Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's still Christmas here...

While everyone else is undecorating, I am resisting the urge to take down the lights and the tree..My parents are coming into town Monday night, so we will be doing Christmas all over again with them on Tuesday. They have sent presents ahead of them, so the kids are anxious to unwrap the gifts still under the tree-but who knows if the organizing and decluttering urge gets strong enough, I may un-decorate and just put the presents on the piano!! Noah is beside himself with glee as he has already felt the packages and is certain poppy sent him a roll of duct tape. Could his world be a more happier place? a bb gun, a zip line AND his own personal roll of duct tape...does life really get any better than that when your 7? Oh, and he lost a HUGE front, top tooth 2 days before Christmas, so now he is loving sticking straws in the hole in his mouth to drink his chocolate milk. And His foster brother Austin is visiting for a few days....and they are knee deep in a mud hole RIGHT NOW. Oh and Mike just came in to tell me he is (RIGHT NOW) making a platform for the zipline and raising the cable HIGHER then previously mentioned 20 feet off the ground. NOAH is one happy boy. And the girls just received the Christmas "gift" of getting their own blogs-which thrilled them beyond all belief. And the babies are napping...but wait, are those jingle bells I still hear? No, it's just my husband and his chainsaw-another oversized boy-enjoying his toys.....

The zip-line's maiden voyage and more company!

Saturday morning after Christmas, Mike and Noah were up and out early, determined to get the zip line going before our friends from South Carolina arrived at noon. Mike ran out of cable and had to make a mid-morning run to the home improvement store, but was still back in time to have everything together just as our company was pulling in the driveway. We greeted our sweet friends-who mind you-have been urban dwellers most of their lives, so I'm sure traveling to our little singlwide on a dirt road in the woods of MS was a big enough adventure for them, without throwing in the excitement of a zip line. After hugs and remarking how much all of our children have grown (they have daughters the same age as Mackenzie and Mae and a son the same age as Noah), we headed arounded back to view the zipline-mind you, this would be the first time I had ventured outside to look at my husband's handiwork-- My eyes, as well as the eyes of my dear friend, grew big as saucers, as we surveyed the extension ladder extended 20 FEET up, leaned against a big pecan tree, with a cable anchored to the tree just above the ladder. Mike had crafted a trolley that attached to the cable (which, I think he told me is supposed to hold 900 lbs), and attached to the trolley was a swing...and at the end of the cable-a distance of a little more than 200 feet, was a tire, attached to the order to stop the "rider" before the rider smacked into the tree as he/she zoomed down the zipline.
As I marveled at My husband's skill, I also wondered which one of my children would break an arm first. We stared up at Mike, standing 20 feet up in a crook of the tree, holding the swing.
"Who's first?" He called. At first I suggested he go first, but then I realized he was our families main source of income, and we could not have him laid up in a hospital due to falling off a zip line-
so the next choice was Mackenzie, who fears nothing, and quickly scampered up the ladder and onto the swing. Ready to view a thrilling 90 mph ride, we all watched, half in excitement, half in Mike let go of the swing, we all held our breath....the swing moved VERY slowly down the cable-so slowly, we all wanted to grab the swing at pull it the rest of the way-Mackenzie mosey-ied about halway down the zip line, before the swing hit the ground and dragged her the rest of the way. Each of the other kids took turns, and with each child, the ride went slowly, ending in the dirt about midway through the ride. Mike stood atop the ladder and chuckled..."I think I have a little reconfiguring to do...." His reconfiguring would involve pulling the cable tighter and having a steeper incline, although I expressed my concern with taking the cable higher than 20 feet off the ground. In the meantime, we left it as it was, and had a fun time watching the kids slide not so gracefully down the zipline, always hitting the ground in mid-ride.
And our friends admitted that it wasn't as dangerous as they thought it would be (not yet anyway). The rest of the day was spent enjoying our friends-trying to cram all of the remeniscing into a few hours, since their plans were to leave early the next morning. mae and her friend Ciara pulled out a typewriter and wrote stories together. Mackenzie taught Serena how to bake apple pie-the girls made one to keep and one to send home with them. Noah and Ethan tried out Noah's bb gun (under Mike's supervision of course) and our friend Luis cooked us supper-spanish rice with beans, chicken and a home-made concoction called sofrito-a blend of garlic, peppers, onion, olives and I'm not sure what else. When we all lived in Florida, where we first became friends, some of our best "food" memories involved Deanna and Luis' spanish after stuffing ourselves again, we talked late into the night, trying to make up for the 3 years since we last saw each other! Sunday morning, at their request, we took them to Elvis Presley's birthplace, and then said our goodbyes. They headed home, we headed to church...all the kids asking how soon we would see them again. It's great to have those special friends-ones that no matter how long it has been since you have talked or seen each other, you can still pick up right where you left off.

Cristmas day-here comes the crowd..and the food....

We are definately a family with a deep affection for food, and many of our memories and traditions revolve around food. I make no apologies for this...but I know I will spend most of the new year trying to walk off what I ate on Christmas day alone! Every Christmas, our "big" Christmas meal involves little or no cooking. I think this "tradition" was started with Mike's grandmother, who was tired of spending the whole day cooking instead of enjoying time with her family. So The meal my children all look forward to on Christmas day consists of croissants, piles of roast beef, turkey, salami, ham and cheese, chips, dips and 10 pounds of peel and eat shrimp.
AND grandma's rule is the kids can eat as much as they want. Usually we gather at my mother in laws, but I suggested our house this year. By the time everyone arrived, our little house was very full- All our family, plus Mike's parents, His middle brother and wife, their 3 children, his youngest brother and his daughter, Mike's uncle and his college age daughter, and our older bachelor neighbor. It was quite a crowd, and I can honestly say we had a great time. Everyone stayed longer than they normally do, and chatted and laughed more than they normally do. Even though it was cold, the kids bundled up and headed outside to play flashlight tag and jump on the trampoline in the dark, and the grown ups filled up on cookies, cheesecake, shrimp and sandwiches. It was close to 9 when the last of the family headed home...and full and sleepy we wondered why we only do this once a year. I vow to initiate a family gathering at least every few months in 2010...

Christmas Eve, Christmas morning...

As I sit here sipping tea with honey, brought to me by my sweet oldest child, who probably wants something...I was busy reading other people's blogs, realizing, I need to go ahead and post on mine! We had a wonderful Christmas, here at the Barnes home. Christmas Eve, we normally attend a candlelight service and then go "light looking" (Noah's term for driving through heavily decorated neighborhoods, looking at lights), followed by hot cocoa. The rain this Christmas eve was torrential, so instead of venturing out, we had our hot cocoa at home and read prophesies about Christ, followed by the story of his birth. Everyone hauled their blankets and pillows into the living room, since somehow a few years ago, we started the tradition of everyone sleeping in the living room on Christmas Eve. Mie and I were struggling to stay awake in order to fill the kids stockings-we don't do the Santa thing, but the kids always look forward to the special treats we put in their stockings. Mackenzie remarked once, "sometimes our stocking gifts are better than what's under the tree!!" We always put coupons in there stockings for things like "a date with mom, including dinner and a movie" "trip to the bookstore to pick out a book", Mackenzie gets one every year for a date with dad to have lunch out and attend a favorite contemporary Christian concert that comes around each year. This year they each recieved 12-one for each month. I found a great little coupon book at the Hallmark store, which I was able to get for free with a coupon, so I didn't have to type allthe coupons myself! The other biggie in their stockings this year were book lights-for all the late night reading they like to do.
I was the first one up Christmas day, and had time to grab a shower and fix my hair before the kids woke up. Mike decided he would showere before the gift-opening began, and Mackenzie asked why he was taking the LONGEST shower he had ever taken! We always have a special breakfast casserole on Christmas morning-prepares the day before, we just pop it in the oven while we are opening gifts. (I will post the recipe hopefully later today, along with a few for other goodies we made this Christmas). The kids tore into their stockings, and quickly decided some of them wanted to trade coupons. Noah would not be moved. He was not trading any coupons, even though he couldn't even read all of them! Mackenzie was trying to bribe him out of his "fast food lunch of your choice" coupon. The babies ate soo much candy while we opened presents...Dakota was covered in Chocolate and Lexie had gummi-savers stuck everywhere. We typically don't do many gifts, but by the time the kids open grandparents gifts, they usually have way more than they need! The "Big" gifts this year for the older children were-Mackenzie recieved a full audio set of Chronicles of Narnia, Mae received a pretty lamp for the piano, and Noah recieved his cub-scouts uniform, which he promptly put on over his pajamas! Lexie had a musical tea-set and puzzles and Dakota had the biggest bucket of wooden blocks ever. They all got an assortment of books, including lamplighter's and Henty's. Even though Noah can't read them yet, he loves that he has started "collecting" what he calls "big boy"books. A collective gift was the zip line that Mike had been working hard at designing for the past month-hopefully it would be up and running by the next day, when our company arrived from South Carolina. The sweetest gifts under the tree were the ones the children had given to us and each other. Mackenzie gave me a jar filled with slips of paper-one for each week of the year-each with a special "treat" for me written on them. Things like "plan menu and grocery list in peace while I babysit" or "one free foot rub". Mae gave Noah her carhart fleece hat with the built in face mask, after he cried over losing his at the Christmas parade. Mackenzie gave her dad a framed picture of him and me, and gave her sister a coupon for taking her to the movies. We had a laugh at Noah's gift giving tactics-apparently he had gone around the house-well specifically into his sister's room-and gathered things to give as gifts. He gave Mackenzie a hat that was already hers, and gave Mae a stuffed animal that was Mackenzie's as well! After opening gifts and eating, we headed over to Mike's parents to open gifts. I must say, they were VERY creative this year in their gift giving...
Mae got a foam-egg crate pad to put on her bed-which she was thrilled with, since her sister already had one. Mackenzie got a HUGE box of baking supplies-flour, sugar, crisco, cherries, coconut, parchment paper, chocolate chips and a gift card for more cooking supplies at Wal-mart! (her uncle Paul chipped in on this gift as well). As I write, Mackenzie has just brought me a hot buttered biscuit from the batch she just whipped up. And Noah recieved a b.b. gun. and a jar with a million b.b.'s. Oh and STRICT instructions that he is only to use it under the supervision of his Dad. And I am the mom who said none of my children would ever play with guns. Noah now has a small arsenal of weapons, and I have eaten my words....
We headed back home to put the sugared-up babies down for naps, and for Mike to begin working on the zip line. Noah could not believe he was getting a b.b gun and a zip line in the same day..and I will probably be getting our family their own wing at the emergency room....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Traditions...

While I have not updated my blog until today, I have taken the time these past few weeks to enjoy reading other blogs...I love getting glimpses into other people's lives...

Friend and fellow blogger, Anita, had posted about her family Christmas traditions, so I decided that I would do the same. When I read her blog, I thought, we don't really have that many Christmas traditions; However, when I asked the children to tell me some of their favorite family traditions, they came up with all sorts of things! And so, I decided I did indeed have enough "traditions" to warrant a special post.

*We usually put up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. This year I was chomping at the bit, so we put it up Thanksgiving day. Some years we have had artificial trees, some years we have had live trees from Lowe's or Marvin's, some years we have gone to the back of my brother in law's property and cut down our very own Charlie brown Christmas tree, whose branches were barely strong enough to hold paper ornaments! Last year there was no tree because we spent Christmas in NY with my family, and this year it is a small but just right artificial tree bought at Dollar General! The kids get so excited, pulling out the ornaments, and talking about when and where each one came from.

My grandmother gave me a gold-plated ornament each year until I was 18-each one bearing my name and the year-and as simple as these ornaments were, they were so special to me.

We began the same tradition with our children-making or purchasing a new ornament each year, so that upon leaving home, each child will have their own collection of ornaments. Noah was so tickled this year to recieve a hammer ornament from his grandparents-it was the first ornament he placed on the tree. In addition to letting the children unwrap the ornaments and decorate the tree, we set up the same ceramic creche each year. The figurines are huge and were painted by Mike's mother as a gift for his grandmother, many years ago. When Mike first brought it home, after his grandmother passed away, I thought where am I going to put that big set?!? But it has become something the children look forward to each year...unwrapping each piece, and placing them on the shelf-as long as we have had the set it has been missing a wise man-so each year when visitors comment on the whereabouts of the third wisemen, in unison the kids will quickly say-"hH went to Wal-mart to get diapers!"

Typically, we are not "listmakers" when it comes to Christmas gifts, as we want to teach the children that Christmas is not about getting, but about the gift that God gave. We did start a listmaking tradition about 2 years ago. It began with a 6 inch wide, HUGE roll of paper that we had picked up at the local newspaper. Mae decided this was perfect "list" paper, and started making lists of everything-lists of her friends, lists of her family....she discovered that the longer the list the "cooler" it looked when you unrolled it and it dramatically puddled on the floor.

Mackenzie suggested a Christmas list of things we could give, and I suggested a list of things God had already blessed us with, and we were amazed as our lists grew and rolled halfway across the kitchen. We hang the list on the pantry door, and then, pack it away with the Christmas ornaments to be read the next year. We will most likely work on this years "lists" today, while cookies are in the oven-another tradition the kids love-Baking Cookies!

My step mom always baked (and still does) tons and tons of cookies to give away at Christmas-I always loved her green, Christmas tree spritz cookies the best, and had a habit of sneaking way too many of them when she wasn't looking. The children love to try out new cookie recipes, and especially love "sampling" before we pack up plates to give away. Magic cookie bars are always a must, as our chocolate chip cookies. This year we will try our hand at biscotti and probably make some no bake peanut butter/chocolate/oatmeal cookies as well. As was the tradition when I was younger, We will save a big plateful of cookies to enjoy Christmas morning with big glasses of milk while we open gifts.

Since we are on the "cooking" topic, I must admit that for myself and my children, many of our memories/traditions are tied to food! Every Christmas Eve for the past several years, we prepare the same egg/sausage and cheese casserole, and it bakes while we unwrap gifts in the morning. If we are not traveling to NY or Florida to visit my parents, then Christmas "dinner" (or, what we northerners call "lunch") is loads of roast beef, ham, turkey and cheese, piled high on croissants, with chips and soda. So simple, but something the kids look forward to every year, because Grandma says everyone can fix their own sandwiches and eat as much as they want-not the case normally at our house! This year dinner will be at our house, and the children all panicked when they heard... "What about the sandwiches!!!???!!" Mackenzie asked.

I assured them that Grandma was bringing all of the sandwich "fixins" to our house, and they were very relieved!

In the days leading up to Christmas, beginning after Thanksgiving, We read through Bible prophesies relating to Christ, as well as Bible passages that tell about the people throughout history who were in the lineage of Christ. We've made paper ornaments representing each person, and these get hung on a tiny tree in our kitchen called a "Jesse Tree"-named for the passage that says "a branch will spring forth from the stump of Jesse"Isaiah 11:1-9, referring to Christ. I had thought we would make new ornaments each year, but I think we will make new ornaments only every other year, as there are so many to make! Reading together through these passages, and hanging ornaments representing adam andcreation all the way through the birth of Christ-paints such an awesome picture for our family of God's mighty hand carrying out his plans through the course of history. Even though we do it every year, I never cease to be amazed.

Besides Bible reading together, we have an assortment of favorite Christmas books that we seem to read through each year, beginning the 1st of december. We usually read a story from James Dobson's Family Christmas Treasury each day one week, but it was already checked out at the library. (I have vowed to purchase my own copy for next year!) Right now we are reading through Ideals Treasury of Best Loved Christmas Stories. We Always read a little book called Renfroe's Christmas about the true spirit of giving, and we always, just for fun, read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. This morning I read Max Lucado's The Christmas Candle to myself, and I will probably read that to the children today as well. Usually the week of Christmas, we read a chapter or two from Richard Exley's The Indescribable Gift-a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the nativity story.

Besides these things, the children reminded me of several other things we have done, that have become "traditions". The children don't recieve gifts from Santa, but each year we read about St Nicholas, and talk about how we can be like a Santa to other people-in other words, giving gifts anonymously-without having the chance to be thanked. This has been such an awesome thing for our family. One year while discussing the idea of Santa, we decided that we would "Santa" someone. We knew of a family who had had an especially tough year and then bought and baked a few gifts for them. The kids were so excited as they decided what would be the best things to include. We couldn't afford anything big, but I think we included a homemeade fleece blanket, several toys, and of course cookies. We typed up a note, unsigned of course, and headed to their house late at night. We left a bag on the door knob and left. We never knew if they got it, never knew if they liked it...and never recieved a thank you-I had no idea what an impact this would have on our children. I never meant for it to become a tradition, but the next year as Christmas drew nearer, the kids began to ask, "Mom, who are we going to "Santa" someone this year?" My answer was a quick, "I don't know, we'll have to pray about it." The real answer that year was, I don't know, because we don't have money to buy ourselves gifts, let alone someone else. That was our first year in Florida, and money was very tight. Most weeks we weren't sure if we would have enough money for groceries, and the thought of buying Christmas gifts for anyone that year was far from our minds. But the children persisted, and even suggested a family who we knew-
I didn't know how to tell them we couldn't, and even Mike said we needed to find a way to do it.

So we prepared a basket of mostly baked goods, and a few little things from the dollar store and headed to their neighborhood. Our children still talk about the night that daddy parked the car a few houses away, crept to the house in the dark, left the basket, rang the doorbell and RAN as fast as he could back to the car, where we sat in the dark and watched the family come to the door, look curiously around, and take the basket inside. As Mike sat panting, Mackenzie said, "Wow, I didn't know you could run that fast!!!' and Mae added, "Daddy, are you going to have a heart attack?" We drove home replaying the nights events and talking about the fun we had had doing something nice for someone else. I asked God that night to forgive me for not wanting to give that year. For thinking we just didn't have enough to share with someone else. The next day a package arrived. It was from some friends of our back in MS. Apparently God had put us on THEIR hearts that year, and the box was loaded with wrapped gifts for the children. They were not expensive or fancy. And I knew that the sender was not much better off financially then we were, yet God had put us on their hearts and they gave. I cried as I pulled the packages out of the box and laid them under the tree. I promised God right then I would try to do better. I would try to give more and think less about what I would do without if I gave. I promised I would try to listen harder for that still small voice, telling me of a need beyond my four walls, which for the most part were quite comfortable, and filled with more than my family needed.
That year was definately an eye opening experience for me, and the Santa tradition remains-regardless of our own financial state.
There are other fun things we do each year..which, again, have become traditions without my even`realizing it. Sometime in December-it seems like it is usually the coldest night of december, we drive to a well decorated neighborhood with my in laws following us in their truck. Once we arrive at said neighborhood, we all unload from our WARM car, and pile into the back of Grandma and Grandpa's pick-up, which has been loaded down with what appears to be every blanket, quilt and afghan my mother in law owns-and I am suddenly thankful she owns so many blankets!!!! We layer on the blankets and my father in law proceeds to drive Verrrrrrry slowly (sometimes too slowly) through the neighborhood that has turned into a beautifully lit, winter wonderland. We all ooh and ahh as our teeth chatter, and I am reminded how much fun it is to watch the expression on a child's face as they see this many lights for the first time. During this year's ride, Lexie bounced up and down in my lap, yelling, "Lights! Lights!!!" Mae, in a very dreamy voice said, "It's soooo beautiful. " Noah said, "Wow, they must have had to use some big extension ladder and a whole lotta staples to put all those lights up....Daddy, can I get on the roof and do that to our house????" And Mackenzie, ever the realist, remarked, "Boy, It sure is pretty, but I wouldn't want to have their electric bill!!!" We usually round out the night by singing Christmas carols as we ride, and watching our breath linger in front of us in the cold (FREEZING) night air.
When we circle back to where we started from, Grandma breaks out her trusty thermos and some styrofoam cups, and we all grab a cup of hot chocolate before we jump back into the warmth of our car, our cheeks and noses still recovering from the cold!
There are other things we do each year, watch certain movies, like "The Nativity," Allow each person to open one gift on Christmas eve, Bake a Happy Birthday Jesus cake and decorate it with the same tiny nativity figurines each year, try to attend at least one Christmas musical or live nativity, make lots of home-made gifts...Even as I write, I'm amazed how things have become special traditions without us even realizing it. As I think back on my own childhood, I'm reminded of the things I never realized were traditions-the cookies on Christmas morning, the fact that no matter how old you were, my step-mother always labeled our presents "from Santa"-and still does!!! Hunting for the perfect live Christmas tree (we never had an artificial one), Christmas caroling and making up our own quirky family version of the 12 days of Christmas, ice skating at Rockerfeller Center and going to FAO Swartz and to see the window displays at Saks 5th Avenue.. These things have become some of my fondest memories, and I hope the traditions Mike and I keep with our children, will someday be some of their favorite memories-things they will enjoy and share with their own children.. Most importantly, I hope their clearest, fondest memory will be one of Christ right smack in the middle of all our Christmas celebrating, reminding them that he most certainly is the reason for it all.

Catching up...

It has been quite awhile since I have posted, and I figured that since I just sent out our Christmas letter to friends and family, in which I invited them to come visit our family blog-
I probably needed to at least have a post that was more current than October 30!
We have been pretty busy since then, so my blog has been low on the list of things to do..
A week after my last post, we recieved a call about a little 2 year old boy, who came to stay for just 2 days, before getting to go stay with his grand-parents. A few days later, on the same day I went to speak at the foster parent training, we were called about another little boy, 18 month old
Dakota. He has been with us a month today, and while he is so sweet and precious, it is obvious that even at such a young as he is so confused about all the changes going on and all these new poeple around him. He will probably just be with us through Christmas, so we are continually trying to prepare the children for his leaving. I think Lexie and Mackenzie will miss him the most, but we are so enjoying him while he is here. Lexie is having a tough time learning to share, but it is sweet to watch the two of them walk around the house holding hands. They love getting into mischief together, and on most mornings can be found playing in the dog water bowl or taking all the ornaments off the bottom half of the Christmas tree! So again, no excuses for not posting, except that life has been busy! As we head into the new year, Noah has joined a local cub scouts group, which he is so excited about, and the girls are beginning weekly practices for the children's chorus which will accompany the local symphony in a performance this February.
So now I feel I have accomplished something....bringing things up to date....until next time...