Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas 2014

Once again, a lovely Christmas was had in the Phelps household. Malcolm keeps asking to do Christmas again.

I forgot to get the turkey out as soon as I should have, so I spent some of Christmas Eve morning finishing thawing it in the sink with cold water. While I did that and played with the kids and tried to finish up some household cleaning items, Ryan busily wrapped gifts. Once the turkey was in the oven and Ryan was done, it was my turn to wrap away. Thankfully I had done some wrapping over the previous few days. We were both grateful to have the wrapping done before dinner.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was basically a repeat of Thanksgiving because Ryan had enjoyed the turkey at thanksgiving so much. I forgot to get out and buy rolls (and I rarely bother to make rolls since we can get such good ones at local bakeries) and we had broccoli instead of chard, and no dessert since we've got tons of goodies around already. It was delicious.

Then we finished off the last advent presents and took down the final countdown chain and sent Malcolm off to bed. Gareth, Ryan, and myself settled down for our traditional viewing of the George C. Scott A Christmas Carol and some Theo hot chocolate.

After that was over we got Gareth off to bed. Ryan and I were feeling quite tired by this point, but did need to do a little clean up and get our blueberry breakfast bake put together as well as put out presents/fill stockings. Thanks to having the wrapping all complete, we were done by 11 pm.

The boys didn't stir in the morning until 8:45. Every year I'm grateful that our kids sleep in, even on Christmas, and for the Seattle clouds that help them sleep in. The only problem with them waking up late was that Mal wanted to eat something right away. Once I was showered and dressed I got our breakfast in the oven and got Malcolm up and then let him munch on a banana and some bread while we waited for Ryan to be ready.

Stockings were opened - Gareth found a whoopee cushion in his and Mal found a slide whistle. They both wanted to scarf down the candy and were sad when we cut them off after a few pieces. Breakfast took a few minutes more, so we let them open a gift each and then we ate our traditional breakfast. After breakfast we brought up our fake logs (poop logs as we call them, because that's what they look like (thankfully don't smell like that)) and had our first ever fire in the fireplace here. Malcolm spent the next few days begging to do another fire in the fireplace.

Malcolm was a lot more interested in presents this year and helped me open some of mine as well as opening his own. He got some dinosaurs, construction vehicles, a small basketball hoop, and books and has been having fun with them all. When it was time for nap he was not at all happy about it, but was more willing to go when I told him he could take a dinosaur with him. Gareth was excited to get a watch (he's been asking for one for years) and goggles for swimming and a set of Minecraft books and was particularly excited to open his last gift and see that it was a Kindle. Ryan picked up some magic trick trinkets for him, and he's been having fun with those as well. We tried to play with his new Jenga game the next morning, and he thought it was a lot of fun. But then Mal came along and kept knocking it over ("that was so awesome!"), so a real game had to wait until Mal wasn't around. Gareth at one point said, "How did Santa wrap that? The gifts from Santa are wrapped in the same paper that we have!" To which Ryan and I responded, "That's an interesting observation." It's fun to see him start to make such observations and know that in the next couple years he'll likely realize that Santa is just pretend.

While Mal was napping the rest of us watched "Elf". Leftover turkey made up our Christmas dinner, followed by a nice video chat with Ryan's family, and then we watched "It's a Wonderful Life" with Gareth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Carol Sing-Along

Last year my teacher started holding a carol sing-along the weekend before Christmas, so we headed out to that this past Sunday evening.

Gareth was crying before we left because I wouldn't let him bring a book to "entertain" himself with. I told him he was old enough to be entertained by the event itself and thus ensued a huge meltdown. Of course, when we got there he ended up having a good time.

My teacher also conducts the Greenwood Concert Band during the summer, so that is the group that plays. They played a couple of festive band pieces, which both years have kept Malcolm's attention. This year MJ McDermott (worked on the last local kids tv show back in the '90s and is now the meteorologist on one of the local news stations and someone who has sung with the band before) joined the band to narrate 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. That didn't hold Malcolm's attention quite as well, but he stayed semi-decently quiet through it. Then the sing-along portion started, and that never holds Malcolm's attention. Gareth enjoys that, but isn't generally interested in singing along until they do Jingle Bells or other songs he knows well. Ryan doesn't sing much because there isn't always a bass part, and Malcolm gets upset if I try to sing.

Gareth found The 12 Days of Christmas very funny, especially when the two "lords" sitting behind us went a-leaping across the hall, flinging themselves from one aisle of chairs to the next. Mal had gotten quite rowdy by this point, so he and Ryan went for a short walk outside. After singing several songs there was time for just a couple more so MJ asked if there were any that people absolutely wanted to sing. Since the crowd was sparse and Gareth was the youngest kid (excepting Malcolm) in the audience, she picked him and he, of course, chose Rudolph. Then she asked if he knew the extra parts, so he got invited to go up on stage and lead the group/sing the extras. The band initially started playing way too fast and Gareth got so flustered he forgot where he was, but MJ thankfully stopped them and told them they needed to slow down a bit and so we started over and he did great. It could have easily been an experience that ended in tears of frustration so we were grateful to MJ for turning it into a positive experience. Malcolm came back partway through, and of course he wanted to join Gareth up front. A fellow clarinetist snapped a picture of the boys with MJ afterward:

Afterward there were treats and a chocolate fountain. All my band/orchestra friends enjoyed watching Gareth wander around with his mouth slathered in chocolate. Malcolm was mostly kept away from the goodies, but only with much difficulty. He would've stuffed everything in sight into his mouth if allowed free reign. Gareth was really excited to have been able to get up and lead the group in a song and everyone was nice and complimentary to him afterward.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Haircuts

Christmas-time is a popular one for haircuts at our house. Gareth had been asking for a few weeks and I figured Malcolm should have one at the same time to avoid snot-hair should he get a cold with a very runny nose this winter.

Malcolm managed not to scream the entire time, and even let me go sit down rather than hold onto my hand through the cut. The woman cutting his hair bribed him with a lollipop; I think he made it through two dum-dums during the cut. He drew the line at blow drying his hair though. Nothing was going to make him let that happen. The stylists were all laughing when she'd ask him something and he'd say, "um, no". Most of his curl got cut off, which makes me sad, but she said that trying to keep it longer just wasn't looking good as she cut. It'll grow again, and I'll probably let it grow from now until Halloween next year, so we'll have plenty of curls again in no time.

Gareth doesn't look all that much different. He was happily engrossed in figuring out a video game the whole time. He'd spent the whole day looking forward to this moment, partly because he's been banned from video games at home since just before Thanksgiving.


Post-haircut. Ignore the cowlick - I'm lucky there's only one here; usually there are several!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Secular Christmas

We were living in Indiana when the issue of Christmas came up. We had finally talked to each other about our transitioning beliefs and sometime afterward I started wondering what we'd do about Christmas if we didn't believe the whole Jesus story. Now, if Gareth had been older I don't know that this question would have come up, since we would have had very ingrained traditions already, but since he was so little there was a definite ability to change how we did things. Was it hypocritical to celebrate a holiday if you didn't believe in the story that many base it on? I rather felt like it was and that if we weren't going to be believers we shouldn't be doing the holidays.

But I was loathe to deny myself and my kids all the fun memories that Christmas had brought me as a kid. I didn't want to give up cutting down the tree and decorating it and the house and all the baking. I didn't want to give up watching our traditional movies. I didn't want to give up the anticipation, the gift-wrapping, the Christmas-day food. Besides, so much of Christmas really comes from various pagan and pre-Christian cultures, none of which I'd ever believed in, so maybe it didn't matter?

And then Ryan showed me this video, which a friend of ours had posted:

Tim Minchin touches on all the reasons I wanted to keep doing Christmas. The reality is that the traditions, the baking, the carols, the decorating, the gift-giving, and most of all, the people  - these were always what made Christmas, for me anyway. Watching this video helped me realize I wasn't alone in wanting to celebrate Christmas even though I don't believe the Jesus story. It might mean something different to me than to my religious friends, but what it means to me is valuable and worth continuing to celebrate.

So, what does our secular Christmas look like? Pretty much like our religious Christmas did, just minus the Jesus. We still bake and put up a tree and give gifts. We do Santa, but not over the top (it's a good exercise in critical thinking for kids). Sometimes I put out my nativity because it's pretty, sometimes I don't. We go sing the songs, even though the "lyrics are dodgy", because we like how the music sounds. And we include our kids in these things because it's part of Christmas for us and we want to share that with them.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014


It snowed a couple days after Thanksgiving. Gareth was sick so didn't get to enjoy it. It's unusual to get snow so early in the season. And for it to stick around. We had freezing temps for a few days after the snow, so it took a good week or so to melt. 

This is what greeted me when I walked out of the garage to put the bike away after drop off a couple days ago:

This kid loves his bike rides! (But still won't do much with the balance bike, sadly) Mal has been a bit of a grump due to a cold lately, so it was nice to see him so happy. Gareth has been missing riding his bike to school, so I gave in a couple days this week and we rode, despite knowing it was going to be rainy after pick up. Both days Gareth and I got quite wet on the way home from school, but I figure it was either ride or walk and walking would mean being out in the rain longer.

Malcolm had been begging for a tree since Thanksgiving, but was sick when we finally went to get one and wasn't as excited about it as we thought he'd be. He's been excited about having the tree once we got it up though. Now that we have the lights on he'll frequently ask to see "Chismas tree lights". Yet again, life is getting in the way and so the ornaments will go on sometime this weekend.