Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A new year...


An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in.
A pessimist stays up to make sure that the old year leaves.
- Bill Vaughn

According to that quote I'm a pessimist. I am eager to see this past year leave. This has been quiet the year for us. None of it was planned for. Most of it was painful. I'm ready to move on. And I believe I will move on a bit changed for the better.

If you had asked me this time last year what 2009 would look like, I don't really know what I would have said. It probably would have been a bland predictable answer involving house painting and losing some weight. (Yes, I am the sap that sets out every year to lose some weight. In the past few years I feel that's been working in reverse, but not intentionally. ) My bland little answer would have been slapped in the face during the first week of January when my husband lost his posh big firm law job. However, the house painting bit came true in February when we realized that he would not be getting another big firm job and we would have to list the house in possibly the worst housing market our generation has seen.

While trying to update an outdated house to pique buyers interest, March arrived and delivered my husband's dream job. He didn't realize at the time that it was his dream job. It was just a job, any job, a job that payed the bills. But it turns out that he's found his niche. He's thriving at the DA's office like he hasn't at any other job he's been at. It turns out he's really good at this law thing. He's finally found his stage. I believe he sees a future in his career that he didn't see before. Plus he's home for dinner almost every night, so I'm certainly a fan.

We continued adjusting until April when my mom got remarried. I'm happy for her and we love her new husband. He's a good man and more importantly, he's good to her. This was a hard emotional time for me, though. See, my dad died five years ago and the loss still feels fresh. So it hurt. It opened up old wounds. Combined with the other stress in our life, I started to sink. I spent May sinking a bit more.

I watched my baby sister and my baby sister-in-law get married in June. Then in July I came home and sank to my deepest low. I started to feel a depression that I had never known. In between house showings and trying to be a mom that at least fed my children, I slept and I cried. My husband wasn't exactly in a happy place either. So prince charming and I fought. A lot.

Then in August I snapped. Not in a crazy kill the babies way. In an "I'm done with this" way. My husband called it my, "to-hell-with-it-all moment". I embraced my hippy, homemaker ways. I decided to not let my circumstances and the expectations of others define me. I took out my anger, my disappointment, my stress on my sewing machine instead of on my kids and my husband. A few dresses and some apple butter later, I realized I wasn't doing it to de-stress. I was going deep into old school homemaking because I like it. It fits who I am and my crazy old school ideals. It turns out I thrive on less. Not a bad thing to learn.

In September I started climbing out of the hole and we began to accept the possibility of foreclosure. In September we also saw our firstborn baptized, a moment not to be overlooked. This was a big moment. A moment I have prayed for all of his nine years.

In October our salvation arrived in the form of an offer on the house. In November, we sold the house and moved into a funky old cottage with a front door that opens only halfway and a wonderfully charming fireplace. In December, my husband ran a marathon. He ran off the year. And after the whirlwind of those three months we all ran to Arkansas to be comforted by family.

We have been here now for about a week. We have been resting and refreshing. Our shocked systems are being restored bit by bit. As we are looking at this coming year we are starting to realize that this fire we've walked through this year will leave us better than when we began. We will not be better off because we have sold the house or because my husband has found a better job or because I have learned that I am a totally hippy homemaker. We will be better off because we have learned that nothing is definite. The best plans in the world can fall apart in a second. But because of that we will cherish the small moments. Like orange fairy wings on the back of a little girl, the pride of finishing a race, a mama sewn skirt, or freshly made apple butter.

So what will 2010 look like? I don't know. But I know that God is good, I have a beautiful family, and a funky little old cottage to call home.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I know that in the midst of wrapping paper flying and much merry making tomorrow, there will not be time to stop and visit this place. So I am here today to wish you all a very merry Christmas. As you celebrate the birth of a child in a manger, I pray that you are filled with joy and peace.
Merry Christmas!

love,
Megan

Home...

We're headed home tomorrow. Home to familiar faces and warm hugs. Home to people piled high in small spaces. To presents given and received. We are going to the comfortable. We are going to a place to be cared for. Where our wounds from a long year will be nursed. We are going to curl up on a sofa snuggled close to those we've loved from a distance for far to long. We are going home to have a beer with friends. To laugh and catch up. To fill ourselves with good food. We have games to play and tales to tell. We have new babies to meet and hold close to breathe in their sweet baby perfume. There are great grandmas who need to see great grandchildren. Children need to be teased and embraced. Adults need to be inspired by the wonder of a child. We all need each other.
So we are going home. We are going home to love, to warmth, to rest. Yes, all of those things sound nice.
And to all of these beautiful people remembered on our door in pictures and handwritten notes, thank you. Thank you for your support this year. Thank you for all of the prayers and love. We are loved. Of that I am certain. We wish you all peace during this lovely season. Peace and rest, and maybe a really wonderful mug of hot chocolate. Happy holidays!




brown paper packages tied up with string...










...these are a few of my favorite things.



funny things kids say...




The boy was quietly playing a video game last night when I walked in and let him know that it was bedtime. He sat there a minute and then he said to the tv,

"Well, I'd love to stay and save the world but I have a bedtime."

I laughed so hard that he got to stay up for an extra ten minutes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

pajama day

We're having a pajama day. A lazy day. We're baking and watching Christmas movies. We're stealing away to finish up homemade gifts secretly in separate rooms. We're snuggling in the big bed. We're wrapped up in blankets drinking hot chocolate and playing games. We're trying to guess what's wrapped up under the tree. We're enjoying. We're laughing. We're savoring some Christmas peace.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gift Cranes



The kids have been crafting. I taught them some basic origami and there has been a flurry of crane making going on around here. (I think I can now make a crane in my sleep!) These colorful little cranes made great gifts for their friends. It was such a simple thing, but very pretty. I found them especially lovely when they were all piled together in the box.
They got to hand them out today. And my son, the charmer, made the day of one little girl in his class. She has the biggest crush on him. I got to see her face light up when he gave them out. Having him hand her a personally folded crane may have made her year. He was very proud of his handy work and very excited about handing them out. Both kids were. It's a wonderful thing to give gifts.




Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grinch Day

Today is Grinch Day among the first graders at Matthews Elementary. They get to watch the original movie and drink green punch and do Grinch activities. They had to dress up in green or as a Whoville Who. My little first grader with her big brown eyes decided to go as Cindy Lou Who (from the original) complete with bubble gum pink ankle length dress to the little red bows on her head. And I think she makes a lovely Cindy Lou. Happy Grinch Day to you.




Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Gift Inspiration

I had to seek inspiration tonight.

I've been trying to live a bit more handmade this year. To fill our home not just with things, but with items that have love poured into them. I know that you've probably noticed a lack of handmade crafts this month. It's not for lack of wonderful things to show you. It's just that my sewing machine has been singing Christmas carols. And considering that most of the lovely people who will receive those gifts visit this place, I've had to keep my creating under wraps. I can't wait to show you all of these handmade treats. I'm very excited about them.

However, I've stalled since the move. Seeing something I have created in use is wonderfully rewarding. But I'm not going to lie, it's time consuming. Maybe it's because my post-move craft organization looks like this:



and this



and this



And so my sewing machine is sitting with a half started project that I can't seem to work up the motivation to finish.



This is a problem because that half finished project is Analiese and Sicily's main gift. Now, I could just go out and buy something. Say, oh well, I tried. But it feels a bit weak to give in without a fight. So instead I went seeking inspiration. I found it, of course, in this wonderful blogging community that I'm starting to wonder how I lived without. After searching a bit and starting to feel a little better I finally landed on tout-est-des-roses, a beautiful blog about parenting naturally and living sustainably. Of course, this is all I needed. I needed to be reminded that it is good to create. And though disorganization may slow me down it need not stop me all together. So off I go to cram little origami birds in glass balls (more on that later). And then I believe there is a doll calling out to be made tonight and tucked into a package for a crazy little girl who will cuddle her tight.


breakfast of champions...




Today is Analiese's teacher's birthday. So on the way to school we stopped by Dunkin' Doughnuts and picked up a decaf with cream for her (her favorite) and a box of doughnut holes. Then we went to school and had the class sing Happy Birthday. Sicily and I left them to enjoy their yummy breakfast. Of course while we were in DD Sicily and I picked up a little breakfast for ourselves as well. She loves the strawberry frosted doughnuts. (She licks all of the frosting off first.) And I love a regular coffee with cream and sugar. Yes, Dunkin' Doughnuts has won me over. Now, there is nothing like a carmel frappacino from Starbucks, but if I just want coffee, I'm going to Dunkin'. We like it so much that it's what we've started drinking at home. Oh, and they have the best french cruellers. Mmmmm. Yes, indeed, it was a great way to start the day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thunder Road Marathon...

A dear friend of mine came over at 6am this morning to watch the girls, so that Steven, Chris, and I could go out into the 26 degree morning and watch Steven run a marathon. The Thunder Road Marathon is a brutal up and down hill race through most of uptown Charlotte and on this particular day it was a race run in freezing temperatures, as if running 26.2 miles isn't hard enough on a nice day. But for Steven it could have been 0 degrees and snowing. He was going to finish this race. It was ironic that it started and finished in front of his old firm. You know, the firm that essentially turned our world upside down this year. This has been a rough year. So Steven ran off the year. And he did it well. The temperatures had risen to 32 degrees when they all started at 7:45am. At the half way point he was still smiling. At mile 18 he was still going strong. At mile 23 wonderful friends jumped in to run the last stretch with him, to push him to finish strong. And at mile 26.2 he came in triumphantly under 4 hours at 3 hours and 53 minutes. I cried when he crossed the finish line. I felt it in my heart. The purifying release that comes from running 26.2 miles. Steven felt it everywhere else. He ran hard. He gave it all that he had. I'm so proud of him. And I have a feeling that this is not his last long run.




Friday, December 11, 2009

For the love of books...




The boy has found his book. You know. That childhood book that you read over and over again. The first book that hits you just right. We all have one. You may have heard it at school or you may have picked it up randomly at the library. It helps define your childhood. It's the book that you want your children to read later because you thought it was so great. My boy has found his book, Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. His class at school read it earlier this year. Now he's rereading it. Last night I was downstairs cleaning up while he was in his room reading. He came into the kitchen and asked me if he could read to me his favorite part. Of course my mama heart was thrilled and immediately stopped what I was doing. It was wonderful listening to him read to me, to share something that made him smile. Isn't it wonderful to connect to a character in a book? To feel like the author wrote it just for you? I love that my boy has found his book. And being a lover of classic lit and a bit old school, I love that it's not one of these new ridiculously rude books being written for boys. I love that he's relating to a classic tale of a boy and his dog. I love the simplicity and timelessness of that. I love this boy of mine.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yum! Cookies!

The children were nestled all snug in their bed....



While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads...

Well, maybe not sugar plums. Really, what is a sugar plum anyway? My kids may not have been dreaming of sugar plums but they were certainly dreaming of some really yummy cookies because they all got up asking for them this morning. I'm talking about peanut butter s'more bites. I've been getting the daily Food Network twelve days of cookies email. So far most of them haven't really stood out. But yesterday when I got this recipe I knew I had to try it. After eating one, my boy said, "mom if you know how to make Reese's cups why do you buy them?". Thanks Chris. And he's right. I essentially just learned how to make Reese's peanut butter cups, my personal favorite. But then you take that yummy chocolate peanut butter cup sprinkle on some crushed up graham cracker. Mash some marshmallow between it and you've just taken cookie to a whole new level. My husband described it as a two trip cookie. You have to eat half of it and come back to eat the other half later. It's wonderfully awesome and they were so easy to make. Let the cookie swaps begin! Only, this one may not be included in the cookie gift boxes because my family may eat them all before I can get them out of the house! Ummm, I think I'd better go sneak another one right now before the kids get home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree



I know some of you have perfectly decorated trees with matching ornaments and ribbon. It's probably a stunning display. I applaud you for your style and effort. But that is not the tree for me. I want a tree that makes you laugh a little when you step back and look at it because the youngest child put all of her ornaments in one place. I want ornaments that make you say, "oh, I remember this". Or ones that make a boy forget that he hates the Disney princesses long enough to say, "Here, let me help you hang up Snow White." I want ornaments made of popsicle sticks and buttons. And ornaments that remind us of various stages in life. I want a tree where the topper is Seussically placed far above the rest of the tree because no one thought to trim the top branch. Oh, and a real tree. It has to all be done on a real tree that fills the whole house with that wonderful evergreen aroma. A real tree that gets sap on your hand and sheds needles. And white lights. White lights that sparkle like stars at night when the other lights are off. Little fire white lights that make you want to snuggle down on the couch in front of it and just stare. That is the tree for me. That is a Christmas tree with heart. That's a tree you can count on to bring the remembering. A tree to build new memories around. That is our tree.

before after




Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Favorites...

I have a new favorite. Actually it's an early Christmas present. Steven let me open one of my presents early so that I could use it for the holidays. I'm so very excited about it. It's a Canon powershot SX120 IS and it's awesome.



I have been whining about my camera all year. For good reason. It started deciding when it would work, and it rarely wanted to work when I wanted it to. I put a lot of thought into which one I wanted and of course the one I wanted was one of those nice $1500 Nikons. But being reasonable, this one was a very close second. It does everything I want it to. I've been playing with it all week. It's so much fun to have a new toy. I know that a lot of you wonderful family members chipped in on this one, so this is a big Thank You! I love it! Merry Christmas to me!

And speaking of Christmas, before some of you start to fill you childrens stockings, I wanted to let you in on the best place to buy children's art supplies. Stubby Pencil Studio is the place to go for quality eco friendly art supplies for kids, that won't break your budget. I highly recommend the color pencils. They're what I use to teach at the studio. They have great pigment. And the rock crayons are perfect for little hands. Stubby Pencil has become my go to for our art supplies, because kids deserve quality supplies too.

I guess with this post I'm kicking off the Christmas season. Tommorrow we're putting up the tree. Laying down in front of a twinkling Christmas tree in a quiet night house is one of my very favorite things. I love Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Taste of Home...

We closed on the old house on Monday. Steven and I went immediately to an old English style pub here and toasted to a chapter closed. And again to a new chapter opened. A new chapter here in this funky old cottage that I'm loving more each day. We are about as unpacked as we're going to get, at least for a while. I worked myself sick getting it all done, literally. If you've missed me here in the blogosphere it's because I've been in bed. But when I got up today I felt at home. What makes a place feel like home for us? Well, knowing where to find the coffee is a good start.
Having a space to gather in that is filled with our favorite things is a must. And the potential for a cozy fire is a definite plus.



Putting your name on the wall definitely makes a place feel like it belongs to you.



If the dress up clothes are out and in use I know the girls have adjusted well.



A comfortable corner to sleep in, read in, play video games in, and to leave a mess in, is really all that this boy needs.



A creativity corner filled with good light is all this mama needs



And if Steven is greeted by a crazy kid each day after work he knows he's home. (We have a few of those running around.)


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkeys



One of my very favorite things is groups of children singing (shouting) off key dressed as turkeys, pilgrims, and native americans. These kind of things make me tear up. There is just something wonderful about seeing my children walk out on their own, searching the crowd for a familiar face, giving that excited little smile and wave, and then showing off what they've learned. It warms my heart and gives me happy mama tears. I'm incredibly grateful for these crazy little turkeys.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Place

We have spent two nights now at this new little house. The move was exhausting and my body is not happy with me, but it's done. Well, one side of it is done. We are still living out of boxes. The unpacking is slow. But we have had some wonderful surprises as we have moved into this little cottage house. First of all, our furniture fits wonderfully here! It never looked right in the other house. My favorite pieces looked small and out of place there. But as soon as we got them over here they just fell into place. Secondly and more importantly, we have felt instantly at home here. I think we have finally found a space that fits our personalities. As we've moved out of the other house we've realized that all we are going to miss is our wonderful neighbors. And that is a big thing. Our boy is very sad that he can no longer just run next door to his best friend's house. It is truly a loss. But we are not far away, so I plan on getting him over there as often as possible. Best friends are not lost by location. Right, good friends?
In light of this week of Thanksgiving I believe I must say that I am grateful that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows where we should be and He knows why he's taking us through the fire. It is truly comforting to know that His plan, though not always easy, is good.
We are going to make it and I believe we are going to live better than we were. There is much to be grateful for this week. Including the joy of cardboard box forts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

see you in a bit

Well everyone, in the last post I made a comment about moving in a week. Some of you may have thought I was being poetic. I wasn't. Because we waited so long for the short sale approval we all wanted to move on quickly once we got it. So we have one week to move our two story house into a one story house. And considering that I put off most of the packing in case the sale didn't go through, I have a lot to do!
That said, I'm sure you'll forgive me if I'm a little absent here this week. I promise a full update once we get somewhat settled. And by settled I mean surrounded by boxes and furniture in a new house.
I'm off to pack another box (ughh). See all of you in the bloggy world soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Muddled Reflections...update on encouraged

It's been a month since I told you that we received an offer on our house. A month since I told you that the deal was a short sale. A month since I told you that our house future was in the hands of some random person at a bank. It's been a month since I told you that we signed a lease on a funky little house. A month since I told you that we were walking in a spirit of hopefulness.

It took a month for this deal to go through. A month of fraying nerves and uncertainty. A month of stressed husband and wife. A month full of days doubting hopefulness. A month full of days cursing at inanimate papers. It took a month to be released.

It will take about two week to physically move on. A week to downsize our two level with a garage house into a one level without a garage house. A week to sort and pack and say goodbye. Another week to sort and unpack and feel our way around the new.

But what of our hearts? What of our trust in ourselves? What of our sense of home? How long will it take to move on? How long will we be sad? When will we feel settled again? Will we auto drive back to this old house or give out this address when someone asks "where's home"? When will the unfair leave our minds?

Yesterday we got the keys to our new rental. So last night we got a babysitter and we went on a date. Then we went to the funky little house. We went to make choices; what to bring, what to leave. But something happened during that time. As we were trying to picture it, the old blue couch here, my oversized dining table there, we also pictured ourselves among our things. We saw a child playing on a swing we could put in that old tree. We saw a room filled with dolls, and dress up clothes. We saw a boy laying on the floor, video game controller in hand. We saw a fire going in the fire place and a lovely family meal. We saw a Christmas tree and stockings hung. We started to see that the things we actually love had little nooks that fit them perfectly. We saw that life goes on.

I'm not saying that the next few weeks will be a breeze. The next few weeks will bring the same stresses and challenges that every move brings. I think that this particular move will be very emotional for us all. And I will probably have Steven move the couch around the living room four or five times like I do with every move. But we will go on. Eventually this funky house will feel like home too, even if I do think the kitchen is seriously ugly.

We are a strong family. We will lean on each other and comfort each other and each do our part. Well, the smallest one might make some mischief and order others to do her part, but that will just make it feel like a normal day at the Hardgrave house.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our Thanksgiving Tree




This is our Thanksgiving tree. This kid and mama made poster has come out two weeks before Thanksgiving, for the last five years. For two weeks leading up to this wonderful holiday we prepare our hearts for gratefulness by putting leaves on the tree that tell of our blessings. There are no limitations. It can be a very serious thanks or a silly one. After Thanksgiving, when I take it down to store it for the next year, most of the leaves come off. But one thanks leaf from each person is left up permanently as a sort of history. These leftover leaves tell the story of stages of life, of what was accomplished, of what was precious to a 2 year old. Some are left from family members who shared our meal. I look forward to reading them each year. To remember the good and the silly and the God gifts. Here are a few of the things we have been thankful over the years:
  • Sicily is thankful for ladybugs (she had been a ladybug for Halloween)
  • Chris is thankful for a good God
  • Analiese is thankful for Chris and Sicily
  • Megan is thankful for red leaves (our beautifully striking front yard trees of our new house)
  • Steven is thankful for good neighbors (the first year we moved to Matthews)
  • Jon is thankful for turkeys and turkey hunters
  • Annie is thankful for laughter
  • Megan is thankful for my beautiful healthy family (written the year Analiese had two surgeries)
  • Steven is thankful that the whole family has friends (written during the 2nd year of law school, after a rough first year, when we were all starting to feel at home and making friends that we'll treasure always)
  • Analiese is thankful for her pink blanket (still has it)
  • Sicily is thankful for bananas (she eats one daily)
  • Chris is thankful for Analiese and Sicily

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Leftovers...the results

Earlier this week I told you about the ugly jar and our attempt to be a more uplifting and encouraging family. Well the results are in: Chris wins by a landslide. He had a total of 7 complaints this week. Steven came in at the bottom with 48 complaints. And the girls brought up the middle with 15, 13, and 12. We've learned a lot about ourselves this week.
  • Chris abides by several bible verses and is slow to speak, therefore gaining victory. I realized this week that he really doesn't say a lot. I knew he was quiet but I guess I didn't realize how quiet until compared to the rest of us.
  • If you aren't a morning person, you really shouldn't speak until you're fully awake. 5 of Chris' 7, and several of mine, were earned in the early morning. Neither of us are morning people. However, the other three in the family are, so they always want to chat. Chris and I have started to give in, but obviously we aren't nice during this time, so we are going back to not speaking to anyone until a good hour after we wake up.
  • If calling a bank or other such organization, in which you'll be passed from one representative to another, is part of your to do list just start the phone call by putting 5 names in the ugly jar.
  • Steven is not normally a 48 complaints a week man. He spent a lot of time this week on the phone with the aforementioned banks.
  • The girls are passionate or dramatic or female. You pick. Never once did they earn one at a time. The often earned five at a time because if they are going to complain about one thing, they are most certainly going to let you know everything else they don't like as well.
  • Most of the time, I'm like Chris. I don't speak a lot. But when I do complain, I'm like the girls and I also put 5 at a time in the jar. We're just women who know what we want, and woe to those who don't give it to us. Pray for Chris and Steven.
  • We are all very sarcastic.
  • We complain a lot about the world around us, but not a lot about each other. That's good, right? No, I guess not. We've got to work on that whole loving others thing.
  • We are all very competitive, because we actually tried to beat each other. That's right. That means that in a normal week we all complain a lot more!
We did so poorly this week that we have decided to start over. We're going to do it for another week, and this time it's not about who wins. We're each competing against ourselves. We had a big talk this morning over breakfast about how blessed we are. Our number of complaints shows that we don't live like we know that.
Every year a few weeks before Thanksgiving I put up a Thanksgiving tree and each year we add new leaves to it. On each leaf is something that we're thankful for. I think spending more time this week on what we're thankful for will help us to see that our complaints are silly and wrong. Our hearts need adjusting. We are blessed. God is good. We need to start using our words to proclaim it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Born Runner



Thursday afternoon the boy decided that he wanted run a local 5K being held on Saturday. So with no training, only the knowledge that he could run a pretty quick mile, we all went out early this morning in the cold so that he could run a 5K. He lined up at the start with his dad, and ran hard. His biggest fear going in was that he would come in last. The rest of us knew that wasn't going to be a problem. He finished 29th out of 58, and 3rd in his division (15 and under). I would have finished looking like I was about to die, but he just gave it all he had at the end and killed it. Then he stuck his hands in his pockets, in that casual Chris way, and strolled over to the sidewalk as if it was no big deal. I think he's found his sport. Just one more way that he and his runner dad are alike. My boys, I'm so proud of them.