank you, friend, for giving us that Nativity set. It might be the best gift my children have ever received.) It's about, "Don't worry, Mommy. I'll just put the ornaments back on the tree if he pulls them off" and knowing every word to the preschool musical before it happens. It's about explaining why we give presents at all and shopping to fill stockings for kids whose parents cannot afford to do it this year. It's about lights and trees and cookies and presents, and most of all, it's about the baby Jesus.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Operation Bigger House: Happy Birthday to Me

Don't get too excited; it's not finished yet. But remember this?

Now it looks like this. 

The Big Room with a clean floor.

And no beds.

Did you hear me exhale? I did. This was the perfect birthday present.

We spent Saturday afternoon moving stuff into Ella's new room. She's still sharing it with Luke for now, but it freed up enough space that we could clean up the place and finally decorate for Christmas.

Ella's purple bedroom.

We still have to find her a twin bed and we've got no where to put Luke's bed yet, so this set up is temporary. She slept fantastically in there last night.

Also, look at this. This is the old pink bathroom. It's not pink anymore, and it's finished except for the electrical stuff. Notice that kids have already occupied it? That's right, no more sink baths. My back will miss them, the rest of me will not. I stretched an extension cord in there and plugged up a lamp so Luke could swim last night while I restocked the bathroom closet. 
Not Pink bathroom.

Today, we cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. For nearly 12 hours. The hardwoods are vacuumed and mopped, the furniture is dusted, the kitchen is mopped, the carpet is steam cleaned, the laundry is done, and the house is decorated for Christmas. And Dave cooked supper.

There is not one speck of sheet rock dust in the old part of our house.


It looks like humans live here again.

In the new part, all of the hardwood has been laid and the tile is completely finished. Now we need the final plumbing in the master bathroom, final electrical work (light fixtures, plugs, etc.), shelving in the closets and laundry room, a final coat of paint, and finished hardwoods. The floor man is supposed to be here on the 19th to finish the floors and then it will be done.

On the outside of the house, the dirt has been backfilled and they smoothed out a level place for the playground, too. Work on the deck should begin this week.

I'm starting to think that home renovations are like potato chips.. or tattoos - once you start, you can't stop. We are already considering extending this project to add a door from our living room into the backyard. It's something we've been talking about doing for years - since we realized that we don't use our backyard because it's not as convenient to get to as the front porch. We haven't made a final decision on that yet, but it would be nice to just go ahead and have it done. And after that? The kitchen, of course. But not right now; my sanity wouldn't survive a kitchen renovation with two little kids.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Why the People of Mizu Hate Me

or My Daughter Will Not Eat at a Hibachi Grill Again Until She's 20

Last night I met my family (Dave, Ella, Luke, Grandmother, Papa, Joshua, Rebecca, Nathan, and Jake) for supper at Mizu, a local Japanese steakhouse. It was the first time I'd been to this particular steakhouse and I was excited to see a fish swimming at the entrance because I knew Ella would like it. The kiddos were happy, if hungry.

We got to our table, taking up an entire grill to ourselves, and settled in. Ella sat by Aunt Becca and Jake. Luke climbed out of his highchair immediately and did acrobatics in my lap. Drinks were ordered and delivered to the table. Soup and salad made an appearance in answer to the repeated question: "Where's my food?" Even Luke settled down to eat soup while we all started stuffing our faces. All was well.

Then the chef came to the table with his cart of yumminess. It started out low-key enough with him wiping down the grill and clanging his knives. Luke was cautiously interested; I don't know how Ella was doing since she was at the other end of the table. That question was soon answered when Cooky Man lit the grill on fire.

In less than a second, Ella was hanging on the front of Aunt Becca like a baby monkey and shrieking like she was on fire. And shrieking and shrieking and shrieking. My tunnel of vision was focused on Ella as Dave peeled her off of Rebecca and took her away from the table, but I'm pretty sure the entire restaurant had stopped to watch. That child was terrified. Luke was also scared, but his reaction was amplified because of Ella's. I managed to peel him off of me and hand him to Papa so I could follow Dave and Ella.

We deposited her in a chair at the bar, and I stood with her while she hung onto me and calmed down. Dave and I decided that we should probably just take our food to go because she was truly freaking out and we were both exhausted (Really, truly, exhausted. Dave has been reading the Beranstain Bears with his eyes closed all week.). He went back to the table to tell the waitress to bring us some to-go boxes, but realizing it would be a while before all the food was cooked and in an effort to preserve the evening, he came back to attempt to convince her to go back to the table. There was rice on the plate and Luke was eating. She was very hungry, and she finally agreed that she would return to the table if she could sit in my lap.

We got settled down, Ella in my lap with her face buried in my neck, and Luke sitting with Grandmother and stuffing his face. She did finally turn around to eat, and guess what happened? The chef at the table next to us lit the grill on fire. Oh yes, people, it happened again. And again, and again - 4 more times I think. With each passing blaze the shrieking toned down to loud crying, then eventually whimpering and flinching by the time every table around us was fed and the grills cleaned. Finally, she was able to compose herself enough to eat. Then do you know what happened? They turned on the disco ball and loud music. Ella was pretty much okay with that once the initial surprise passed, but flashing lights on the walls is just the sort of thing (one of the few) that scares Luke so he had a minor freak out before he calmed down and realized it was a "ball!" making those lights.

Then, then, as if we had not attracted enough attention to our table, the wait staff came with cake and gong because did I mention that this was my birthday supper? Oh yes, the man brought me a gong and handed me the stick and asked me to hit it one time. Only one time? Really? I could have gone off on that thing. Had I not had a child in my lap, I think I would have knocked it through the plate glass window. Oh how much pleasure I got from hitting that gong. I think I might buy one to keep at home. For real.

Finally, we ate the cake, pottied and jacketed the kids, and got them loaded into the car for the ride home. As we were leaving the shopping center and after I explained over and over again why they have to have fire, this conversation happened.

Ella: I don't wike fire.
Me: I know you don't.
Ella: I don't wike that place.
Me: I know you don't.
Ella: Mommy, next time for your birthday, can we just go somewhere else?
Me: Yes, you don't have to worry about that.
Ella: Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Chick-fil-a, any of those places, but not this place.

And all I could think through my stifled laughter was, "Right on sista-child, Nachos Bell Grande it is."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Not to be confused with the Center for Disease Control, the CTC is code in my house for Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Here's how it went down.

Dave: Where are you keeping the CTC, woman?
Me: Bottom shelf of the lazy susan.
Dave: (incredulous) You knew what I was talking about?
Me: The Cinnamon Toast Crunch?
Dave: How did you know?
Me: Because it's the time of night that you eat it and you have a little cup in your hand while you dig through the cabinets.

It also goes by another name: Cinnamon Croast Tunch. That's what Ella calls it.

We are a family of Cinnamon Croast Tunch eaters. I've mentioned my love for it before, but it doesn't even touch the addiction that Dave and Luke have for those little squares of goodness. Ella loves it and asks for it on the cereal aisle at the grocery store; I love it and eat a bowl of it occasionally. Dave eats as much of it as we have and Luke will eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I leave the box on the counter where he can point at it and tell me "Dat!" (If Luke's diet were based on his choice alone, it would consist of Cinnamon Croast Tunch ("dat!"), shredded cheese ("cheechee!") and grape juice ("juju!") .)

I bought a new box at the Lucky's on Saturday night and put it on the bottom shelf of the lazy susan. On Sunday morning, I pulled it out and poured some in a bowl for Luke to snack on for breakfast. It was already open, and Dave said, "As long as Luke eats one bite of it, I can say that Daddy didn't eat the whole box." Done.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy Merry Christmas!

Soak it up world, because at the rate I'm going, this is the closest thing anyone is getting to a Christmas card this year. Despite the fact that Pop the Pop actually got a decent picture of all of us at once, no Photoshopping required. Despite the fact that I picked out the card at Snapfish and it's just waiting there for me to order it. And despite the fact that Dave has offered me the use of his debit card since mine has expired and I've yet to recieve a new one. I'm in the Christmas spirit, but I'm also paralyzed by our remodeling project and finding it hard to make myself actually do any of the Christmas things that need doing.

Regardless of the fact that we've not decorated a single thing and I have no real date in my head for when that will happen, we officially kicked off Christmas with breakfast with Santa over the weekend. You read correctly, we paid Santa a visit. Ella has been very curious about him and our church had a pancake breakfast fundraiser with Santa, so we went.

The kids were not at all excited about Santa. They gobbled pancakes, they made picture frames with Nativity scenes on them, they watched from afar as others sat with Santa, but they were not impressed. Anytime we went near him, they were hanging on us like baby monkeys. Dave really wanted a picture, but after seeing Luke's reaction and Ella standing at the other side of the room, I told him I wasn't having any part of it. At first he tried to encourage them to sit with him and take his candy, and then he realized that we don't really want them to sit on strangers' laps and take their candy, so he backed off and let them have some space.

That led to this.
Proof of Luke's love for suckers.
Upon seeing that Luke didn't spontaneously combust or disappear in midair, Ella reluctantly agreed to be photographed with the weird man as long as her whole family participated. Thus, we have this classic holiday moment preserved in time.

Merry Christmas!

There are so many things I could say about this picture but I really want you to note their faces (click the on the pictures to enlarge). One was climbing me, the other was trying to stand as close to me as possible without being near Santa, and Dave and I, well, we just knew what the result was going to be: hilarious.

So mark it down peeps, we took a Santa picture this year. We have not broached the topic of Santa coming into our house and I dearly hope she doesn't go there. I briefly considered finding a copy of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to explain him to her, but I decided to leave it be. So far she has only asked two questions: Does Santa live at the North Pole? and Does Mrs. Claus make cookies? She is still not sure what to say if someone asks her what Santa is bringing her for Christmas. For the love of all things merry and bright, people, please stop asking her that before she realizes you mean that a stranger is supposed to come into our house and leave presents! I'm kidding. Sort of. I'm already dreading the sleep disruption when we move her to her new room, and associating that move with a belief that Santa will be coming down our chimney (because those two events are going to happen too close together) is just not an exciting prospect for me.

Without further ado, Merry Christmas from the fam-i-ly!