Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Baby

Kyle's off work today - PTL!

We've been going through a period of trials with our children, and having the extra reinforcement feels amazing to my weary spirit.

AV's involve severe acid reflux, an appointment with a GI specialist, teething five bajillion teeth at the same time, and waking up about five times a night because of it.
case and point. can you see them in there?
Meggie figured out on Christmas Day how to climb out of her crib.  Christmas night, she crept from her room to our room three times and flicked on the light shouting, "NIGHT NIGHT ALL DOOOOOONNNNNNEEEEE!"  Oh, brother.

The next night we put the baby gate up in her room for her safety (so that she wouldn't be wandering about in the middle of the night) and for our sanity.  Yesterday, she figured out how to climb over that.
I mean, can you imagine this sweet thing causing such a ruckus? :)
It's like I told Kyle yesterday: the boundary of the crib is gone and now it feels like she's testing every other boundary to see if they still hold.  We're buckling down in the VH household, getting back to basics.

But it's trying.
My Meggie Mae
My Allie Ballie
So, to lighten things up a bit, I wanted to let you in on a little treasure wrapped up for me under the tree this year.  This present was one of the last ones to be opened because it looked so inconspicuous, but it was BY FAR my favorite.  Wrapped up from my Aunt Pam and Grandmama was a stapled packet of yellowed, shriveled notebook paper with pencil writing and second-grade cartoon drawings.  I recognized my own long ago signature: by Shannon O'Connell. It was a story I wrote when I was eight years old, a chapter book from the weeks after my little sister, Becca, was born. As I read it through, I remembered.  On the inside I found this note:

"Dear Shan, Many years ago, Grandaddy asked us to keep this to return to you years later. We're keeping that promise this year."

A new baby

A baby sister
The day finly came. My mom said that she was going to have a baby girl. I had aways wished for a sister and now I was going to have one.  I could not take my mind off it. She was due in October that was like four months. I could hardly wait. Finly the month of October came. I could hardly wait till the day she was due came. Finly on October 21st my baby sister was born. She had jet black hair and did not cry much and her name was Rebecca.  I could hardly wait for her to come home.

later on
It was a Wednesday and my mom and Rebecca were coming home. But I was sick. By the 3rd day I was like what is with my parnents. Rebecca had taken all the love from my parnents that belonged to me. They always said "oo" and "ahh" I did not like it!!!

At 2 months
It is later on and my sister is 2 months. And my sister just does not like to ride in the car. I do not understand it why does she act this way. At 2 months it is a strange stage.

What about me! What about me! You do not love me anymore. I feel like runing away. I want to send that baby back to the baby store.

The end
:) (and it's even better with the pictures, too.)

Well, I guess we all know now where my girls get their dramatic side.

Thank you, Aunt Pam and Uncle Jerry for preserving this for me.  I love that you and Grandaddy knew how much I would cherish reading this so many years later - especially now that I have two little sisters of my own.

And, Becca, I love YOU!  20 years later, I'm glad they didn't send you back to the baby store.
Ok, well, this picture is of Becca and me from like six years ago and from my old computer - I couldn't get it to flip around, but let's all just pretend I did!

Becca and Me tailgating at the SC vs. Navy football game this fall.  Can you believe she just celebrated her 20th birthday?  Also, my mom recently pointed out that Becca and Meggie have the EXACT same shade of hair.  I LOVE that.  Wouldn't it be funny if Becca's first born popped out with red hair? :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Magic Room Book Review

My diplomas sit in a box in a storage shed, dust resting still on their hard-sought frames.  I think of clients I once had when I was interning, where they must be by now in their lives.  I remember classes, papers written, friends.  Though I write for the love of it now and also for connection, I spend the majority of my time as wife and all of my time as mother to two precious girls.  And I’m in that phase of toddler motherhood where the challenge is mostly physical - up all night, getting milk, reading books, pushing strollers, swinging swings, burping babies, catching sliding girls, pigtails flying.  I wear sweats and go days without a shower; I don’t remember what it’s like to feel my legs when they’re shaved.  I’m in the trenches of young parenting, and most of the time, I revel in the mess, the learning, the sweet innocence.

But, I also miss my femininity.  Life sometimes feels slightly out-of-balance, with mommy winning over woman.  Over Christmas, then, I read Jeffrey Zaslow’s new book, The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for our Daughters, which not only helped me remember my life before children, before marriage, it conjured forth the me that was a bride, that dreamed of all the things I daily live.  I felt reconnected to that dreamy part of me that looked beyond my veil six years ago and gazed, teary-eyed, on my future husband.

The Magic Room, through the lens of a family-owned bridal shop business in Michigan called Becker’s and the personalities that created it, examines love, marriage, and girlhood dreams.  Zaslow journeys with readers through lives of brides and their families - looking at decisions that brought them to the dress shop as well as the shaping influences of the broader culture and how those have changed over the course of Becker’s history.

I’m not usually a nonfiction kinda gal, but this book captivated me as reading it caused me to reflect not only on the reasons why I got married, but also what I want for my own daughters when their time comes, what I want to teach them on their way to finding a husband.  Zaslow craftily uses the magic room, a hushed, mirrored, elevated, old bank vault where brides come to view themselves in “the one,” as a vehicle for investigating all that led up to that moment in the lives of American brides and detailing all the hopes for what follows. 

He urges readers, through relevant studies, statistics, and trends, to think past the magic room to life after the wedding. Although the research-driven psychologist in me thirsted for heartier discussions of findings in the book, Zaslow gently interweaves his research into the stories of marriage successes and wedding heartaches, allowing readers the opportunity to remember their own engagements or plan more realistically for their own futures. 

After reading The Magic Room and dreaming with the brides there, I had the urge to hold my husband tighter, longer.  Zaslow’s account, a must read for all who have daughters or long for marriage, is one of wistful pinings, devotion, tragedy, full-circle joy, realistic struggles.  In a culture where weddings are idealized, he makes the reader ponder, rightly, the marriage that follows after.

If you’re intrigued, come follow along as we discuss this endearing, heartfelt new book: The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for our Daughters.

The review above is a paid BlogHer Book Club Review.  Although I’m receiving compensation for my participation, the opinions expressed are purely my own - with no pricetag attached. :)

Monday, December 26, 2011


Kyle and I woke up with a slumbering baby between us in the bed on Christmas morning.  We deemed it a lovely and appropriate way to start that beautiful day.  Meggie called out from her crib soon after and we all piled into our bed - the girls in matching pjs from my parents - to read the Christmas story. 
Then, just the four of us opened presents around the tree while breakfast baked in the oven and coffee brewed.  Meggie took her care to open each present piece by piece and played with each gift before moving on to the next present.  Alice Virginia observed from her Bumbo and ate the occasional bit of paper.  We aimed for a simple, old-fashioned Christmas, and it turned out even better than we hoped.  We enjoyed having our own "Little House" style celebration, our sweet family giving each other the best gift of one another's company and love. 

My favorite gift of the morning is one that I'll be sharing with you in the next few days.  I could not believe the treasure under that wrapping paper, let me tell you!
Meggie LOVES books. Notice all the unwrapped gifts behind her...she opened up her first book and dug in. We LOVE that about her.

Because she's really into helping in the kitchen right now, we got her a homemade, vintage child's apron - made by a dear friend from flight school.

Meggie was excited! :)

Alice Virginia was content with the paper.

But she got a lovely outfit along WITH the paper from Grammy and Papa.

Kyle said his favorite present of the morning came when both of his girls curled up to snuggle.

This marks the second Christmas in a row that Meggie's been under the weather.  We're waiting on a diagnosis from the doctor before starting antibiotics, but you can really tell she's not feeling her full self.

Allie took one look at this teething toy and said, "Give me that.  I NEED that." And chomped away.  Or, at least, that's what she WOULD have said if she could talk. :)

We ate breakfast together and headed to church.  Allie's pager rang right in the middle, so I missed most of the service.  Kyle said it was one of his most favorite messages ever.
Not the greatest picture of the two together ever, but it's the best we could get of them both in their Christmas dresses while we were in a hurry.
A Christmas Doll Baby.

I loved her outfit - we got it with Kaitlin while she was here for Thanksgiving.  So, I love thinking of her when I see AV wearing it.

Me and the Meggs.  I have several Christmas pictures with my mom and me like this and I just treasure them.  I hope Meggie will one day, too.

AV and Mama.
The rest of Christmas day we relaxed, ate sweets from our stockings, and explored new toys.  We ended the day by singing Christmas carols with the girls in Meggie's room. 

Oh, and I cannot forget a momentous event of Christmas Day - at the end of Meggie's naptime, we heard a door softly shut and then suspicious quiet.  Suddenly, Meggie's curly head popped around the corner of the hallway.

"Night night's ALL DONE!" She exclaimed. "Meggie got out of her cribby!" She beamed with pride and independence - we've lasted 28 months in her crib and I fear we've seen the last of being able to contain her in there.  She climbed out on her own again this morning.  Welp. It was sweet while it lasted.  But, it's big girl bed time for us when we get to Corpus.

On Christmas Eve, we got together with our Navy family for a progressive dinner.  Everybody came to our house to begin at 3:00 with appetizers.  The kids played outside, enjoying the "dusting of snow" still on our deck, and the adults drank cider and talked of Christmas Eve prep and how Santa would visit later that night.  We also planned a little program where we read a children's Christmas book and sang carols while Kyle played the guitar.
I set out appetizer stations around the house - this table was by the tree with hot artichoke dip and bacon-wrapped little smokies.

the breakfast table held fruit salad, crescent-wrapped brie with bread, and a 3-cheese tortellini wreath.

I was trying to get the counter top, but I love how this shows friends around the table.

The counter with fresh greenery, candles, beloved trees with homemade ornaments, and friends in the dining room.
 On we went to the Jepperson's for soup and salad (how cute is this? Erika served steaming soup from her coffee mugs!), the Heykens' for a main course, and the Wittrock's for dessert.  I loved how each house had its own flavor, style of decorating and the food was simply amazing.  Each house also had a short activity - the children were well behaved and excited.  Along the way we reminisced with each other about how we all met back in Pensacola, all of us newly married without any children.  Now, five-and-a-half years later, there are nine kids between us and a multitude of dear, tangible memories - shared experience.  As Diana appropriately pointed out at her house, "See this?  It's all just a small representation of what Heaven will be like with all believers together."

And it really was.  We all were holding everybody else's children, wiping their noses, helping them carry plates of food, cuddling in laps.  I never fathomed that beginning a life with Kyle in the Navy many years ago would mean adding such kind, warm people to our family.  I feel so immeasurably lucky to have my children know such love - and felt it keenly that night.

Now, I was busy running around and don't have nearly the pictures I wish I did from this night, so girls, if you're reading this - send them my way! :)

Diana had beautiful place settings with everyone's name.  She always thinks of the best details.

Her table decor.

Alice Virginia in front of the roaring fire at the Wittrocks.

Even though we got home at 10:00!!! - super past bedtime - I tried to get a few of the girls in their matching jams.

Now, it's the day after Christmas and we're all home together, enjoying Kyle's last day off before heading back to work and the normal routine of our days.  It's nice...there's no more preparation, no more gifts to buy and wrap, leftovers for supper...the King has come and we're living in grace. :)
We're wearing our new clothes, Gammy and Papa!
I couldn't choose just one to post on here - they're all too precious.  So I'm going to indulge myself and the grandparents a little. hehe.
Oh, we are so teething.
I got Allie this yummy teether from Discovery Toys for Christmas.  Meggie had one just like it, but Douglass ate it before #2 came along.  Now, we have a suitable replacement! :)
Meg's still sickie, but she's a lovely hairbow model - thank you, Auntie Becca!
lounging with Daddy
What were your favorite Christmas memories from this year?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to You

"The animals stood around his bed.  And the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath...
'The One who made us has come to live with us!'" 
from The Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Grandmama's famous sausage and egg casserole is in the refrigerator and Grammy's overnight sticky buns are rising in the oven. 

We're tucking in our angels and headed to bed, I in my kerchief and Kyle in his cap. Visions of sugar plums already dancing and twirling. So excited to celebrate Christmas in the morning. :)

Wishing YOU a very merry, restful, joyful, happy Christmas, too!

and guess what little elf is sitting up all by herself?!?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Present Feeling

after Church last Sunday.
I grew up, for the most part, on a sleepy North Carolina street called Merwin Road.  Most of the houses there were built in the sixties and seventies - my parents built a decade later in the late eighties.  What made this location special was that our house was right across the street from my grandparent's house - the house where my mother grew up. 

I can remember peering over the couch in my grandmother's living room, green vinyl-leather covering cold on my knees, through the teensy wooden blinds, watching the diggers at work on our house; red clay marking the hillside: something's coming!

It was a rust-red brick Cape Cod, and my favorite part about it was that my room had a built-in nook and window seat with a cushion.  That space was originally going to be another closet, but my grandaddy convinced my parents that every little girl needs a hiding place in which to dream. 

I raced the path across the street to my grandparents house so often that my feet knew the way by memory.  There was this game I played where I would close my eyes and squeeze them shut all the way from my front door to their front door, feeling my way ever closer - the not knowing, but knowing like a delicious secret.  In the middle of the path there was a lone rosebush which reminded me of the enchanted one from "Beauty and the Beast."  When I went through the quintessential girlhood phase of loving horses (I think I'm kinda still there), I used to gallop my legs up to it, pretending I was racing a thoroughbred, and jump over it like "National Velvet."

And when I raced myself up their ivy-covered steps and slammed open the door, the smells of BBQ and potato soup overwhelmed my senses with home.  I felt safe, there.  Loved. 

"Heeeeey! Pooh Bear!"  And open arms.

We never spent a holiday celebration away from my grandparent's house and this time of year always makes me remember those Christmases as a child.  Especially on days like today - Christmas Eve Eve - my parents would have the the family over for chili and baked potatoes.  To my childhood self, nothing felt sweeter than knowing TODAY was the day it all began - with loved ones tromping over to our house under winking, starry skies and curling, fireplace aromas - the warm baked potatoes steaming in the kitchen, chili bubbling in the pot. 

It wasn't just my grandparents or my parents that made holidays special. 

My Aunt Pam is vivacious, animated, upbeat - she's a thrill to be around.  One of those exciting people that makes even the most mundane event fun.  AND, she has a gift for wrapping presents.  Her presents sparkle under the tree with bows and trinkets and ribbons.  With her cooking, presentation, flare for decorating, thoughtful gift-giving, she makes the whole occasion really FEEL like Christmas.

On the day my Aunt Pam and Uncle Jerry were due to arrive in Raleigh, my brother and I would stake out at my grandparent's house, swinging on the backyard set, twirling up the chains and letting them fly, waiting with the greatest anticipation.  Delectable, touchable anticipation.  They'd rattle into the driveway in an old, Honda van, pop out with a, "Well, there's little Shanny-Pants! And look at Skibo!," seeming to bring the festive, Boone air down from the mountain with them.  Aunt Pam would pop open the trunk and the whole bed would be filled with Christmas presents.  Her 10 cent gifts in 100$ wrapping, as she calls them.  In her hands she'd have a "hostess" gift - a present for each of us that we could open right away - right that very minute.  And as a child, it felt like Christmas had arrived.

My brother and I would make trip after trip, hauling in the gifts and placing them just so under the tree, making sure our favorite bows were right up front, prominent.  We'd always check the bottoms to see if any were for us - and we'd give those ones a hearty shake for good measure. 

Even though Kyle and I are staying here this Christmas, we got to see Aunt Pam and Uncle Jerry as they drove through on their way to Texas last week.  As they pulled into our OK driveway, I felt that same old, childhood thrill, and she didn't disappoint.  Except now the toys are for my "Meggie Dick (a family nickname) and Sweet Allie V," and it's my oldest child who pronounces: "OOOH, presents!" I've tried to become Aunt Pam's understudy for my own family, figuring out the magic that she puts into wrapping.  After five years I've almost got it - but I don't think doing it myself will ever be the same as unveiling all of her treasures.  I hope to be a presence for my girls like she was and is for me - a presence that means security, fun, excitement, merriment, Christmas.

I'm going to miss them this year as always - everyone's gathering in my Aunt Cecil's home in Raleigh - as well as my Michigan family.  They'll do our traditional Christmas program, where we read from the Bible, sing carols, tell stories of old, gorge ourselves silly, and open one present on Christmas Eve.  Aunt Pam will save my grandmama's present until the very end like she always does - and it'll be the 2012 Athlone family calendar.  There will be lots of laughing, wrapping paper flying, fires crackling, dogs howling - a boisterous time, the usual.  We'll be there in spirit as we celebrate here with our Navy family - the last holiday gathering of this group before we move - using the traditions to make Christmas for our girls. 

And. I've already peeked.  There's a package for me with a note: "OPEN ON CHRISTMAS EVE" delivered when they stopped through that night last week.  Even from thousands of miles away, even as I make Christmas for the next generation, my family is making Christmas for me. :)

Some of our presents this year...Aunt Pam - you have to teach me all you know!...

I tied all the jingle bells on Meggie's presents so that she can make them shake.

This one is another of Meg's.  I'm so excited about it because inside is a homemade, vintage apron and tea towel, made by a friend of ours from flight school.  What you see tied into the ribbon is her own stirring spoon and an airplane cookie cutter - little teasers of the true gift inside.

Who makes Christmas special for you?  What traditions do you miss/look forward to this year? What are your favorite ways to wrap presents?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Tree Walk

We've been enjoying a sprinkling of Christmas activities this year, trying to keep festivities simple.  Though we have an artificial tree up with our house on the market, Kyle and I have been looking forward to taking the girls to a local Christmas tree farm for the experience of "hunting for the perfect tree" and a Christmas walk.

Saturday was a gorgeous day, with sunshine and a chill in the air.  Meggie took a good nap, so we rounded up the girls and set out.  We loved being in the outdoors, enjoying the country, and breathing evergreen deep.  Kyle and I let Meggie take the lead, and we smiled watching her dart in and out of the rows of trees.  Like at the beach, we felt relaxed and easy just letting her free - witnessing her reveling in creation and stretching her mind and body.

She had a glorious time inspecting each tree and exclaiming over even the Charlie Browniest of saplings.  "Look at this one, Daddy.  OOOH, pretty, Mommy!" Her cheeks kissed red by the cold, Meggie's explorer's spirit wove ribbons of excitement through the rows.  Her enthusiasm was precious to see, experience over again as a parent.  How lucky we are to taste life as they know it, 2 years and 6 months of sweetness.

Alice Virginia took in the expanse of farm from her perch in the baby bjorn, content to giggle at her sister and kick her feet with the soft breeze.

funny face - she's been pursing her lips over her two new teethies, exploring the feel of them in her mouth.
As the sun set, we returned back to our van, snagging hot apple cider and a friendly, natural wreath for our front door.  A lovely day and a sweet memory of Oklahoma to take with us when we move.

leading the way.
inspecting things.

I just love these next pictures of Alice Virginia and her precious hat.  A dear lady from our church made them for all the babies in nursery last Sunday.  Allie's has room to grow; we kept pulling it out of her eyes.

definitely teething.


Alice Virginia in her perch.

She's always had these luminous blue eyes.

sniffing the evergreen scent of Christmas.

spontaneously, she started skipping around giving each tree a hug.  Our lovey girl shows kindness to all things.

tromp, tromp.

hugging this tree, just her size.

me and my big girl

A daddy and his two loves.

Kyle spotted a pigeon house - which they keep for tree fertilizer.  Meggie loved clinging to Kyle's neck as she spied the birds.

Both girls entranced by the pigeon house.
Oh, Christmas tree, Oh, Christmas tree