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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Melting Heart

We had a big snowstorm the other day so that meant lots of snowball fights for the kids. As the battles wound down and the other kids turned to making snowmen, my son Madiyar made me a special gift...a carefully crafted heart shaped snowball

My oldest son has been with us for 2 years now, coming to us with his younger brother from Kazakhstan after a hard fought adoption battle. He was 13 when we brought him home, already thinking of himself as a man. Accepting our affection took time...and saying "I love you" is still darn near impossible for him. Does this bother me? Not really...because while the words stick in his teenage boy throat, he finds other ways to show me his affection. My snowball heart is in our freezer, a reminder of my sweet man child's love for his mom. He's still a tough guy on the outside...but his heart is melting.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Doesn't Get Better Than This!

Doesn't Santa do nice work?
And the stockings were hung by our first real chimney!
 Anyone with teenagers can tell you that holidays may have lost some of the magic that accompanied them when the cherubs were little. The threat of Santa checking his list to determine the naughty from the nice kids isn't the motivator it once was. Pretty lights and the first snowfall aren't nearly as interesting as counting the presents under the tree and fretting over present equity. There also wasn't a single one of my five that I could convince to sit on Santa's lap for a picture this year. Therefore, when Craig and I decided our family would join our friends at a candlelight church service on Christmas Eve, you might have thought we suggested a family root canal. We soldiered on in spite of the groaning, hoping that some singing and hearing the Christmas story might be just what we all needed. As it turned out, we had a lovely time and our teens were very well behaved. My girls enjoyed being with friends and acting very grown up. I know my boys especially liked being able to hold a lit candle while we sang near the end of the service. They would have been even happier if Mom hadn't been keeping a watchful eye on their attempts to:
a) stick their fingers in the candle flame
b) drip hot wax on the sibling standing closest to them
c) slip away from the Mom in order to find a quiet spot for fire-eating practice

We returned home unscathed and in a merry mood. It wasn't long before we had a celebration going with tasty snacks and beverages, music, and much laughter. The happy mood continued through Christmas day, one of the best in my memory.

The kids are allowed to open one gift each on Christmas Eve and (as usual) they were very excited. I'm not sure why they continue to be excited about this tradition each year because (as usual), they received pajamas.

Aniyar likes his new pj's...go figure.
 The best part of this year's PJ gift was what our son Madiyar got. You see, our Madiyar hates PJ's. He likes sleeping in his boxers even in the dead of winter...which is fine until he shows up at the breakfast table in them. So what did Madiyar get for jammies? Why, green and red velvet elf shorts with a matching elf hat. We all got a good laugh out of the gift...and Madiyar was a great sport about the teasing, even modeled the outfit for us!
Elf Madiyar

Christmas morning started about 7:30 when Craig and I got up to make coffee and put the turkey in the oven. Much to our surprise, we woke up before the kids...although it wasn't long until they started appearing in the kitchen one by one. We sent them back to their rooms for a bit while we turned on the tree lights, readied the camera, and took a sip of our eggnog lattes. (What can I say, I married a darn good barista!) Once we turned the kids loose in the living room, it was pretty much pandemonium. The first order of business was to check out what Santa brought and empty stockings of all sorts of candy and trinkets. In the excitement, the kids almost missed the gift Santa left for the whole family, a new flat screen TV!

Kate discovers the new TV first!
Next it was on to finding the pickle ornament on our tree which would entitle the winner to open the first wrapped gift. Kate took the honors this year...but the others weren't far behind. In a veritable blizzard of wrapping paper and ribbon, Christmas secrets were revealed and hugs and thanks were given. The frenzy subsided and was replaced with a contented enjoyment of the new games, movies, and other gifts. Dad made his recipe for Cranberry-Orange Relish with Tanya's help . Once the turkey was roasted, I set about making a vat of homemade gravy from the pan drippings and stock, a process that makes me nostalgic every year. It reminds me of Christmases past when I was just a girl. I can see my mom's capable hands stirring the gravy patiently as she showed me just how to thicken and season the gravy to perfection. My mom is gone now but her presence is still strong in my kitchen; I close my eyes and hear her voice. As I stir, I feel her love...and I like sharing her recipes with my own kids.

Our friends joined us for dinner so there were 10 of us feasting on roast turkey with all the trimmings, a rib roast, potatoes, and veggie and fruit side dishes. No one went hungry...in fact, we had to postpone dessert for a couple of hours until we could find room for it!

Christmas dinner 2010
Our first Christmas in our new home...and it was perfect. Our material gifts are great...but our best gifts are so much more than things. We shared this holiday with our closest friends who also are now our next door neighbors. We are surrounded by other neighbors who have known and loved our kids as long as we have. We are just where we were meant to be, with just the kids we were meant to have, in just the house we were meant to raise them in. I can't think of a better Christmas present than that!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Goose is Getting Fat

Christmas tree 2010

Yes, it's almost Christmas and while we will most likely not celebrate with a roast goose, we are observing other time-honored traditions of the season. This is what's happening in our happy holiday home:

Christmas Tree Shopping

I remember Christmases past when the kids would eagerly count down the days until this event and would brave any amount of cold stoically in search of the perfect tree. However, we now have 4 teenagers in the house so family traditions have become significantly less cool. This year, I had to forcibly pry video game controllers out the hands of our boys and threaten one of our girls with the loss of her cell phone to get our happy little band in the car. (I growled through gritted teeth, "We are a family and we're picking a tree together. We will be pleasant and we will have fun...or else." and I intoned my oft-repeated mantra, "Videogames aren't as important as family." Being smart kids, they decided Mom wasn't to be denied on this one.) Once we got to the lot, the boys amused themselves playing tag between the trees to Mom's rendition of  "If you damage anything, it'll come out of your allowance!!" The sulky girl stomped around texting her friends with an in-depth description of how bored she was and how lame Christmas tree shopping was. We had one child who was in the holiday spirit and she flitted from tree to tree like a manic elf, offering a critique of each specimen Dad held up. We finally settled on a 7 ft. Douglas fir, got it paid for and loaded in the truck and back to the house in about 30 minutes flat. Fifteen seconds later, our darling children had returned to their mind-rotting pursuits. I checked Buy Christmas tree off my list of holiday family bonding activities and vowed to do better at lightening up for the rest of the holiday season.


While the cherubs were at school, I unpacked our house decorations and decked our halls with garlands and wreaths and nutcrackers. I even hummed Christmas carols and sipped holiday tea. Our greyhounds were good company as they followed me from room to room; they didn't bicker or proclaim boredom even once. When the kids got home, they took note of the decorations with comments ranging from "Oooh, pretty!" (the girls) to "Nice..." (the boys). I had saved setting up the nativity for Kate, one of her favorite holiday chores...it's the same nativity I used to arrange each Christmas when I was a girl. Pass down holiday traditions--check...and I didn't have to threaten anyone.

Lighting the Tree

When I was a kid, putting the lights on the tree was my Dad's job...and my mother's job was to critique his efforts. Risley women are notoriously opinionated re: the quantity and positioning of lights on the tree so poor Dad never stood a chance. He would mutter under his breath while repositioning and adding string after string of lights until my mom finally declared the tree properly illuminated. Craig and I figured out early on that we could live without that particular holiday ritual...and I'm the one who puts the lights on the tree in our house which keeps us both happy. This year, Kate and Aniyar wanted to help...and Kate told Aniyar that he couldn't put lights on the tree because he wasn't a Risley woman...poor Aniyar was so sad that I told him he could certainly join the Risley women in the tree lighting tradition. He was thrilled to be included in the club. (Aniyar to his big sister: "See, Kate? Mama say I can be Risley woman, too!" Big sis to Aniyar: "OK, buddy, you're a Risley tree lighter, but we can't do much about the woman thing.") Make our own family memories--check.

Trimming the Tree

For the first year ever, I was able to sit back and let the kids unpack and hang our ornaments. (Yes, I do have some control issues but I'm working on it!) Anyway, Aniyar and Kate did most of the work this time. They were so careful to place each ornament on just the right branch. The other 3 kids wandered in and out of the room, pausing long enough to hang their own special ornaments and then returning to other pursuits...and that was OK, too. It was a lovely, stress free evening that resulted in the above pictured beautifully decorated tree...go figure. Share quality time with family---check.


Thank heavens for the internet! Most of Mom and Dad's shopping has been done on line. I did brave the malls to help the kids find gifts for each other but it was actually fun. We did lunch, admired the decorations, and shopped in The Dollar Tree and Five Below where they could get more for their money. I was impressed with how much thought each of them put into what they bought their siblings and how excited they were with their purchases. Experience the joys of giving (not just receiving) at Christmas--check.

Holiday Baking

We've made French Puffs, Eggnog Coffeecake, and Maple Muffins for teacher's gifts and homemade hot chocolate spoons as gifts for friends. Our house has been filled with delicious aromas resulting from extensive recipe testing. Our kids have liked helping with baking, sampling, and wrapping the presents we made ourselves. Demonstrate the pleasures of gifts of the heart, made by hand--check.

You know, we're really getting into the holiday spirit this year. Even the teenagers have ditched their bored affect and are having fun. We're better organized this year, too.  I've already sent off gifts to relatives in far off places. I might even get around to Christmas cards before New Year's!

But just in case I don't get those cards done... consider yourself extended

Season's Greetings from our family to yours!

Tanya's first concert playing the violin

Kate playing Christmas carols for us at home

Our Christmas gifts