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Archive for December, 2011

This Season’s Tale

When October rolls around each year, I start getting REALLY excited, because I realize I’m just one month away from my favorite time of the year. November 1st through December 31st, is absolutely the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to me. I love everything about it: the music, the foods, the smells, the anticipation, the excitement, the parties, being with family, the quiet evenings, the movies, etc. Everything about this season makes me really happy.

November 1, 2011 was no different. However, this year has played out differently than most and has became a time that I hope I never experience again.

For me, Christmas music starts around November 15th and this year was no different. That may seem really early for some, but I actually have to hold myself back from not starting to listen sooner. Around the time Christmas music started playing in our house, Elijah, Natalie, and Aaron all got a terrible stomach flu. It only lasted 24-36 hours, but it was enough to cause a lot of chaos in our family. Since our home is also our “church building” during the week, we have people in and out of our house all the time, which meant that many people from our church also got infected with the stomach flu. Normally, a sickness like this wouldn’t be so bad, but my kids had been sick with colds and viruses on and off since September 1st. I was DONE with sickness!

My birthday is November 21st and I was so excited to get a special treat this year. I got to take a trip with my friend Erika to the Dominican Republic. It was a very quick trip, but a much needed respite. We got back on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. Before I left for our trip, I had prepared everything to have a few people over for Thanksgiving dinner. It was going to be a bit of a potluck, which was a good plan. While I was away, my mother-in-law came up to help Aaron with the kids. Like others in our church, she got infected with the stomach flu too. So, she and my father-in-law were unable to spend Thanksgiving with us, they just went back home. We ended up having a nice dinner and enjoyed some very low key time together with our friends.

The Friday after Thanksgiving every year I beg Aaron to let me put up the Christmas decorations. He’s always a little reluctant, saying “It’s too early!” But, I always remind him that we’ve been listening to Christmas music for two weeks, so it’s not really THAT early. On Black Friday, while everyone was shopping, we were putting up our Christmas decorations on the inside of our house. We decided to wait to put up the outside decorations on the following day.

Everything looked beautiful, the family seemed to be fairly healthy for the first time in a LONG time, and the Christmas season had officially begun!

We finished the outside lights and decorations around 5PM on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Just in time to have worship practice at our house that night for our Thanksgiving service. 

We had just about finished up worship practice when I got “The Call” about my dad. What a sudden shock and difficult thing to experience, especially during what is usually the most wonderful time of the year. We packed up our stuff and headed to WV  with the kids for a week of funeral preparations, financial details, bills, and uncovering the “Rosetta Stone” that was my dad’s financial situation. It was a bit of a haze or a fog…..stay tuned for the blog post on what to do or not to do for a family who’s lost a loved one. 

We returned home, thankful that our house was nicely decorated for the holidays and we could try to somewhat return to life as normal. And life did just that, returned to normal. People in and out of our house for newcomers dinners, worship practice, small groups, church meetings, individual meetings, parties, etc, all things I normally LOVE! It was life as normal at the Graham house….which actually was not helpful at all. I had no time to process; no time to grieve; no time to really absorb everything that had just happened in my life. Of course, with little kids, you rarely have time to process things like this anyway, but there was very little space to think, pray, cry, or just be.

The week before Christmas my mom drove over to spend the holidays with our family. I was really glad that she was coming a little early so she could be with me, my family, and others leading up to the holidays. Elijah had two weeks in preschool between the week we were in WV and the Holiday break….just enough time to pick up yet another sickness!

When my mom arrived, Elijah was already sick. It was mild, but he was definitely sick. He was also a little demanding because he was used to being in school and having a lot of structure. I don’t have the same level of structure for him at home….which makes life very difficult, especially with two kids.

We had a party at our house Sunday night the 18th, and one on Monday night the 19th. Both for church and both really wonderful. BUT, both took some prep time and energy from me, while taking care of two kids and trying to make sure mom wasn’t overwhelmed.

Tuesday night was the Marshall Bowl game, which they won (Go Herd!), but my mom and I decided we just couldn’t watch it. It would be too emotional. Marshall’s last game, which actually led them to the bowl game, was the last game my dad ever attended….and we just couldn’t handle it. So, we cleaned out our basement, which was kind of a nightmare, but also very therapeutic.

We got through the next couple of days as Elijah seemed to get worse with his sickness and Natalie started showing signs of sickness.

On Friday, December 23rd, we headed to my brother’s house in Leesburg, VA for the holidays. The day was filled with keeping Elijah entertained and realizing he and Natalie didn’t feel very good.

Christmas Eve was going to be a tough day. Aaron and I had to leave at 2PM to go into DC to get ready for our church’s Christmas Eve service. Natalie was NOT feeling well, but I also know when babies are that young, there’s not much you can do except try to comfort them. Elijah was doing better, but he will play through just about anything.

I love our church and I love my family, but this Christmas has been tough. I felt as though I was having to choose between the two. Normally on Christmas Eve I spend a lot of time with family, eating, talking, playing games, watching movies, going to church together, and looking at Christmas lights. This year, I don’t think I completely thought through all the details of the weekend. Aaron and I ended up spending 7 hours away from my family doing Christmas Eve stuff for our church (traveling, setting up, having the service, and tearing down). We got back to my brother’s in time to chat and watch most of a movie together, but I didn’t get to spend much of the day with my kids at all. AND, mentioning my kids, Natalie was MISERABLE! She was inconsolable most of the day and my mom didn’t really know what to do for her. Besides the fact that my mom and sister-in-law were starting to feel sick AND my whole family was emotionally drained from trying to cope with Natalie’s crying.

We woke up Christmas morning to do the traditional opening of presents and nice breakfast together. Elijah had a great time and got some fun toys. There was definitely a “Thomas the Train” theme going on! 

Things were going well, until Natalie finally woke up. Her eyes were glued shut, she had a fever, she was retracting (very labored breathing), and where most babies her age breath 40 breaths a minute, she was breathing 75 times a minute. It was getting serious, so I called the Urgent Care and got a 12PM appointment.

While my family was enjoying the day (and worrying about Natalie), Natalie and I spent 5 hours at the Urgent Care. The doctor REALLY wanted to admit her to the hospital Christmas night, but she did give me the option to take her home and bring her back at 9:15AM the next morning. I decided to take her home (now realizing, I probably should have gone ahead and taken her to the hospital). We went back to my brother’s house, with an IV in Natalie arm (which I now know is a BIG no-no) and did a breathing treatment…and she went to bed. She slept well, but still had all the afore mentioned symptoms, including the labored breathing. 

December 26th, we went back to the Urgent Care. At 10:15am, the nurse came in and said that the doctor that was on duty for adults and pediatrics (there was only one) did not come in….so they had to reroute everyone. Yes, this is turning into a nightmare.

We were supposed to go to Richmond this day, but it was looking more and more like our Christmas plans were definitely NOT what we had in mind. We loaded up the car at my brother’s and headed back into DC to the Urgent Care in the city. Natalie and I headed off to a 2PM appointment. After waiting for an hour and a half to see the doctor, she too wanted to admit Natalie to Children’s Hospital.

We waited another hour for treatment and paperwork, and then headed to the hospital. We had to go through Children’s Hospital ER, which was actually pretty efficient initially. We arrived at 5PM and Natalie received a treatment around 6:30PM. It wasn’t until 9PM when we actually moved from the ER and made it to a room. THANK GOODNESS, I had a sweet, sweet friend, Lauren, from our church who came to the hospital, brought me dinner, and even SPENT THE NIGHT with me. She was AWESOME! I’m so thankful to have her in my life. It made our stay at the hospital so much more bearable.

Natalie definitely started improving after the treatment she received, but they needed to monitor her. We knew that we would have to wait until the following afternoon before we saw the main doctor, who made the decision about discharge. Sure enough at 2PM on December 27th, we saw the doctor and at 3PM we were discharged and on our way home.

Now, Natalie is still sick; Elijah is still sick;  my mom is very sick and had to cut her trip short; my sister-in-law is sick; and Aaron is sick as well. What is normally the most wonderful time of the year has been a complete nightmare and I’m so ready for it to all be over.

God did bless us yesterday, by letting us know that He is indeed still with us and His promises are are true as He covered our house with a rainbow. So, I’m very hopeful that 2012 will be a better year, full of health and joy!

Thank you God, I really needed that!

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2011 Christmas Card

I had every intention of getting a family Christmas card in the mail early this year. I was really looking forward to more formally announcing the addition of Natalie Rose to our family. But the taking of our family photo never got on the calendar. Then there were other things….I was hoping to have a hair cut before the photo was taken; I went on a mini-vacation; and  Thanksgiving happened. Then, my dad passed away, and things got all out of whack!

On to “Plan B” I thought. That plan consisted of Aaron being out of town and me, in my pajamas, taking pictures of the kids all dressed up on Saturday morning in my “make-shift photo studio,” our living room – thank goodness it was our living room since I was in my pajamas.  Well, I thought I’m going to take all of these pictures on my fancy new iPhone. After all, it’s supposed to have an amazing camera on it. I got some great shots. The kids were in a good mood and cooperative. It was awesome…..until I went to do something with them on the computer. They were all REALLY grainy. Nothing like I had hoped. They looked o.k. on Facebook, but were NOT good enough to do a Christmas card. Apparently the iPhone camera is great for outdoor photos and it is a great camera for a PHONE camera, but it doesn’t replace a real camera.

So, on to “Plan C,” recreate the “make-shift photo studio” on another day and time when the kids might be cooperative and in a good mood (a near impossible task); take new photos, similar to the others, with our good camera; find a picture for our Christmas card and get them printed ASAP! Aaron was here, and helped make “Plan C” happen. The poses for the pictures weren’t as cute as in “Plan B” but there were a couple that we could make work.

So, putting “Plan C” into further motion, I must find a Christmas Card template to put our picture in. Well, several years ago there were like 150 template choices, now there’s a bazillion! After spending WAY too much time on this task, I finally found one that I liked. Then I went to order it…..

Well, before I ordered any, I called Aaron.

Me: “How many should we order?”

Aaron: “How many did we get last year?”

Me: “No idea.”

Aaron: “I like having a card for everyone in our church.”

Me: “REALLY?” – I’m thinking, that may have worked when we had 25 people in our church, but we’re running 240 each week….this doesn’t include family and friends who don’t go to our church or live in DC!

The conversation ended with us deciding maybe buying Christmas cards online and sending them out this year is not such a good idea. We’d be rushed. We’d have to decide who to give cards to and who not to. And, we’d really only be doing it to keep up with the Jones,’ which is certainly not a motivating factor in our family!

So,  on to “Plan D!” …send our card electronically via our blog and other lists. This way, LOTS of people can enjoy our Christmas card!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce our 2011 Christmas Card

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Good Ole’ Saint Nick

It’s that time of year, when good ole’ Saint Nick shows up in our malls and graces the screen of our T.V.s. To be honest, I love him! I’ve always been a fan. He just makes me happy. However, in our house, we’ve chosen a different path for our children in terms of Santa Claus. Here’s why.

Growing up my parents went to great lengths to help me believe in the jolly guy. And believe, I did, for TWELVE YEARS!!! Yes, that’s right, I was almost a teenager before I realized that Santa Claus didn’t really come down my chimney every Christmas Eve. Here’s my story.

When I was around 8 or 9 the Cabbage Patch Doll was the hottest toy in town…or better yet in the country. I knew how difficult it was to get your hands on one. There were waiting lists at every toy story of parents who desperately wanted one. Well, it was Easter and I had asked the Easter Bunny for a Cabbage Patch Doll (Yes, I know that I just switched from Christmas to Easter, but let’s be honest if the Easter Bunny’s real, then Santa Claus MUST be real)! I figured if I was going to get my hands on a Cabbage Patch Doll this Easter, it would have to be as a result of the Easter Bunny, because there’s no way my parents were lucky enough to get one.

Well, this particular Easter, I ended up with TWO CABBAGE PATCH DOLLS! One from my parents and one from the Easter Bunny. That’s it, end of story. The Easter Bunny MUST be real, there was no other explanation. The fact that I got two of the most desired and difficult to obtain toy in the nation absolutely explained the fact that the Easter Bunny was real….AND my parents got lucky.

So, any time my friends would say, “Amy, Santa Claus is not real! Your parents give you those gifts!” I would confidently tell my story and convince them myself that not only did Santa Claus exist, but so did the Easter Bunny AND the Tooth Fairy! I was a believer through and through.

That is until I listened up in church one Sunday in December shortly after my 12th Birthday. Our pastor was in the middle of his sermon. I was seated on the second row. He looked around to make sure there weren’t any little kids in the congregation who still believed in Santa Claus….little did he know. Then he just blurted it out….”Santa Claus is not real!” And he went on to talk about some other related stuff, but all I heard was “NOT REAL!”

I went home and spent the afternoon wrapping presents with my mom. I nonchalantly brought up the sermon and asked my mom if what the pastor said was true. With tears streaming down both of our faces, my reality was shattered! Christmas would never be the same. That Christmas in particular was SO disappointing and sad. It was ridiculous!

So, this very simple belief in something fun and light had completely tainted my view of Christmas. Instead of focusing on the beauty in Christ’s birth, I was devastated that Santa Claus wasn’t real! Complete insanity!

Therefore, when it comes to my own kids, I don’t ever want to give them a false sense of hope in something that isn’t real, when there’s so many awesome things to believe in that are very real….like Jesus! Or even the spirit of St. Nicholas.

So, what are we telling our kids? Well, we talk about  how “St. Nicholas was a man who lived a long time ago and he loved God and loved people very much. He especially loved children and he wanted to do something special for children whose families didn’t have very much money. Every year at Christmas he would buy toys for poor children and give them without the children ever seeing or knowing who or where the toys came from. Today, when we see the man everyone calls Santa Claus, he is a reminder to us of the spirit of St. Nick and encourages us to be generous to those in need too.” 

Taking a picture with Santa helps remind us carry on the same spirit that St. Nicholas had. I hope that will be what everyone thinks of as they see Santa this year!

And, don’t worry, if you want your children to believe in Santa, we will certainly teach our children to keep the truth to themselves! 🙂

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