Monday, December 22

The Cards of Christmas Past

Well hello there. It's been awhile. I've neglected my blog for quite some time but I've dusted it off and plan on breaking my 4-month-long blogging silence by spending some time reflecting on Christmas cards/photos of the past. With each photo, there's a story that chronicles our first few years overseas. 

Let's start with Christmas 2011, shall we? Little Man's first Christmas. He was just a wee, little 4-month old. At this point, we had already moved out of our house and were hopping around between our families' homes until we moved overseas. We spent Christmas day at my parents' house and I'm pretty sure we snapped this family photo with a phone and sent it via text to our loved ones. I enlarged it so you can see those high-quality pixels (#blurry). Even though we had already sold most of our stuff via three yard sales and a "For Sale" album on Facebook, we were still up to our eyeballs in things we wanted to keep and store or pack up and take with us overseas. We became very aware of how much stuff we had accumulated in such a short amount of time.

By Christmas 2012, we were already living overseas. When we first arrived, we lived in another family's house for about 6 months. Then, we finally moved into our own house...a mere 2 months before the Christmas season. I gathered/made as much as possible, avoiding the high-priced decorations in the stores for as long as I could. I got some free stuff: a hand-me-down Christmas tree (pictured below) and some hand-me-down stockings (which we're still using this year). I made some stuff (only half of it survived to see another Christmas). And I finally purchased a few things to balance out all the handmade decor (hellooo tacky red and gold ornaments and multi-colored string of lights). It's worth mentioning, the tacky ornaments I bought didn't even come with string/hooks. So I had to thread, cut, and tie some white string through all of them before we could hang the ornaments on the tree. Fun times...

I knew I wanted to take a family photo so we could at least email our friends and family a Christmas card. I set up the camera on our shoe shelf, told everyone to get in their pajamas, grabbed a Christmas cookie to bribe our 1-year old to smile, and then we all said "CHEESE!"...and then we had to regroup and say "cheese" a few more times. And yes, I'm letting my child chew on a small bottle of hand-sanitizer to keep him happy. I guess the cookie wasn't even necessary. 

Also, I thought my camera skills were the at the time (I mean, it wasn't a photo taken with a phone this time). But now I'm seeing that I still had a lot to learn in the photo-taking department.

Christmas 2013 had me feeling a little more on top of things. I tried out all sorts of new recipes, projects, and gift ideas. We purchased less-tacky ornaments for our 6-ft tall tree. We tried to do Elf on the Shelf and I found out I'm definitely one of those parents who needs an alarm as a reminder to move the elf. I even wrote a Christmas poem where I managed to both tell about events of our year and make it rhyme. Boo-yah. 

And check out the Christmas card. We used a self-timer again. Same camera. Better lighting. Festive hats. We got that photo on THE. FIRST. TRY. As in, *beep beep beep*, snap photo, annnd we're done! It was a Christmas miracle. It's a good thing too because I don't think we would have been able to hide our sweat for long. There was truth to my witty, Christmas card tagline. 

While Christmas 2013 proved that it is possible to hit a home-run with Christmas decor, food, homemade gifts and family photos all in the same year, Christmas 2014 has reminded me that all of that stuff isn't what's important during this season.

In October, we added a cute little princess to our family. Long story short: because I gave birth to her in another country, her passport took a little longer to get processed. Then we had to get new visas. We were finally able to come back home the first week of December. 

Not only was there not a single Christmas decoration out once we returned home, but our house had flooded while we were gone. Thankfully we had friends and a house helper who had cleaned up the major damage while we were still out of the country. Unfortunately, mold moved in and was here and there and everywhere. I had some cleaning to do before I could decorate. I also had (still have) unpacking to do from my 3-month-long maternity leave spent in another country. Needless to say, I'm still throwing last-minute decorations up just a few days before Christmas. So don't be surprised if you still see Christmas decorations in the background of my Instagram photos in February...

I didn't try to do a self-timer photo this year. That probably would have ended in tears (my tears). I enlisted some last-minute help from a friend before she headed back to the States for the holidays. She did not disappoint. She somehow managed to get some great family photos despite the fact that Little Man was in a mood right from the get-go and Little Miss is 7 weeks old, so she's supposed to be unpredictable.

Since this was a last-minute idea, my attempts to make us all matchy-matchy was somewhat successful. For the record, my necklace matches Little Miss's onesie which has a plaid pattern which is supposed to go along with Little Man's plaid shorts, which has a dark blue stripe in it which matches my cardigan and the Mr.'s shirt (War Eagle). I'm going to pat myself on the back for coming up with something that not only matched but looked nice and kept the sweating to a minimum (except for my cardigan...I had to take one for the team with that choice). 


Reflecting on our family Christmas photos has done my soul good. It's caused both nostalgia and anticipation for the coming years as I've looked back and reflected on not only each of those Christmases in particular, but also everything that happened between each Christmas season.

Growth. Pain. Tears of sorrow. Tears of joy. Laughter. Language learning mistakes... and victories. Hellos and goodbyes.

We live in a country that doesn't make a huge deal about Christmas. There are some decorations and the occasional holiday sale promo in stores. You'll find some larger stores devoting a small section for selling artificial Christmas trees and maybe devoting half an aisle to Christmas decorations. And it's always a pleasant surprise when Christmas tunes are played over the sound system.

At first, it bummed me out...not being able to see Christmas everywhere I looked. But then I realized how much I enjoy it.

I enjoy it because it helps me to remember and focus on the main reason we are celebrating. Each Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We celebrate that God himself took on flesh and came to this lowly, sinful world.

Christmas is more than just trees, stockings, cookies, and twinkling lights. And it's more than just a story about a baby in a manger.

This is the day redemption came.
This is the day peace was brought.
This is the day that forgiveness and freedom were made available to all who claim Jesus as Savior and King.

Prepare Him room in your heart this Christmas and for every day afterwards. Amen?

Wednesday, August 27

potties and undies and gummy bears, oh my!

Warning: This post contains frequent use of the words "poo-poo" and "pee-pee". Prepare yourself.

This past weekend, I decided it was my window of opportunity to get Little Man potty trained. We're officially 7 weeks away from Baby Sister entering our family and about 3 weeks away from traveling to Malaysia to set up camp until she makes her big debut. Realizing that we had quite a few "big transitions" approaching, I didn't want to snatch Little Man's diapers away and tell him to "be a big boy and pee in the potty" on top of everything else. I was beginning to realize that Little Man was definitely ready to make that switch, but he was also smart enough to realize that peeing and pooping in his diaper was way why choose self-serve when you have the option of full-service treatment? Amiright?

I mentally prepared myself for 3 days cooped up in the house, setting a timer and asking Little Man if he needed to "pee-pee" or "poo-poo" every 20-30 minutes during a 12-hour day, and realizing the possibility that it might not work and I'd just have to wait to try again in December or January (but this time with a baby in the mix). Needless to say, I was really hoping he would nail it.

And that he did! I'm happy to say we have significantly cut down on diaper usage around here (since we still need to work on nighttime training). While I have a few tips to share today that worked for us, our potty-training success really would not have been so simple, easy, and stress-free without the help of Becky Mansfield's ebook, Potty Train in a Weekend. I had my eye on the book for awhile but wasn't sure if I wanted to spend $9.99 on "another method for potty training". I mean, 10 bucks is a lot to spend if everything flops. However, the more reviews I read, the more confident I felt that this was a book I needed to try out. I'M SO GLAD I DID! It literally took three days to get my son potty trained...she's not joking around with the book title.

Because I have total respect for this mom and want to give her a fist-bump and a big, bear-hug for all her potty training wisdom packed into an easy-to-read ebook, I'm not going to share any of HER secrets. You just have to buy the book for all those goodies (but be sure to scroll down to the bottom of this post for a discount code)!

Here are 5 things that really helped make our potty-training weekend go as smoothly as possible.

1. Flavored water.  To provide more opportunities for potty trips, I wanted to increase the amount of fast-moving liquids he was drinking. Sometimes he drinks plain water without a fuss. Of course, on the days that I need him to drink water, he'll run away from me screaming "NOOOOOOO!" Aquafina FlavorSplash to the rescue! This is something new to me since it wasn't in stores before we moved overseas. Thankfully, a friend brought some back to share with all us expats who get excited about little things like "liquid water enhancers". It was a nice, quick, mess-free way to add flavor (and color) to water so that my toddler would readily drink a nice glass-full. And because it's mess-free, he was able to help each time (which really helped motivate him to drink more water as well). Yay for more trips to the potty!

2. "Everyone Poops". I vaguely remember this book from my childhood and realized it would be the PERFECT illustrated book to help Little Man realize that we all poop. No big deal and nothing to get constipated over. Unfortunately for me, I'm nowhere near a bookstore that would carry that book, nor can I order it off Amazon and have it delivered to my house within the week. I knew the grandmas would be visiting in the next 2 months because of the baby being born but constipation really can't wait 2 months. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I realized that an animated "Everyone Poops" is available on YouTube! Don't worry, it's not so animated that it would gross you out (but then again, we are talking about a book about there is a small element of grossness there). Click here to view the video of the book. I find it pretty humorous that it's entitled "Everyone Poops The Movie." Long story short, Little Man loves to watch it and now the sentence "I want to watch animals poop" frequently rolls of his tongue. Lovely.

3. Gummy Bears. I chose to offer gummy bears for both peeing and pooping in the potty. One gummy bear for peeing, THREE for pooping in the potty (because he's three years old and pooping in the potty is kind of a big deal). I'm not worried about creating "emotional eating habits" in my children because healthy eating habits are regularly encouraged in our family. Do I think giving him gummy bears for a job well-done will undo every healthy habit I've taught him? No. And let's be honest, I'm an adult and I still reward myself with a Dr. Pepper, ice-cream, and maybe even some of my son's gummy bears when I accomplish something. I may or may not have eaten some of his gummy bears this past weekend because I felt like I deserved a treat for all this potty training too. If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

4. Daily Fiber. Much like my reasoning behind the flavored water, I wanted to make sure "all systems were a go." In the beginning of our potty-training weekend, I realized that he was probably holding it in and making himself constipated. Then we had a couple accidents in the underwear. I obviously didn't want to cause my child discomfort and pain, so I started brainstorming my options. I knew some fiber intake might help out a bit. I didn't necessarily give him EXTRA fiber because I didn't want those kind of results, if you know what I mean. I just wanted to make sure fiber was included in his diet each day. Lucky for me, Little Man loves carrots. So, I just made sure to cut up some carrot slices for him to snack on and hoped for the best. After his first big success in the potty, it was smooth-sailing from that point on.

5. iPhone timer (with a fun tune set to play). With so many frequent trips in the beginning, my iPhone timer helped me more than it helped Little Man. I didn't want his accidents to be a result of me not paying attention to whether or not he needed to use the potty. Obviously, in the beginning, he's relying on me to help him realize it's time to go. Without my timer, an hour could have easily slipped past me without me noticing. Having a timer also helped me figure out how often he truly needed to go. Even though I stuck him on the potty frequently, that didn't mean he went every time. Gradually, I realized that every 2 hours was a good time to make sure he really tried because I could rightly assume we would get some results. Choosing a fun tune to play each time keeps things upbeat and light-hearted.

I don't know that I could be more pleased with my first experience potty-training. Actually, I should probably wait to say that because I'll be using the same ebook to potty train Little Man for the nighttime. Since I've yet to work through that, I'm sure there's a chance I could be more pleased with this potty-training experience.

Seriously, if you've got a little one in diapers and you're dreading the day that you have to potty-train him/her, just save yourself the stress and worry and buy Becky's book, Potty Train in a Weekend. What a sanity-saver!

Here's some even greater news, her book is 50% off for Labor Day weekend only! The sale starts today (Aug. 27th) and ends September 1st. Just click on any of the links to her book I've included in this post (or any of the book images) and follow the steps to purchase your very own copy of the ebook. Be sure to use the code LABOR during the checkout process. The ebook is worth every penny of the $10 but you can't beat getting all the value for half the price!