Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dear Ellie - Five Years

My dear Ellie,

Today you are five years old.

As I sit down to write this letter, my mind is swirling with memories and reflections not only of the year that has passed since my last letter, but of all the time that has gone by since I first laid eyes on you on this day five years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was lying in that New Jersey hospital room, staring down at your sweet newborn face as Daddy gushed about how you had just opened your eyes as he held you and how amazing it was. Yet even though that day seems so long ago, it feels like the years passed me by in an instant without me even realizing it. I can't believe we're here already. You're five. I have been your mother for five whole years.

And what an honor it has been to watch you grow into the little girl you are today! I hardly even know where to begin.

You are very smart, and have learned so much this year. You still plan to be an astronaut when you grow up, and I have no doubt that you can do it if that's what you really want to do. I love to hear you explain how the earth "orbinates" the sun, or talk about how you want to be the first astronaut on Mars (so then all the other astronauts will see your picture on Mars and know that they can go there, too, you say), but you don't want to go to Jupiter because you don't want to get caught in those wind storms. Your interest in space has sparked an overall interest in science and math, and you seem to pick it up pretty easily. You love patterns and order, so I think these subjects make sense to you. You continue to impress us with how well-spoken you are, and you are great at letter recognition and are eager to learn to read. You've been reading chapter books with Daddy at night and are able to sight read a good number of words. You will be very ready for kindergarten in the fall! (I'm not sure I'm ready for kindergarten, but you will be!)

You are very kind-hearted, sometimes to a fault. An example: you and E.J. tend to bicker a good bit, and he is prone to venting his frustration physically. It is always directed towards you, because he knows he can get away with it: he can sit there and hit you and hit you, and you will never, ever hit him back. It's almost as if it has never occurred to you that it's an option. You are too kind and sweet and gentle to even have the thought. Though it can be frustrating to me in the moment (if you would just hit him back, he'd probably knock it off, you know?), I hope your heart always remains so pure.

You are considerate and sweet, caring and affectionate. When we had a conference with your teacher earlier this month, two of her biggest comments about you were that you are a great classmate who is always willing to share with your friends, and that you are very loving to your teachers, hugging them and telling them you love them daily. You do seem to get along and play with everyone in your class, and for Valentine's Day this year you wanted to make each of your classmates a personalized Valentine that fit their interests. You are so thoughtful!

Going back to your relationship with your brother, it is clear that it is one that you treasure (despite the sibling squabbles!). You are so sweet to him, and really try to take care of him. When he cries in the bath as we rinse his hair, you offer to hold him in your lap and sing to him to help him calm down. You try to teach him things and keep him on the straight and narrow. Sometimes I have to remind you that it is my job to worry about E.J., because you get so intent on helping him be a good, big boy. I love that you care about him so deeply and that you want so badly to help him do the right thing. You are really an exceptional sister.

You try so hard to please us. When I ask you to keep your room clean, you do just that and give me regular updates about the things you have done to keep your space tidy. At school, you never eat your dessert in your lunch box before finishing your carrots. You are never mean and never purposefully disobedient. You told me the other day that you have never had to sit in the "thinking chair" at school and I can count on one hand (maybe one finger, even) the number of times you've been put in time-out at home.

You love music and dance. You have continued with ballet this year, and your ballet recitals have been far more successful than the first one! This year you also do Shining Stars (an after-school drama program) and sing in the church choir (and you did actually sing on Christmas Eve this year!). One of your favorite television shows is Little Einsteins, which focuses on music terminology, composers and instruments. The other day, you described the noise of a helicopter as fortissimo, so you seem to be learning a lot from that show! You also love to put on shows for us. These days, you most often act out scenes from Moana. You know all the words to all the songs, and the motions that go along with each. I love to watch you perform and hear you sing!

You also love art and crafts. You love to color, and that is literally the first thing you do upon leaving your room every morning - you go into the playroom, lay down on the floor and get to work on a coloring book. You love to paint and draw, too. I love your artwork and we have tons of it hanging in the playroom!

You're also getting to be quite a little runner! You ran several races this year, the majority of them without parental accompaniment. You tell us how fast you are and then go show us. You are willing to try your hand at other sports, too. I was so proud of you when, as you played football with a couple boys after school one day, you announced to them that you are great at sports. I just love your confidence and I really hope you can hang onto that!

You love to be silly, too, and jokes became a big thing this year. The preschool humor is not necessarily my cup of tea, but you sure can get E.J. rolling! It's pretty easy to make you laugh, and it's contagious: when you laugh at your jokes, E.J. laughs at your jokes, and before we know it, the whole family is giggling! Thank you for bringing us so much joy, sweet pea.

You still experience your emotions very deeply. It is not such a constant factor as it was when you were three (going on four), but still, it's just your way. When something upsets you, it upsets you to your core and it can be very frustrating for us because often there is nothing we can do to settle you. You will be upset until you decide you're done being upset. I'm doing my best to try to teach you ways to calm yourself, but it can be a challenge. Your strength of emotion is something I can relate to, at least to an extent, and I hope that you always allow yourself to feel what you feel and express your needs so freely. It can be hard for me to handle sometimes but I think it is very admirable.

You're just getting so big. I feel like a day doesn't go by that I don't stop and marvel at how grown up you are becoming. You don't cry in the bath anymore. You can ride a bike with training wheels (and that's what you're getting for your birthday from us this year!). You say things that are so smart, they stop me in my tracks. You are eager to help around the house: feeding the dog, clearing your dishes, making your bed. Every day, you are finding new ways to grow up a little more.

One big milestone this year was getting rid of your crib and replacing it with a "big girl" daybed. Packing up that crib and getting it out of the house was so bittersweet. Just that one piece of furniture carried so many memories for me. It was the first thing we ever bought for you, even before so much as a bib or a pair of socks. I remember ordering that crib for you before I even know you were a girl. I remember painstakingly picking the bedding to adorn it, and Daddy running all over Manhattan in search of the crib skirt of my dreams. I remember how tiny you looked lying in there on your first night at home, swaddled up tight in a pink blanket and just looking like a tiny, precious burrito on a bed of pretty flowers. I remember how gingerly we laid you on that mattress each night, praying you would stay asleep. I remember coming in to retrieve you from a nap in your crib only to find you sitting up in the corner, bewildered at having just sat up by yourself for the first time. I remember watching you play in there after your naps, which you were always happy to do for long periods of time as I sat beside you in the glider.  I remember switching it to a toddler bed and worrying about how you would adjust, only to find you happily reading books in your new bed after your first night of sleep in it. So many memories for one piece of furniture, and now, it is out of our house and the memories are all that's left of it. I think my struggle with saying goodbye to the crib was that it felt symbolic, a representation of the far-too-fast passage of time and the end of your babyhood. How can we be so thoroughly through that stage already?

This year brought more changes for our family, as have all the years of your life prior, really. But hopefully this year's changes will bring more stability for the years to come. Daddy has a new job that seems to be exactly what he was meant to do (and I hope that someday his career change and ensuing journey will inspire you to find your right place int he world, too). We moved into a new house with more space for our family and a big yard for you kids to play in (not to mention the playroom!). Our house is in a great location, practically across the street from both your current school/our church and your new school next year. We have decided to stay in Jacksonville indefinitely and are trying to put down roots, making friends and getting involved in church, school and community. I think about my own childhood, and how connected to my hometown I felt - it was where my home was, my house, my friends, my family, my church, my history. I'm struck by the realization that we are creating that for you now, and I hope we're able to provide a feeling of security and belonging for you here.

You have such greatness ahead of you, my girl, both in the immediate months and years to come and in the rest of your lifetime. I know you have what it takes to really be something special in the world. You already are to me, of course, a million times over, but I think you really can make a larger impression in the world around you. Please remain true to yourself, continue to be who you are without hesitation, assert yourself and proudly show all that you have to offer. You are really something special and I love you so much.

Ellie, being your mother has been the great honor of my life. These five years have humbled me, challenged me, exhilarated me and changed me immeasurably. I have loved you more than you can know from the moment I first dreamed of you, and I will always love every bit of you. Thank you for being mine, for trusting me, for teaching me, and for being you.

I love you all the much, baby girl. All the much and then some.

Happy fifth birthday, sweetheart.

All my love,

* * * * *

My dear Ellie,

First of all, happy birthday!!! I remember one of mine from before your mama and I were married (which will be 10 years this year!) when she made it a point to say "happy birthday" to me all day long. It was pretty weird for a while, but I really liked it and try to make it a point to pay it forward. I know I only typed it once here and don't plan to keep typing it, but I did lead with it and will say it a bunch throughout the day. In fact, we started saying it about a week ago after our nighttime routine and before we leave your room. You always try to sneak in one (or five) more exclamations before we leave you for the night, and one is always the most proximate holiday (including birthdays). Most nights it's pretty cute. Yes, most; I'm not perfect.

Well, that didn't take long to reach a digression, did it? You see, I am really struggling to figure out what to write. After using the "I don't know what to say" line so many times, you would think I might have figured it out by now. After all, five years is a long time. Since you were born, we have occupied five homes in three cities and I am over six months into my third career. Fortunately, and for the first time in the life of our family, I am doing something, and we are living somewhere, indefinitely. Whoops. That may have been another tangent, but I think I can make more of a case that it is useful updating information. However, the sentence I spent the most time thinking about is definitely a digression, so we'll move on before this gets out of hand.

I think it would be a really fun letter to recount all of the great Ellie stories from the past 12 months, but that's not going to happen this time. I could submit that I have been really busy at work, which is true, but the actual issue is I don't think about these letters at all during the year. You'll have to take my word for it that we made so many great memories. So many great memories that I can't think of right now. Stories like singing a duet to "A Whole New World" at bedtime with me singing the verses and you getting super into character and singing the chorus, or like the knock-knock jokes you started telling where instead of a punchline, you just crack up laughing. There was the time you taught some stuffed animals about lunar eclipses and how the planets "orbinate" around the sun. We also went on dates to the movies, the arcade and Chick-Fil-A and you performed spot-on scenes and songs from Star Wars, the Little Mermaid and Moana. Even if I don't write all of my memories in these letters, I am super excited to keep making them with you! If it's any consolation, we do take a lot of pictures of everything and your mama does an amazing job keeping them safe for posterity. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, you are going to have what you would describe as "a 100 of words" to lok through. It's like the preschool equivalent of "infinity," if infinity was an actual number.

Another option for the letter would be to describe you at five with a laundry list of great qualities that everyone thinks apply to their kids, but which actually do apply to you. Like how well you get along with everyone, or how patient you are (most of the time) with your brother, who often deserves worse. There's also how much you like to help and how independent you are becoming. How much you love so many people and things, the sincerity of your hugs or the regularity with which you experience pure joy. You are also obviously smart. You rock the alphabet, count past 100, do some adding, read/recognize a lot of simple words, and can keep your interest while we read picture-less chapter books written for kids a good bit older than five. I am, however, most impressed with how curious you are about our world and how well you remember the answers I give you. In fact, you want to be an astronaut when you grow up. Yep. A freaking astronaut. And not just in the outer-space-is-cool, I want-to-go-to-there kind of way, but in that you want to play space school, read about Sally Ride, and notice space stuff everywhere. E.J. even calls paintings of people in space suits, "Ellie."

Lest you get too overconfident about all the wonderful qualities and stories that your mom has definitely described in detail in her letter, I want to mention you are also the girl who had me read her "tushie" a story because it itched at 4:00 a.m., and that was the only thing that would help it get back to sleep. Ellie, I wouldn't trade you for anyone in the entire world. Not that that's a thing that someone can legally offer to do, but my life, marriage and our family are so much greater because they have you in it.

You are my very best girl and I love you so much.

All my love,

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Farewell, 2016

Here we are again, face-to-face with another new year! I know my posting has been sporadic at best lately, but I certainly couldn't let tonight pass by without reflecting on the year that is now so near its end.

2016 has gotten a pretty bad rap in the last few months, seemingly at least in the general public opinion. I can get on board with that to an extent - 2016 certainly brought some struggles for friends and family, our country seems to be in a very unsettled place, and personally, my kids have been non-stop sick (leaving me non-stop stressed) for the past two months. So, I'm ready to start fresh and hope 2017 ushers in a healthier vibe!

But for our family, really, 2016 has been a pretty great year. In addition to all the usual fun of travel, birthdays and other memory-making, 2016 brought answers to questions that have been hanging in the air for us for years. Eric has finally found a career that both satisfies him and challenges him. For the first time, he can envision doing this work long-term and I love hearing him talk excitedly about it. That answer brought about another: we're staying Jacksonville indefinitely. We've moved to our house that we love, joined our church, and are settling in and making friends. At last!

It's a strange feeling to be sitting here on New Year's Eve and not thinking and writing about all the potential for change that lies ahead of us in the new year. I suppose that potential is always there, to an extent, but for the first time in many years, I think I know where we will be next year at this time and what we will be doing. Our big uncertainties have been resolved and now we're just enjoying the life that is coming together for us.

VIDEO: A look back at our year in 2016

2017 does promise some big things for us, too: our tenth wedding anniversary; Ellie's fifth birthday (WHAT) and the start of kindergarten; E.J. starting preschool; a trip to the Cayman Islands; several weddings to attend; increased work responsibility for Eric. And that's just what we know about! I think it's going to be great.

So, friends, regardless of how you feel about 2016, I hope tonight you feel at peace and filled with hope for the year to come. It's a fresh start! Let's enjoy, shall we?

Happy 2017, all!

Signing off for 2016,


Friday, November 25, 2016

Our New Home

I'm finally getting around to showing off our new house! I've been itching to share it for a while now, but was holding off because it's not "finished." We're still making changes and additions to nearly all the rooms, but we're planning to be here for a while so that's bound to be an on-going process. So, why wait to show it off, then? Let's just do this! Welcome to our new home!

(As an interesting side note, I posted the tour of our last house exactly two years ago yesterday! My timing seems to be pretty consistent, eh? Here's hoping that I don't have another house to post two years from today!)

We'll start, of course, at the front of the house. Look how pretty! They repainted it before we moved in and we just love it. This picture doesn't show it off very well, but the house is set back a good ways from the curb, so we have a very big front yard. Ellie loves playing in the front yard most of all! And of course, a nice little set of chairs for that porch is on our list of things to purchase to make this house just right.

Rental sweet rental!

The Entryway

Here is what you see when you walk in our front door:


The steps in front of you lead to the bedrooms and office upstairs. To the left is our little entryway setup, some cool built-in shelves and a door to the playroom:

Our entryway, with door leading to the playroom

I had fun decorating those shelves! I'm sure they'll be changing here and there as we stay in this house over time, but I'm happy with them now.

They're kid-friendly: most breakable things up out of reach, and a nice picture of their Nonnie on the bottom where they can see it.

Straight ahead when you walk in the front door is our little under-the-stairs "coat closet." There is no actual coat closet in this house (what is with these old houses and the lack of coat closets?), so we figured this was a pretty good use of this kind of awkward space under the stairs. It has a rack with all my baby carriers, hooks for bags, jackets and hats and a bench for shoes. Sometimes it serves as stroller parking, too.

Just try not to smash your head on the stairs because rumor has it that happens sometimes and it hurts like the dickens.

Here's another look back at the stairs and entryway:

Ooh, aah.

The Living Room

To the right from the front door is our living room. We have our old living room set out here, and the big front window looks out over our spacious front yard. I really like this room; I think it's pretty and welcoming. Unfortunately, we just don't use it much!

The living room, as seen from the front door

Better living room look

Looking back at the front door. We have our bookshelf and wedding pictures of my grandparents and us on that wall.

The Dining Room

Let's continue on into the dining room, which is right through the arched doorway off the living room. The dining room features a new painting on the wall and Ellie's old dresser/changing table serving as a buffet in the corner.

Dining room! Lots of space to accommodate a larger table, which is on our list of things to upgrade soon.

Another angle of the dining room

Our "buffet" in the corner, holding dining linens, china and craft supplies! Because, of course, the dining room doubles as my craft room.

The Kitchen

The kitchen is really the center of the downstairs, connecting to three rooms: the dining room, the family room and the playroom. The kitchen is just a little square, outdated thing, but it gets the job done. Our landlord said we are welcome to paint the cabinets if we like (though he didn't say anything about the mismatched appliances, ugly countertops or tile), so that's a possible future project but it's not high on the list at this point.

View of the kitchen as you walk in from the dining room. The doorway on the left leads to the playroom, and the big doorway on the right leads out to the family room.

View of the kitchen from the family room. It does have tons of cabinet space, which is wonderful!

One quirk of the kitchen is the smoke detector placed so near the stove (you can see it in the above picture, up on the wall to the right of the stove). We keep a small fan in the kitchen to aim at the stove because without it, we set off the smoke detector every time we boil water. (And you know Achilles just loves that!)

The Family Room

Let's continue on into the family room. I love this room. We picked up a sectional couch from a Facebook yard sale page, and bought a new rug and ottoman to go with it. We also ordered some canvas prints of the kids and put up a little gallery wall above the couch.

Doesn't this room just warmly invite you to come, sit and enjoy a glass of wine? Or is that just me?

Our little gallery wall

The TV is in the corner across from the couch, between the doorways to the kitchen and playroom.

The other side of the family room

I also have my desk out there, looking out the big wonderful windows into our nice backyard.

My "office," if you will. The white door to the right of my desk leads out to the backyard.

On that far wall you see in the above picture, there are two doors: the one on the left houses a tiny but perfectly functional little laundry room (with shelves and a cabinet for storage and everything!), and the door on the right is a tiny little half-bathroom.

So tiny, I really couldn't even get a picture of it, but trust me, it's a bathroom.

You may also have noticed that in the desk picture, there is a nice shelf above those two little doors, and we have filled it with framed pictures of family members. I was really trying to make this family room homey, cozy and happy, and those pictures add to that, I think. If you look back at the picture of the TV, you'll see that there are more shelves along the main wall of the room that I hope to fill with more pictures over time.

Our family photo shelf

These collage frames from each kid's first year are also hanging to the right of the bathroom in the family room. I love how they came together!

The Backyard

Let's step outside quickly so I can show you the yard! We have a great big backyard with a small deck and brick patio area. We also have a shed for all our outdoor stuff, and an orange tree that is filled with oranges, ripening as we speak!

View of the backyard from the back door in the family room

Bless that big tree in the middle of the yard for not falling on our house during Hurricane Matthew! Also, it gives us great shade and makes the yard a very pleasant place to play.

Our shed and orange tree

When you step outside from the back door, to the left is a gate that leads out to our carport. We don't have a driveway in front of our house; it is actually off an alley behind the house.

Covered parking! Pure luxury.

The Playroom

Let's go back inside and take a look at the playroom. As you may recall, the playroom is right off the family room, and also has doorways into the kitchen and living room. It's a great space for the kids because they can play in their room while still being just one room over from us in almost any of the downstairs rooms. And this playroom, man. It has been AMAZING. They really do play in there! Alone! Together! A lot! And for the most part, the toys stay fairly well contained in one room instead of overtaking our entire house like they used to do. I absolutely love this playroom.

View of the playroom from the family room. The doorway to the left leads to the kitchen, and the door at the back of the room leads back out to the entryway/living room.

The kitchen/art wall of the playroom! Toy kitchen, table and chairs, and a shelf filled with coloring supplies, puzzles, blocks and games.

The long wall of the playroom is home to their easel, new toy bins organized into toy types (and labeled with stickers at the bottoms of the bins), and dress-up boxes.

The opposite wall features built-in bookshelves, an artwork display, various Fisher Price toys and baby doll bed.

This ist he view of the playroom from the opposite side, as if you were walking in from the living room. The doorway at the end of the room leads to the family room.

E.J.'s train/car corner. My sisters-in-law Kelley and Cathy made us a great ruler growth chart that we'll be putting in this corner, as soon as we can get it to Jacksonville!

The space corner, featuring rocket ship tent, Star Wars toys, astronaut dress-up and a solar system mobile I painted for this space.

Okay, that does it for the downstairs! Now let's head upstairs!


Here we are at the top of the stairs:

We've arrived on the second floor!

The closed door in front of us is a linen closet (and where we keep Achilles' crate). The open door is Eric's office. Out of the picture to the left is a full bathroom and E.J.'s room, and to the right is Ellie's room and our room.

Ellie's Room

Let's start our upstairs tour by turning right and heading into Ellie's room. Now, this is a little bit of a weird setup. When you turn to the right from the top of the stairs, there's a door to a little hallway. Ellie's room is down the tiny hallway, while our room is to the immediate left through the doorway. The funny thing is, there's no actual door to our room specifically; the door to the entire hallway is "our" door. I'm not sure I'm explaining that well, but the take-home point is that if we close the door to our room, we're also closing Ellie in with us. It's just a little bit of an odd configuration.

Ellie is standing in the doorway to our room, and that's obviously her room to the back right. The door on the right closes off the whole "wing."

But, let's go down that little hallway and into Ellie's room. Ellie's room is very small! We were fortunate her dresser fit downstairs in the dining room as a makeshift buffet because it would not have fit in her little room. But, it's all the space she needs, and the built-in shelves on the right-hand side are nice. Ellie's room is very much a work in progress currently: she will be getting a door to her closet soon (the people the realtor had repairing the house before we moved in dropped the ball on that one), and we're in the process of switching out her toddler bed for a daybed in the next week or two. Later, we'll also replace her dresser. I'm sure I'll post updated photos when we get it put together!

Ellie's room! It's very bright and cheerful.

Looking back towards Ellie's door. You see her door-less closet on the left!

Ellie's shelves

The Master Bedroom

Now let's exit Ellie's room and walk across the tiny hallway into our master bedroom. In contrast to Ellie's little room, this room is far more spacious than we need. When we first moved in we briefly debated having the kids share this room, and maybe that will still come to pass someday, but for now, we're just dancing around through all the empty space.

Our bedding set is fairly new, and you can see the two large, lovely windows that unfortunately make it very bright in here some morning. Aside from the sun blaring in my sleeping face, I love all the big windows in this house!

The other side of the room, which includes my grandmother's dresser that we finally had room for in our bedroom.

The backside of our room, including a "walk-in" closet (I use that term VERY liberally, because you can literally just walk in and standi n one place and that's it. But it counts, right?)

The Office

Let's go back out of the Master/Ellie set of rooms and look at the other half the upstairs, starting with Eric's office. As you may recall, his new job allows him to work from home, and the need for a functional workspace for him was a huge reason for this move in the first place. This little room was billed as a storage room, because it is quite small. But, he doesn't need much space, and it's plenty big enough for a desk and a couple shelves, and the light in there is fantastic. He also has a nice view of the backyard, looking right out over the orange tree.

Eric's office

Where Eric spends his days (the white board on the left is usually decorated with Ellie's drawings)

The back wall of Eric's office, including his bookshelves and diplomas

The Upstairs Bathroom

Between the office and E.J.'s room is our one full bathroom. It is also pretty cozy, but spacious compared to our bathrooms in our last house so I'm not complaining. Previous residents left behind some good storage pieces in both bathrooms, which was most appreciated! Plus, you know, we're former New Yorkers - if there's one thing we're good at, it's creatively creating storage space. (Well, that and lowering a shoulder to run over slow-moving tourists who aren't paying attention, but that skill is less applicable here.)

Our upstairs bathroom

So much create-a-storage!

E.J.'s Room

Last but not least, let's look at E.J.'s room! His room is a decent size, and he actually has carpet. He also has the biggest closet, and thus has the honor of storing all of our holiday decor for us. Way to take one for the team, E.J.!

Walking into E.J.'s room

His crib and the glider

Dresser and bookshelf, and our scoreboard gracefully adorning yet another bedroom wall!

E.J.'s baptism verse and outfit, plus an "I'll Eat You Up, I Love You So" plaque by E.J.'s door

And that's our house! We really love it here and in addition to loving the house itself, it has put us in a great neighborhood with a wonderful sense of community. We are a very, very short walk from Ellie's current school as well as from the elementary school that she will attend next year (the best in the county!), and since Ellie's current school is also where we attend church, we've been enjoying being such a short walk from church and all the activities going on there, too. Our neighbors are friendly and always stop to say hello and chat, and many people from Ellie's school/our church live nearby. It's really a great house in a great spot. We really got lucky with this one!

Come visit!