Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow and Sickness

On Tuesday we woke up to a newly white world! A snow day... one of my favorite kinds of days, from time immemorial. (OK, only since I was school-aged. But isn't "time immemorial" a great phrase?")

Less pleasantly, we also woke up to Matthew's fourth day of fever, which meant that a doctor's visit was top priority. (Here's my sick-eyed boy during one of our midnight Motrin rendezvous.)
Snow&Sick 1
So we bundled up, went to the doctor, found out that Little Man has an ear and throat infection. Drove to Rite Aid, waited for the prescription. Filled the car with gas. Headed back home.

Home, where Dave and Meg were waiting for us. Dave too was sick, with some kind of grown-up version of Matthew's ailment, a fever and cough. My poor husband--when he gets sick, he really goes down hard. He was in bed for almost 48 hours straight, with only a few brief ventures to the shower or the kitchen. Fortunately, he usually comes back up relatively quickly. On Tuesday afternoon, his fever broke, and an hour later, Dave was pretty much back on his feet.

In the midst of playing nurse to my boys, I did manage to get Meggie outside for a little while. She was begging to play in the snow, and I was happy to oblige while Dave and Matthew napped.
Snow&Sick 2
Snow&Sick 3
To Meg's disappointment, the new-fallen powder wasn't good for snowmen or snowballs that day. But she did get to ride in her little red sled ten or twelve times! We have a small hill right outside our house that is perfect for beginners--especially beginners who have a parent handy to steer them around the divots and the trees.

After snow play, we came inside, and Meg had her very first taste of "concoction." Concoction is a Nancy Nalle invention that I loved as a little girl--warmed milk laced with vanilla extract and a shake of cinnamon. It's a nice alternative to hot chocolate at bed or nap time. Meg loved it.
Snow&Sick 4

I find that a sick family is a wonderfully sanctifying thing. Getting up in the middle of the night to tend to a feverish toddler and then not being able to get back to sleep myself--that chips away at my love of ease. Having to tend a feverish husband on our family day, laying aside all of our plans for fun and productivity--that reveals my sense of entitlement, my proud, demanding, "I-deserve-better" heart. And having no one to baby me when I start to feel less than 100% myself--that makes me aware of my selfishness and my quickness to complain.

All in all, it's been a week full of sickness, snow and seeing my need for the Savior. How grateful I am that He "came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Family Day At the Aquarium

Two Mondays ago, we made our first family venture to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Don and Jan (Dave's Louisville folks) sent us a generous gift for Christmas, and we used part of it to become aquarium members for the whole year! We are so excited about this. For a family our size, buying a membership (so that we can go any or every day for the whole year) is cheaper than paying for two days' admission. So we figure, hey, if we make it there three or four times this year, we'll have gotten more than our money's worth. And that should be no problem, since we are always looking for fun family day activities!

I think this was my first time ever going to an aquarium. Yes, in my whole life. I remember that my family had planned to go one summer when I was a teenager, but when we got to the city we ended up nixing it. Don't remember why. (Maybe because of the cost.) Anyway, I would not have exchanged the chance to go for the first time with my very own kiddos. Soooo much fun.

Matthew, especially, truly loved it. He was in awe, standing at each tank, staring, pointing, exclaiming, "Da! Da!"
Aquar 1

Meg liked it too, but she was afraid of some of the strange sea creatures, and that had some adverse effects on her attitude later.
Aquar 2

Here is a real, honest-to-goodness diamondback terrapin, in case you ever wondered what they really look like. Now you know why they say "fear the turtle," right? Um... right?
Aquar 3

This was probably Meg's favorite moment of the day save one. Can you tell what she's watching?
Aquar 4

It's this guy. Nemo, in the flesh.
Aquar 5

The top floor of the aquarium is a rain forest. (I don't envy the aquarium staff members who have to stay up there in the humidity all day.) Here's the exotic pink bird who welcomed us.
Aquar 6

Here's David saving our son from throwing himself overboard.
Aquar 7

And here's Meg being angry. (This picture has been modified to protect the... um, guilty. OK, not really. My camera just didn't auto focus.) Like I said, Meg was having some attitude issues that morning. But that wouldn't last too much longer...
Aquar 8

This is another terrible picture, but it's the best I could get of the sloth, who made a rare public appearance during our visit.
Aquar 9

Here was Dave's favorite creature of the day: tiny, blue, poisonous frogs. They were exquisite.
Aquar 10

More teeny, weeny frogs--some were no bigger than the tip of my thumb!
Aquar 11

Now this... this is my husband and my daughter at the dolphin show, highlight of the morning.
Aquar 12
Looove those identical, fake grins, guys. Thanks.

Despite Meg's pasted-on smile above, she was quite happy once we got to the dolphin arena. Bye-bye fear, bye-bye anger! And how could we not be happy while we were watching this?
Aquar 13
It was my first dolphin show as well as the kids', and we couldn't get enough. Matthew even remained still in my arms the whole time! Now, David, whose grandparents used to live in Florida and regularly took him to Sea World, is a dolphin show veteran. He said that this show wasn't quite as spectacular as some of those he's seen, and I can easily believe it. But I couldn't help enjoying the beauty of these animals, and their love of fun (or is it fish?). I have no idea how an animal that weighs 500 pounds can vault itself out of the water and 20 feet into the air. Spectacular.

Dad and Jan, we had a blast on our first trip to the aquarium, and we are looking forward to many more! Thanks for making it possible!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Christmas Vignettes V: For Grandma Dawn and Grandpa Tom

I am almost finished with the Christmas Vignettes, I promise! But before I wrap up completely, Dawn and Tom, here are some pictures that I thought you might particularly enjoy...

This first one is from when Meg opened her birthday presents, actually. You can see that your little "girly girl" was pretty pleased with her pink velour jacket!
Gifts 8

Here are the wonderful banks, which Tom painted at the pottery shop and had shipped directly to us after they went through the kiln. They turned out great!
Gifts 15

There's a glare in these pictures which makes Meg's name appear less bold than it really is. Here's the bird's eye view:
Gifts 16

Hidden details:
Gifts 17

Here is Meg doing the giant "Nemo" puzzle you sent, which she just loves.
Gifts 12

That's a satisfied smile that says, "Look, I finished it!"
Gifts 13

And here is one final shot that I snapped one evening right before Meg was to go upstairs for bedtime. I couldn't find my dishtowel until I looked over at the puzzle. "Meg, what did you do?" I asked. "Why are the towel and the napkin on the puzzle?"

"I put the fishies to sleep, Mommy," Meg replied matter-of-factly. "Shhhhhhhh."
Puzzle Sleeping
Of course.

By the way, we are getting a tiny taste of a Michigan winter here! No real snow, unfortunately, (though it looks like there's a chance in the next few days!), but when Dave and I woke up this morning it was 1 degree outside! Now that it's mid-morning, we've climbed to a balmy 12 degrees, but still... that's pretty cold for Maryland!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Christmas Vignettes IV: The Experiment

Christmas morning at the Wilcox house was a little different this year. Since Christmas Day always includes a three-hour car trip to my grandparents' house in Virginia, Christmas morning always ends up feeling rushed, harried. There's so much to do before we travel: a special breakfast to eat, Bible stories to read, stockings and gifts to open, new toys to assemble and explore, Christmas clothes to be put on, a car to be loaded up... Inevitably, we arrive at Gran's later than we would like. I know some families who solve this problem by backing up the gift exchange to Christmas Eve, but Dave's job strikes that option for us, since he works all day and evening for our Christmas Eve service at church.

So we switched it up this year. We did our little family's exchange early in December, on one of Dave's days off--the 8th, I think it was. It was an experiment, and we weren't sure if we would like it. Would the gifts be less special because they weren't opened on sacred December 25th?! Well, no, as it turned out--at least, not for us. In fact, we loved it doing it this way. We had the whole day (or at least until nap time) to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, open gifts, and let the kids play with them. No rushing through anything, no anxiety, no push.

We capped off the day by taking the kids out to dinner and driving through the lights at Great Seneca State Park. It was Meg and Matthew's first time seeing the display, and they were mesmerized. Meg sat on my lap in the front seat as we crawled around at about 5 mph. She alternated between awed silence and excited narration. ("Look, Daddy, a penguin and a teddy bear! See it? See it, Little Bugga? See the penguin and the teddy bear?") Matthew, who remained in his car seat, spent the entire ride with the most rapt smile on his face. He never made a sound until we were out of the park. (Very unusual for him--he normally does NOT like slow car trips.)

So where did that leave us when the real Christmas morning rolled around?

Our main goal was to celebrate Jesus' birthday in a way that would be fun and exciting for the kids. So... we had birthday cake for breakfast. Here it is:
Christmas Cake

And here it is again, immediately before the word "birthday" was rendered illegible.
Christmas Cake 2

Christmas Cake 3

Christmas Cake 4

After breakfast, we read our special Christmas morning book, This Is the Star. And we closed out our Advent celebration with Meg finally getting to place Baby Jesus in the manger. This was a major highlight for Meg--so much so that she actually sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" with us that morning, as I mentioned here.

Oh, and we did let them open one present--it was the one that happened to be under the tree, since we had just received it that weekend. Thank you for the book, Aunt K! What a great choice. I know that I can always trust you to add to our library in a beautiful way! Meg loooooves it, and we have already enjoyed it many times!
Christmas Cake 5

All in all, it was a sweet and simple morning. Of course, it didn't go perfectly. Dave and I were sort of tired from the previous evening's show, so we overslept, which pushed everything a little later than we'd planned. But it was still a far cry from previous years, with much less packed into the schedule. And it really was refreshing to spend Christmas morning with a more single-minded emphasis on Jesus Christ, the Great Gift.

And we got to Gran's in time for Christmas supper, which was a first. Merry Christmas to us.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Happened In Her Bowl

Meg Climbing Couch
I love watching Meg struggle to express herself. Her vocabulary is pretty impressive now, for a three-year old, but, of course, she's still quite limited compared to the rest of us. So we never know how she, observing the world through such new eyes, might verbalize something that seems quite ordinary to us. Two days ago at breakfast was a great example.

As we began our meal, I shook a small amount of frosted bite-sized shredded wheat into Meg's bowl. Shredded wheat is filling stuff--she can't eat as much of it as she can other cereals. And because the bowl wasn't very full, she had a clear view as I added in the milk. (She always likes to watch to see that I get enough in there.) After she supervised my milk-pouring, she got busy with something else for a moment--probably munching slices of pear. Then she pulled her bowl toward her and brandished her spoon. Suddenly, Meg cried out, "Mommy, what happened?"

"What, Sweetie?"

"Wh... what happened in my bowl?"

I glanced at the cereal. I had a hunch what she meant, but I wanted Meg to tell me herself. "What do you mean, Sweets? What do you mean, what happened in your bowl?" She stared down into the depths of the vessel in her hands. I could hear her mental gears turning as she searched for the right words to explain this phenomenon.

"My milk got tiny!" she finally exclaimed.

I grinned. "Is there less milk in there than there was a minute ago?"

"Yes," she replied, concern etched on her face.

So then I tried to explain about how shredded wheat absorbs a lot of liquid--quite a bit more than, say, Cheerios. I don't know if she understood, but at least I was able to comfort her about the apparent disappearing milk.

My milk got tiny. Too cute.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nose to Nose

Today during lunch I asked Meg to apologize for disobeying an instruction I had given. "I'm sorry for disobeying you, Mommy," she said. I forgave her, and then we gave each other our customary kiss to seal the deal. Of course, since Meg is working on her third cold since Thanksgiving, I regretfully steered clear of a smooch directly on her little lips. (She has the cutest lips in the world. I've always loved kissing them.) I could see from her expression that she noticed a difference in the way that our faces met.

"Uh-oh," I thought, "she's going to want me to kiss her lips, the way I normally do." But I was wrong.

"Touch my little nose, Mommy," she said.

"Um, OK," I complied, gently tapping the center of her face with my finger.

"Nooooo!" she said, giggling, "Touch my little nose with your big nose!"

My wha-? Wait a second...

I decided not to be offended. Then I leaned in toward Meg so that my forehead rested against hers and our noses smooshed together. "Yes!" said Meg, wiggling happily.

Who knew? I guess it's not the lips that matter after all.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas Vignettes III: The Christmas Play

I think I wrote my first Christmas play when I was in seventh grade. It was a modern retelling of the Christmas story, in which Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem in a beat-up Ford Pinto and rapping angels appeared to some professional dog-walkers to announce the holy birth. It was probably a little stronger on entertainment than inspiration, but our little church didn't see to mind.

My next attempts followed in ninth and tenth grades. For those two plays, I was the writer, casting director, music coordinator, choreographer and director. The other kids in our church graciously went along with my demands on their time and talents. In those days, I was the boss--or so I thought.

Well, fast forward twelve years and ferry across the river from Virginia to Maryland to arrive at...

Covenant Life's 2008 Christmas production. It was a little different from my adolescent experiences, I am grateful to report.

For one thing, we started in March. Or was it February? A small team of "creative" people, led by one of our pastors, began meeting before the arrival of spring to plan for the coming winter. We talked, prayed, brainstormed, listened to Christmas music... and started scribbling. I had two co-writers, both extremely gifted people with experience and wisdom that far surpass my own.

The writing process was long and somewhat arduous. If you're familiar with play or screenwriting, you'll be able to imagine the volume of stuff that got written and then trashed, the ideas that we began to develop and then discarded. And once we finally had something that resembled a full script, there was the editing. Oh, my, I honestly thought that the editing for this play would never be over.

But then, at last, it was. And we had a play, entitled "What Child Is This?". Largely made up of scenes from the gospel of John, it was an attempt to help people make a connection. We wanted to remind folks that the baby Jesus in the manger was also the man Jesus on the Cross. It's easy to get caught up in the sentimental, the picturesque at Christmastime. That's what I used to do. Back when I wrote those first Christmas plays, for example. A little baby sleeping on a bed of hay. Awwww, warm fuzziness. It's easy to forget that the reason Jesus came was to die for sinners. We wanted to help people remember that Christmas is about the gospel. I do hope we succeeded.

Cathy Mays, whom I have mentioned before, oversaw the whole creative process and directed the show. She's an outstanding director who, for the past few years, has mostly done our high school productions. But this year, I finally had the chance to work under her as an actor. Yep, I got to be in the cast, as well as writing. It was soooo much fun to have a director to challenge me, forcing me to think and stretch and grow as an actor! I don't think that has happened since college.

It was also fun to do a production with my husband again. It's not like we had a lot of interaction during rehearsals, since I was on stage and he was usually sitting behind the sound booth, but at least we were in the same room! It was special for both of us to be serving together at Christmastime.

(I also got to stand next to my Daddy for one song and sing with him! That was super too.)

And none of it would have been possible without my mother, who should have been listed in the program as "Grandchild Sitter Extraordinaire." With very few exceptions, Mom kept our kids for every meeting and every rehearsal and every performance I attended, from March right through Christmas Eve. That play wouldn't have been the same if not for her sacrificial service to our family and our church. Thanks, Momma!

Mom brought Meg to the first service/performance on December 23rd. She held our girl on her lap in the second row as Meg provided a running commentary through the entire evening. (I'm sure this was a blessing to our senior pastor and his family, who were seated immediately in front of Meg.) But it was the first dramatic presentation Meg ever sat through, so if that was as bad as it got, she did amazingly well. (I understand that she did get upset when Lazarus came out of the grave, but only for a moment.)

On Christmas Eve, during the final moments of the final show, I was backstage watching the video monitor. On stage, one of my favorite moments was happening. The audience understands that Jesus has just been crucified. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Jesus' disciple John, and a few other witnesses to the crucifixion are on stage. Then a group of men carries Jesus' lifeless body on stage and lays him so that his head rests in his mother's lap. As Mary rocks her son's limp form gently in her arms, another, younger Mary appears above her, standing beside a manger, rocking her firstborn son. She sings:

Sleep, Son of God
We'll watch in awe
You'll fulfill the Father's plan
Reconciling God and man
Now your promises to keep
Must sleep

Sovereign One, born as Mary's Son
Prince of Peace
One day, you'll deliver me
Deliver me
But now sleep...

I watched the scene unfold from backstage. I watched the younger Mary marveling over the child in her arms, wondering at his future. I watched the older Mary experiencing the terrible reality of her Son's death, an event that she never would have imagined. I had watched that moment many times before in rehearsals. I had pictured it even more times during the writing process. I was there in the meeting when the idea for that moment began to take shape. Despite all that, I was moved to tears, watching it happen that night as if it was the very first time. Because it wasn't just a scene in a play. And it wasn't something that Cathy or Drew or I dreamed up. It--the crucifixion of Jesus Christ--was something that really happened. It was an idea conceived by God in eternity past, an astonishing, scandalous plan to save a cursed race. (It is the reason that there are any churches in existence to do Christmas plays!)

It is the reason for Christmas.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Christmas Vignettes II: Gifts at Home

Christmas is a terrible time to take candid pictures of small children. They do not hold still. They do not open their presents while facing the camera. They do not pause between presents to pose with their new stuffed animal/puzzle/book/dinosaur slippers. Futhermore, Christmas events rarely take place outdoors (at least, not in the greater Washington, D.C. area), so, with our camera, a flash is almost always necessary.

Therefore, what you are about to see is a set of largely lousy pictures of my children opening/enjoying their gifts. What can I say? I am working under the assumption that the grandparents would rather see bad pictures than no pictures at all!

I'll begin with the pictures from our first gift exchange, with just the four of us Wilcoxes. This actually took place early in December (more on that later). Here is Dave, helping the kids open their first present from us.
Gifts 1

It was a super simple wooden nativity set that the kids can play with. I got it here. I do love fancier creches and nativity scenes and would be delighted to own one some day, but this is perfect for us for now. Meg and Matthew played with it to their heart's content without ever having to hear "no touch." I also like the idea of using it together during family times to tell the story of Jesus' birth. Here's what it looks like all set up. (Mary is missing in this picture... I'm sure we'll find her... some time... )
Gifts 18

Here's Megger hanging her new zebra ornament on George Washington. We have a tradition of giving the kids ornaments in their stockings each year. That way, when they go out on their own and want a Christmas tree, they'll already own some decorations.
Gifts 2

Me and the kids opening stockings...
Gifts 3

Meg pulling out some new puzzles...
Gifts 4
Our girl got LOTS of puzzles this year, which is great. She started learning to do simple jigsaw puzzles in the last few months and really enjoys them. I'm grateful to have many different options so we can keep it interesting for her!

Here's Matthew giving Daddy the present that we made for him. Actually, if you look closely, you can see that he was having some trouble with a "giving" part.
Gifts 5

Meg's big gift from us was a (da-da-da-dah!)...
Gifts 6
(Yes, it has a seat for Anna on the back of it. No, we did not know that when we bought it.)

And of course, if you get your child a bike, you also have to get her a...
Gifts 7

To finish up, a couple of videos, one of each kid "opening" a bike/trike. I apologize for the quality--you really lose something in the translation when you upload to YouTube.

(To the Grandma and Grandpa in Michigan--fear not, we know that you can't do videos with your slow connection. We'll burn you a DVD and get it in the mail soon.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Christmas Vignettes I

Happy New Year! As usual, I have some catch-up to do. We do intend to post a year-in-review post, as we did last year, but first... let's review last week's holiday a bit.

Isn't Christmas a wonderful season? I just love it. It's busy, yes, kinda hectic, even, but... golly, what a glorious, mysterious, amazing celebration! What a richness of deep, holy, mind-blowing thoughts to be thought--not only at this time of year, but especially. God made man. The Infinite becoming an infant. The Eternal One taking on flesh so that He might die. All I have to do is scratch the surface of the Incarnation, and I'm reeling, dizzy with great thoughts of my greater God! I am so glad there's Christmas.

This year we named our Christmas tree George Washington, for reasons that would be immediately obvious if you saw him. He is tall, elegant, stately, perfectly shaped--the model tree, the tree that other trees aspire to become. We had him up all month, and despite what initially seemed a hunger strike, he stayed green and fresh all along. Even now, only a small smattering of needles adorn our carpet.

My only Christmas tree disappointment this year was that I had a cold when we first got Washington. Nose completely stopped up; no ability to smell whatsoever. "Does he smell good?" I asked my husband as we put G.W. in the stand. (My nose was buried in pine needles at the time.) "Smells great," said Dave. I sighed. By the time my sinuses drained, the pine smell had faded. I missed it altogether.

We don't do themed trees. I am new to the idea of themed trees--never even heard of them until last year. Nope, our trees pretty much have the same decorations every year: lots of white lights, some aged, hand-me-down glass balls from my parents' collection, and the wide range of unique ornaments Dave and I have received through the years. Call it an old fashioned look. We like it. We're working with what we've got.

We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Advent again this year. We kept it simple and pretty much repeated what worked so well last year. Every night after dinner, we turned off most of the house lights and lit candles--one for each passing week--to mark the approach of the Light of the World. We read a story from one of the Nativity books we took out from the library. (There are lots of good ones that take their text straight from the Bible.) Then we read through the progressive story that goes with our Advent calendar and added that night's character to the scene. Then we sang the first verse of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." We blew out the candles and said a brief prayer. Then: bedtime.

Matthew was a little too wiggly to enjoy Advent fully this year, but Meg just loved it. I think it was the highlight of her every day in December. Sometimes she would start at breakfast. "Mommy, can we do Advent?"

One of the best parts for me, other than her delighted anticipation, was watching Meg learn the lyrics to "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Usually at nighttime, she would just listen as Dave and I sang, but at other times I would hear her singing snippets to herself. Then on Christmas Day, after we finally added Baby Jesus to the calendar, Meg surprised us. "Sing 'Hark, the Herald Angels Sing?" she asked. And that morning, she finally sang with us, belting out the verse at about 85% volume and a near monotone pitch. She knew every word.

I think that was the best Christmas present I got this year.