Mom in VA

Mom in VA

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent or Waiting for the Baby

It's been a while since I've written here, but not because life has been boring.  Quite the contrary . . . we are blessed to enjoy this Advent season waiting for The Baby as well as waiting for our baby.  We are expecting the 7th little Hunter in early July.  Today marks the beginning of my 10th week, and I am eagerly awaiting that 13-week mark when I (historically) am freed from "morning" sickness--more like all-day-sickness this time. 

This is the first time that my first trimester has fallen at Christmas time. It has made for a much quieter, much more scaled-back Advent. Jeff has been doing double-duty for the last month, for which I am eternally grateful.

While I would never have imagined that I would be the mother of seven, I have nothing but gratitude for the incredible children who bless my life (and make me crazy sometimes).  What continues to amaze me is how different they all are.  You'd think that among six, there would be a couple who are similar.  But, as those of you who know my kids can attest, they are all unique in their own special ways.  Following last week's tragedy, I just can't stop thinking about how grateful I am for those differences--how none of them could be replaced.  Our family is truly blessed in our abundance.

We're all looking forward to the arrival of Grandpa Dave on Thursday, and Jeff's birthday on Saturday.  We may not have completed all of our Advent traditions, but we will have done the most important thing . . . we will have waited for the baby.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Hunter Family Advent Countdown

As we approach Thanksgiving weekend, I am relaxing with a big smile (don't tell my Mother-in-Law, who I am sure is at home scrambling to put together the feast we will enjoy on Thursday).  Why am I smiling? . . . because this is one of the rare years when the First Sunday in Advent does not arrive on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  That means I have a bonus week to dust off the Advent gear, choose the special craft projects and outings, and lay out the game plan for our family's Christmas preparations.
Each year we do a few new things, and skip some things that we've done in the past.  As I start my planning for Advent 2012, here is the list of non-negotiables for the Hunters, listed in roughly the order they happen during the season:
10.  Begin Elizabeth Foss' Tomie de Paola Advent Study
Since Will was born, Tomie de Paola stories have been a beloved part of our Advent tradition.  Around the time Will started Kindergarten, Elizabeth Foss posted her family's homeschool unit study based on these books.  We have used variations of these plans every year since, as well as her awesome Fudge Recipe.   Each year we collected a few more books until we had them all.
9.  The Family Advent Wreath
Several years ago, a friend hosted a scrapbooking night for a group of friends to make their own Family Advent Albums.  In them, we put the prayers and traditions to guide us through Advent.  This ready reference has kept me from scrambling at the last minute to find the prayers and readings for the Advent Wreath.  Each Sunday in Advent, one of the children lights a candle, another child reads, and Jeff leads the prayers.  Each year, it gets slightly less chaotic . . . we have a ways to go.
 8.  Visit "The Real Santa Claus"
Nothing compares to the wonder of a visit to "The Real Santa" at the original Merrifield Garden Center.  Beginning with Santa kneeling before the Baby Jesus, leading all the children in traditional Christmas carols, through the two-plus-hour wait on line (never stressful--really!), to the mysterious time with Santa himself, this is a not-to-be-missed part of our Advent.

7.  Drive Through The Festival of Lights, and eat and play at the Carnival
The Festival of Lights at Bull Run Park is a drive-thru wonderland of moving lights.  It's pretty much the same every year, but that just allows everyone to anticipate their favorites as we approach them.  We also sing a very bad rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas as we pass each character in that song.  It is crucial that a visit to the Festival of Lights be planned for a night when the carnival at the end is open.  First stop, the incredible handmade food (think hand-dipped corn dogs and hand-cut french fries).  One year, they even had an authentic crepe truck making Nutella crepes to order (there were other types, but I didn't pay much attention beyond the Nutella).  This is a fairly pricey tradition for a large family, but we skip some other things so we can do this one.  Don't forget mittens and wipes for sticky fingers.


6.  The Feast of St. Nicholas
On December 6, St. Nicholas makes a special visit to our home and leaves gifts for the children in their shoes.  This feast day is extra special, since this saint is the patron of our own Nicholas.  This is also a day that we read our collection of stories about the Bishop of Myra.
5.  Springerle
Jeff makes this traditional German Christmas "cookie" with these beautiful molds.  Springerle dough is slightly thicker than concrete, and was directly responsible for the death of my Kitchen Aid a few years ago (to the mixer's credit, I think Jeff had doubled or tripled the recipe).  Once the dough is rolled out, it is then pressed with the mold, cut out, and dried for days.  Then you bake the cookies in a VERY low oven, where two degrees can make all the difference, because you never want the cookies to darken.  They are a beautiful white color and flavored with anise.  A lot of work, but definitely worth it.
4.  Buy a BIG, live Christmas Tree
Growing up the daughter of a forester in the Pacific Northwest, I will always prefer a live tree.  Jeff will always prefer a BIG tree.  The result of this marital union is a very large, live Christmas Tree.  We are not the folks who are in line the day after Thanksgiving to buy our tree.  We are the ones who go out the weekend before Christmas, hoping that the tree farm hasn't already run out of trees (which has happened more than once).  Fortunately, there are usually a few beautiful giants left at the end of the parking lot sales.  Once our tree is found, it comes home to wait in the cool garage until the 22nd or 23rd.  Then it comes in and we begin the long process of decorating.  First Jeff wraps the many strands of lights, and brings up cases of ornaments from the basement.  Then the carefully orchestrated decorating begins.  Efforts are made to give younger children unbreakable ornaments for the bottom of the tree.  Older kids get somewhat fragile ornaments for the area that they can reach.  Then, Grandpa Dave and I put the really breakable ones up high.  Finally, Jeff climbs the ladder and does the very top, and adds the angel.

 3. Welcome Grandpa Dave
Dad usually arrives on the 21st.  Since we only see him twice a year, this is a major highlight of the season.  For the kids, his arrival kicks off a marathon of Christmas story reading snuggled up with Grandpa Dave.
2.  Celebrate Daddy's Birthday
When Jeff and I were engaged, I made the mistake of giving him a combo-birthday/Christmas present.  It was a VERY nice sweater (think cashmere Nieman-Marcus).  He was gracious in his disappointment, but it was clear that people with birthdays during Christmas week don't appreciate having their birthdays "combo-ed" with Christmas.  I have never repeated the mistake.  It doesn't have to be a big deal (he usually prefers that it's not), but it has to be its own celebration.  Most often, it's the traditional pilgrimage to Red Robin, complete with singing servers.  But, it's always special on its own.  And, everyone knows that Daddy's birthday celebration signals Christmas is just around the corner.
1.  Midnight Mass
The perfect end to the Advent Season, and beginning of the Christmas Season!  Every year since Jeff and I were married, save one, we have packed up all of our children and gone to Midnight Mass.  I love Midnight Mass.  Watching the priest carry the Baby Jesus up the center aisle at precisely 12:00 am is, in my opinion, the very best way to start Christmas Day.  We've had many years where children slept through Mass . . . we've had a few years when I've prayed that children would fall asleep . . . but mostly we've had children who have enjoyed the wonder of the lights, the music, and most of all the story of Jesus' birth.  We have been blessed by an extra set of arms (Grandpa Dave's) to help hold those sleeping babies throughout the years.

There you have it . . . the Hunter Top Ten.  I've probably forgotten something huge, but I've definitely covered the majority of our family traditions.  I'd love to hear what your families do!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Farewell Twinkie, Goodbye Ding Dong

My heart is heavy today.  Hostess brands has closed its doors and sent home its employees.  Over  18,000 people are unexpectedly out of work right before the holidays.  Their remaining health flex plan funds are forfeited, as are their vacation days and any chance at severance.  I am sad for these people and their families.

For me, Twinkies and Ding Dongs are symbolic of a simpler time . . . when people didn't freak out about food . . . before anyone knew or cared about hydrogenated anything . . . when margarine was a health food . . . when a huge blue tub of Crisco graced a shelf in every pantry . . . when Kool-Aid was synonymous with fruit juice, and kids' upper lips were tattooed with a neon mustache all summer long . . . when children roamed their neighborhoods without sunscreen, and burned all that pure sugar "fuel".

. . . Wait . . . I just had a revelation as I was typing the last paragraph.  This is somewhat embarrassing, but I feel compelled to honesty--rather than just deleting this whole post.  The truth . . . I just realized that my mother never bought Twinkies . . . or Ding Dongs . . . or Sno-Balls . . . or those perfect cupcakes with the white curlicue.  Come to think of it, she probably called them "junk food".  When I did get them, it probably involved some subterfuge.  Memories are flooding back to me . . . sneaking across the street from Lakes Junior High School to the Circle K to purchase contraband Ho-Hos, Hubba Bubba and Lik-A-Stix, not to mention Funions and Munchos (stock for me and a few friends).  Come to think of it, Mom probably would have killed me if she knew what I was up to.

So my memory really isn't of a simpler time as much as it is about a time when I was simpler . . . about being a kid . . . and a bit of sadness because my kids will miss out on that perfectly chalk-white cream filling and those beautifully rolled chocolate layers.

I think I'll get some tonight, before they disappear from the shelves, so I can share these sweet memories with the next generation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gratitude A to Z

We're half way through November.  Since I've missed the boat on Thirty Days of Gratitude, I'm going to borrow my friend Jan's idea of a Gratitude Alphabet.  Here are some of the things in my life for which I am most thankful:

A--Avon, North Carolina ("the beach" to my family)
B--Baths and Bacon (it's a tie)
C--Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
D--Dad (aka Grandpa Dave)
E--Easter (my favorite holiday, for many reasons)
F--Family (including all the halves, in-laws, steps and twice removeds!  I love you all!)
G--Guardian Angels
H--Home, Sweet Home
I--Interesting People (I'm blessed to have many of these in my life--you know who you are!)
J--Jeff (words fail me)
K--Kids (I am incredibly grateful for all of my unique and beautiful children!!)
L--Laundry (but only when it's clean, folded and put away)
M--My Mother-in-Law (who I am happy to call my friend; and my Father-in-Law, who is pretty cool too!)
N--Noticing Little Things (particularly in the midst of chaos)
O--Old Friends (the ones who can pick up the story in five minutes, even when you haven't talked to them in five years)
P--Peppermint Joe Joe's (especially the dark chocolate covered ones)
Q--"qi" (this word has earned me more points in Words With Friends than any other)
R--Reading Stories
S--Scott (my favorite brother)
T--T21 (Patrick's special gift)
U--the United States of America
V--Valentine's Day
W--White Christmases (the only day of the year when I really do want to see snow)
X--Christ Jesus (the traditional abbreviation from the Greek--not some Communist plot to take Christ out of Christmas)
Y--Yarn (it reminds me of my Mom)
Z--Zzzzz (sleep, in any duration or location)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Buddy Walk 2012

Thanks again to everyone who so generously sponsored our Buddy Walk team, including those who walked and those who made donations!  It was a great event.  There were fun (free) activities for the kids--moon bounces, pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and more.  Everyone there seemed to be enjoying themselves--from the youngest to the oldest.  And, best of all, the 2012 Buddy Walk raised over $190,000 to help people with Down Syndrome in Northern Virginia!

We all left saying how much we are looking forward to next year.  Will has named our team "Patrick's Pack" in honor of our future Tiger Scout.  We hope to have many more friends join us next year.  Watch this space for details when they become available.

Here is the photo of this year's team, which was taken at the "finish line".

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Top 10 Reasons to Start a Personal Blog

In the past few weeks, I've had several people tell me that they've thought about blogging but haven't taken the leap for one reason or another.  For what it's worth, here is my Top 10 list of reasons to start a personal blog . . .

#10--To have one place in your life where the typing is neat, with all the i's dotted and t's crossed, when everywhere else in your life is covered in crayon and Sharpie.

#9--To remind yourself that you actually can put together a coherent thought every once-in-a-while.

#8--To see your child's eyes light up when he spots a picture of himself "on the Internet."

#7--To "brag on" your children. (I love this expression.)

#6--To brag on your husband.

#5--To have a place for all those pictures of your adorable baby :)

#4--To share your knowledge and experience with others who might benefit from them.

#3--To share your deeply held beliefs with others who might benefit from them.

#2--To record your memories, so you can look back on the highlights, as well as the little moments, in your life.

And for all the Zagnuts . . . The #1 reason to start a personal blog . . .

So you can post a photo of your baby sound asleep in his first Halloween costume!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy (or how Jeff finally found time to install the new garbage disposal)

Please don't misinterpret the tile of this post.  I am deeply grateful for the fact that this hurricane turned out to be just a big rain and wind storm for our family!!  I am also well aware that this was not the case for countless other families, and know of at least one that is still waiting to hear from loved ones who took a direct hit.  We are praying for everyone who has been affected by Sandy.

This morning we awoke to quiet.  The storm was very loud last night, and I had a hard time falling asleep--as did one of my children, who spent the night alternating between the couch in our bedroom and the floor next to the dog.  But, in the end, we were left with a wet yard and a few feet of our neighbor's pine tree hanging over our fence.  For those of you familiar with our yard, the tree fell just above our statue of Mary in the back corner.

The big news today is that, since his office "suspended operations" in anticipation of the storm, Jeff is installing the "new" garbage disposal.  I only qualify its age because we have actually owned it for quite a while.  It's one of those gross, disruptive projects that there is never time for--unless, say, your company suspends operations for a day or two.  YIPPEE!!!!  The old (leaky, smelly) monster is gone and, after the inevitable mid-project trip to Lowe's, the new one will be installed shortly--barring any unthinkable problems that could arise in the next hour or so.  So, there you have it, an up-side to this otherwise bad situation.  Do I feel guilty that we got so little damage that Jeff is able to spend his day installing a garbage disposal?  Yes . . . but I would feel just as guilty if there were no new appliance involved.  (And I can't even begin to tell you how happy I'm going to be without that old gross disposal underneath my otherwise clean sink!!)

Isn't it beautiful?!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Girl in the Mirror

I wrote the following in my personal journal.  I'm sharing tonight because of a friend's Facebook post about a similar experience she and her daughter had at Target today . . .

August 12, 2012

I just returned from Target, where Nora and I were shopping for AHG khaki slacks and a dress. We came home with the pants, but no dress. The word "skanky" kept coming to mind as we looked through the racks--poorly made, looked like a nightgown, and looked like a beach cover-up. These were the options. None even made it to the dressing room.

As I sat waiting for Nora to try on the khaki's, I overheard the mom next to me talking to an older daughter about a younger sister's continued rejection of dresses. "She looked so nice in the one, but I guess she isn't ready to accept that sort of dress--one where you can see the complete shape of her body. But, she looked great in it!" Minutes later, the girl in question emerged from the dressing room with a whole pile of dresses that were tight fitting, too short, and generally way to grown up looking for the 13ish year old I was watching. She too left Target without a dress. Good for her!!

I need to find a place for Nora to buy clothes that she loves and looks good in. When I was a girl, my mother very generously, and sacrificially, took me to Nordstrom's Half Yearly sale twice a year from the time I was a pre-teen. I'm not sure that our budget can include Nordstrom for Nora and Lucy, but there must be a place--and it may be their own bedroom mirror with the wardrobe arriving in the mail. Target's fine for underwear, socks, and AHG uniform pants, but it's no place to build a self image.

Happy 9th Birthday Nora!

Nora turned nine today.  It seems like yesterday that Jeff was speeding to Fair Oaks Hospital, following a brief call to Dr. B in which I said, "Hold on, I'm having a contraction."  Next, I heard his voice yelling from the phone in my lap, "GO TO THE HOSPITAL!!" 

When we arrived, my name was already on the big white board.  An aide took us to the room, and said our nurse would be right in.  The minutes ticked by in the half-lit room and it began to dawn on us that we might have been forgotten.  Jeff went to the desk and, within seconds, our room was buzzing.  A few minutes later, Dr. B came in, checked me and said that Nora literally would have been born in the car if I had sneezed on the way to the hospital.  They immediately started an epidural, and Dr. B said I should expect a baby in less than half and hour. 

Dr. B's shift ended a few minutes later, and Dr. Fisk came on duty.  About fifteen minutes after the shift change, he walked into our room.  Except for minor interruptions for contractions, we had a nice chat--for about five minutes.  At that point, Dr. Fisk casually asked the labor and delivery nurse what Dr. B had estimated as a delivery time.  She calmly answered, "He said 30 minutes," checked her watch, and added,  "That was about 40 minutes ago."  What happened next can only be fully appreciated by my friends who know Dr. Fisk.  Let me just say that he's a former army doctor, and absolutely no-nonsense.  I'm pretty sure he levitated as he flew across the room for gloves . . . and I know the nurse did when he yelled that the baby's head was out and needed to be suctioned.  All's well that ends well, and two days later we took home our beautiful first daughter.  (Just to be clear--Dr. Fisk is an outstanding doc!  Most recently, he delivered our little Patrick--but with a much longer wait.)

I remember that night like it was yesterday, but it was (literally) a lifetime ago.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to have had the next four babies without Nora.  She's doted on all of them--from shuttling diapers for David, to shuttling Patrick himself.  Nora is an AWESOME sister.  There are so many times that she's put her little brothers and sister before herself.  Even today, when we were shopping with her birthday gift card from Grandma, I had to stop her from spending the entire thing on a Halloween book that Lucy wanted.

Tonight, we are celebrating with a "Girl Party" in the family room.  In our house, that means Mom, Nora and Lucy.  The boys were all supposed to be on a camp out, but it was cancelled so folks could prepare for Hurricane Sandy.  Nora kindly let the boys watch the first movie we rented, but we sent them to bed before "Twinkle Toes" (Lucy's choice) started.  We painted toenails, ate cheese puffs, and assembled a Lego Friends house.  There is really nothing sweeter than watching two sisters being friends.  Now it's time for the "slumber" part of the party!

Good night Nora.  Happy Birthday!  Love, Mom

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wait . . . Wasn't His Hairline Straight This Morning?

I've heard it said that in every family there should be a barber, a doctor and a priest.  One down, two to go.

A Tribute to Champion Scott (don't worry, he's not dead)

Happy belated birthday to my exceptional little brother.  For those of you who have never met him, Scott is the perfect balance between hilarious-pee-your-pants-funny and Mr. Rogers.

There was a time in his life when he could recite every breakfast he'd eaten for the past few months, and he knows ALL the lines in Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap.  When he won at Scrabble, he made everyone in the house call him "Champion Scott" for at least a day.  He has a way of making the ordinary . . . well . . . the last time he was here, he played Happy Birthday to David and Nicholas on a dollar bill in the middle of Red Robin, and the restaurant erupted in applause when he finished.  When he was younger, he played his armpit. 

Scott is a musician.  He loves music . . . playing it, listening to it, and sharing it with others.  He married his soulmate, a musician who is the best thing that ever happened to him (next to having me for his sister).  Thank you Andrea for making him happy, and for feeding him well!

When Scott was in 5th grade, he came home from school and announced that he would be joining the school orchestra.  When mom told him that she would have his grandfather's violin restrung, he told her that wouldn't be necessary since the teacher said that he was "smart enough to play the bass."  And, as they say, "the rest is history."

Scott leads a charmed life.  He wins weird stuff.  One November when he was in elementary school, the doorbell rang during dinner the night before Thanksgiving. There was a guy from Baskin-Robbins standing there holding a turkey made out of ice cream that Scott had somehow won. 

Some people would call it luck, but it's more . . . much more.  Interesting people are constantly crossing his path.  Just last week, he mailed me Rick Santorum's boarding pass (the Senator had apparently left it on his seat, and Scott thought I'd be amused by his close encounter).  He's friends with Leonard Nemoy and Tony Tenille.  He's played music with Pearlman and Pavarotti (he'll be the first to tell you that Reno is a GREAT town for music).  He's played pick-up basketball with the Marsallis brothers, and he's bummed a ride home with their dad.  When Scott was little, he got a letter from Tommy Lasorda encouraging his dream of playing second base for the Dodgers.  But, I think music suits him better (and it has a longer shelf-life).

I can honestly say that I've never met anyone who doesn't like my brother.  (Okay, maybe that guy who called him a Zombie Nazi, but deep down I'm sure he likes Scott too.)

Happy birthday Champion Scott!


Your Sister

Patrick Update

Recently, I've had several people ask me how Patrick is doing.  So, I thought I'd take a moment and give you all an update on our little guy.  It hardly seems possible that seven months have passed since he was born!

First of all, I want to thank all of you for being so supportive of Patrick and our whole family.  From the friends who organized a babysitting schedule to watch the big kids while I took Patrick to doctor appointments, to all of the folks who have been continually praying for his health and well being, we have been surrounded by friends since he was born.  Patrick is well loved by many people, and it shows in every area of his development.

Overall, Patrick is extremely healthy!  The pediatrician is pleased with his growth -- he's right in the middle of the growth chart for kids with Down Syndrome, which is smaller than for a "typical" child.  He has had a couple of minor colds and an eye infection, but otherwise he's been free of illnesses.  Yesterday, he received his first of four Synagis shots to prevent RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).  This should help keep him healthy this winter. 

Patrick has had twice-a-month visits from a physical therapist and a speech therapist since he was only a couple of months old.  I give these talented women much of the credit for his great progress.  We are learning many strategies to help him compensate for his low tone, and he is now able to sit up with only a small amount of support at his back.  He is also eating like a champ!  This is important not just for growth, but because the muscles used for feeding are the same as those used for speech.

We also are blessed to have found a wonderful graduate student who is here six hours a day during the week to help Patrick through his daily routine, and he adores her!

Hearing remains the big question mark.  Patrick will have a sedated ABR (auditory brainstem response) test in the operating room at Georgetown University Hospital on December 7th.  It is likely that the doctor will place PE (pressure equalization) tubes at that time.  He has had periodic hearning tests during the past several months, and the pressure in his ears has fluctuated between positive pressure, negative pressure and normal pressure.  Hopefully, the tubes can keep the pressure normal and thus help his hearing.  The ABR will tell us what, if any, hearing loss there is at various frequencies--so we will know what sounds are likely to be difficult for him to hear.

We have a visit next month to the pediatric clinical geneticist -- this is the specialist who stays on top of any health issues specific to Down Syndrome, and makes sure that we're getting all the appropriate testing on schedule.

But, all of these issues are so very minor when we look at the big picture.  The bottom line . . . life with Patrick is awesome!  He attracts all his siblings like a glowing light.  They read stories, offer toys, feed bottles, and hold him when he is sleeping.  They adore him . . . we all do.  And he brings out the best in all of us, and everyone he meets.  I cannot for a moment imagine our lives without him!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"The Tooth Fairy Hates Me"

Up until now, I have been posting about my kids antics on Facebook.  Two problems with that . . . first, certain family members are either not on Facebook or never check-in; and second, occasionally there are stories that require a bit more explanation than a quick Facebook post will allow.  This is one of those . . .

Nicholas lost his first tooth on Monday (then he REALLY lost it, but that's another story).  That afternoon, he dictated a letter to the Tooth Fairy.  Nora kindly typed it up for him.  Basically, it said that he had lost his first tooth, and he did not want a paper dollar (thank you very much).  Instead, he would like to have the money in U.S. Territory quarters--specifically the five quarters that he is missing from his collection.

He left the note under his pillow.

In the morning, he came running into my room crying (real tears) and yelling that the Tooth Fairy hates him because she left him a paper dollar and no quarters.  I asked if she had taken his note.  He went to check and said she hadn't.  Then he realized it was a different note, and started yelling again . . . this time at Nora.  "You changed the note, and the Tooth Fairy didn't bring me the quarters!!" 

Nora, totally blindsided and trying to convince Nicholas that she hadn't changed anything, grabbed the paper for a closer look.  The letter was from the Tooth Fairy saying that her supply of U.S. Territory quarters had been depleted  but, since this was his first tooth, she would help him.  She would ask a friend to mail him the quarters. 

Now, he's waiting for the mail.