Awed at The Nutcracker

Last weekend, with much anticipation, my family and I attended the Boston Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, an event for which the kids and I had been counting down the minutes until the curtain rose. We were fortunate to receive two complimentary tickets to a matinee from the Boston Ballet—though, I’ll confess, we would have gone anyway. We are big fans of The Nutcracker!

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The kids made some new friends at The Nutcracker!

[Read more…]

Countdown to Christmas

holidays2014Hi there!

I’m back.

I didn’t mean to take a break from Red Shutters. I definitely didn’t intend to go into “radio silence” for 11 days—especially after the 33 days of continuous posts that made November and early December so busy here. But, life—that thing we’re all in the midst of—conspired against me, as they say.

An intense period at work and the subsequent recovery period left me drained with a strong desire to go to bed at 8:30 PM (instead of staying up late to write). And then I realized it’s December, and that the holidays are approaching. (The Countdown to Christmas is on! The holiday is days away, people!) The inevitable “holiday to do list freak out” commenced: Christmas decorations, holiday shopping, holiday parties, trips to the post office to mail packages, holiday cards, and on. I took a break from writing to get some stuff done and give myself permission to just be for a bit. (This is where someone else would say something like “I did some self-care in the middle of this busy holiday season” but I hate the term “self-care” (it sounds… I don’t know… inappropriate, somehow) so I’ll just say I slept a lot and got caught up on laundry.)

People (OK, Pinterest) makes the holidays look so perfect, right? A Christmas tree that looks like it came from a Crate & Barrel catalog, holiday cookies that aspire to be on the cover of a cookbook, and expertly-wrapped presents fastened with fancy ribbons and sparkles. That’s so much pressure! And, for me, totally unrealistic.

I chatted with a friend about holiday stress, and she said that, every Christmas since she was a kid, the holidays would make her cry. There was always something about the pressure that came along with Christmas that made it all too much. I understood what she meant. This time of year is hard sometimes, right? It shouldn’t be. It should be joyful. It should be fun.

The Christmas holidays in my house are less Pinterest-y and a bit more realistic: I address holiday cards in a burst at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning, trying to get them done before the kids wake up. I put out only one-third of my Christmas decorations, vowing to start earlier next year—and maybe actually, finally, in 2015, use those snowman napkin rings. We get takeout Chinese and let the kids eat their dumplings in front of “Frosty the Snowman,” while my husband and I try to figure out our holiday plans. I go to Target on a Sunday afternoon, less than two weeks before Christmas, barely finding a parking space and wondering all the time why I just didn’t use Amazon Prime for all of my shopping.

There are moments of joy in there, too: spending a spontaneous afternoon catching up with friends we bump into while going for a walk through our neighborhood, receiving beautiful holiday cards from friends near and far, baking with my mom and kids (no cookies for us: we make a yummy, messy coffee cake), and watching my kids (when they think my husband and I aren’t looking) act out what Christmas morning will be like (it involves some surprises and a fleeting glimpse of Santa).

There’s also space for listening in there. Listening to what’s important (for us, a quieter Christmas that’s about each other, not things), and listening to each other.

I’ve been listening to myself, too. And, my inner voice said “get back to writing.” So here I am. Thanks for being here, too.

HappyHolidays2

Countdown to The Nutcracker!      

Photo courtesy of the Boston Ballet

Photo courtesy of the Boston Ballet

Aren’t the ballerinas in this photo beautiful? They are dancers in the Boston Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, which runs through December 31 at the Boston Opera House.

We took R and G to see the ballet a few years ago, when the Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen debuted his stunning overhaul of the show (the 42 foot Christmas tree was something to see!). I was apprehensive that the kids would not make it through the performance—they were so little!—but the moment the lights went down and the dancing began, they were enthralled. I’m not sure I had ever seen them sit so still. They had always loved the story of Clara and her beloved Nutcracker on which the ballet is based and to see it brought to life amazed them.

I remember adoring the sets and costumes, by award winning designer Robert Perdziola; they are gorgeous. And the children in the performance! The Nutcracker features more than 250 classically trained ballet students from the Boston area. What a thrill dancing in the show must be for them.

R and G still talk about the ballet and have asked repeatedly to see it again. So, I’m excited that we’ll be attending a matinee of The Nutcracker later month. The Boston Ballet was kind enough to give us two free tickets for the kids.

To get ready for the performance, we’ll re-read our beloved Nutcracker book and watch videos like this one featuring the Boston Ballet.

The Boston Ballet is hosting a number of interactive story hours for those wishing to learn more about the Nutcracker. Upcoming Story Hours will be held in Peabody, Gloucester, Danvers, Newton, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Marblehead. You can find out more about these offerings here.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Ballet

Photo courtesy of the Boston Ballet

Will the kids love the show as much this year? I hope so—and I look forward to telling you all about this special holiday celebration here on Red Shutters.

Tickets for The Nutcracker from the Boston Ballet start at $29 and can be purchased online at www.bostonballet.org or over the phone at 617.695.6955.

Disclosure: I have received two complimentary tickets to an upcoming performance of The Nutcracker. All opinions in this post are mine alone. 

The Holidays are Here!

The holidays are here! The Christmas season has kicked off at our home!

The wreaths—courtesy of our local Boy Scouts—are hung outside the house, we’ve had our first snowfall, and I ordered our holiday cards. No Christmas tree yet, though; we’re waiting until next weekend when I return from a business trip to buy one, put it in the center of our living room, and cover it in with ornaments and lights.

To get ready for Christmas, I’ve implemented two other “countdown to December 25” traditions:

Elf on the Shelf – This is our third year with Charlie, our Elf on the Shelf. Charlie and I have a love-hate relationship. I love, love how much my kids adore him, how excited they get when he arrives, and how eagerly they dash around the house looking for him each day. I hate the worry of forgetting to move him and how it all feels a bit too commercial. That being said, Charlie’s magic is real in our house; it’s intense. The kids, especially R, have developed elaborate stories about Charlie’s life in the North Pole and his escapades while they are at school.

R read the Elf on the Shelf book to G yesterday over breakfast, and when he reached the part that explains how you must not touch Charlie or his magic will disappear, he turned to me. “Mama, what does Charlie feel like? Remember last year when he fell, and you picked him up? What did he feel like?”

I remembered that day. The kids and I were walking to the front door to get on shoes and coats for school, when we found Charlie lying on the floor. The light fixture I had placed him on the night before (not my best choice) had not provided enough stability and he had tumbled down. They were frantic. “Help him, Mama! Help him!” they both called out.

Knowing that I couldn’t pick him up (I had to preserve the magic!), I slid a book underneath him and, with one finger holding him in place, deposited him back on the light fixture. Mom to the rescue!

Now, a year later, R wanted to know what Charlie felt like. “Umm, I don’t know, honey,” I answered. “He felt like Charlie.”

R thought about this for a while. “I wonder if he has a robot inside of him,” he said and then he went off to find his sister. Thankfully, my non-answer did not raise any suspicions, and Charlie’s special place in their Christmas will continue another year.

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The Book Advent – I swiped this idea—our newest holiday tradition—from Danielle of Another Version of Mother. I wrapped 24 books, one for each night in December leading up to Christmas, and placed the books, all lovely in their Christmas paper, in a red basket in the kids’ play room (see above). Each morning, they look for Charlie and find the book that corresponds to the day of the month. They take turns unwrapping the book and then sit together at the breakfast table, reading, while I make breakfast. It’s amazing! I hope the sharing and being filled with holiday cheer lasts; it’s been an unexpected perk. The books are all holiday themed. I typically pack away our Christmas books at the end of the Christmas season, taking them out right after Thanksgiving anyway. What’s different now is positioning the books as the countdown to Christmas and stretching out their unveiling over several weeks.

I’m looking forward to next week when we make the house festive by placing out our Christmas decorations and hang the Christmas lights. I can’t wait!

HappyHolidays2

30 Days of NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo November 2014Yesterday was November 30, the last day of BlogHer’s National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo! I made it successfully to the end, which means that I wrote a post for Red Shutters each day of November; that’s 30 posts, people!

Which makes this post 31 in a row. Shazam!

I had attempted NaBloPoMo last year, and didn’t make it past day three, so reaching the goal this time round was especially important to me. Last time, I followed someone else’s writing prompts, and that, I think, was the reason why I didn’t make it to the end. This time, I wrote about whatever I wanted to write about, and the freedom really made the difference.

NaBloPoMo wasn’t all about checking off “blog every day for a month” of my to do list, though; I learned a few things along the way:

1. I can do this – Writing every day for a month—while working, parenting, and fulfilling my other commitments—seemed so daunting! But I loved it. And when you love something, it’s no longer a chore; it’s a gift.

2. It gets easier when you do it every day – Writing is work. It’s good, engaging, and wonderful, but it’s work. Writing every day stretched my “muscles” and got my creative energies flowing. Each time I sat down to write, the starting was easier than the last time—though the words found their way out on their own terms. The act of doing, of writing, of committing to this thing that I love made me look forward to the next time, and the time after that.

3. It’s better with friends – I could not have made it through NaBloPoMo without my blogging tribe—Cheryl, Danielle, Lisa, Melissa, and Phyllis—whose support, blog comments, and encouragement helped me stick with it, from day one through to day 30.

Generally, I felt good about my posts, though, I’ll admit to struggling a bit around Thanksgiving time. Then, I ran up against less free time than usual with fewer hours to write, and I was not able to do as good a job as I would have liked on a few posts. That disappoints me, of course, but it’s a good reminder about the necessity of planning ahead.

Making an editorial calendar (i.e., a plan for what I was going to post when) made a significant difference. As did giving up some sleep in November!

Will I keep it going in December? Hmm… between professional deadlines and personal commitments, I am not sure that I can. I’ll try, though, to be here on Red Shutters more often than before.

Missed any of my last 30 posts? Follow this link to the posts tagged NaBloPoMo, and enjoy. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Imaginary Friends

When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend named Elizabeth. She lived in a brownstone in New York City, not unlike the houses on Sesame Street, with her four brothers and sisters and her parents. Elizabeth and I had many, long conversations about life: she’d tell me about the adventures her family experienced—an urban Swiss Family Robinson—while I told her all about life in the suburbs. I don’t remember when she stopped being a fixture in my life, but, during those early years, she was a dear and close friend.

I was pleasantly surprised then, when, a few months ago, my kids started talking about their imaginary friends. I researched it a bit and found writing (including this post) that indicated having imaginary friends is a healthy part of childhood. So, I’ve embraced this latest development in raising kids, encouraging R and G to write and tell stories about their imaginary friends.

Since these are the sorts of memories parents forget as their children age, and since I was fascinated by the creatures my kids had come up with, I decided to interview R and G for Red Shutters about their imaginary friends. G went first.

G's imaginary friend, Lily

G’s imaginary friend, Lily

G explained that her imaginary friend, a rainbow unicorn, named Lily is two-and-a-half years old and lives with us in our house. Lily is magical and can turn G into a fairy whenever she wants. Lily tells G secrets about fairies that G cannot tell anyone else.

Lily sleeps with G in her bed at night and “does not snore.” Her favorite food is G’s nose. “Wait, no,” G corrected. “Her favorite food is nothing; she doesn’t eat anything.”

While G is at school, Lily plays with the other friends who live in G’s room: her stuffed animals, called “loveys,” Princess Leia (a lavender unicorn), Share (a Care Bear), and Octopus (a pink dolphin).

As I interviewed G for this post, Lily, she explained, was sitting on her head. G then stretched out her arms to about three feet wide to show how big Lily was.

After all of her explanations, G said, “Actually, Lily is a cat. She can turn herself into a cat. You want to see her?”

“Yes,” I replied eagerly.

“Do you want to see her change back into a unicorn?” she asked.

As I nodded, she changed her mind. “Well, I’m not really sure you can.” And then she skipped away.

R’s interview was next, and he was happy to talk about his imaginary friends—emphasis on the plural.

“One is a Komodo dragon named Freddy. Another is a dog named Max. The last one is a lizard and his name is…” he paused while he considered his options. “His name is Frank.”

I inquired about their activities while he’s at school. He promptly answered, “They sleep with my snugglies (his stuffed animals). They eat. The Komodo dragon eats gazelles. The dog usually eats dog food. And the lizard… I leave him a surprise lunch. It’s usually bugs, flower nectar, or worms. Today, I’m trying out something new with him; I am going to give him fruit.”

“They fight each other sometimes but the Komodo dragon never bites,” he continued. “When I come home, they run up and they lick me. When I am asleep, they sort of tickle me with their tails. The dog licks my face.” He giggled, his face shining with happiness, and then he demonstrated how Frank licks him, laughing even harder.

“I give them dinner usually. I give them vegetables, lots of vegetables. The Komodo dragon is 25 feet long because I gave him so many vegetables. The dog is 19 feet, and the lizard is—how long is this?” he asked, holding up a piece of paper.

“About a foot,” I replied.

“The lizard is about a foot,” he said with a nod of his head.

“Why do have you three imaginary friends?” I asked.

“Because I like them!” he said, as if the answer should have been obvious. And then he went back to his Legos.

While Lily doesn’t have any siblings, she does play with R’s imaginary friends, her pseudo brothers, though R denies any interaction between the imaginary residents of our home. (“My imaginary friends don’t like unicorns,” R explained emphatically. “Plus they are too busy to play.” Doing what? I am not sure; perhaps eating gazelles.)

R and G understand that Lily, Freddy, Max, and Frank aren’t real. They enjoy incorporating these friends in their playtime and make believe games, and I enjoy watching their brains at work, creating and imagining. If R starts asking me to buy dog food… well, then, I may rethink this!

Our Favorite Kids’ Board Books

Last weekend, when the kids and I selected toys and books for donation, we put aside a pile of board books that we I could not get rid of; they had too much sentimental value. They were the books I had read to my kids when they were oh-so-small, and the books they gnawed on while teething. We read these books so often that I have most, if not all of them, memorized.

In an effort to stay ahead of the chaos of the kids’ burgeoning book collection, these books are heading into storage. For my grandchildren. Or when I am feeling especially mushy and need to re-read them. They are all too precious to donate. Do you know our favorites?

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  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? / Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What do you see? / Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you see? By Eric Carle – We enjoyed many of Eric Carle’s books, but this trio was by far our favorite.
  • Duck in the Truck By Jez Alborough – As with most kids’ books, it’s the rhyming that draws you in—and this book is a great example of that.
  • Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed By Eileen Christelow – Who doesn’t love the story about the happy little monkeys who couldn’t lie still?
  • Girl of Mine By Jabari Asim – Dear friends gave this sweet, sweet book to G, and she has always adored it.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – Truthfully, I loved this book more than the kids, but they put up with me reading it nightly.
  • Hippos Go Berserk / Moo, Baa, La La La! / Are You a Cow? / Belly Button Book! / But Not the Hippopotamus / Doggies / Birthday Monsters! By Sandra Boynton – We loved Sandra Boynton books in our house! All of them were hits with the kids, and it makes me sad they’ve outgrown them.
  • In My Flower By Sara Gillingham – Another special book of G’s, this one came courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law.
  • Is Your Mama a Llama? By Deborah Guarino – A present for R when he was little a baby, I used to carry it in my diaper bag to read while we traveled about town.
  • Kiss Kiss! By Margaret Wild – I love reading this book about animal babies and their mothers—and the importance of the good-bye kiss.
  • Brown Can Moo! Can You? By Dr. Seuss – I’m convinced this book helped the kids learn to talk; after all, we read it daily when they were small. And, the first time R read it to us? Oh! It was wonderful. (I probably cried.)
  • Ten in the Bed By Penny Dale – This cute book came to R and G from Nana, and it’s terrific example of the importance of rhythm in telling a story.
  • Ten Little Rabbits By Virginia Grossman – This lovely, peaceful book is on my “to buy for new parents” list.
  • The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord – Hands down, this is a favorite book of our entire family. In fact, it’s still in circulation, hiding away in one the kids’ room, waiting for another bedtime.
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider By Iza Trapani – Another children’s song as a storybook, this one lived in our car for several years so the kids could look it at while they sat in their car seats. It’s especially beat-up–from love, I’d like to think.

Are any of your favorites on our list? What board books would you add as a must-read for new parents?

My New iPhone 6

I upgraded to a new smartphone the other day, an iPhone 6. It’s much snazzier than my iPhone 4; it has new features I will likely never figure out. The best part is the added storage space and the camera—it’s awesome. I can now take as many photographs as I would like. Snap, snap, to my heart’s content.

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To get the phone up and running, I did a bit of clean up: deleting apps I wasn’t using, downloading apps I’ve wanted to try but that only worked on an upgraded operating system, and organizing photos and videos. Decluttering, if you will. In doing so, I realized what I appreciate most about my smartphone:

  1. Pictures and videos of my kids. The kids are always thrilled to look at pictures of themselves when they were very small, and today, as we celebrated the Day of Leftovers (as important as the actual Thanksgiving holiday), we snuggled on the sofa with our cousins, watching videos from Thanksgivings past. In the videos, little R and G toddled about, singing songs, laughing, and learning to ski. Those videos shocked me with how much they have changed in the past few years. A flip phone can’t do that!
  2. My Kindle app. I recently downloaded this app onto my phone, and it has changed the way I read. I still prefer to hold a book in my hands, turning the pages as I progress through a story. For a busy mom on the go, though, the Kindle app has been a lifesaver, allowing me to skip back and forth through books in waiting rooms, in line at the grocery store, and waiting for the elevator in the parking garage.
  3. My C25K app. To find this app, I ask my friends on Facebook for running app recommendations, and universally, C25K was offered up. It’s been a helpful way to get me to realize that a) I can get back into running and b) running doesn’t have to be a chore. I’m one week away from finishing an eight-week training program (with a break in the middle for my trip to India) and being ready to run a 5k!

And, of course, there are things I’m conflicted about:

  1. I can find the answer to any question at any time. And my kids know this. I wonder if I am missing some teachable parenting moments by not sending them to a book to figure out their questions. Of course, since their questions tend to be all about a) Star Wars, b) Legos, or c) unicorns, it’s probably good I can access Google no matter where we are or what we’re doing.
  2. GPS. I can go either way on this one. When I got lost walking the streets of Mumbai, India last month—after misreading my map, it was the GPS that got me back on track. But part of me misses the days when people would figure things out on their own. Following a map is how I found my way around Boston when I first moved here years ago, and I’m nostalgic for the “old school” way of getting to know a new place.
  3. It’s too easy. It’s too easy to check my email, hop on social media, and become distracted by my phone. I try hard not to use the phone in front of my kids, but I fail too often. What would my days be like without a smartphone? I wonder about that.

Despite my conflicts, I’m sticking with my iPhone…and I might just convince my Mom to get one, too. Now, that would be a holiday miracle!

Photo credit: Janitors via photopin cc

Thanksgiving Wishes

I’ve been working on our annual holiday card this week and discovered the following blessing that seems so perfect for today, this rainy Thanksgiving holiday:

May you have
Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks beside the fire,
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire.
~Celtic Blessing

I’m surrounded by love today, and very grateful for it.
I hope you are, too.

Thanksgiving 2014

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Best wishes to you and yours this Thanksgiving.

As I began to write this post this morning, my children were hopping up and down with excitement: their beloved cousins, who live outside of the United States and who they have not seen in months save Skype sessions, were sleeping downstairs. R and G were desperate to wake them up. They crept downstairs twice, standing outside of the rooms in which the boys were sleeping, whispering loudly. “But Mommy, why aren’t they awake?”

They made due with the unfortunate late wakeups by setting the breakfast table, making place cards for everyone, singing a mash-up of “Annie” songs, and taking out every toy in the house. They were beyond happy to be spending the next few days with family, their cousins especially, and they could not sit still.

Their joy is the best part of my holiday season. (That and pie, of course.) It’s what I like I best about gathering with family: the happiness we get from seeing people we care about and the chance to be with people we don’t see nearly enough.

***

It’s now several hours later, and our Thanksgiving celebrations are fully underway. We’ve been to the grocery store for last minute purchases (salsa, toilet paper, cheddar cheese, and toothpaste—the essentials). We’ve taken Nana’s dog for a walk in the rain. The kids have decorated—and eaten—molasses cookies. My daughter and youngest nephew have started an impromptu band in the next room. My son and older nephew are putting together a Jedi Interceptor Lego kit. The parents are catching up on reading and email before a crackling fire in the fireplace. I heard someone mention Pictionary.

***

Our Thanksgiving is pretty straightforward: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, wine, mashed potatoes, and pie. Vegetables, too, and an oyster dish my husband’s aunt makes every year. A Swedish corn casserole comes courtesy of my mother-in-law’s dear friends. This Thanksgiving, we’ll eat in the late afternoon, awaiting the arrival of extended family.

We spend the day before our dinner cooking, eating, watching sports on TV, and catching up. We go for walks—hopefully the rain will abate—and we’ll tell funny stories of Thanksgivings past. We’ll remember the year my kids brought a stomach virus to Thanksgiving—and then gave it to everyone who came to dinner. (We can laugh about it now; it wasn’t funny at the time. I’ve never looked at green bean casserole the same since then.) Some of the family members will entertain one another with Southern accents and funny nicknames, a tradition from a time well before I came into the picture.

And, after dinner, there will be music. My husband’s family is filled with extremely talented musicians, and we are lucky that they perform for us at the holidays. A harp, violin, guitar, and drums will join together, playing beautiful music as the kids dance around the room, and the adults sing along. Perhaps this year my kids will show off what they’ve been learning in piano lessons, or maybe my daughter’s obsession with “Annie” will inspire a family performance.

Afterward, we’ll go to bed, full and happy. And thankful.

Photo credit: jDevaun.Photography via photopin cc