Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

We had a special Thanksgiving yesterday, celebrating with some of Charlton's friends from his counseling program. Sam and Amanda live in the Springs and he and Charlton are partering together with their counseling practices. Didi and Amber Wong live in Littleton and brought their two-year old Elijah, and two-month old, Shiloh. The food was delicious and we enjoyed hanging out with each other and laughing at the kid's antics. Rylan and Caroline slept during our meal, since we ate during their afternoon nap time, so I was thrilled to be able to actually enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner without interruptions. I was tired from all the cooking and fighting off a cold, so I was really thankful also to be put on-call for work that night. I ended up not having to go to work and was so glad to rest. Overall, we really had a great day celebrating with friends and remembering our blessings.

The table.

Our place setting, including my grandmother's beautiful china.

Our centerpiece.
Rylan made the candle base out of lots of different seeds glued together using a plastic cup as a mold.

Getting ready to dig in to our feast.

Didi and Elijah

Sam and Amanda holding baby Shiloh.

Rylan and Elijah became good buddies.

My little pumpkin.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's beginning to look like Christmas... the Clarke house! We had a wonderful time decorating for Christmas Saturday afternoon. While Rylan was sleeping, I hauled the tree upstairs. The lights were fully strung and twinkling when he woke up from his nap. I can't remember exactly what he said when he saw the tree, because it sounded like gibberish, but essentially he was awestruck. Caroline, who boycotted her nap that afternoon, was captivated by the string of lights and actually threw a small tantrum when I took them away from her! (A foreshadowing of her toddler future?) I think she could have sat all day surrounded by the tangled green wires and blinking lights. Charlton set up our small tree and one of our kid-friendly nativity sets in Rylan's room. The best part of that was that Caroline couldn't reach the top shelf of the bookcase, so he could play to his heart's content.

At one point, Rylan and I had a conversation about Santa Claus visiting on Christmas Eve. "He will come at night to fill your stocking and leave presents, and all kids must be sound asleep in their beds. He came last year and left your train set." Rylan thought seriously for a moment, then wailed, "But, I don't remember him!" It is so much fun to see Christmas through the delighted eyes of a child. Rylan's excitement and even Caroline's interest make me enjoy Christmas all the more.

Here are a few more reasons I am especially looking forward to this Christmas season:

1. Last Christmas was mostly a blur of exhaustion and tears. I was sleep-deprived from caring for a newborn Caroline, exasperated from dealing with her maladjusting brother, and grieving for Grace, our dog, whom we just discovered was dying from cancer. There were some bright spots, but it wasn't our merriest Christmas.

2. This fall I started reading a wonderful series of historical books on the life of Jesus. ( The A.D. Chronicles by Brock and Bodie Thoene). Books 4-6 cover the time period and events around Jesus' birth. At first I was bummed that I ended up reading the Christmas story in October, but it turned out to be a great way to start preparing my heart early for the true meaning of this season. I can't say enough wonderful things about this series. It is well-researched and although some characters and events are created by the author's imagination, it follows scripture very closely. I don't think any literature about the Bible should replace The Book itself, but even Jesus told stories to illustrate His truth. I have heard the Christmas story since I was a very young girl, but reading about the characters in the context of their culture, politics, and faith, and learning more about the prophesies of Messiah's birth made it come alive in a whole new way. I fell more in love with Jesus and actually want to spend more time reading my Bible.

3. Rylan is three now and has a better "clue" about what all the Christmas fuss is about. And according to my counselor husband, kids can start to form memories at this age. It's more motivating when you realize your kids might actually remember the results of all your effort and hard work. It may still be lost in the mush of Caroline's baby brain, but we can take pictures for her, and wrapping paper is always fun, no matter what the season.

4. At MOPS a few weeks ago, we had a great speaker talking about making family holiday traditions. It was somewhat overwhelming to hear ALL her family traditions, but I was feeling especially energetic and inspired that meeting. I stole some great ideas and can't wait to start them with our family. I'll share more on these later..

5. Baking cookies, cookies, and more delicious cookies that I only make this time of the year.

6. We live in a state with the possibility of a white Christmas. Even if we don't actually get snow on Christmas, it should definitely be cold enough for hot chocolate.

I will leave you with some pictures of our decorating. I could not distract Caroline away from the lights long enough to look at the camera.

Our beautiful mantle in its full glory at Christmas time. Thanks again, Dad and Mom!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Caroline is 1 year old!

Happy 1st Birthday to my best baby girl! At 9:03 am on November 24, Caroline Elizabeth entered our world with her full head of dark hair, rosebud lips, and even a blister on her wrist from sucking in the womb. Instantly we fell in love and grew to a family of four.

As I was glancing over my post for her 11 month "birthday", I realized there haven't been many changes,....except we have a walker. Now if that isn't a big enough change! It has been completely captivating to watch Caroline's determination to master this new skill. Rylan walked so late (at 17 months) and he cruised for so long on the furniture, that his transition to walking on his own wasn't very dramatic. Just as she has shown us her entire life (you would think I would have caught on in a year's time), Caroline does things her own way. She will stand up all by herself in the middle of the floor and once she feels sturdy enough, she starts traveling. We counted nine steps last night. Each day she gets a little more balanced and can take more steps in a row before falling. The last few weeks she has been content to climb straight up the stairs as fast as she can. Now that is too boring and she wants to try turning around, standing on the steps, and contemplating taking a flying leap. Mom doesn't think that trick is nearly as cool as she does.

A few weeks ago, we had a rough time with teething as Caroline completed her matched set of four top and four bottom teeth. While those nubs were pushing through their gums, she became very nippy and I nearly had to wean her. We had a few attempts at nursing where both of us were in tears because of her biting and I was feeling really discouraged. I was just about ready to call it quits, then realized that she was probably teething and that was making everything worse. After that horrible night, she was much nicer to her mommy and I was glad I hadn't cut her off permanently just yet. After her newborn stage, Caroline has never been a very contented nurser. I will spare you all the technical details, but lets just say nursing isn't a source of comfort for her. I have agonized over the decision, mostly because it hasn't been my decision to wean. I had hoped we could have shared that special cuddling time for much longer since we aren't planning for another baby any time soon. I think this is just another one of those areas where God is gently reminding me how to embrace the differences in my children and love them well, even when they don't behave exactly the way I wish. So you see, this paragraph isn't really about breastfeeding like you thought. :-) Or really much about Caroline's birthday except that this has been a recurring theme over her first year as I have muddled through parenting two very different children.
The other day, as I spent some time with each child individually before putting them down for naps, I was struck with how intensely I love both children, and love how they are incredibly unique. I had heard the saying that love multiplies when you have more children, but before Caroline was born, I couldn't imagine feeling as strongly about another baby as I did Rylan. He was my first-born, a life-long dream fulfilled, the answer to years of prayers. He was an even-tempered, mellow, cuddly baby.
Caroline was our surprise baby; the source of intense fatigue and nausea during our cross-country move and other major life changes. I first got a hint of her spunkier personality during all those night shifts I worked during her pregnancy. Those were some of her most active times, spent wiggling, kicking, and dancing all night long. Even her birth was more painful than with Rylan's because I chose to deliver without an epidural. Almost every evening for the first seven weeks of her life, Caroline would cry for hours, inconsolable. I would walk the floors with her until she would finally pass out from exhaustion. Later, when she wasn't screaming in the evenings, she would still fuss and push away when I rocked her before bed. Caroline nursed because it was the only way to fill her belly and as soon as she was satisfied she was ready to move on to more interesting things.
I didn't fully realize it until months later, but sometimes I felt rejected by my own baby, inadequate as her mom. The things that had worked to comfort and soothe Rylan only seemed to annoy her. With Rylan, I felt an instant, intense connection as soon as I knew I was pregnant, with Caroline the bonding process was a more gradual, deepening love. Over time, I stopped expecting her to be respond like her brother and made a deliberate effort to study her unique personality. I figured out that she preferred to be held upright, on my chest. She liked being carried in the Moby wrap and we both enjoyed that closeness. I noticed that even though her anger was intensely loud, she also expressed her joy with her whole heart and deep belly laughs. Caroline will never rest in my arms for an hour, but she gives the tightest neck hugs, the sweetest nose rubs, and even gentle kisses. When we play together on the floor, she invariably crawls over to climb on me and lean her head on my shoulder while sucking her thumb. Even though it only lasts a minute, because she is busy conquering her world, it is still precious.
Caroline is such a bold, adventerous, determined little girl; sometimes I just watch her in amazement. I wonder what God has planned for her life and am blessed that God has chosen me to be her mom. I pray that He will always help me to love her unconditionally, to teach her about Jesus' love for her, to be a good model to show her how to treat others, and to help her develop her own talents and interests. It is a scary responsibility and I am glad God is a big God who loves my children even more than I do. He handpicked this fiesty little girl to be my daughter and to shape my character in the process of mothering her.
So happy Birthday again, my sweet Caroline. I can't wait to see what God has in store for you in the years to come. I love you, my precious second-born. You see, even though we didn't "plan" for you, God gave you to us in His perfect timing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Caroline!

Although her real birthday isn't for a few more days, we celebrated today since Charlton has to work late on Tuesday. Caroline enjoyed her birthday waffle, cut in the shape of a flower, with lots of syrup (a favorite) and sprinkles. After breakfast she opened her presents, with plenty of help from her big brother. Rylan had a much harder time than I had expected with the spotlight on Caroline, and threw quite a few tantrums when we wouldn't allow him to keep her presents for himself. It put a little bit of a damper on the celebration for us parents, but Miss Caroline took everything in stride. Since the wrapping paper was just as interesting as the presents themselves, Rylan finally got a chance to test out all her new girly toys.

She wasn't sure what to think about the birthday waffle at first.

Is this candle edible?

Caroline starts opening her presents just before an impatient Rylan takes over.

Caroline attacking a package.

Caroline's first tea set!

Caroline's first Breyer model horses, Misty and Stormy, from Aunt Bethany.

Loving her big stuffed horse.

Pony hugs.

Look what I can do! For some reason, Caroline kept trying to throw her big horse and her baby around her shoulders. This was her best attempt with the horse.

Tea with horses.

Hmm, I think these two look alike, at least in the cheeks and chin department.

Umm, I don't think that is the best way to hold baby dolls, Caroline.

Little mommy-to-be, you need some more training. I know your baby doll smells good, but please don't bite her head!

Birthday cupcakes. I love the progression in the next photos as Caroline moves from skepticism to pure enjoyment.

First touch.


Can I fit this whole piece in my mouth?

The eyes are lighting up.

This stuff is great, Mom!

Caroline's stuffed horse

Thanks Nana and Papa for Caroline's horse. I caught her giving him some "love" soon after she met him. (Yes, that is Rylan screaming in the background. He had a rough time watching his sister get so much attention and all those presents.)

Caroline's birthday cupcake

The first birthday cupcake was a big hit with Caroline. I guess she has her mother's sweet tooth early in life, unlike her brother who ate just a little of his cupcake for his first birthday, and no cake at all for his second. I was glad to see her demolish her treat even though she was distracted by her brother during this movie.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rylan's new trick

Rylan first showed me this trick while in the bathtub a few weeks ago, and I just about fell on the floor laughing. I got a video of it then, but didn't feel right about posting him in all his nakedness for the whole world to see, potentially. Some things are better kept private, and I believe he will thank me someday for that restraint. (Although it was really, really cute!) So when he gave me an encore performance, fully clothed, I felt perfectly comfortable sharing it.

Sunday snow

We woke up to about 4 inches of snow on Sunday morning. We might have made it to church, but there was ice under the snow and it was really cold, so we stayed home and played outside instead. Rylan was actually asking to play in the snow, which is a big improvement from last year. It is still exciting to wake up and see that fresh, white blanket of snow first thing in the morning. It is also starting to make me more excited about Christmas.
Look at that, Baby Caroline!
Checking out the snow together.
A sweet hug from brother. I have been wanting to get pictures of them in their matching pajamas for a long time, but it just hasn't worked out. Even though you can't see their faces in these pictures, I thought they turned out really adorable.
Rylan loved his hot chocolate after playing out in the snow. He actually got a much bigger chocolate goatee after I took this picture.

If you fall off... try again...

On Friday I was attempting to bring the tractor from the backyard to the garage for safe-keeping in the upcoming storm. Of course, I was sidetracked in the living room by excited kids who couldn't imagine anything more fun at that moment than playing with the tractor in the house. Caroline still amazes me with her persistance. She was determined to ride in the wagon, and even though she lost her balance and tumbled out multiple times, she kept trying again with a smile on her face. Caroline would make an amazing horse-woman with an attitude like that. She reminded me of that saying when riding horses that if you fall off, you need to get right back on.

I made it!
Almost there..
Look what Rylan found on his farm.
Going for a tractor ride.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two steps..

Well it was later than I had expected, but it finally happened. Caroline took her first real steps tonight, two in a row, two different times in case I didn't believe my eyes the first time. There was a lot of hugging, laughing, and celebrating in our living room tonight. Miss Caroline was beaming, giggling and so proud of herself. I am so thankful I get to be home with my kids to witness these milestones in their lives. Hopefully Caroline will feel up to practicing her new skill so I can catch in on video one of these days.

Look what I found in the shoe basket...

Caroline gets closer to walking

Rylan's best shots

The boy seems to be taking after both grandfathers in his photography talent. Whenever he sees me taking pictures, he always begs to have a turn with the camera. His latest photo shoot included three fascinating shots of the carpet, one of his foot, and these....

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A week in our life...

Sorry it has been so long since I posted last. It has been a very busy week, but busy seems to be the norm for our house! We had some beautiful warm weather and tried to get outside and enjoy it every day while it lasted. Another cold front is blowing through tonight and returning us to winter.
Here is a synopsis of an especially eventful week in the life of the Clarkes:
Saturday night: Rylan sorted through and sampled much of his Halloween candy and promptly rejected anything "crunchy" or with nuts. Only plain M&M's and chocolate hershey bars passed his test. (Mom and dad were glad to take care of the rejected candy.) Brave Charlton decided to have a guy camp-out in the living room. I couldn't imagine taking advantage of the extra hour of sleep anywhere but my warm, cozy bed. Turns out, the kids woke up with the sun an hour early, nobody slept very well, and we heathens ended up skipping church and going to the park instead. Trick-or-treating and then playing hooky for church, oh my!
Monday: I worked the night before and slept for half the day, then woke up to do four loads of laundry, vacuuming, and preparing for Charlton to come home in the evening with the do-it-yourself carpet cleaner. We cleaned the carpets last May... just before Caroline learned to roll across the floor happily spitting-up all the way, Rylan had multiple "accidents" while potty-training, and Caroline perfected her habit of tossing half of each meal onto the floor. Needless to say, the Resolve just couldn't keep up with all our spots and we were way overdue for a deep cleaning. I was really exhausted at the end of the day, but the carpets look beatiful again, except for the area by the kitchen where Caroline likes to sit and pull it apart.
Tuesday: MOPS play group at Focus on the Family. I'll explain more about that later with the pictures. Rylan had fun running around with his friends Jimmy and Dain, and stealing Jimmy's chicken nuggets at lunch when no one was looking. Caroline was still a small baby last time we visited, so she enjoyed being able to crawl and climb over the obstacles in the baby area for the first time. Before going home, I took a quick trip to Victoria's Secret to redeem a birthday coupon, and frantically looked for my size on the sale rack while trying to keep Rylan from dismantalling racks of undergarments and bins of lipstick.
Wednesday: More fun with Jimmy and Dain at play group at our house. We raked leaves in the backyard and the boys jumped in the piles in between arguments over sharing toys and whose turn it was to hide under the plastic swimming pool.
Thursday: Story time at the library. Rylan behaved very well until the very end when he and another boy both lay claim to the same giant stuffed animal and had a shouting tug-of-war match. The librarian was so disgusted she confiscated all the stuffed animals and hid them away in a closet. Rylan has been re-telling the sad story of the "puppets" being taken away every day. Charlton met us at the park, then we ate lunch at one of our new favorite restaurants, Jack-in-the-Box. I am happy to say Rylan did not steal anyone else's chicken nuggets. After nap we went to the grocery and only had to make one mad dash across the store to the potty.
Friday: We went to the zoo with Daddy in the morning, had our eardrums blasted by the howler monkeys, narrowly avoided some uncomfortable questions about the bear's obscene behavior, and only handled about a half-dozen temper tantrums. One of the highlights of our trip was seeing some wild deer up close in a wooded area in the zoo. We celebrated my birthday a few days early with my favorite pizza from Old Chicago's and Charlton and I enjoyed a rare relaxing evening at home, together. Charlton also surprised me with a dozen, beautiful red roses. Thanks, honey!
Saturday: Charlton went to his karate class in the morning and as soon as he arrived home, I dashed out to get a quick hair cut. The kids and I scarfed our lunch and then went to celebrate our friend Izzy's first birthday party. Her party was in the clubhouse of the condo complex, and we were amazingly one of the first guests to arrive. Some family members were putting the finishing touches on the delicious food and charming decorations. An impressive bouquet of colorful balloons formed the centerpiece of the room. Rylan, and his accomplice, Buzz Lightyear, just couldn't resist a little balloon combat. Fearing disaster after the second blow, and with Izzy's family members watching with baited breath, I decided to halt the attack. Too late. Turns out the helium balloons weren't really firmly attached to the cute miniature gift bag that looked like a weighted tether. Gradually the entire cluster broke loose and gently drifted towards the ceiling,.... one with exposed beams and bolt ends sticking out. POP, POP, POP went the balloons, one after the other as I frantically tried to grab the strings and pull them to safety. In the end only three balloons met a tragic end, just the prettiest pink ones that actually had the "Happy Birthday" writing on them. One thoughtful family member even ran to his car for a pocket knife to remove the shredded remains before the birthday girl arrived. It was all I could do not to hang my head, grab my children and run for the door, before the party had even started. We managed to behave ourselves for a whole hour before I caught Rylan "helping" Izzy open her presents and decided enough was enough. Besides, we had to get home and prepare for Charlton's "fight night" party with the Training Ground guys. Fifteen hungry guys, plus three MMA fights on TV, plus thirty grilled brats, three hasbrown casseroles, three bags of chips, one pan of brownies, a dozen cupcakes, and five 2-liters of soda equaled a great time for everyone.
Sunday: My actual birthday was really a very ordinary day. We went to church, I opened my presents, took a lovely long nap and went to work in the evening.
Whew! What a week. No wonder I am tired. Maybe next week will be calmer... :-)
Happy Birthday to me! Thanks everyone for all my great gifts.
Caroline and her friend Izzy go for a canoe ride at Focus on the Family. Izzy's first birthday was November 6. Her mom Bekka and I were in a MOPS care group last fall and bonded through being pregnant at the same time.
Caroline looking oh so adorable on Sunday morning all ready for church. She has gotten very good at taking her shoes off. I think I popped them back on three times before we walked out the door and when I picked her up from nursery she was only wearing one.
Caroline's birthday cupcake shirt. I thought it turned out pretty cute and you can't really tell the cupcke ended up being a little crooked. She wore this to our "birthday" celebration at our MOPS play group on Tuesday. We had to fudge a little because Focus on the Family won't let you reserve a play room unless it is for a child's birthday. So, we gave them the names of Caroline and Izzy, our November babies, brought sprinkle cupcakes to share, and Caroline wore this shirt to enhance our credibility.