Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chickies and Sickies

Spring has sprung and the evidence is thick in these parts right now.  We are loving it!  There is not a more glaring sign of spring than new arrivals in our little chicken coop we now know.  At the end of February one of our little Isbar pullets, nameless at the time but has since been tagged as "Mamacita," was found in a nest box mid-day presumptively laying her daily offering as usual.  When I reached under her to pull out any eggs that may be there as I do every day, however, I was treated with a quick and decisive peck to the hand accompanied by a puff up of her feathers and a very audible growl.  I knew immediately that we had a broody beast.  She happened to be in one of two boxes that I have placed a few wooden eggs to entice our girls to lay where they are supposed to AND to hopefully kickstart the behavior that Miss Mamacita was so eagerly displaying...we wanted chicks!

The last two springs I have purchased chicks from breeders and feed stores to grow our flock and have quickly learned that raising and brooding chicks is a lot of work and a BIG mess.  I had decided that this year if there were going to be chicks at Kneuper Acres that they would be hatched and raised by one of our flock leaving her to do all the work and lots of time for observation for the rest of us.  Mamacita didn't fail us.  She sat on those wooden eggs for two days straight and so I moved her up to  one of our brooding pens so that she could peacefully sit on some eggs for the 3 week incubation without being bothered by the rest of the flock. The evening of March 1st, I placed a mix of 7 eggs under her and removed the wooden eggs (and was punished severely for it...ouch!).  We marked our calendar and the countdown began!

On day 10 we candled our eggs.  This is our first time hatching eggs using any method, so I had never candled before.  I wasn't comfortable throwing any of the 7 out...I had a hard time picking much out.  Two of the eggs were Black Copper Marans eggs, so they were very dark.  I could see better on some of the normal brown eggs...one I knew was from "Buffy" our Buff Orpington, but Mamacita had cracked it. The other 2 light brown eggs could have been from a Barred Rock, a Speckled Sussex or a Red Sexlink. The last 2 eggs were both green Isbar eggs and one I was fairly certain was infertile and I couldn't tell on the other.  I taped the one cracked egg and put them back and we did some more waiting.

At 14 days I did another quick candle and thought I could see some change in most of them, so we kept on trucking.  Day 18 is the last day you are supposed to do any candling, so we did and determined the cracked egg had stopped developing and that one of the Isbar eggs was definitely infertile.  We removed them both and even did a little "egg-topsy" on the cracked one so that I could verify what I was seeing during candling.  Sure enough, there was a partially developed chick that probably stopped developing around 2 weeks.  I must admit, I was nervous placing the remaining 5 back under her.  This would be our first hatch and its success would set the mood for all future hatches.  Three days to go.

Her face really tells it all
I should interrupt this chicken story to tell what was going on inside the big ol' farmhouse on Kneuper Acres.  Spring break began for the older 3 kids on the 16th day, so the chicks were due to hatch on the 22nd...right smack in the middle of their spring break!  Unfortunately on the first day of spring break, X-man began running a fever.  He coughed and sputtered.  He vomited a couple times and moaned and groaned in misery.  2 days later Ella Forever awoke in the wee hours of Monday morning vomiting...and then couldn't stop vomiting for several hours.  A very tired momma spent most of Monday trying to appease the 3 healthy children who were very bummed that we couldn't do any of the fun things that we had talked about doing that day.  That night both Gokey and Jilly Bean fell victim and Ella Forever had another 2 1/2 hour non-stop vomit-session.  As Wednesday approached the pressure for success on this impending hatch was thick!  We needed a bright spot in this week!

Since I didn't set the real eggs under Mamacita until the evening of the 1st, I knew that realistically they would probably hatch overnight on the 22nd and into the 23rd.  On Wednesday morning, the 22nd, however, I went out to open up the coop for the flock and check on our devoted momma.  I gently lifted her with one hand to get a peek of the eggs underneath her and to my shock saw a peeping lump of black fuzz and the remnants of the sweet chickie's home over the last 3 weeks!
I ran inside to retrieve the kids and there was a hustle to throw on boots and jackets and a very speedy scurry back out to the coop.  This time I lifted Mamacita entirely off of the nest to reveal another fuzzy gray chick!  Two of the five eggs had hatched successfully overnight.  The kids were ecstatic (I might have been a tiny bit excited as well) and Mamacita was very insistent that we bug off. It took everything in me not to camp out there and check the other eggs every 20 minutes for the rest of the day, but I had sick kids to take care of.


By late morning the 2nd Marans egg had a pip in the shell and we could hear tiny peeps coming from within, which is a really cool deal and the kiddos were fascinated with this development.  It instigated lots of discussion.  Around 3 pm I snuck out without the kids in tow and discovered the 3rd chick in the last stage of hatching and just kicking free of the confines of its shell. By that point, when I would tap on the shell of the 4th egg, one of the tan ones, I could hear definite peeping from inside confirming that we should have a 4th chick in the near future. By bedtime that evening, the egg had grown quiet and it still hadn't pipped through the shell, so we locked up the coop and I had to wait and see what was to be found the following morning.



Mamacita did not disappoint.  I dashed out to the coop as quickly as I could the next morning to found a recently hatched TINY little chick, still a bit damp and very wobbly under momma.  We left the last green egg under her for the next 24 hours, but it never did hatch and when we performed the egg-topsy we discovered that it never developed.  So...the two green eggs were infertile, which makes sense because they were from young pullets.  One of the tan eggs got broken in Mamacita's comings and goings during nesting, which is unfortunate, but a very real outcome.  That left four healthy eggs, all of which hatched!  I consider that a great success and they have been a joy to watch in the days since.  The older 4 kids each claimed a chick as their own.  The first hatched, Tickle, is Gokey's.  The lone blue chick, Tinker, is Jilly Bean's.  The 2nd Marans chick and third to hatch overall, TicTac, is Squeaky D's.  And last and least in size is Tricker, X-man's chick.

An update on our house full of sickies and coop full of chickies:  It is now Sunday.  Mamacita and the chicks were moved down to a floor level brooder in the coop on Friday so the flock can get acquainted with the new members without posing a threat to them.  I did open the doors to the brooder today while I was there to supervise and let them explore the coop a bit.  The babies met their daddy and a few of the other hens in their new extended family.  They each received a sharp peck to the head by an aunt or two when they tried to sneak in to the feeder underneath them and would run back peeping to momma, but it looks like they will integrate just fine after a little more growing time.  As for the sickies...Ella Forever still can't kick this thing!  Yesterday Gokey, Jilly Bean and Declan were still nursing fevers as well, but they awoke without one this morning and so far so good.  Our ENTIRE spring break was consumed with illness.  Big bummer, but we have chicks! ;)

Tickle
Tinker
TicTac

Tricker
Tickle, TicTac, Tinker and Tricker

Ella Forever not sure how to feel about a very soft and tiny Tinker ;)

I caught sweet X-man just quietly observing the new little family after we
moved them into their new pen on the coop floor.

Poor Griffin Pickle really just wanted to sniff those chicks to his little
heart's desire, but everyone kept telling him to "go away!"  :(


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Easter 2014

As I was working on my last blog post, I noticed that I had a post in my list of posts that was a "draft" from almost THREE years ago.  I had uploaded pictures after Easter that year and then just never wrote a post and there they have sat.  I opened this draft up and decided that, although I have no recollection of any stories that may have accompanied such a post, these pictures were too adorable for my eyes to be the only ones to see them. 

There are only 4 kids on the ground in these pics...Ella Forever was in my belly and still had 2 1/2 months of baking to do.  Squeaky D is TINY.  Who am I kidding?  They all are!  Amazing how much they change in 3 years.  As you enjoy these pictures, I will just be over in the corner sobbing in the fetal position...

As if they would all be looking at the camera...this is only one of dozens


She scored in a big way...our Easter Bunny hides an even number of one
color of eggs for each kid.  She clearly did NOT follow the rules. :)

I LOVE this picture!

Look at the joy oozing from Jilly Bean and Squeaky D!


X-man's face is priceless!








The smolder.

Who knows?  It was Easter and I was eating for 2 and very hungry!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

40 Years and Counting

15 years ago, when we were both much younger, I met this strapping, balding man and, though I declined his many many offers pleas for "just one date" for far too long, once I finally gave in and he laid that first kiss on me, I was totally sold.  He was my first TRUE love.  I thought I had been in love before him, but I now know that I was wrong and it became very apparent from very early on that I would do just about anything to make this guy happy.  And after this last few months I have realized that even lying, omitting large quantities of information, snooping through his phone and logging into some of his accounts is not beyond me in order to shock the guy.

This story starts last fall.  J's 40th birthday would be on January 31st of 2017 and I knew I wanted to surprise him, but how?  He is easily the "breadwinner" in our family, since I am a stay at home mom and woefully underpaid (but very appreciated...I know), so I knew that funding a big event would be very difficult without him noticing.  I knew if I asked him what he wanted for his birthday his answer would be, "just some time with you."  I have heard this one many times, so I also knew that I needed to give him time (and selfishly, that totally works to my advantage as well).  My plan was really solidified in October when we took the 3 oldest kids to a K-State football game and talked about how fun it would be to return to our old stomping grounds one day and REALLY spend some time there instead of blowing in for a game and heading right back out. The following weekend my sister and I took off for a weekend trip to Scottsdale, AZ to spend some time with my Mom and Stepdad in their home away from home and I was able to corner them and set a date that would work for them to take the kids for a WHOLE WEEKEND right before his birthday.  The ball was rolling.  

So then I spent the next 3 months booking a place to stay and a place to have a little afternoon surprise party and stuff to do while we were there...all from afar and all behind J's back.  I sent an email out to all of his immediate family and mine to save the date and then I had to figure out how to contact his old friends and coworkers.  I dug through his phone when he would go to take a shower and take pictures of contacts with my phone.  I logged into his LinkedIn account to get in touch with old professors and coworkers.  I texted his boss.  I thought the whole plan had been foiled on numerous occasions when I thought he had seen or overheard something that he shouldn't have and as the weekend got closer my anxiety grew.  Three weeks before our weekend I got a text from J stating that the Boy Scout's Pinewood Derby was going to be moved from the 21st (the date that had been scheduled since September of last year) to the 28th.  Aaaaaaaaghhhh!  I'm not sure I have ever been so irritated.  By that point I had already told him that I had a sitter lined up for Friday night so we could go out and celebrate his birthday and I had to then tell him that he and the boys would not be able to make it to the Derby.  He easily got the hint and asked no questions, but I knew that my surprise was threatened.  Not only did he know that we would be doing something Friday, but he knew that it would be bleeding into Saturday.  I was bummed, but trucked on.  And then the weekend right before my big surprise weekend I got sick...like fever, hit by a truck sick.  I was terrified!  I was a nervous wreck!  What if he got sick?  What if one of the kids got so sick that my mom wouldn't take them (that would take a lot, I know, but still)?  What if I couldn't get everything done that week before that I needed to get done. I had to hide my anxiety from him and it was horrible.  He's my guy.  He's the one that all of my venting filters through. He's the one who listens and makes it better.  But I was on my own.  I sucked it up, pulled up my big girl panties and got to work.  By the time I got to Thursday and nobody was sick I was feeling confident.  

J had Friday off and conveniently, a dentist appointment that morning.  While he was gone I grabbed everything he would need for our weekend away and added it to the suitcase that I had already started with all of my things earlier in the week. I loaded the suitcase of clothing for the kids into the van as they were going to Mom and Jim's house for the weekend rather than staying at ours.  I sent a novel of an email to my mom with instructions for everyone and some of the things that I would need her to haul up to Manhattan for the party since I wouldn't be able to have a conversation with her when she arrived.  I wrote in a little card to give to J after we were to hop in the car that afternoon revealing our plan for the weekend.  Once he got home and at some point occupied with something else, I snuck our suitcase into the trunk of the car and placed his card on the dash in front of the passenger seat.  

My mom arrived around 3, we all hung out and chatted and waited for the big kids to get home from school, said our goodbyes and headed out.  It didn't take him long to rip open the card and read about our adventure to be to which he was very surprised.  Because of the mishaps revealing a possible overnight event, he suspected one night of freedom, but was floored that we had a whole weekend and in Manhappiness! I revealed no more to him other than that we had 2 nights in Manhattan, so he settled in for the drive and we chatted excitedly.

We pulled into town just before five and arrived at Anderson Bed and Breakfast (http://www.andersonbnb.com) just after 5.  This is a fantastic place to stay in Manhattan.  We were easy walking distance from both campus and Aggieville, the place was adorable and the hosts were fantastic. We were greeted warmly by one of the owners and shown up to our room.  We decided on a place for dinner and headed out.  Came back afterward to freshen up and then strolled out to Aggieville FAR earlier on a Friday night than we ever would have in college.  We perused up and down the streets to check out what was still the same and what was different (far more different than the same) and then popped into a bar that was an old fave (though the name had changed) for a drink.  Moved onto the next one for another drink and then ended up at Auntie Mae's for some pool and more drinks. The theme of the night was drinks (and really awful pool) and we zig-zagged "home" about the time the real college students were just heading out, giggling the whole way.  I think I succeeded in reminding my main man of his youthful years and then we slept like babies in a fabulous bed without one interruption from a needy child.  We slept in a little more than we do at home, though not nearly as late as we might have in college, got dressed and headed downstairs for a superb breakfast consisting of an omelet, sausage, fruit, asparagus and a celebratory mimosa, though after the previous night it was probably the last thing we needed.

We decided to check out the Flint Hills Discovery Center (http://flinthillsdiscovery.org) that morning and I had planted the seed that I wanted to explore campus that afternoon knowing that friends and family would be gathering at the Alumni Center on campus for a surprise party.  The Discovery Center was very interesting and well-put together.  The Immersive Experience Theater was especially neat!  After spending an hour or so there we decided to grab lunch.  I was starting to get anxious.  By the time we finished lunch it was about 12:20, so we had about an hour and a half to kill.  I felt like we could definitely fill that time on campus.  We left the car parked in Aggieville and strolled onto campus.  We started at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art and killed a good 20-30 minutes there.  Then we headed over to the Student Union, stopping for some photo ops on the way.  The Union has been completely transformed from when we were there...it's unrecognizable and has been beautifully redone.  J had already seen the engineering building and the new work that has recently been completed there when he had been there previously for a work trip.  Running out of things to look at, I said I would like to check out my old Biology hall, Ackert, so we headed that direction.  It was a 40ish degree day and though it was supposed to be sunny, the clouds had moved in and wind had really kicked up, so I had started to get cold and J kept suggesting we go back "home"...I'm sure a nap would have been perfect at that point after our wild night before, but I kept tugging him here and there. By the time we were closing in on that magic 2 o'clock hour, I had dragged him through Ackert Hall, over to Waters Hall to see the Entomology wing and then through the library. My stomach was in knots.

The old football stadium is immediately north of the Alumni Center and it was my last chance to stall him.  I was freezing and desperately wanted to speed time up.  I sucked it up and suggested we check out the old stadium, something I had never actually done when I went to school there.  He thought we should try to go into the building as he had held interviews there during last fall's career fair and said it was worth checking out.  Unfortunately the door at the north end of the east side of the stadium was locked.  I was trying to keep him from the south side, since it was just a skip from the entrance to the alumni center that guests would be using and they were probably arriving at that moment. I kept trying to convince him to head to the north side of the stadium where we could follow the fence to a gate along the west side and get onto the field.  He apparently thought that was nonsensical, since we could just follow the path directly to the south side where there was no fence and walk right in, so I reluctantly followed him praying that everyone would be out of sight as we headed into the danger zone.  As soon as we reached the south end and turned west to round onto the field, my arm hooked through his, I spotted two kids on the Wildcat statue between the Alumni Center and the field...I immediately recognized it as X-man and a friend of his.  My heart stopped.  I think I gasped a little and I spun around 180 degrees, tugging J with me.  He looked at me like I was crazy (I was) and asked if I was OK.  I am not even sure what I mumbled, my heart was racing.  I decided to chance it because how else would I have covered?  We turned back around and I willed X-man to stay at a distance where hopefully J wouldn't recognize him.  J even mentioned something about taking a picture on the statue like those kids were doing.  Phew...keep him moving.  I then headed up the steps going up to the top of the stadium, checking the clock on my phone over and over again and trying to fill the time with endless chatter.  He kept asking if I was OK because I was freezing and suggesting we just go home to warm up.  I told him I wanted to get all the way to the top to check out the view.  I kept looking over toward the statue and they were still climbing on it. Eventually, we paused against the railing overlooking the field.  I stood between him and the Alumni Center trying to block his view of the statue.  At that point, X-man jumped off of the statue and started skipping toward the main entrance to the east, his friend following him when J said, "that kid looks JUST like X-man!"  What?  Ummmmm...I was speechless.  I don't think I said anything.  I just stared at X-man and watched him finally disappear to the marveling J beside me talking of doppelgängers.  I furiously texted the aunt who was in charge of texting me when it was a go for us to head in and told her to keep X-man under tabs as he had been spotted.  Moments later she texted that they were ready for us and I told her we would be there in a minute.  J was talking on and on about some giant screen television that he had heard was in the Alumni Center, so I suggested we pop in to the building to look for it and warm up before we headed back home. Thankfully he easily agreed and I led him into the building and around the corner where I knew the surprise was awaiting.

SURPRISE!  A large swarm of people all huddled against a far wall came to life and since I was walking in front of J, I totally missed his reaction and don't even have a very good picture of it, but he perked up, took a bow and said, "that WAS X-man!"  I think it was safe to say that he was definitely surprised.  We spent the next couple of hours visiting with friends and family, eating cake and recounting everything leading up to the big surprise.  And I was SO relieved to have it behind me.  Keeping a secret from my confidant was hard and I was so very thankful to be able to spill the beans.

There are a couple of poor quality videos that were texted to me after the event (the first to the right here) that I will replace with better quality when I can get my hands on them.  By popular demand, I am also including a copy of the poem that I read to him below.  I love you, J-Joe!  Hope this was the best birthday yet!



Forty years...that’s quite a lot.

Like the rest of us you started as a little tot. 

Eyes full of wonder of what would come, 

Unaware of the blunders that would be done.


A childhood scarred by pants of plaid, 
Brotherly quarrels and a broken hand. 
Circling a table where his family did sit 
Vomit behind finger-pinched lips.
A family “game” of Duck Duck Goose? 
Every lap a threat to let loose.

Hunkering down during a thundering storm, 

“Remembering” hard-fought battles in ‘Nam. 

He wore his coke-bottle glasses with pride 
And his baby hair, his mother would describe 
As spun golden silk, so soft,

Would take to the wind leaving a noggin glossed.

But not all events would prove to be fails.
The kid proved to be a smart one as he followed life’s trails.

He rose to the top in scouting lore

And became an Eagle Scout that did soar
Far from his home to where Engineers are born
Just for a bit, because the expense he abhorred.
Back to Texas he flew and continued his quest
For career stability and a life most blessed.
It was after a time from the north there was a tug,
So he followed his heart to the flatlands of luck.
A Wildcat he indifferently became
And he trudged through work and class, mostly never losing aim. 
Distractions arose...Mario Kart and the Price is Right,
But none so disruptive as his future bride.
Despite the obstacles his diploma he achieved
And quickly his first real job he received!

It took some years for he and that girl to get on the same page,
It was something about reservations and probably needing to age, 
But after 5 long years and buying her the same ring twice
She decided it was time to give in and play nice.
He began his 4th decade as a newlywed
And their lives were so simple, so quiet, so zen!
They knew just how to mess that up!
Ten years, four homes, five kids...full is their cup.

He’s old, he’s creaky, he often stinks (but he’s still pretty cute)
and now he’s the old guy who shows up in the crazy Christmas suit. 
Now what? What’s next? Honey, you’re over that hill!
Sit down and slide...you’re FORTY and fabulous...still! 




Right after his entrance

The Cake Table and display

I found THE best picture for his cake!!!

Some of J's family

Some of my family (special thanks goes to Judy and Kim for helping set
everything up and storing all of my party supplies in their home until the big day.
And a shout out to Papa in the back for taking on my crazy kids for the whole
weekend!
THANK YOU!!!


Me reading my "little" poem and some video below of part of it...


My Dad (Grandpa Moose)

Blowing out his candles!  40 YEARS OLD!!!

Nana and Liz, J's sis...big thank you's for these two as well.  Nana helped
wrangle our kiddos all weekend and Liz was the cake delivery lady and
also helped to set up.
THANK YOU!

One of J's buddies and his Dad chatting


J's Momma...without this lady and that guy in the pic above, there would
be no J!  How boring my life would be...
THANK YOU!

My beautiful Momma and Jilly Bean. Thank you for jumping in always to
help with the kids, Mom.  You are the best I could ever have asked for!

The only babysitter they really needed...just give 'em a screen.

The boys posing with the infamous statue that X-man was originally spotted at.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Preparation and Thanksgiving Fun

I have had this blog on my to-do list for 2 weeks now and my kids won't cooperate...this is an easy facet of my life to neglect.  The rest of my charges make a lot of noise when I ignore them.  

We have had a very eventful couple of weeks, so this will mostly be a picture update!  There's always excessive hustle and bustle that seems to overtake my world beginning at Thanksgiving.  It's a welcome busy.  I love this season! We typically cut our Christmas tree down the weekend after Thanksgiving, but this year we got an early jump because J took the entire week of Thanksgiving off and we knew we would be out of town the weekend we usually take on the task.  So, off we trekked on the day before Thanksgiving to find our perfect tree and I believe we definitely succeeded.



The ONE!

Teamwork!
Look how cute he is...and the Swagger Wagon looks pretty good hauling. :)

We got home and decorated.  Another fun year...I always forget how at the ripe age of two, this must feel like the first Christmas in Ella's little mind.  I doubt Ella Forever remembers much if any of last year's celebration.  She was fascinated by a tree indoors and once lights went on, she was hooked.  As always, with 5 kids, a couple of dogs and 2 excited cats parading through the house, our decoration process was a "controlled" chaos. I turned around at one point to find J standing expectantly under the kissing ball he had just placed.  He pulled me in close and I could barely make out his whisper as kids squealed with delight and others fought over ornament placement rights.  His whispered speech to me was something along the lines of, "this is complete craziness, but I wouldn't have it any other way."  Me either...I am so glad we are on the same page.




Ooooooh...Aaaaahhhhh!  It is lacking a star because ours broke, but it has since been replaced. :)

The following day we made the short trip to my Momma's and Stepdad, Jim's and had a fabulous time with his immediate and extended family (who I will claim as MY extended family at this point). Good food, lots of good conversation and plenty of joy.  I had so much fun that I completely neglected my paparazzi duties, so I got a picture of Jillie Bean with her special-occasion-curls and Bitsy, who was Jillie's most favorite companion for the day and a picture of the kids' table.  You will have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.  



The following day we drove up to J's parents' and had a wonderful time visiting with them and his brother and sister and nieces.  We were planning on driving back on Saturday, so we invited J's Ma and Pa to accompany us on part of our journey for lunch at the Brookville Hotel in Abilene.  J's Mom suggested while in the area we also go to the Museum of Independent Telephony, also in Abilene, so we did just that.  The kids were fascinated by the OLD phones and that they had to be connected by wires, but they could have played with them for hours.  They also had an old carousel that we got to ride on behind the museum as well as several buildings set as a historical perspective of life in the early 1900's.  We visited a very teeny tiny house that would have been comfortable for an average family at the time, an old grocery store, barn and a one room schoolhouse.  It was a neat little trip!




Don't they look adorable...breaking the rules and trying to sneak up the stairs that were NOT to be climbed?
Despite how serious that middle row looks, they are the class clowns!

Our family elf usually appears sometime on the day that our tree arrives in our house, but for some reason this year, he didn't show.  One of the kids pondered out loud about his absence on Saturday after we had returned home and I admitted that the question was valid.  Where WAS that elf?  Thank goodness he showed up the following morning and came bearing the gifts of matching jammies for the whole fam!





Not sure how I scored this one!  They're all looking at the camera...and smiling!!!
And, of course, we have not forgotten the reason for the season.  Our kid-friendly Nativity has had lots of activity this year as Ella Forever has completely fallen in love.  A day or two after it had been on display I came in to find this sweet little scene in the picture below as Ella was tinkering with it.  I was amazed at her understanding of it all and asked her if she had lined up everyone in front of baby Jesus to which I received a resounding, "Yeah!"  I was so impressed...until I was uploading pictures to this blog and X-Man strolled past, chuckled and said, "I set them up like that."  Way to rain on my parade!  It was cute anyway and it has been really fun watching a baby crazy Ella swoon over baby Jesus at every turn.  




Our first lighting of this year's Advent wreath
I have worked hard these last few years to slow down and really focus on the miracle of Christmas...stopping and really taking in the magic as seen through my children's eyes has been the reward.  Our gift giving is a lot slimmer these days and I have let go of the pressure to over-gift and over-commit and in simplicity we have discovered so much joy. And so we continue to prepare for the special day that awaits!  Merry Christmas!!!