Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer: Fri., 6/23

The weather today--heavy, sticky, hot, promising rain--set everyone off. It was too wet and terrible to go outside or to the pool, so we had to turn our sights elsewhere. L&G played in the basement for much of the morning. We played Find It Fast and Uno. Then we went to the library so they could sign up for the summer reading program. They made their mobiles (all participants make a mobile to hang in the children's room, which they decorate throughout the summer), and we picked out lots of books. I owed $6 in library fees, which is absurd. I hadn't managed to return our books before leaving for my conference two weeks ago, Andrew didn't return them, and they were all overdue when I got back.

The heat and humidity had us all fraying a bit after walking back to the car, so we went home to rest and have lunch. Then I dragged everyone to Target, which was preceded by Greta chanting, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy," for the entire car ride, in a seemingly irreversible spiral of whining, which thankfully she snapped out of after a few minutes of sitting in the car in the Target parking lot.

Next: Lucia wanted to bake cookies, by herself, which is one of the suggested activities her teacher had sent home for the summer. Hence the Target trip. So I helped her make s'mores bars, which is a delicious bar cookie that is also a pretty perfect cookie for a kid to make. She measured and mixed and spread everything in the pan. They were a great success. We took a picture to send her teacher.

Today was also the day that Lucia decided she wanted to learn how to sew, and I helped her sew and stuff a small pillow out of fabric scraps for her toy hamster. She got the hang of it, but I had to hold the material for her as she made the stitches. Greta also wanted to sew, and she got the hang of it too, though her stabs with the needle were a bit wilder and more random than Lucia's. Both girls now have two tiny pillows for their toy hamsters.

I spent a good bit of time today searching intermittently for Greta's toy hamster.

Tonight we got a sitter and went out to dinner with another couple. That was a nice end to this humid, frayed-edge day.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer: Thurs., 6/22

Both girls slept in this morning, which I hope will continue, because then I can get up early and actually get something accomplished each day. The first thing they wanted to do this morning was play with their new toy hamsters in the basement, which Greta calls the "family fun room." They built houses for them out of large shoeboxes and lots of tiny things. They were extra excited when I let them bring down bowls of popcorn kernals. I cut holes in the boxes and ran Hot Wheels track through them, which the little hamsters run along perfectly. So the hamsters could run from one house to the other, and at the end was a Playmobil park. They were fully immersed in this activity for four hours. I did dishes, cleaned up the house, and read a book.

The low point of the morning was when Greta's hamster was MIA. I couldn't find it anywhere. She was so upset as Lucia was assiduously world-building for her own hamster. Finally we found it, on the floor of her room, underneath some other toys. Sigh. I spend much of each day looking for lost things.

We had lunch around 1:30, read a book together, played a couple rounds of Find It Fast (fun game from the Target dollar bins), and then headed to the pool for the first time this summer. L&G were so excited. And it was fun as always. Every year, our engagement with the pool changes--this year, I predict that by the end of the summer I will *finally* be one of the parents camped out with a book in the shade. I'm so, so close. Today, I sat poolside, watching them play, until I got too hot and got in for a swim myself. Both kids ran into friends, which was fun too. We celebrated our first pool trip with ice cream bars from the snack bar, then got home a little after 5pm.

Leftovers for dinner. Ice pops and swinging. Liberal attitudes toward messes, treats, and noise. Survival.

I'm bone tired. The first few days of summer break are among the most exhausting of the year for me, until I hit my summer stride. But today was a good day all around.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It's summer. Both girls have finished school. We've finished all the end-of-year activities, and all the extra stuff--swimming, CCD, gymnastics--is over too. Tomorrow we have a blank calendar day. No obligations. No schedules. Although of course this means I get no writing done, it feels good to take a breath and summer.

Last summer I posted daily about how Lucia, Greta, and I filled our days, and I'm going to do that this year too. Bits of things or full anecdotes. Conversations. Books read, crafts attempted. A record of this time I give them without camp, without activities, without anything but the ability to be at home, playing. A GIFT THEY BETTER WELL APPRECIATE.

Today was Lucia's last day of first grade, a half day. We went out for ice cream after school. I gave the girls end-of-year presents: tiny toy hamsters that scurry around the floor. Then they played outside for the rest of the day. They set up a "camp" in the middle of the yard with towels and beach chairs. They ran around with a friend from next door (he chased them, they screamed and giggled, etc.). They got a ton of mosquito bites. They ate freezer pops in their "camp."

Recent conversations to remember:

[in dress-up clothes, playing princesses:]
Greta: Do we have princes?
Lucia: We don't want princes. Just a huge castle.

[after bedtime, Andrew and I hear elephant-like stomping from upstairs, so I go investigate:]
Me: Greta, why are you stomping around like an elephant?
Greta: Mommy, I'm NOT stomping like an elephant. I had to jump on one foot into my room because I put on so much itch cream.

[tonight, one final conversation:]
Greta: Mommy, when we were babies, you couldn't braid anyone's hair. And now you can braid our hair.
Me: (one foot out the bedroom door) Yes. Goodnight.
Greta: It's so much better. All babies do is eat mush. I hate watching babies eat mush!!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Return to NH

We’re back! We opened the NH house for Memorial Day weekend, and made our first visit of the season. We arrived Friday afternoon, and, to our surprise, the house was not full of dead mice and mouse droppings as it has been in the past. Andrew gave it a good cleaning while the girls and I went to the grocery store, and then we settled in.

Friday wasn’t the nicest weather, and we spent the rest of the day inside. We played a new game—Hedbanz—which was a huge hit. Saturday was beautiful. We went for a long hike in the woods in the morning, and then L&G picked wildflowers in the yard (which had become a meadow). Andrew got out the riding mower and started mowing the lawn, which sent the kids into a panicked, screaming frenzy of wildflower-picking. Andrew relented and mowed only a path, leaving the meadow intact. Later in the afternoon, we hiked to the top of Mount Uscutney—about a mile and a half round-trip. The kids are surprisingly good hikers, never complaining or tiring. Lucia’s like a little mountain goat, skipping quickly up the rocky surfaces. It’s a beautiful hike and was the perfect way to reacquaint ourselves with NH. (Andrew will probably point out that Mt. Uscutney is technically in VT.) We rewarded ourselves with maple and blueberry ice cream afterward at our favorite spot.

Sunday was beautiful as well. The girls just played and played outside. We spent a lot of time down by the pond. It’s still too cold to swim, but L&G took turns going out in the raft. We tied a rope to it so we could pull them back. They loved it. Andrew’s aunt and uncle, Cindy and Andy, came later in the day, and we had a lovely visit. We sat out by the fire pit after the kids went to bed, only to see them frantically gesturing to us from their bedroom window—they were irate, certain we were going to roast marshmallows without them. (We weren’t.) They’re looking forward to our next visit, when we promised they could sit by the fire pit too.

Monday, our last day, was rainy. Lots of puzzles, reading, and Hedbanz. We had an early dinner at Pizza Chef and got on the road.

It was a perfect weekend. Andrew had one small tick on his back but it was easily removed. We saw a deer in the back field. We saw salamanders, fish, and tadpoles in the pond. It’s still pretty cold at night—in the forties—and it was so cozy with the radiators hissing. It felt like October. The lilacs had reached their peak before we arrived; by the time we left, they were brown. When we go back in July, the daisies and black-eyed Susans will be out; we’ll swim. We have grand plans for fun new activities. We’re ready for summer.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Disney 2017: Day Two

Saturday, April 8, 2017

I think Andrew wanted to kill me when I dragged us all into a taxi at 7:30 in the morning, but I’d made an early breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest, the restaurant in the Beast’s Castle. We got into the park before opening time. Thanks to my research on Disney blogs (there are a million), I knew to order our meals in advance, so we got to go right in without delay. We chose a table in the West Wing, the spookiest area. It was dark, with the sound of thunder, and filled with tattered curtains and a slashed portrait of the prince. Greta was utterly captivated by my retelling of how the prince was so angry at being turned into a beast that he slashed everything in his castle with his claws. She repeated the story many times throughout the day. When she saw a woman wearing (intentionally) ripped jeans, she told me the beast must have slashed them. Anyway, it was fun to eat there, and then we were off.

It was another charmed morning. We barely waited in line to meet Elena of Avalor, and walked right into Ariel’s Grotto to meet Ariel. Then we rode Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, again, twice in a row. Then we rode It’s a Small World. None of this was even a FastPass. It was just…not crowded.

Katherine, Patrick, and Thomas arrived around this time, and we met them at the Enchanted Tiki Room—one of those vintage-y animatronic Disney attractions that has somehow survived for the past few decades. We all rode the Magic Carpets of Aladdin after that, with a FastPass. Then we hoofed across the park to meet Goofy and Donald Duck at Pete’s Silly Sideshow, which once again released us into a souvenir shop, where Greta (surprise, surprise) chose her own Marie and Lucia selected a new Minnie with a candy-print skirt.

I’d taken a risk with two of the FastPasses I booked this trip. The first risky one was Pirates of the Caribbean—definitely an atypical experience for us. Greta was alarmed by the shooting cannons but the girls were mostly okay, if uninterested.

Lunch was a highlight: a character meal for the four of us plus Katherine, Patrick, and Thomas at the Crystal Palace, with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore. L&G have never been too interested in the Pooh characters, but there’s something about seeing them in “person” that is just so exciting. Bonus: the food on the buffet was, surprisingly, really delicious, unlike most Disney food.

I’d chosen the Haunted Mansion for our final FastPass—which Lucia was really excited about. It was a little too scary for Greta. Definitely not too thrilling for either girl (though I enjoyed it). The ghost that hitchhiked in our little car at the end of the ride was holding a sign that said “New Jersey Here We Come!”

We had a bit of a Disney death march after that, around 3:00pm, trying to get back to the hotel. There is a moment, each day, despite the magic, that I feel a sudden and violent need to get OUT OF THE PARK. It all just becomes too crowded, too much. I wish there was some way for me to anticipate that moment, maybe get about 20 minutes warning, because it took us forever to get to the exit. We were all happy for a hotel swim break.

This concluded my advance, meticulous planning of the trip. We still had the evening ahead, but I hadn’t booked a dinner or a fireworks buffet or anything like that. We ate a casual dinner at the hotel with Katherine, Patrick, and Thomas. Then we took a shuttle back to the park, getting there later than we wanted. Although we were able to make our FastPass for the Magic Carpets (L&G’s choice for their final ride), our plan to ride the Carousel—which Greta desperately, desperately wanted to do—was foiled because, who knew, the Carousel closes half an hour before the fireworks. It had been a long day. Greta’s little lip started to quiver. “I wanted to do this all day,” she said, close to tears. “This was the one thing I wanted to do.” I felt very very bad. There’d been reasons all day to put it off; we assumed there’d always be another chance, and then there wasn’t. Parenting fail.

We’d promised the girls ice cream to eat while we waited for fireworks. But we’d gotten to a spot too late to find any. Still, the fireworks were magical again, and I’m glad we got to see them again because the Wishes show is ending permanently in a few weeks. But then we were in a mass of people afterwards, still trying to find ice cream for the kids. Greta chose cotton candy instead, and then we found Mickey ice cream for Lucia, and then a big piece of the ice cream fell off the stick—ANOTHER DISASTER—and the line to get on the monorail to get to the transportation hub to get our shuttle was just…impossible. It wasn’t even a line. It was a sea of people.

We couldn’t bear that line, so we squeezed free and took another, less insanely crowded monorail to one of the resorts instead and hailed a taxi. Whew. The kids fell asleep in the car. Another 10:30pm bedtime.

On Sunday, we had a day of rest and swimming at the hotel. We went between the Waldorf pool and the next-door Hilton’s lazy river. All three kids had a blast. We had lunch by the pool, and then Andrew and Patrick got some food from a grocery store for dinner in our suite. It was a perfect relaxing day.

Then it was off to Jacksonville for a few days with Andrew’s family, and two days at the beach. The girls wore themselves out. They were so tired the day we left that we could barely get them into the taxi to the airport. Lucia threw up twice on the plane on the way home, declaring it the “worst day ever.” Sigh.

This trip left with more love for Disney. I’m sure we’ll go back. Our experiences there will change as the girls get older, and I’m glad we’re getting these Magic Kingdom trips in now, when the magic of princesses and Pooh and all the rest is still so potent. Soon enough, they’ll be rolling their eyes when a photographer tells them to cup their hands and look surprised—but, at seven and five, you can almost believe they really see Tinkerbell in their palms.

Disney 2017: Day One

Friday, April 7, 2017

Disney, round two! I never imagined we’d be annual Disney visitors, but it seems like that’s the path we’re on. Last week, we flew to Orlando and spent a magical (yes! magical!) weekend at the Waldorf Astoria, with two days in the Magic Kingdom. Lucia and Greta were excited, and so was I. As anyone who’s been to Disney World knows, a visit requires a vast amount of planning, but when the planning pays off it’s all worth it. I planned the heck out of our two days and we were well rewarded.

Though we got to Orlando late Thursday night on April 6, we got up early the next morning to make our 8:25am breakfast reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. We had a little time to spare, so we rode Prince Charming’s Carousel, an easy, no-line ride that’s probably Greta’s favorite thing to do at Disney World. (There’s a sad little story that goes along with this later. Stay tuned.) Next, since I was determined to maximize our Memory Maker Photo Pass package, I had the girls’ pictures taken in the Bibbidibobbidi Boutique. These are easily the worst pictures that have ever been taken of the girls. The lighting was terrible, and the poses are everything that’s awful about little girls dressed like princesses. Ah well.

Then it was time for our breakfast in the castle. This is the breakfast where princesses come to each table for autographs and pictures. We did it last year, and it was thrilling. It was still fun, especially getting to go into the castle, but perhaps a bit less thrilling this time. Twice is probably enough for this (insanely) expensive character meal.

Since we were in the park fairly early, we picked up Sorcerer’s Cards back on Main Street and then went to see if there was a line for Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. There was no line. We walked right on, and when the girls clamored to ride again, we walked right on once more. Andrew and I were convinced something terrible had happened in the world and we were the clueless people still riding rides at Disney. But no; when I asked a ‘cast member’ if something terrible had happened, she said we were just there at a good time.

Next up was my favorite ride: It’s a Small World. I love it. Everyone does, which is why we had a FastPass for it. At the end of our ride, as our boat approached the exit, a sign bid goodbye to me, Lucia, and Greta—no Andrew. We wondered if Andrew wasn’t supposed to make it out of the ride. Then we (well, Andrew and the girls) rode the spinning teacups at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, also a FastPass. But there was hardly any line so they just went right back on for a second ride. Disney magic! No lines!

Thanks to the remarkable Disney app, I saw that there was only a tiny line for meeting Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck at Pete’s Silly Sideshow, so we went there next. Conveniently, we exited into a gift shop, so we let the girls buy their souvenir of the day. Greta picked a Minnie like Lucia’s that she’s coveted since our last trip. Lucia chose a Marie (the white cat from Aristocats), which Greta of course immediately coveted.

The low point of the day was our lunch at the Skipper Canteen. The girls’ food was terrible and Lucia refused to eat. Alas.

Then the day got back on track with a ride on Peter Pan’s Flight—a favorite of all of us.

After that it was around 3:00—time for a swim break at the hotel. It had to be a rather short break, though, because we had reservations for the Dessert Buffet at Tomorrowland Terrace and Plaza Garden fireworks viewing. Back in the park, we rode Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which is just an ordinary amusement-park-like ride but which the girls loved—it’s on the top of their list to do again next year (!). Then we had a quick dinner of hot dogs at Casey’s, a place we wholly dislike because it’s teeming with far too many people; but it was fast, and we got to see some of a dance parade, and Lucia was overcome with dancing along with the characters.

Finally it was time for dessert and fireworks. This experience was a splurge, one of those Disney price tags you can’t think too much about, but I have to say I’d do it again. The desserts were, as you might imagine, lovely—all kinds of little pastries and cakes, plus coffee and juices, crackers and cheese, and ice cream. L&G were thrilled. We were led to our reserved spot on the lawn around 8:30pm, and I gave the girls a bunch of glow sticks and wands I’d gotten at the Dollar Tree. They made a campfire out of the small ones and roasted glow-bracelet marshmallows. But all that—the entire day, in fact—paled in comparison to the Wishes fireworks show. It was pure Disney: Tinkerbell flying from a window at the top of Cinderella’s Castle; shooting-star fireworks; songs about wishing and magic. Oh my goodness. Lucia and Greta were so overcome that they kept throwing their arms around each other in pure happiness. And as you watch your children’s faces aglow in the fireworks, their eyes wide with the magic of it all, and your own eyes fill with tears as “When you wish upon a star…” wails out from the speakers…there’s only one possible response: Damn you, Disney. DAMN YOU. The emotional manipulation is shameless and constant. No one can escape it.

The girls didn’t get to bed till 10:30pm.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Squirrel

Walking home from preschool a couple of weeks ago, on a sunny but windy day, Greta and I unfortunately came upon a newborn squirrel writhing on the sidewalk, clearly just fallen from the nest on a tree branch high above us. It was pink and wrinkled, eyes not even open, and it was grotesque and heartbreaking. Greta is an extremely sensitive, nurturing, animal-loving child. I cursed my decision to enjoy the sunshine. This is why I should just stay permanently in our SUV.

But, standing over the baby squirrel, I was forced into one of those parenting moments where one is forced to weigh the truth (this baby squirrel will die) with the reaction one's child will have to that truth (wrenching sadness). I could have gone back for the squirrel and put it into a shoebox with a blanket, but to what end? So the girls could become attached to it and have their hearts broken when it died (which it would)?

Reader, I lied. I told Greta the mother would come for the baby and it would be fine.

Later that night, when Andrew got home, I sent him out with a flashlight to search for the squirrel. If he found it dead, he was to dispose of it so Greta wouldn't see it the next day. If he found it alive--well, I had no plan. None. Fortunately for all of us but the squirrel, Andrew didn't find it. I looked the next day as well, but apparently nature had run its course. Circle of life, cruelty of nature, etc. Poor little thing.

For several days, the squirrel incident had a significant effect on Greta. She'd always liked squirrels, but now they appeared in every picture she drew, their bodies twisting and elongated, just as the baby squirrel's had been. She narrated each one: here were baby squirrels with their mama and a cookie. Here were baby squirrels in a crib. Here were more baby squirrels. Each and every squirrel had a smiley face.

Somewhere in the midst of all this was Ash Wednesday, and I took the girls to church for a prayer service. While we waited for it to start, Lucia piously kneeled and prayed (she's in CCD; she knows church now), and I suggested to Greta that she could pray for the squirrel. She put her palms together, closed her eyes, and began quietly asking God to keep the squirrel safe in its cozy nest with its mother.

I can't. Parenting is just too hard sometimes.

So, sorry not sorry about lying to my kid. In theory, I like the idea of being honest with kids about hard truths, and I like to think I'd rise to it if need be on important issues. But that squirrel was going to die. Greta is five. She says she wants to be a vet, a horse caretaker, the owner of a hundred cats. She's my little animal lover. And she's five. 

Godspeed, little squirrel. You live on in Greta's heart and mind.

***I don't know why these pics are sideways. I will leave them here nonetheless.***

Monday, February 27, 2017

Weekend in the City

Early last week, Andrew realized that a voucher he'd received for a free night's stay in a Hilton property was expiring on Sunday, so we made a last-minute plan to spend Saturday night in the city just for fun. We were all excited. Lucia and Greta couldn't wait for our "city day," and we started off with a deli lunch on the Upper East Side and then a visit to the Met--the girls' first time. It was so much fun. We started off with the Temple of Dendur and the mummies. L&G loved wandering into the tombs and seeing all the hieroglyphics. Lucia was enthralled at the idea the real dead bodies were inside the wrappings. (I have no idea if this is true. My knowledge of Ancient Egypt needs some brushing up.)

Next we went to the European paintings, my favorite part. L&G were drawn, morbidly, to the religious paintings showing the crucifixion. "I want to see another one where Jesus dies," Greta kept saying in a loud voice. They also liked a giant painting called something like The Fox and Wolf Hunt, with men on horseback and their dogs stabbing and biting snarling wolves and foxes. And there are a lot of paintings of different grisly wars and battles, with plenty of swords. Next time perhaps we'll steer them to Degas.

There was, of course, much more to see, but we didn't want to turn the visit into a forced march, so we headed next to the hotel to check in. We stayed at the Conrad, way downtown, in a two-room suite. L&G were ecstatic. They always love hotels and this one was particularly fun. We regrouped, then set out for a long, long walk to Chinatown for dinner at Joe's Ginger. The girls walked like they haven't spent the last four years being driven around in suburbia--nary a complaint. They devoured their dumplings and lo mein. They each tried a soup dumpling for the first time.

The walk back to the hotel was the weak link of the weekend, since we got caught in a torrential rainstorm. We had umbrellas, but they did little good against the driving wind and rain. We were drenched by the time we got back to our room.

After we tucked the kids in, Lucia asked if she could read out loud to Greta after we left their room. It was pretty cute to hear her reading a couple of chapters of Heidi Heckelbeck to Greta.

Breakfast the next morning was a highlight for the girls. We ate a breakfast buffet at the hotel, in the stylish dining room. We were seated at a table flanked by two ornate sofas. L&G were awed by getting to drink water from goblets. Lucia was even more overcome by the fact that the waiter refilled her glass *without her even having to ask.* I lost track of how many croissants they ate. They loved the "fancy" breakfast--both said it was their favorite part of the weekend.

We checked out of the hotel, and let the kids play at a nearby playground for a while. We'd planned to do one more thing before heading home, but it was so cold that we decided to call it a successful trip and just get the car. We stopped at Ikea on the way home to get spec sheets for our basement kitchen cabinets, L&G were thrilled to buy a plush kitten, and that was that. A super fun spontaneous weekend away.

This morning, Greta was resisting getting up--she'd crawled into our bed and seemed intent on staying there. She told us she wanted to go back to the hotel, because we all got to stay in one room. How cute is that?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pierced Ears for Greta

When Greta turned five in October, I told her she could get her ears pierced whenever she wanted--at five, ear piercing was open to her. Lucia couldn't wait to get hers done--she'd asked to have it done for about a year before turning five, and I took her to have it done a week or so after her fifth birthday. Greta, on the other hand, was adamantly against it. She had no desire whatsoever. There was a reasonable explanation: we had problems with one of Lucia's ears; it got infected, it was terribly painful, and the hole ultimately closed and had to be re-pierced. None of that was any fun to watch.

But now Lucia's ears are fine, and she gets to wear fun earrings, including dangly earrings; and one of Greta's pre-K friends got hers pierced. So, out of the blue last week, Greta announced she wanted to get her ears pierced. She didn't go back on it once. I asked her about a hundred times since her announcement, giving her many easy outs, telling her she could do it anytime and it could be now or later or never: her choice. But she held firm. Since Mom and Dad were here this weekend, it seemed like the right time.

Today, Mom and I took Greta to the Piercing Pagoda at the local mall, where she sat very bravely as her ears were pierced. She chose pink gem hearts for her piercing earrings--she really wanted hearts, and was happy to see hearts presented as one of her choices. She was scared--when the two women leaned over her with the piercing guns, telling her to relax, relax, relax, her little lip got wobbly and she squeezed the little lamb she'd brought (her Wee) for dear life. But she did it. She leaned into me afterwards, crying silently, and wouldn't look up for a while--but that was it. She was fine. We took her to a store to pick out two Beanie Boo backpack clips, and then to Claire's to choose some earrings for when she can finally change them.

She seems very pleased. She wants to do the earring-care steps herself--turning the earrings, cleaning the holes. You never know what you'll get with our mercurial, dramatic Greta, and we caught her at a good moment today--and now she has pierced ears. So adorable. A rite of passage.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Magical Christmas 2016

Christmas is over. And it was as magical as we could have hoped.


This fall, I was so afraid that Lucia wouldn’t believe in Santa for this Christmas. She’s in a class with first and second graders, and I was dreading a precocious kid talking too much on the playground. But I needn’t have feared. Her belief in Santa was as strong as ever. Still, these Santa years are few. It’s important to me to make them magical. Our kiddos deserve nothing less.

We drove to Connellsville on December 23 and began our Christmas adventure. Molly and Luca were there, and Christmas Eve was a whirlwind of playing and excitement. We went to church in the late afternoon and sat up in the choir loft, which I hadn’t done for years and years. I brought Christmas coloring books and crayons for the long wait for Mass to begin; but once it did, Lucia and Greta were both interested in watching the people in the pews down below. And Lucia was very excited to be able to say the Our Father (thanks, CCD).

After church, we drove to see a giant Christmas light display in South Connellsville, then went on to the Orlando Christmas Eve party. It was a great time, especially when Santa made his appearance--Lucia, Greta, and Luca were mesmerized. Santa was real to them. So real. They got small presents from him and gave him many, many hugs. And then it was time to go home and get to bed so Santa could come.

The kids did go to sleep, with Lucia vowing to get up in the wee hours to go downstairs to “take a peek” at what Santa brought. In our family we don’t wrap Santa gifts: never have, never will. Christmas morning is a grand, magical display--gifts laid out in the night, waiting. Molly and I always snuck downstairs in the middle of the night, and we were excited to let our kids carry on that tradition. To my surprise, Lucia did actually wake up at 4:30am, and, as agreed, she woke up Greta and Luca and they all (with me and Molly) crept downstairs for a peek. Then I hustled the girls back to bed, where they (incredibly) went back to sleep until the decent hour of 7am. (Not so for Luca, who couldn’t be coerced back to bed.)

And then--Christmas. The kids examined their gifts and stockings, and then we opened all the gifts from one another. Lucia and Greta were over the moon at their presents. Highlights: Calico Critter houses from Santa; giant Shopkins watermelon slices from Gra and Pop-Pop; Calico Critter hamster families from Molly. After the gift-opening frenzy, the kids took their new gingerbread-man bouncy balls ($1 from the Target dollar bins, for the win) outside to play.

Christmas dinner, of course delicious, took an unusual turn after we ate. The kids went outside to play, and Molly brought out a latex alpaca mask she’d gotten for Luca. She and I took turns putting it on, adding a jaunty infinity scarf, and the effect was bizarre and hilarious. We all became hysterical, crying-laughing. The hilarity took a dark turn when Luca came inside to announce that Greta had fallen off a four-foot wall. We ran outside. Greta was unhurt physically but was backing down the street, crying and terrified, wailing that she was scared. I got her inside and calmed her down enough to get her to say what she was scared of--and it was Molly. I think she’d glimpsed Molly in the alpaca mask through the front door and her flight reaction kicked in. We’ll never know for sure.

I hesitate to even include a picture of us wearing this mask. It was just so strange and funny. No one can possibly understand exactly how hilarious this was.

The kids played with their things for the rest of the day. Dad read Morris’s Disappearing Bag to the kids out on the sidewalk while they ate Honey Nut Cheerios. Uncle Don visited later in the evening. And then Christmas was over. Magical and wonderful. And we still had the whole week of vacation ahead.

On December 26, we opened our homemade gifts--these always deserve more attention than they can get during the crazy Christmas present-opening. This year: fleece hats from Mom; Christmas village houses from Dad; dot-painted folk art from Molly; cork reindeer from Andrew; and Littlest Snowman light-up shadow boxes with dyed bottle-brush trees from me. For the kids: Molly made crystal-and-dolphin necklaces for the girls, and I made all the kids yarn-wrapped pom-pom pens. All delightful.

Molly and Luca left later that day, but the rest of us had more adventures in store. We all went to see Moana (the girls’ second time), and we had dinner at Bud Murphy’s. We went to Pittsburgh to see the Christmas lights and displays at Phipps, then had dinner at Eat N’ Park. Andrew and I got in a Gabe’s trip and went to look at a rental property for sale. We made a stop at Rural King to buy hand-warmers and heard squealing when we were in the checkout lane--”Might be those pigs again,” the cashier observed. “People brought in them pigs last week.” When Mom and Dad had a wedding reception on Friday in WV, Andrew and I took the girls snow tubing at Seven Springs. They loved it. Lucia went down twice all by herself. Greta was so mad at us for not letting her go down by herself that she began furiously waving her hands at us, which we all now refer to as “crab hands” (since her hands looked like the giant waving claws of the big crab in Moana).

When we weren’t out having adventures, we had lots of fun at home. L&G printed out Hello Kitty pictures to color, took photos with old iPhones, played with their new stuff, read Berenstain Bears books with Gra, ate cookies. Hands down, the highlight of Lucia’s Christmas was playing the square game with Pop-Pop (they played nearly 100 games, keeping a running tally of wins). And on the day we left, Pop-Pop got out a slew of travel size shampoos and soaps and had the girls making potions in the bathroom sink. They were beside themselves with happiness and fun.

On New Year’s Eve, Andrew, Lucia, Greta, and I went to Pittsburgh to hang out with the usual group of college friends. L&G had an amazing time playing with the older girls--they didn’t want to leave, but we headed home around 9pm, put them to bed, and watched the ball drop with Mom, Dad, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Our week was everything it could possibly have been. What a magical Christmas.

At Phipps

Greta's Rudolph drawing for Santa

Lucia's note for Santa

Lucia, 7, holding a stuffed lion I got for Christmas when I was 7.

Lucia and Pop-Pop playing the square game

Snow tubing at Seven Springs

Homemade gifts