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Happy Holidays 2020

In September, I resolved to write one blog post per month. I did in September and October, but alas, November got away from me. Much like this entire year. So I apologize that this blog post is long! I'm trying my best to document our lives so that Evelyn and Liam can read these notes years from now. I can hardly believe this year is almost over. Time seemed to stop and stand still in March. The projected two-week quarantine from school became indefinite, and the summer seemed to slip by under the radar. Time has simply ... passed.

Somehow, along the way, living in a pandemic became part of life. Despite it, we uprooted our family for the third time in four years and moved across the country. As if things weren't hard enough this year, we made a monumental choice that has literally been life-changing, even more so than any of our past moves.

Halloween was touch and go. For several years we've hosted a pumpkin-carving party. We didn't even carve pumpkins as a family this year because it just wasn't the same without our friends. The kids did dress up. Evelyn was her favorite My Little Pony character, Rainbow Dash. Liam was the Black Panther. We went trick-or-treating around our neighborhood. Thankfully, our neighbors prepared well! Most put out tables in their driveways with the candy in a bowl and then sat in their chairs six-feet back from the table. It was nice to interact with neighbors we hadn't yet had the chance to meet.

Halloween 2020 - Black Panther and Rainbow Dash

Barkley has a chronic gastrointestinal condition (he's had it for fifteen years). Upon moving, stress considerably worsened his condition. All of October felt like one doctor appointment after another, compounded by the anxiety of ensuring our children were adjusting well as they started school in person.

Our hearts are hurting for Evelyn as she navigates a new school with a growing awareness of her autism and physical disabilities. When she was younger, classmates were instant friends, but now she seems to think that no one wants to be her friend, and she's surprised when kids are nice to her. Children ask (seemingly) innocent questions like, "Why are you the way you are?" Some are calling her weird or making up names for her (like nugget head). Evelyn has begun to doubt herself, and she wonders why anyone would like her. We're trying to equip Evelyn to handle these moments and to remind her that all of her peers are struggling, too, and to stand fast in who she is, even if others don't understand her.

Liam is thriving at school, excelling academically, and making friends with ease everywhere he goes. His struggles differ from Evelyn's. We've noticed that he's holding in emotions. He looks like a duck swimming smoothly across the lake, but under the water, those feet are paddling like crazy to keep him going. He seems absolutely fine for days, and then out of the blue, he'll get very frustrated and have a meltdown.

Every Friday night, our family watches a movie or tv show together. One tool we've used to help us through this transition is to keep that tradition going. A few weeks back, I had the (maybe brilliant/maybe crazy) idea to watch Inside Out for our family movie night. The story follows a young girl named Riley, who moves from the Midwest to San Francisco, and the movie shows the emotions in her mind as she transitions to her new home. Liam's favorite emotion is anger. Hmm.

I bawled my eyes out watching this movie. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. We watched it a few years back, but it resonated more with all of us this time around. Especially (spoiler alert) the importance of allowing sadness in our lives as we go through hard times. What a reminder to have in 2020. The movie highlights how every person has "islands" in their mind that make up the foundation of who they are. Riley's islands were family, friends, silliness, and hockey.

As a family, we each came up with our islands and shared them. We also noted that some of our islands change over time as we grow or move. Liam's islands are family, friends, soccer, and silliness. Evelyn's islands are family, reading, Disney princesses, and My Little Pony. Barkley and I share many islands: faith, marriage, parenthood, family, friends, nature, dogs. Barkley also has a football island. I have singing, writing, and reading islands.

In October, I entered my very first fiction writing competition. It was the first time I've ever let anyone, besides Barkley and my immediate family, read my work. (I've been writing historical fiction on and off since my teen years for my own enjoyment.) I was terrified of getting feedback, so when I read the judges' kind words and very helpful suggestions, I was elated. It was a small thing, but an enormous leap for me!

I'm so very grateful to report that Barkley is doing much better, and the events that made October feel like a nightmare are helping to guide us to live healthier lives than before. The benefit of moving across the country is that it's like hitting a reset button. We have to find new grocery stores (sometimes even new products), new doctors, new parks, and new places to visit. The move has allowed us to break old habits and form new, healthier ones. We visited Sedona, which proved to be as beautiful as everyone said, and we found several peaks near our house and have been hiking a lot! Click on the photos below to scroll through some of our hiking adventures!

We were blessed to have two visitors since my last blog post, too! My mom came at the end of October, and Barkley's dad came for Thanksgiving! Spending time with loved ones that we haven't seen in over a year made a monumental difference in our healing process.

Grandma, Evelyn, and Liam
Grandpa, Barkley, Evelyn, and Liam

It's been over three months in Arizona now, we've met a few neighbors, are getting involved at our church, and the kids are enjoying playing outside now that the weather is cooler! We haven't seen any more scorpions (hallelujah!), but I saw a donkey! We were in the car; it was dusk, and no one else saw it, so they don't believe me, but I swear I saw it! A few days ago, we spotted a coyote while driving around looking at Christmas lights! Another highlight of living in Arizona is the constant sight of hot air balloons!

We put up our Christmas decorations in early November, and it helped to make our house feel a bit more like home. Just last week (after nearly eight years of getting away without one) an elf joined our family. Liam and Evelyn named him Ethan. Liam touched him on day three, causing Ethan to lose his magic! We had to sprinkle cinnamon on Ethan, sing Christmas carols to him, and write an apology to Santa. Thankfully, our efforts healed Ethan, and he got back to the North Pole and then returned with a note for Liam. Liam took that opportunity to write Ethan back, and his note was the cutest thing ever (see below). It looks like Liam and Ethan might be exchanging notes until Christmas day.

On December 13th, Barkley and I celebrated eleven years of marriage! He's my greatest blessing, and I'm so very fortunate to be married to my best friend. We kept it low-key and enjoyed a nice dinner, with our kids, on the Cheesecake Factory patio. The same restaurant where we celebrated our first anniversary.

Happy Anniversary, Darling! Here's 13 years of photos together (11 years married) in less than 30 seconds!

I'm curious... What is your favorite holiday cookie? I recently discovered from Real Simple that Peanut Butter Blossoms are the most popular Christmas cookie in America. They had a breakdown of favorite cookies by state. When I asked Barkley what his favorite cookie was, he immediately said Peanut Butter Blossoms (Florida's favorite, where he's from). Thirteen years together, and I never knew that! Since I'd never made them before, we made a batch, but the kids still want to make our traditional sugar cookies (with cookie cutters) on Christmas Eve. Funnily enough, sugar cookies are Arizona's favorite. Growing up, my mom always made Spritz cookies, and according to that article, that's the most popular cookie in Colorado (where I grew up.) Who knew?

Does your favorite cookie match the state you're in? What holiday treats are you making to top off this crazy year?

Mmm mmm ... cookies!

As we head into Christmas, I want to thank you for being a part of our lives. Near or far, we wouldn't be the same without you on our islands! I'm praying that you all have a relaxing and joy-filled Christmas and a healthy New Year!

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