"When you called me to be a Mama, You didn't ask for perfection. But that with every breath, I'd point them to You."

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back on 2011

It's hard to believe another year has come and gone. It's hard to believe that Cody and I have been together for more than five years - married for almost four. It's hard to believe that our first-born is about to turn four. It's hard to believe I have been with my company for over three years, and it's hard to believe that Cody is about to turn 3-0. To say it has been a year of ups and downs would be a vast understatement. As a kid, I loved roller coasters. One summer, my parents and I took a week-long trip traveling from one amusement park to the next. My dad and I were on a quest to enjoy as many roller coasters as we could in a few short days.

Cody and I have sure been on our own thrill ride this year, and we've taken the people who love us along with us. The ups have been extremely high and the dips have been pretty low. But... we've survived. We still have our faith - probably stronger than it's ever been. We have a cute little family that no one else can stake a claim to. We have a warm home to come home to every night, we live in a community that we never want to leave, and we've learned how to ride the rough seas even at their choppiest. Though there are days where we say, "what next??" -- there are also days where we do have the strength to say, "bring it on."

Here's a recap -
January. Jaden turned three. Brandon got ear infections and teeth. It snowed. A lot.
February. Cody turned 29. Brandon got ear infections and teeth. It snowed. We left the daycare we'd been with for almost three years and started a brand new daycare - on a leap of faith and after many tears. We fell in love with this new daycare, and so did our kids.
March. Brandon turned one. Brandon had surgery. Brandon finally had all of his teeth (except for his two-year molars). Brandon became ear-infection free and started walking.
April. Some might say the next few months were the calm before the storm. Meaning... nothing traumatic happened.
May and June were more of the same. The summer started great, the weather was beautiful, and life was good. We put together a get-out-of-debt plan with a financial advisor, started a retirement fund and bought really great life insurance. Cody was incredibly busy at work - putting in many hours at night, but business was booming.
End of June - the bottom dropped out. Our daycare that we loved so much told us with two-weeks notice that they were moving out of town. We had two weeks to find a new daycare - one that didn't charge more than what we were currently paying since we had just bought all of that life insurance and started that retirement fund and put together that get-out-of-debt plan. Cody also started feeling less than stellar.
July - Started new daycare and started spending a lot more a week on daycare. Cody got sick. Cody spent two weeks in the hospital. Cody had surgery. Our medical bills sky-rocketed. My boss called to tell me they were possibly going to be shutting down my office, but that they were going to try and create a new position for me within the company so that I wouldn't be out of a job. Jaden got pneumonia while Cody was in the hospital. Brandon got bronchitis while Cody was in the hospital.
August - Cody was home but still not feeling good. Cody got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Cody was missing lots of work. We were spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on prescriptions. Cody got a blood clot. It was HOT outside. Jaden started preschool. Nicole had had enough of summer.
September - Life slowly got back to "normal." We learned how to adjust to what our new normal was. Cody got back to work. Nicole knows she will not be losing her job, but there will be huge changes after the new year. We enjoyed lots of evenings outside enjoying Fall.
October - We watched our boys have a blast trick-or-treating. Nicole is still waiting to find out what exactly is going to happen at her job. We watch a lot of football on the weekends.
November - Thanksgiving. Christmas shopping. Nicole finds out her office will not be closing, but that she is still getting promoted to a national position. More on this to come after the new year...
December - Cody has to go on lay-off because it's not snowing enough. Okay.... it's not snowing at all. The starter in our Jeep goes bad, and we have to replace it for $400.00 two days before Christmas - the same week that Cody goes on lay off.  Brandon starts saying a few words. We enjoy a wonderful Christmas and week at home.

...What a year, huh? And yet -- we have so much to be thankful for. Our boys are sweet, wonderful, funny, adorable. Our families are amazing. We have jobs. We have each other. None of this "broke" us -- it taught us. And we have had fun. And we have smiled and laughed and created lots of memories and taken lots of pictures. I feel like a stronger person than I did a year ago. I'm definitely a more grateful person than I was a year ago. And I truly am looking forward to what 2012 will bring.

Happy New Year everyone - prayers to all of you for a 2012 full of blessings, health, safety and peace.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It lived up to the hype

Even though the season of Christmas is always my favorite time of the year, with all of the preparation and all the weeks of anticipation, there are years where it just doesn't seem to live up to the hype. Years where it all goes by too quickly and we're left with a cold January and a lot of messy Christmas decorations to put away.

Not this year. This year, it was just right.

There was the perfect candlelight service at Orchard Hill. Our church is always beautiful in December, and the staff goes the extra mile for Christmas Eve. Silent Night gets me every time.

There was putting Brandon in his Christmas jammies, putting together their first "big" toy of the holiday and watching them play with it while we sang happy birthday to Jesus... taking turns taking bites of His birthday cake before leaving a slice for Santa.

There was dancing with Brandon on Christmas Eve night in his dark bedroom, singing Silent Night once again while his head rested on my shoulders... knowing that this was a moment I would cherish always.

There was my dad surprising Jaden and Brandon on Christmas Eve night with their own stuffed Santas after seeing Brandon's near obsession with the character. Brandon grabbed that Santa, cuddled close to him and walked around the house like he was holding his baby, patting Santa on the back and taking him to his crib to sleep with him.

There was reading The Christmas Story and The Night Before Christmas to Jaden after we erased that final day off his chalkboard and his Christmas countdown. There were the memories of my childhood and waking up on Christmas morning after seeing Jaden so excited when he realized this was the night Santa was coming.

There was the fact that neither Cody nor I could sleep past 5:30 on Christmas morning because we were both so eager for our young ones to wake up. (They slept in until 7:00).

There was walking into Jaden's room on Christmas morning and hearing him say, "Is today Christmas???!!!"

There was the present opening - just the four of us. The excitement on their faces when they opened up their new guitar (and the fight that followed when neither one of them wanted to share it). There was the immediate putting together of new toys and a new train track that took a couple of hours... and the realization that we still had many more presents to go.

There was brunch at my parents' house and Brandon wanting to have a picnic for himself on the kitchen floor. Stuffing his little mouth with a very large breakfast sandwich while reading his Santa book and staring at the same page the whole time. This little boy LOVES the moon and any picture that has the moon in it.

There was Jaden pulling the Panther marching band CD out of his stocking. He loves drumming along to music, and he LOVES the Panther marching band. ;)

There was what was probably Brandon's favorite gift of all. Once he opened this, he didn't care to open anything else. He laid on his tummy staring at these "fish" forever. And now that it is set up in his bedroom, he continues to do so. This boy will be getting some real fish for his birthday in a couple of months...

There was Santa going overboard. Just a few pictures below... they do not even come close to doing it justice. It took us two hours to completely open every package at my parents'.

There was the surprise gift from my mom to my dad. The perfect addition to the "Panther Pit."

There was Christmas night. Cody's parents visiting our house and going home with some of our older toys that I just had to get rid of to make room for the new. There was the satisfaction I felt when I actually found a rightful place for every new gift. There was setting up our new flat screen TV, hooking up the Wii, watching Brandon play with his new train stuff, and feeling relieved and grateful that I would have another week off of work. For four years in a row now, our company president has shut us down for the entire week and a half surrounding Christmas and New Year's. It's a paid week off, and we don't even have to use any PTO time. Because our company has opened two new locations in the last year, and because our number of employees has grown so much, we were told that we wouldn't be able to shut down this year. A few days before Christmas... our president surprised us all by changing his mind and giving us the time off. His email to us said, "use this as a time to recharge your batteries and enjoy your family." I'm not taking this week for granted, and I've been feeling very blessed by who I work with and for.

There was the day after Christmas - our whole family at home - continuing to discover our new gifts, setting up the boys' kitchen, a trip to Lowe's to start picking out new kitchen cabinets, and a trip to the pet store where we watched Jaden and Brandon fall in love with fish, kitties, birds, turtles... and even a snake. We had a lot of fun.

There was going shopping on Tuesday. Just myself and my gift cards. And the fact that I found every article of clothing I'd been longing for -- on sale.

There's the fact that we are finally finishing our bathroom re-do project we started in July... and the fact that I'm finally cleaning out Brandon and Jaden's closets to get them ready for sharing a bedroom in the next couple of months. I'm feeling accomplished. I'm feeling rejuvenated. I'm feeling "recharged." And I'm feeling grateful.

New Year's Eve we head to Aplington to finally celebrate Christmas with Cody's family. Cassi and James were in England over Christmas so we get to stretch our Christmas out one week longer this year.

It has lived up to the hype, and this week off is just what the doctor ordered. 2012 is going to be another big year for our family with changes on the horizon. Big things are happening at both of our jobs. Jaden turns four in a month. Cody turns 30 in February! Brandon turns two in March. And this mommy is currently enjoying the last drops of her Starbucks Peppermint Mocha and is ready to "roll with it." Bring on 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Night, Holy Night

As I write this, the kids are nestled all snug in their beds...

Christmas Eve day and night is almost over. I'm sitting here by tree-light - exhausted. From Papa Bob and Nana Nancy's house for our ritual Saturday morning visit - to Grandma Grayce's and Nana Dee's in Aplington - back to town for the 5:00 candelight service - home for a quick meal, some play time with their new grill that looks "just like Daddy's" -- songs of "Silent Night" and "Happy Birthday to You" -- making sure everything is just right for Santa's arrival tonight and the boys' surprises in the morning. (Don't let me forget to mention the $400 to Dan Deery's last night just so that Cody could have an operable vehicle again).

On paper, nothing about today sounds calm and peaceful. I'm not sure in this life and in this world that we are living in, that our days will ever sound calm and peaceful. The peace and calm has to come from within. It has to come from a faith that can't fully be explained. I'm thankful tonight for a baby born 2,000 years ago. I'm thankful that His love knows no limits - so that my hope can remain everlasting - no matter how much hustle and bustle and hardship this world causes.

I'm thankful for two precious gifts that I was entrusted with. And I am doing my best to help create traditions and memories that they will be able to look back on as they grow up. To create in them a foundation and a trust - that though every day may not be good - there is something good in every day.

It's been a good Christmas so far. Our second annual "Jesus birthday cake" was made even more fun this year when Jaden discovered that he, too, could enjoy the fine art of licking the beaters.

Could there be anything cuter than Christmas Confetti cake??

Our little boys LOVE water play. Unfortunately, Brandon now throws a massive two-year old fit at Papa Tim and Nana Dee's house if he doesn't get time to play in the sink.

...Someone's fallen victim to the Angry Birds phenomenon...

Unwrapping their new play grill from Great Grandpa and Grandma. I have visions in my head of the upcoming spring -- setting this grill out on our back deck and watching our boys pretend to flip burgers right next to Cody as he cooks up some steaks. I think I'll use this as my "think good thoughts" moment when there's a blizzard outside and I've had just about enough of winter.

They were having so much fun cooking in our living room tonight, that we struggled to settle them down for bed -- even with mentions of Santa coming. (Well... singing Happy Birthday and eating some Jesus cake might have had something to do with the unwillingness to go to sleep, too...)

You know what's neat? One of my favorite books when I was Jaden's age was "The Night Before Christmas." As we read that tonight, he was laughing the whole way through. Like serious belly laughing. He told me it's one of his favorite stories. And all of the sudden there were flashbacks to waking up and walking out of my bedroom with my nightgown on to find a big Barbie tent in our living room left for me from Santa. Flashbacks to my dad being named the "Clark Griswold" of Maryhill Dr. because he always had to have the brightest and most festive house on the street. Flashbacks to our competition with the Noonans across the street to see who could get their Christmas tree up first. Flashbacks to finding soot from our real wood-burning fireplace left all over our living room carpet on Christmas morning-- thanks to "Santa." You know what's neat? One day... our kids will get to have flashbacks, too.

I better get to bed... I'm going to have some eager and excited boys in the early morning...

Friday, December 23, 2011

We wish you a Merry Christmas...

I'm wrapping up my final day of work until after the New Year. Tonight Jaden and I are baking a birthday cake for Jesus. Tomorrow it's off to Aplington for Christmas #2, followed by the Candlelight service at Orchard Hill. For the first time, Jaden will get to sit with us through the Christmas service while Brandon is still young enough to go to nursery. Jaden is so excited to watch the band sing Christmas music and light our candles. We'll come home, eat the cake, sing Happy Birthday and be sure to leave a slice of the cake for Santa to nibble on late at night. ;) We don't leave cookies for Santa at our house... it's our own little tradition that he help us celebrate the reason for the season by eating Jesus' cake, too.

 Sunday morning, we'll wake up and finally get to put baby Jesus where he belongs.

The advent calendar I had growing up is one of my favorite memories of the Christmas season. My dad carrying me out of bed to the calendar and helping me hang the little bear in the next room of his little bear house... as every day, he tried to make his way to finding his very own Christmas tree set up for him on Christmas morning. It's been fun carrying on the tradition with my littles.

After our own four-person gift opening on Sunday morning, we'll head to my parents' to celebrate Christmas #3 with them. And then it's another week off of work, and looking forward to a New Year's Eve welcoming Cassi and James home from England and Christmas #4 with the Ubbens. I love that our Christmas celebrating is being spread out three weeks long.

I love that I'm getting some extra quality time with my goofy boys who are growing up so fast.

I'm doing my best to take it all in - knowing that at this time next year, their little hand prints will be that much bigger, but praying that the magic in their eyes during this time of year never fades away with age.

We're making memories this week.

Wishing you a magical, sparkly, safe, celebratory weekend.

Merry Christmas everyone!


When Jaden received his first progress note home from preschool earlier this year, there was only one area that he needed to improve on. The alphabet. Up until then, he had zero interest in even trying to learn letter 'A' -- let alone get all the way to 'Z.'

So Cody and I set out to find a way to capture his attention and interest. We started by painting a giant chalkboard wall in his room. We bought him a preschool "workbook" and came up with a couple of different activities to make it more fun for him.

Since the chalkboard was painted, we have been learning one letter a week. The letter of the week gets written on his chalkboard along with many words associated with it and it stays on his chalkboard for the whole week. It's always there for him to look at, and by doing one letter - one week at a time - he's really gotten excited about this whole Alphabet thing.

While the letter of the week is always the focal point of his chalkboard, the previous letters have their own space in the corner of the wall. Every night before bed, we go through all of the letters we've already learned. He has to tell me what each letter is - uppercase - and lowercase - and is getting them all right -- almost all of the time. And he's loving it. It has become a game for him, and he is so proud that he can pick letters out of books and signs, etc.

We've made it all the way from A to G. Congratulations Jaden, you're well on your way...

"You're off to great places. You're off and away... 
Kid, you'll move mountains!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The first of many...

On Sunday we made the trek across town to my cousin Jodi's house for our official kickoff of Christmas, 2011 with my mom's side of the family. This one is always a wild one with eight kids in attendance ages nine and under.

As soon as we got there, Brandon was hungry. It was past his lunch time and well on the way to his usual nap time. He insisted on sitting on the bar stools like a big kid would do. Independent and stubborn don't do this one justice...

There always is an over abundance of food at Jodi's Christmas. Yes, there are four crock pots sitting here. She owns seven. There was ham, three different kinds of soup, cheesy potatoes... and that's only the beginning. Needless to say, this is the Christmas that Cody looks forward to most. ;)

What's a holiday without football?

 Someone is going to be very excited to open his very own Wii on Christmas day... (and it's not the older one...)

Sweet cousin Lily...

...She just loves the camera... or the camera loves her...

...or maybe I just love her. ;)

In this family, the youngest gets to open first. So here we have it... the first official gift of Christmas, 2011.

Missing a nap can be rough... so we'll just load up on more food and M&M's...

Christmas aftermath. New toys, puzzles to tackle, towers to build, and a sleepy baby. 

...and we ain't seen nothin' yet. 

Christmas week is here. Jaden is giddy every night when it's time to take another day away from his chalkboard countdown. He is more than ready to put baby Jesus in His proper place on the Advent calendar. And Brandon has no clue what's about to happen! When we were sitting watching Christmas shows the other night, Jaden was talking about all of the presents under our tree. I said to him, "But Jaden -- what's the most important part about Christmas?"..."BABY JESUS!!!" he exclaimed.

"...Then rang the bells more loud and deep -- God is not dead, nor doth He sleep..."

Here's to peace in your homes and peace in your hearts this week.