Family Christmas Letter 2013

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Photos clockwise from top left: The Rock of Cashel, Ireland; Tower Bridge, London, England; Gap of Dunole, Killarney, Ireland; Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas! 2013 has been an exciting year for our family, full of many blessings and many adventures.

The biggest change in our family this year has been a new beginning–not a baby’s birth as in the previous two years, but a new life in Ireland. After many months of praying and waiting to see if this move would happen, we finally relocated to Cork, Ireland in July. We love our new home, our adoptive city, our welcoming church, and our wonderful friends here in Ireland. The time is flying by and I can already tell that our 2 years here will be over too soon.

One of the reasons we were so excited to move to Ireland was because would have to opportunity to explore new places. We have already traveled around Ireland quite a bit, spending time in Dublin and all of the southern counties. Ireland is an incredible country full of history and beauty. We even got to host our first visitors from home (!) when Allison’s parents flew out for two weeks in October.

We also went on a memorable family vacation to London and Paris in November. We brought along a family friend to help us with the boys (we are definitely going to have to bring helpers with us from now on–it was incredible!). While in London we visited Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, the Natural History Museum, the London Zoo, Big Ben and the London Eye. We loved, loved, loved London and will be returning again some day! Paris was beautiful and charming. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, toured the Louvre, played in grand parks, and managed to find our way through the spiderweb of subways underground. It was the trip of a lifetime, and we took lots of photos so the boys will know some day that we really did take them to cool places when they were little.

Speaking of the boys, they are our pride and joy. David is 3 (THREE!) and is enjoying his new surroundings here in Ireland. He goes to a Montessori preschool down the street from our house 2 mornings a week. David’s passions in life are: balls, Mimi (his stuffed monkey), Angry Birds, Daniel Tiger, and the color blue. Jacob is 17-months old this Christmas and he is our little snuggle bear. He’s the sweetest, cuddliest little guy and we can’t get enough of his grapple-hugs. Jacob enjoys snuggles, playing with his big brother, splashing in bubble baths, and getting into mischief (he’s a bit of a baby mastermind–we may have our hands full with that one!).

Allison continues to stay home and work as a full-time mommy. She loves spending her days trying to keep up with two sweet, energetic boys. You can read more about her adventures in mommy-hood on her blog here. Sadly, Allison’s grandfather (her dad’s dad) passed away on December 18th.  She was blessed to already be home for Christmas and spend some final moments with him before he passed.

Jon has kept busy with his new job at Cypress Semiconductor’s Ireland office (the reason for our big move overseas!). He is officially an inventor, and his 5th U.S. Patent was awarded last month. In addition to exercising his mind, Jon has been enjoying twice-weekly sessions with a personal trainer that comes in to his office for small group workouts. Jon has been doing a bit of International travel for work this year and, fully embracing the “European lifestyle”, took multiple weeks of vacation time for the first time in his career (much to the joy of his stay-at-home wife!).

It has been a big year for us, and God has been faithful to lead us every step of this journey. May you experience the peace and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas!

Love,

Jon, Allison, David, and Jacob

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In Loving Memory

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Clockwise from top left: Grandpa’s military photo; Grandpa holding me as a baby; Grandpa reading me a story; Grandma and Grandpa holding baby David

Several months ago when we planned our trip back to Washington for Christmas we knew that it would be a special time for us to spend with our family. I had no idea then, however, how perfect God’s timing was going to be.

When I got off the plane on Saturday afternoon after a very full day of travel my mom gave me the unfortunate news that  my grandpa (my dad’s dad) had taken a turn for the worse. He has been ill for quite some time now so the news was not shocking, but the urgency in her voice told me that this was serious. We decided that the very next morning I would drive down to see him one last time.

So, after a fitful few hours of jet-lagged sleep, my mom, sister Jessica, and myself drove 2 hours south to Grandpa’s home in Longview. When we got to the care facility where he has been living for the past few months, my dad, Grandma and Aunt Rose were already there at Grandpa’s bedside.

It was a difficult but wonderful day visiting Grandpa. He was mostly unconscious, but there was a good bit of time that he woke up and was able to make eye contact with us and even whisper a few words. I got to tell him about Ireland and how big his great- grandsons are getting and reminisce about some of my favorite memories with him. I got to hold his hands, pray over him, and tell him that I loved him. I got to give him a hug and a kiss and say goodbye. It was God’s grace to me that I had that rare day with Grandpa, and I will forever be grateful for those last moments we had together.

Then, just two days later, early in the morning of Wednesday, December 18th, Grandpa passed from this world. My dad was with him at that moment, and he said that Grandpa went out the same way he lived his life: courageously and lovingly. He had truly lived every minute of his 90 years to the fullest. The phrase that Grandpa kept repeating on that last day I spent with him was “Wow”. I can only imagine that at this moment Grandpa is sitting at Jesus’ feet whispering that same word: Wow. Forever and ever, Wow. And, while I’m mourning his loss, I know that I am lucky to have had 30 years with my grandpa.

Grandpa was my real-life hero. When Grandpa was a small boy he was put into foster care because of his unsafe home with alcoholic parents. He grew up on a farm in Ohio during the Great Depression and was about as poor as they come.  He should have had a terrible life and left a terrible legacy for our family. But he didn’t. Grandpa rose above his situation because he wanted better for his future family than he ever had for himself. When he was still a teenager he enlisted in the Marine Corps and courageously served our country throughout World War II. He returned from war, fell in love with my grandma, and they married in 1947. They had 3 children and were happily married for 66 years.

Grandpa went on to study education at the University of Washington. The poor farm boy who literally had to share a pair of shoes with his brother so they could take turns going to school earned a Master’s Degree and was a science teacher to hundreds of students throughout his career. He literally built his family a home with his own two hands–the home that my dad was born in and that my grandma still lives in to this day. He cared for his family, loved his wife, and served his community. He was a man who others respected and admired and loved.

Some of my favorite memories of Grandpa are just the time we spent together: holidays, birthdays, graduations, my wedding, the births of my babies. Growing up, we would spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house fairly often. In the morning, he’d always ask me how I’d slept. The correct answer was always, “With my eyes closed!”–I guess I get my unique sense of humor from him!

IMG_0015Grandpa was also a dependable pen-pal and we exchanged letters throughout my life. All growing up, Grandpa would send each of us handwritten letters and clippings from the newspaper. I always looked forward to receiving Grandpa’s letters, even if his handwriting was nearly impossible to interpret! I have to credit a lot of who I am–my love for writing, my sense of humor, the fact that I became a teacher–to who Grandpa was and how he helped to shape me.

As we were looking through some old papers this week we came across several of Grandpa’s letters. In one of his letters addressed to me, he wrote about his dreams when he was younger. He wrote, “I wanted to have a loving helpmate and our own home. Also, I wanted a family so I would enjoy watching the kids grow up in a family situation…and YES! My dreams have come true!”.

Yes, Grandpa, your dreams came true. You lived a remarkable life, and you will live on in our hearts and our memories forever. Thank you for who you were, for your influence on our family, for your beautiful legacy.

I love you.

Christmas in Cork

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…CHRISTMAS!!! And, for the first time ever, I get to experience this magical season in another part of the world. In many ways, Christmas in Ireland is very similar to Christmas in America–there are trees and lights and carols and Santa. Some things are a bit different, though.

For starters, the beginning of the actual Christmas season is a bit more ambiguous here. Without Thanksgiving and BLACK FRIDAY (ugh.) to mark the official beginning of all things Christmasey, you start seeing decorations and marketing for the holiday amp up right after Halloween.  Another difference in Ireland is the big guy in the red suit. Santa is everywhere here–even more prevalent than America, which I didn’t expect. But he’s cooler here, too. Instead of just getting a photo and a 2-inch candy cane when you sit on Santa’s lap, he gives all the kids actual presents. Proper presents. Like MagnaDoodles and marble mazes and books and farm sets complete with tractors and all the animals. Man, Santa is already so busy with the Irish kids that I’m not sure he’ll have enough loot for the rest of the world come December 25th.

Differences aside, Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are in the world. It is a special time of year full of tradition and festivities. Here are a few highlights from our Christmas season in Cork:

We walked through downtown Cork to see the big wheel and the “German” Christmas market. We ate bratwurst and felt like we were in Leavenworth. It was grand.

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The city was all decked out with lights and wreaths and Christmas trees. David liked the Christmas trees the best because, obviously, they were covered in balls. Lots and lots of little red balls that he tried to rip off every tree we passed. Luckily for us, the city planners anticipated his ornament-swiping attempts and they actually zip-tied all of the decorations to the trees. Cork:1, David:0.

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We  did some holiday baking so Mommy could eat some sweets. I found a kit at the grocery store to bake polar bear cupcakes. They turned out super cute and tasted as good as they looked.

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December has been really pleasant weather-wise with mild, dry days. We’ve had fun getting outside to play with our friends:

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…and even take a trip to the zoo:

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After a failed mid-week attempt to go to a local “Christmas farm” I begged Jon to take us back on the weekend. He’s a good husband, and he obliged. Rumley’s is an “open farm” (a real working farm that they deck out so the public can visit it) and they had lots of animals and fun activities for the kids. They had quite a range of animals for a farm–it was really more like a zoo. They had water buffalo, alpaca, sheep, cows, donkeys, pigs, birds, lemurs, monkeys, mongoose, ostriches and even camels.

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There were go-karts to drive:

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…and golf balls to drive (David’s favorite):

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We rode on a tractor pull:

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…and got to pet some cute cuddly creatures:

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And to wrap up our Christmas in Cork we celebrated with David’s first-ever preschool Christmas pageant. David was the cutest little shepherd I ever have seen (I wonder if real shepherd’s wear dish towels on their heads?). Here’s our little shepherd David with his friend Jack the donkey:

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And here’s the whole class getting ready to perform (there were about 30 preschoolers and about 5,000 parents in the audience):

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And, finally, here’s David with his sweet teacher Miss Aisling:

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We have had such a wonderful time here in Cork celebrating the first part of this Christmas season. Tomorrow, though, we leave Ireland for our big trip home to Seattle for Christmas. We will be spending three (3!) glorious weeks with our loved ones. I can’t wait to go home and see everyone and everything that I’ve been missing but, truth be told, I will also be missing Ireland.  Merry Christmas, Ireland–we’ll see you again soon!

Love You Forever

I heard this saying recently, and it has really resonated with me: The days are long, but the years are short. As a mother of two young boys, my days are always long. Not in the sense that I get bored and have nothing to do–I don’t think any mom would claim that lie–but long in the sense that it is just one thing after another and never a moment to just breathe and soak it all in. But, at the same time, I look back at even a few months ago and I get nostalgic at how much my kids have grown and changed. The days are long, but the years are short.

Today I was having one of those “long” days. David was throwing an unbelievable temper tantrum over my refusal to let him accompany me outside in the freezing wind to scrub dog poop off of my shoe. I know, I’m a terrible mother. And when I came inside from my 3 minute foray with a scrub brush, his room suddenly looked like this:

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The screaming and the crying and the throwing of things was starting to make my blood boil. I could tell that we both needed to just calm down a bit, so after the screaming and the crying and the throwing of things subsided I invited David to cuddle up on his bed with me so we could read a story together. This is the book he chose:

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I’ve read this book probably a thousand times and yet, somehow, it still makes me cry every time I read it. I usually can make it until the last page before the tears start, but today was different. Maybe it was because Jacob’s been giving me the good ‘ol wakeup call at 5:00 every day for the past 2 weeks, or maybe it was just because I was emotionally spent from David’s last tantrum. For whatever reason, though, I opened the book and just started crying (confirming David’s suspicion that I really am a nut job).

You see, the book starts with this mother. She’s so in love with her baby boy. Every night she rocks him to sleep and as she does she sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Sob.

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Then her boy grows. He gets into mischief and causes her grief (sound familiar?). But still, every night, she sneaks into her room and sings the same love song to her bigger boy.

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And that really got the waterworks going, because it so reminds me of my bigger boy:

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David insists on falling asleep with his bedroom light on so he can read books until he passes out. And every night I sneak into his room, pry the books out of his limp hands, cover him up, and kiss his sweet, peaceful face (I also usually snap a photo because he’s just so dang cute when he’s sleeping).

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Well, the book continues with the boy growing and changing and becoming a man–and still, the mother sneaks into his room at night and sings him her love song.

Then one day the mother is too old and frail to sing to her son any more. So instead, he holds his mother and sings the same love song to her. Gulp.

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And the story ends with the son returning home to his brand new baby girl, to whom he sings, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

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Yes, indeed: The days are long, but the years are short.

When the story was over, David snuggled up to me and said, “I love you, Mommy.”

I love you, too, David.

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

7 Tips and Tricks for Parents Traveling With Littles

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We recently returned from an epic family vacation to London and Paris. We brought along our children: Little Guy (age 3) and Tiny Guy (age 1) and, not only did we survive, but we actually enjoyed our time together. Here are a few reasons why our trip went as smoothly as it did:

1. Bring help.

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I don’t know why we didn’t think of this sooner, but having a helper along for the ride can make all the difference when you’re traveling with young children. We brought our family friend, 14-year old Jillian, on this last vacation and it was amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Really, really wonderful. Not only was she an extra set of hands and eyes while we were navigating busy cities, but she was also an at-the-ready babysitter. Having a helper allowed us to have extra hours (sans-children) every day to explore and to go out for grown-up excursions. Ask around, and you just may have a friend or grandma or auntie of your own who will happily accompany your family for free room and board!

2. Allow routines to be broken.

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When we are at home, I am a strict routine follower. When we are traveling, though, I make allowances. We try to keep to a rough schedule, but the nature of travel is that things are just…different. So, we encourage our kids to nap in the stroller instead of in their beds and we also allow a bit–ok, a LOT–more screen time than we would at home. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

3.  Choose family-friendly lodging.

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We love, love, love airbnb.com for family lodging. We were able to find 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens (saving us loads of time, money and stress at meal times) and laundry facilities (because little kids require laundry duty even on vacation) for less than most 2-star hotel rooms in the cities we visited. Our apartments didn’t have pools or spas or room service, but they sure were more comfortable for our family–and, in the end, that’s all that really mattered.

4.  Make time for the kids.

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I was tempted to pack a million excursions into our travel itinerary, but I managed to hold myself back (a bit) so we could make some time for the smaller half of our family. Time every day where we just hung out and did kid stuff. Travel can be rough on little ones, so I tried to make sure there were downtimes for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to just be kids.

Otherwise, you just might start to go a bit crazy…

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5. Pack the right gear.

There are a few baby items that we had with us on this trip that I could not have lived without. First, this little pop-up travel crib tent by Sun Essentials:

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Our little guy loved his tent and the only reason he looks sad in the photo is because I took him out of the tent to take his picture. There is a blow up mattress that zips into the bottom of the tent, so it’s actually very comfortable and cozy. And, the best part is, it folds down into a little bag that you can stuff into your suitcase.

Another essential travel item is a great baby transportation device. We had an Ergo baby carrier and a double Phil and Ted’s stroller–both of which we used every single day. When you are spending hours and hours wandering around every day, it’s helpful to have a good way to get your kids from point A to point B. It’s also very helpful to have a buff husband who can carry said stroller down to undergound subway tunnels and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower on his back.

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6. Keep a close watch on valuables.

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This is Mimi. She is my 3-year old son’s best friend and, I recently discovered, the woman he hopes to marry some day. He loves her dearly. And we nearly lost her forever. We had Mimi with us one night as we were walking around London. Somehow baby brother got a hold of the monkey and, without any of us knowing, he threw her right out of the stroller onto the dark street. An older woman literally chased us down through the streets of London just to return Mimi–I think she is my guardian angel because I seriously would never be able to live with myself if we lost Mimi in a foreign country. Lesson learned: keep a close watch on your valuables.

7. Splurge for some extras if it makes your life easier.

We had the option of traveling to and from the airports on public transportation. You see, we could have taken the above-ground train to the M8 subway to the M3 subway to the 216 bus and arrived at our apartment 3 hours later. Or, for twice the cost, we could have a guy meet us at the airport baggage claim and drive us (and our 5,000 bags) to the front door of our apartment in 30 minutes. We chose the guy at the airport. And do you know why? Because it is never worth it to drag two children under the age of 3 and 5,000 bags through 4 modes of public transportation just to save a buck. Never. If you can afford a family vacation, you can afford a taxi. Just do it. The kids may even enjoy the ride.

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So, there you have it. Travel with little kids is possible, maybe even enjoyable. I wouldn’t trade this trip or the memories we made together for anything.

Well, except for maybe a quiet week on a secluded beach in the Bahamas. Sorry, kids, looks like the next vacations is just for Mommy and Daddy 🙂

* For more practical tips for traveling with kids, read my posts on pre-travel arrangements, getting through the airport, and surviving your flight

DIY Advent Tree

Advent, the season of preparation for Jesus’ birth, is officially upon us. I’ve been wanting to do something special with the boys to celebrate advent, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Since we recently moved and downsized, we don’t have any of our Christmas decorations or usual Christmas activities with us. Plus, we’re going “home” to Seattle in 2 weeks so it’s hardly worth the effort or the expense of a full Christmas set-up at hour house here.

It seems like everyone I know went out and got their Christmas tree last weekend, so I decided that we needed a tree of our own. And that’s where I came up with the idea for our advent tree:

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I basically put together all of the ideas that I had floating around in my head and this is what I came up with: a simple, Jesus-focused project that will get my kids thinking about the true meaning of Christmas every day.

I started by painting a large tree on the back of some wrapping paper (the only paper I had that was big enough for the size of tree I wanted to make).

Then I went online and printed off some color-your-own Christmas tree ornaments and cut them out. On each ornament I wrote three things: Read, Pray, Do. For the “Read” part of the ornament I wrote a scripture verse relating to Jesus’ birth or why He was born; “Pray” has someone or something for us to pray for that day; and “Do” is a project or act of service that we will do together on that day to share Jesus’ love with others (just Google or search Pinterest for “acts of kindness” to generate a good list of ideas).

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Each day David will choose an ornament from the basket, decorate it, and hang it on our advent tree. Then we will complete the “Read, Pray, Do” items that are on the ornament.

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By the end of advent (or, in our case, the first 2 weeks of advent!) we will have a beautifully decorated tree. More importantly, though, we will have learned more about God’s great Love sent to us. And that, of course, is the most beautiful thing of all.