Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where has the time gone? (Written mid-October)

So I was glancing at my blog and realized it's been quite awhile since I have written.  This is not for lack of exciting adventures to write about - trust me - we've been on a wild ride the past few months.  However, I will say, with so much of our life changing and honestly, being so very difficult to explain if you haven't been a part of our journey, it's been creating writer's block for me.  I'll stick to some general life updates and kid developments.  For the full story of our past 3 months or so, I will do a 'probably-not-so-very-short' update once our life is less 'up-in-the-air'.

August in Minnesota found us enjoying our friends and family, me teaching a little bit of piano and leading worship at Park Free, Ross working at Bethel, Ross playing baseball (and his team made it all the way to play-offs - one game short of going to the championship game) and the kids growing and changing before our very eyes.  We also did lots of celebrating during the month of August!  We enjoyed a Manders' family reunion in celebration of a 65th wedding anniversary up in Osakis.  I also had a great time celebrating Ross's cousin Angie's first baby boy, at her shower, and we attended the wedding of one of Ross's friends from his high school days.  I had a blast finishing up a special 30th birthday gift with two other girlfriends.  We decided to tackle making our amazing friend a t-shirt quilt and we were able to keep it a secret from her.  I never would have been able to do that project by myself - my sweet, much-more-experienced sewing friends were so amazing to work with and I think we had a lot of good bonding over the quilt making process.  We had a great time celebrating her big 3-0 and presenting our labor of love to her on her actual birthday.

Towards the end of the month, we did take a trip to NJ/PA.  Ross was interviewing for a job in PA and the kids and I were able to tag along and spend some time with my parents, too.  The job he was interviewing for back in August is still up in the air (hence why we've been on a bit of a journey) but we are trusting God to provide for our family and for what we believe HE has placed on our hearts to do for His kingdom.  In the mean time, we are thankful for Ross's current employer, Bethel, and all of the many ways God continues to work in our lives, even in the midst of an uncertain future.

September found us celebrating Little Brother's 1st birthday, my birthday and the birthdays of many family members.  We began to wrap MN life 'up', anticipating Ross's job news by the end of the month.  This included weeks of preparation to move out of our townhome in order to welcome renters by the 1st of October.  I feel as though September flew by in a split second.  At the very end of the month, the job news was postponed until November, so we had to decide what to do and we felt strongly that we needed to go ahead with moving out plans even if we had no place to 'lay our heads' or put our stuff.  Of course we found storage and Ross found friends' to take him in and my parents are graciously hosting me and the boys.  So - until the job news breaks - we are slightly nomadic and trying to look at it as an adventure.  :)

Little Brother is now walking!  Upon celebrating his first birthday, he decided it was time to get more serious about this walking business.  I didn't anticipate him walking simply because he was such an efficient, fast crawler.  However, over the past month, he has received lots of encouragement from lots of people (Grandma and Grandpa Ridder) and he is well on his way to preferring to walk rather than crawl.  He is also hilarious - if the child gets near anything hot or even sees you turn on the stove or the Keurig - he begins to blow.  Little B totally gets 'hot' and it's adorable.   He is a real ham and knows how to turn on the charm.  His pointer finger also gets him wherever and whatever he wants (within reason).  He may not perform many 'signs' but he sure knows how to use his body to indicate his preference for many things.  His favorite book has been Goodnight Gorilla and he now has 6 teeth (4 top and 2 on bottom).  He is going to be Yoda for Halloween.

Big Brother will be Darth Vader for Halloween.  He has been using the "I'm bored" phrase more and more and I really wish he could attend preschool right now.  He's very ready.  (Hopefully by January 2013!) He is currently attending Awana Cubbies and LOVES it.  He looks forward to Wednesday nights immediately following Awana each week.  We've started reading 'easy' chapter books together before bed and he's really been enjoying them.  He is a Daddy's boy and our current 'crazy' life, which has separated us from Ross, has not been easy on my first born.  He received his first pair of Converse 'tie shows' from my sister's family and he looks so grown up in them.  (Gulp!)

I'm sure to be leaving out some other important events and updates but I'm drawing a blank and needing to close - so - until next time (which will hopefully be the 'not-so-short' version of what we've been up to and why) ... adios.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sweet Summertime!

Every once in awhile when I pause to think about the changes rapidly taking place before my very eyes in my boys I also think "I really need to write that down!" However, these days, the pace of life leaves little time for documentation.  Meanwhile, numerous new normals come and go and I am left marveling at how time truly flies when you are having fun.  Here is an attempt to fill in some of our summer 'new normals'!

(Thank the LORD!) Little Brother has developed a new habit ... drum roll please ... sleeping through the night!  He also has weaned himself and is on whole milk.  I'm not sure if it's a coincidence, but as soon as he started refusing to nurse and we put him on whole milk (2 weeks ago - around the 10 month mark), the sleeping through the night thing also started.  Hallelujah!  He is busier than ever and due to his speedy crawling, we broke down and bought a new gate for the stairs which really does give me peace of mind that he won't take a header down the stairs.  Little B can go up stairs all by himself and shows very little fear so the gate is a life saver!

Little Brother's favorite things to throw, dig out of bins, and carry around in his hands wherever he goes are balls - any size or color - he is a ball boy.  He pulls up on anything and everything.  I have a new normal - bruises right under my knee where he pinches on me to pull up.  Ha!    He's a little turkey. We know he is done eating when he begins to buzz his lips (making a sticky situation) and when he throws his cup on the ground.  Diaper changing is still near impossible these days and he continues to refuse to stay on his bottom during bath time which leads to very short baths.  Little Brother says "Mamamamamama" and we've heard a "Dada" and we think a version of Big Brother's name.  He can touch our noses when we ask (if he is in the right mood) and he's cutting his top two teeth. He is a total joy and keeps us all on our toes.


Big Brother's latest most popular phrase has been, "Mama, will you keep an eye on Little B so he doesn't get my toys?!" He literally asks me this at least 10 times a day.  Who can blame him?  The little tornado that is his brother can be quite destructive to Big Brother's Star Wars/outer space world.  Our kitchen table has a new normal as it has become the landing pad for all things Star Wars.  For awhile, Big B could use our kid table to play on but now that Little B is pulling up on things and getting quite efficient at getting into everything, the kitchen table is the only place he cannot reach.  So, we now find ourselves cleaning up toys to recover our eating surface before meals.  

Big Brother experienced his first VBS this summer!  He loved every minute of it.  He attended at the church where I have participated in MOPS and one of his good friends was in his class with him.  The theme was "Amazing Wonders Aviation" and if you say to him "Awesome God!" he will most likely shout back "AMAZING POWER!!" He cried on the last day because (in his words) "learning about Jesus was so FUN!"and he wasn't ready for it to end.  I think his favorite part was singing songs.  My favorite part each day was picking him up and asking him questions about his day.  We would play 20 questions (or more!) as I tried to guess what his Bible story was about each day.  I think I figured them all out but it was hilarious to compare notes with my friend whose daughter was in his same class.  VBS brought back lots of great childhood memories for me and I still can't believe my oldest child has experienced the fun of summer VBS!

Big Brother went to the dentist for the first time this past month.  He was a champ!  He even allowed them to get X-rays of his teeth.  So far he has great teeth and we were very proud of how well he did through the whole experience of getting his teeth painted purple, watching the hygienist brush the purple away, etc. 

Ross had a 'new' experience this summer!  He participated in the Warrior Dash with his good buddy, Jeff.  While running up and down ski slopes proved to be taxing in 95+ heat and humidity, I think he enjoyed his first experience and we were proud of him for taking on a 'new' adventure. 
                     (Plus, doesn't everyone need a Warrior hat for their 4 year old to play with?!)

Family Adventuring Updates ... 

 We found out in June that our boys are fantastic road trippers.  I'm thankful to know this as we enjoy traveling and seeing new sights.  First we spent the night in IA, while Ross helped to perform a wedding of a Bethel couple.  From there, we grooved on to Psalty's latest album "Faith It!" on our way to Colorado to meet our 'new' niece, born to my sister and her husband in May.  After a few fun-filled days with them, we headed back east to Kansas to spend some time with my college roommate and her family.  I believe we put about 2400 miles on the car in one week but we had a blast and I really do love time spent together as a family of four.  A box of library books, snacks, the state license plate game and music to sing along to entertained all of us for the whole trip.  

While I have lived in Minnesota for 12 years this fall (if you count my college years, which I DO because I lived through winters here and never knew how beautiful MN summer was until post-college), I have yet to see some of the great Minnesota landmarks.  Summer is a great time to get out and about, so one of the places I am crossing off my 'to experience' list is Minnehaha Falls.  It was extra special because not only did I get to see the Falls, but my niece's Swedish Choir was singing at a Festival there, so we got to watch her perform, too.

Another 'new to me' Minnesota experience happened over the 4th of July.  Ross's parents have a tradition of going up to Canal Park in Duluth to watch the fireworks and we decided, at the last minute, to join them.  We stopped for a picnic lunch down in Canal Park before heading up to Enger Tower.  We ended up getting a great deal at a hotel with a water park and we headed there for the afternoon and Big Brother enjoyed swimming, Ross and I went down a slide on a double tube, Little B experienced his first indoor waterpark and we enjoyed dinner right by the lift bridge with Diane and Jerry and great fireworks! It was a fun overnight!

The whole family attempted a new experience this July -  camping!  We only were able to spend one night out in the woods of Forestville State Park because of needing to get home for church on Sunday.  For this Mama, that was long enough with a barely one year old who just wants to crawl to the fire pit as soon as he's on the ground and a four year old who is very busy and wants to roam freely through the woods.  It was a beautiful state park and despite the sticky heat, we had fun exploring the woods, creek, clay cliff and cave.  We will always remember the raccoons and how they stole food from our box right in front of us and Jerry's big wipe out going after the coons.  :) We made some great memories with our Manders' family and cousins.

I don't know about you, but I have been anticipating the 2012 Summer Olympics for some time now!  It's hard to believe that 4 years ago,  I spent lots of time nursing 2 month old Big Brother on the couch, watching the olympics take place in Beijing!  I'm looking forward to sharing the Olympics with Big Brother this year and helping him to understand more about our country as we talk about cheering on our USA team.  I'm looking forward to more 'new normals' as the summer continues on ... til next time!  Go Team USA! :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Long Overdue

An unfortunate casualty of many 'new normals' developing is having time for the updating of the blog.  Over the past couple of months we have had many 'new' things happening around our home and in our lives and I regret to admit there is no way I will ever be able to succinctly summarize these momentous occasions.  I will try to highlight some of the big 'new' adventures without writing a novel.

Kids first ...

Big Brother is now FOUR!  How did this happen?  We celebrated for over a week beginning in NJ with the Ridder family, continuing on to an afternoon of rides at the MOA and dinner at Broadway Pizza with the Manders grandparents and wrapping up the week with a bowling party at Brunswick Zone with friends and family.  At his 4 year old well child check up he was in the 78% for weight and 85% for height and he told the doctor his favorite thing to play at home is 'putting up Christmas lights', even after I had 'practiced' these questions with him on the way to the doctor.  It was quite humorous and both Dr. O and I were giggling in our minds as he said that one!

As a four year old he has developed a 'new' interest in space/rocket ships/astronauts/planes.  Do not fear, his love of trains will always be first and foremost in his heart, but it is fun to hear his imagination going to outer space these days!  He also has been developing an even greater vocabulary and I always enjoy hearing his thoughts about life.  At the same time, it's can be somewhat disconcerting to hear 'me' coming out of his mouth.  For instance, a few weeks back we had a string of days where if I would ask him to do something he would respond with "I'm not in the mood".  Wonder where he learned that one.  Big Brother is very interested in his letters and is starting to sound out words.  He likes to play this game "Mom (or Dad), what does E-T-M-N-O-I-L (or any other random combination of letters) spell?" He also has learned some about telling time and counting to 100.  He knows he is not allowed out of his bedroom until 'seven zero zero' and he's made great progress abiding by this 'family rule'.  Big B enjoys outings to the Children's Museum, MOA, Choo-Choo Bobs (He was able to meet Choo-Choo Bob this Spring!!), MOPS, and the library.  He really enjoys playing with friends and he is still a big fan of Psalty (his current favorite is "Missing Number 9").  He is still sweet as sugar with his baby brother and very patient with Little B (for now!).

I say 'for now' because my 6 month old "sits up by himself really good and can play with a pile of toys for quite awhile all by himself" Little Brother is now 9 months old and literally started crawling on June 6 - the day before he turned 9 months old.  He crawls on his hands and knees and is already pulling himself up on things (like the bath tub - dangerous slippery place and his crib).  I'm guessing he'll be walking before he's a year but I'd really like him to take his sweet time (insert Mommy-sigh).  So far, Big Brother has been putting up with Little B getting into his toys and he is pretty good about moving things out of Little Brother's reach but we'll see how it goes!  This has been a very 'new' adventure for me this week.  Little B has already tried to get into things Big Brother never even noticed when he started crawling.  I definitely have my hands full with my strong, adventurous, curious, smile-y, charming little guy.  He screams as soon as you put him in his seat for a meal and it's so loud no one can even speak to each other until he is eating - that has been a new adventure, too! He is definitely serious about his food.  He's a great eater and is basically eating most normal people food if it can be mashed by his toothless grin :) ... and so far he's not picky.  His favorite book (and just about the only one he will sort of sit still for) is a Pop-out book with giant pictures of animals that really catch his attention.  He also MUST be put to sleep without being held.  If he's being held, he is awake and wanting to see what everyone is up to - so he is not a cuddly one but that's okay - it's just how he's wired and he really goes down within a minutes of being put in his crib - no nuk, no rocking, just out like a light with his favorite blanket made by a woman at our church.  I can't wait to see what's in store with my little guy over the summer months.

I conquered a new adventure with both boys, by myself, recently - flying to NJ to visit my parents! It was ... wiggly and survivable but I was never so glad to see another adult at the end of both flights and I was also very thankful for Ethan enjoying special 'screen time' on my Nook as I allowed him to be entertained for quite a bit of our in air time while I managed the wiggler! :)

Family wise ...

My brother and his wife have moved from Fargo to Virginia and we miss them!  The boys and I were blessed to spend Memorial Day with them at my parents home in NJ - what a special treat.  My sister and her husband are now parents to my adorable niece and we are anticipating meeting her later this month.  She is our first 'cousin' on the Ridder side of the family.  Ross has entered the summer months at Bethel which are of a very different pace and we are enjoying more family time as my piano schedule slows down, too.  We have found ourselves in a 'new' routine, often in bed and asleep by 9 or 9:30 after a full day starting around 6 when the little guy wakes up - this is a 'new adventure' for us!  We are enjoying our 'new adventures' as a family of four and looking forward to time spent with family and friends over the summer months.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Big Brother was the one who told me "Mama, you have a baby in your belly" in January 2011.  I hadn't even taken a pregnancy test yet and, lo and behold, he was definitely right.  He was also pretty insistent that the baby was a 'boy' from early on which helped us decide very early on a boy name - before we had even seen the ultra sound.  Big Brother was pretty curious all throughout my pregnancy, asking lots of questions and giving my growing belly lots of hugs and kisses.  He would often talk to his baby brother through my tummy, letting him know how loved he was already.  While I was hopeful that he would graciously accept Little Brother into our family, I wasn't sure how the transition to becoming a Big Brother would go for him after almost 3.5 years of being our only child.

From the moment Big Brother laid eyes on Little Brother for the first time and asked if he could sing him 'Jesus Loves Me' while holding him in the hospital room, a beautiful [new] love continued to grow.  I think this picture shows how much Big Brother loved his Little Brother from day 1.

I think what I didn't anticipate was how much Little Brother would adore Big Brother.  Little B loves any and all attention Big Brother gives to him.  Little Brother cannot keep his eyes off of Big B.  He twists and turns until his eyes spot his brother whenever Big Brother is within hearing distance.  It is a precious new normal to be witnessing. I anticipate there will be 'new normal' sibling squabbles as they grow, but I pray their love and adoration for each other will be a firm foundation upon which to build an incredible friendship over time.   I pray they will influence each other to grow in God's love and I pray they will make the kind of memories that will last a life time as they grow up together in our home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On the Road

As of late, I've been thinking about some 'new' habits I have while driving.

Pre-children, I would often listen to the radio or talk on the phone with my sister, mom, friends from far away, etc.  There was usually some sort of distraction going on while I was driving and my drives were mainly seen as getting me from one job to the next job (hence the 'need' for distraction).

Rarely did I take time to 'enjoy the view'.

With Big Brother rapidly approaching his 4th birthday, I have been thinking about how much my drive time habits have changed over the years.  More often then not, I have both boy with me when I'm traveling somewhere (and let's be honest, getting three people out the door adds on a half hour on a GOOD day - that's definitely different and 'new'!).  Half the time Big Brother prefers to 'chat' and we talk about what we're seeing, where we're going, and he provides an endless stream of conversation topics.  Sometimes he requests Psalty and I'm happy to oblige as I know God's Word is being hidden in his heart through the songs he is learning and the stories we're listening to together.  I try to avoid being on my cell phone because my cargo is just too precious to risk driving distracted.

While all of those changes are 'new normals' which have developed, the biggest change is how I see things through my windshield.  Rather than focusing on the road straight ahead and my final destination, I am always looking for things to show Big Brother.  Whether it's a pretty cloud formation, an airplane taking off, a water tower showing us what city we're in, or the way the trees are changing with the seasons - there is always something to be looking at and exploring with our senses.  He is likes to know how things work and where we are and so a simple trip in the car often turns into a lesson about 'you name it'.

One of the funniest things that is a 'new normal' to how my driving habits have changed has to do with Big Brother's favorite hobby - TRAINS!  I now notice every. single. bridge, tunnel, train bridge, track, and train we drive by or over and so does he, but I now also think about the roads I can drive which will include some fun 'train', tunnel or bridge excitement.  I never even used to be aware of bridges or tunnels or trains and now they jump out to me and if I'm alone in the car, I miss my buddy being there to 'share' in the excitement of what used to be just an every day drive.  Oh how life has changed (for the better) and how 'normal' these 'new' habits have become.  <3

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Baby Food

So, it's been awhile since we were feeding Big Brother from store bought baby food jars.  How quickly one forgets the MESS of feeding a little tyke!  I didn't really give the food thing much thought with Big Brother (and he obviously survived and thrived) but this time around, in an effort to establish a 'new normal', I'm up for the challenge of making our own baby food more often than not.

Little B had his first 'solid' taste experience on February 1st (just shy of his 5 month anniversary).  We were going to start him sooner because he was expressing great interest in everything we were putting in our mouths and he was also waking up at night more to feed, but around that same time he contracted his first ear infection.  Knowing that Big B has an allergy to amoxicillin, I didn't want to start Little B on brand new foods while also taking a new-to-him medicine.  The amoxicillin went well with no allergic reaction (this time!) and once he was done, we began the adventures of the first foods!

After doing a decent amount of research on-line, we opted to try avocado and banana as Little Brother's first foods.  We just mushed them up and spoon fed him.  Rice cereal also went into the rotation and he seems to enjoy them all.  We added in squash last week and he also gobbled that right down.  Costco was selling pre-cut butternut squash, so all I had to do was boil it and run it through the blender.  Too bad I managed to pour burning hot squash all over my hand in the process ... lesson learned.  I'm thinking we'll be adding sweet potato and peas in the near future, with carrots and apples not too far behind.

Since we do not own a food processor and our blender appears to be inadequate and not working correctly, we did get a baby-food making system and so far I love it.   I spent about a half hour yesterday making batches of banana and avocado, putting them into containers, freezing a bunch, etc. I also am enjoying the price I paid for it (having done a lot of on-line price comparisons) thanks to Kohl's birthday cash and 30% off coupon they recently mailed to us.  We'll see how adventurous we get with this whole 'new normal' but so far it's off to a great start!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thank you, Fred Rogers

Big Brother has turned a corner!  For the longest time (since before Little Brother's birth, especially when I was largely pregnant) we have been encouraging Big Brother to put on his own shoes.  For whatever reason, he has shown absolutely no desire to do this for himself.  It was becoming a battle this Fall, so I even created a reward chart for him right at eye level where his shoes were located.  We got through the chart and had 'success' with him putting his shoes on, but as soon as the chart was done, he went right back to not caring one iota about doing this for himself.  As I observed several of my friends' children (younger and same age as BB) doing this by themselves quite capably each time were together, Ross and I decided it was time to put our foot down.  We had a couple of 'battles' and some great successes over the past month or so, when all of a sudden he started putting on his shoes AND his coat all by himself.  EVERY TIME.  No questions asked - just 'okay Mama!'  While I was rejoicing in this new development, I was also somewhat baffled until I started listening carefully to his song.

You see, Big Brother sings all of the time.  Made up songs, songs he has learned from CDs, songs he has heard in church - our little man is a jute box.  So, to hear him sing while putting on his shoes wasn't all that 'new' to me.  Then I realized he was singing the closing song of the Mr. Rogers show every. single. time. he would go downstairs.  It began to dawn on me that thanks to Mr. Rogers responsibly taking off his outside shoes, putting on his house shoes, deliberately taking his coat off and trading it for his cardigan, my son - who adores Mr. Rogers and his trolley - now insists on doing that routine all by himself.  I offered to help the other day 'just because' and he said to me, 'No Mom, Mr. Rogers' Mama doesn't help him out.'  WHAT?! :)

I also need to include that Big Brother insists on humming the 'intro' to the song as we approach the house door when coming home from somewhere.  He does not appreciate the door being opened until it gets to the 'right part' (which apparently I am very clueless about).  It's really very precious and funny.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Little Brother

I have been thinking it's time to share JUST about Little Brother. Off we go!

  Little B turned 4 months on January 7th.  It is amazing how much personality has come out in the past 4 months.  He has been smiling quite easily since about 3 months old and he most recently started the to roll from back to tummy which only serves to frustrate him since he hasn't quite mastered rolling to his back yet.  I have found him sleeping on his belly when I go to nurse him in the middle of the night during the past week or so.  He has mastered moving his hands to grasp things and has started to discover his feet.  He enjoys having his fist in his mouth just like Big Brother (still does!) especially when something is exciting or startling to him.

He came into the world looking for food and he hasn't stopped looking since!   We remember the nurses all remarking about how strong he was during his first 2 days of life.  This continues to be true of Little Brother.  Little B is very easy to read.  He gets really mad really fast when he wants something but as soon as he gets what he wants he soothes very quickly.  He has strong opinions about when he doesn't like something and he's physically very strong.  He is very good at pulling my hair out and grasping at shirts, blankets, etc.  Yesterday I was attempting to buckle him in his car seat to go to the library and he made his body stiff like a board so that I had to physically push him down and make him bend.  He was also yelling at me at the top of his lungs.  Once buckled and realizing we were going somewhere, he turned off the crying and gave me a big smile.  SERIOUSLY?!  He has been exploring his vocal range, too, with squeals, baby laughter and lots of sounds.  I love listening to him vocalize!

Little Brother is definitely an outward facing babe.  He does not really cuddle (unless you count how he snuggles for feeding).  He likes to face out, taking all of Big Brother's activity in and who can blame him?  He's very different from Big Brother that way, though, as BB was an 'arm pit' child as my Mom calls him.  He really wanted to burrow into you and snuggle whereas Little Brother's favorite soothing position has been the football hold where he lays on your inner arm facing out and frequently nods off in that position.  Another funny Little B fact is how he prefers the car to be moving at 50 mph or faster.  When slowing down for a stop light or going at a slower speed, he frequently gets fussy, although I think he's getting a little better about traveling in his car seat at all speeds (see - he really likes to be always on the go - already ... ).

At his four month well check on Friday, our doctor remarked "I think you are going to have your hands full with this one."  Yes, I have thought that ever since he began rolling, kicking and constantly moving inside my belly.  He weighed in at 15 lb 3 oz and he is now 25 inches long.  I asked her about some very prominent veins by his eyes and she said they will fade as he grows but right now they look like a baby tattoo - and it's true - they really do! :) She said we can start him on solids as he seems ready which I honestly think he is ready I'm just not sure I am ready for all of that to start.  Sigh.  I'm adjusting to this 'new normal' of time going by twice as fast with the second child.  I feel like I blinked and he became 4 months old.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Catch Up

We have been experiencing many 'new normals' around here over the past month.  Many of these have kept me very busy, so please excuse the lack of blogging!  Here is our Christmas catch up:

We have traditionally spent Christmas Eve with Ross's family and this year was no exception.  It was great to be together.  One 'new normal' we experienced with them was opening our gifts to each other in a more purposeful way.  In the past, there have been piles of gifts given out and torn into and it's been kind of hard to 'take in'.  This year, gifts were handed out one at a time and Grandma Diane requested that the kids acknowledge the gift giver before tearing into things.  It was really nice to watch each person open their gift and to see how the different kids immediately wanted to play with their new presents.  I think we all enjoyed a 'new' way of doing the gift thing.  We also decided to have the cousins exchange 'names' this year so there weren't as many gifts to dole out and 'get through' and I think the kids didn't even notice a difference.  We are all trying to save on space in our homes so in an effort to not be too excessive, I think this worked out.  Unfortunately, I forgot the camera for the Manders' family Christmas, so I'm missing any pictures from that gathering and Little Brother's first Christmas experience over there.

Christmas Eve night was spent at church.  Ross and I helped to lead the music at Park Free.  After church we came home, ate some dinner and Big Brother enjoyed playing with one of his favorite gifts - a Marble run.  We put out cookies for Santa before BB went to bed and we also skyped with Grandpa Dave so he could 'read' "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to us.  While things may be different with them living in NJ, we are finding creative ways to still 'be together'.  Since I grew up with my Dad reading that story to me every Christmas Eve, I was thinking about how this could still happen and it was fun to try it over Skype.  Christmas day was definitely a 'new normal' since we spent it at home as just the 4 of us.  It was really relaxing and VERY nice to not have to lead a church service on Christmas morning even though Christmas was on a Sunday.  Big Brother was really not super into the Santa thing and really just wanted to play with his marble run, so we let him dictate how the morning would go.  He played and played and eventually we had Quiche Sylane and cinnamon rolls for breakfast and around 11 a.m. he became more interested in the gifts under the tree for him.  So we'd open one and he'd play, open, play, etc.  Eventually we got through the gift piles and he had a blast just hanging out and having some quality time with us.  Little Brother was chilling with us and he got to open a few gifts, too.  For dinner, we tried something 'new' and marinated meat and cooked it in our fondue pot.  It was fun to try!  After dinner and bedtime for Big Brother, I went to the airport to pick up my parents.

One of the biggest 'new normals' of the past month was that our family of four hosted the "Ridder" family Christmas this year.  I appreciate what my mom and mother-in-law do to get ready for these holidays so much more after this year!  The cleaning and preparations that start weeks in advance, the cookie baking, the menu planning, the grocery buying (including plenty of toilet paper and paper towels!), the present wrapping, the brainstorming of possible 'things to do together', and everything else that goes into hosting a family gathering are on top of whatever we normally would do for our family as well as continuing on with 'normal' every day life.  It was all very worth it in the end and my generous parents funded the food bill (thanks Mom and Dad!) and they also splurged for a couple of meals out for us.  

It was a treat to have Jill, Jake, Josh, Ann, Mom, Dad and our family of four together for 2 days.  With each of our individual families living in separate states, it is a rare occurrence that we are all together so I cherished every minute of our 'new normal' Christmas!  I was amazed at how many times the dishwasher ran and how quickly food was consumed and how much brain energy it took to be strategic about things when you are coordinating things for 8 adults, 2 kids and one puppy (the other one stayed at her other family).  I slept really well (between baby feedings) each night - that's for sure!  

During the week my parents were in town, we also spent time with my Mom's side of the family that live in MN.  It's always fun to be with her cousins and catch up with all of those people.  We did some shopping a few different days and we also did a Ridder family photo shoot which was fun but chilly!  We all went to see the Muppets together and we had some quality time playing games.  

To celebrate New Years, we went out to Chinese for lunch with the DeRaads, Ridders and Manders.  After that, we all went our separate ways.  Me and the boys went with my parents to the MOA by way of the light rail so that my Dad could use a flight simulator gift card he had received awhile back.  Big Brother adored riding the light rail.  While Dad was doing his thing, Mom and I had ice cream with the boys and then walked around Nickelodeon Universe so BB could 'look at' the rides.  Ross went off to lead worship but we met up later at our house.  My parents volunteered to watch the boys so we could have a date.  We spontaneously decided to go down to the Ordway to see if we could get educator discounted tickets to Cinderella.  We got there by about 7:20 (curtain was at 7:30) and sure enough, we scored orchestra seating for only 30 dollars a piece!  It was well done and a very enjoyable way to spend New Years Eve.  It was really snowing big, beautiful flakes after the show.  Those flakes made our ride home about 3 times as long as normal and unfortunately, Little Brother was missing his mama - so thanks to my parents for putting up with a very loud, crying baby until we got home.  

Sunday, January 1st 2012, we had the privilege of dedicating Luke.  Park Free was more than willing to have Grandpa Dave do the dedication, so that was a special morning for us.  Jill, Jake and both Grandma's were able to be there, too.  It was a neat way to start off 2012.   

Taking my parents to the airpot after church wasn't too sad because we are all looking forward to being together again in NJ in just a few short weeks.  We can't wait to be in their new house, to attend church with them and to meet people we have been hearing about!  It has definitely helped the post-Christmas blues to have that trip on our radar.  

I'm sure 2012 will be filled with many 'new normals' and I look forward to continuing to reflect on them through this blog!