Simply beautiful...

Simply beautiful...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

4 Going on 5 Already???

You have been 4 for just about a week and a half my girl.  And you know what you said to your dad and I this morning at breakfast?  "Next, I'm going to be 5!"

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  I am just getting used to you being 4.  Let's not move on to 5 quite so quickly ;)  Honestly, I'm not terribly surprised you are already looking forward to the next milestone.  I think you were no more than 3 and 1/4 and you were telling us you'd soon be 4.  It's part of this age and your personality - always looking forward to what's next.  Savor, my girl.  Just savor.
You are getting more and more grown up every day.  Not too grown up though.  Just very four.  The beauty and intricacies of your personality are getting harder and harder to even attempt to sum up in a single blog post.
My heart aches at the thought of trying to tell you how much we love you, how beautiful your spirit is and the irreplaceable dynamic you bring to our family.  I, even I, as one who loves to write, feels no words can fully envelope the love, the joy, the sparkle that oozes out of you.

A couple days before you turned 4, we got to celebrate with the Swift family for Uncle Josh's birthday! You were on a birthday high knowing yours was next ;)

You and cousin Claire being silly billies!  You love your cousin!

A Glimpse of you at 4:

  • You still ADORE animals.  You want a dog oh so badly!  I had never taken you into a pet store... but one day about 9 months ago, as we drove past a PetCo, you shouted, "Mom, can I please get a pet, please!!"  You're smart.  You saw their logo and just knew...  that's a pet place.  Every time we drive by now, you ask for a pet.  And most any time we see a dog... you ask for a dog (eehem, that can be a few times a day).  You were thrilled to receive a fish (from Mimi and Baba) and a butterfly (from Auntie Kara) for your birthday.  The fish has been named Ariel (though you've never seen that movie) and the butterfly is Katie.  Love that.  You are thrilled to feed your fish each day and are so proud to be responsible for that.
  • Your imagination is NON-STOP!  I adore this part of you, Harper.  At any given moment you transform into character and you are never short of characters for Bentley, Dada and Mama to be.   This trasformation can happen ANY where too: in the car, the store, at the dinner table, jumping on the trampoline, in the bath tub, etc.  I have to be on my toes, as to know who you are at the given moment!  The current favorite imaginary episode involves you playing either a doggie, kitty, fox or baby, Bentley is always your sidekick, and Mama is either Mother Gothel from Rapunzel or Hook from Peter Pan and most always, I'm supposed to chase you through a forrest and capture you.  By the end of me trying to find you, chase you, and capture you... you most always tell me that I have to change my heart and be kind.  I often will ask you to tell me how to be kind.  And you always end with, "and you need Jesus in your heart."  So sweet.
  • You are the best big sister the world could ever find!  You are wonderful at including your brother in almost everything you do.  Like any older sibling, you sometimes want your "big girl" space to do your thing.  But mostly, you include your brother - with kindness and generosity too. You love to sing to him before he goes to bed and are quite offended if he forgets to give you a goodnight kiss and hug (the same goes with him too ;).  Tonight was a perfect example of your tenderness towards your brother:  as we were heading to bed, Bentley was pretty sad that daddy wasn't home for the goodnight routine.  He sat in the middle of the stairwell, laid his head down and started crying :( You came down the stairs with me to get him.  As I picked him up, you reached out and hugged him with me and said, "Oh, it's ok Bentley.  Don't cry.  I'm so sorry you miss your daddy."  You have such a sensitive and nurturing spirit about you when it comes to your brother's well-being.
  • You are the world's best 4 year old problem solver... or should I say negotiator?  If you want to do something, get something, or accomplish something in any way... you figure out very clever ways to do it... usually within seconds of a obstacle being posed.  You can also talk your brother into almost anything at this point.  Recently, you dad and I started watching a show about a lawyer who is called the "closer"... he's very reminiscent of your daddy... hmmm.  Maybe that's where you get it?  We should call you our Four Year Old Closer ;)
  • You also have an amazing sense of humor!  You always are able to find something positive about a situation and continue to shock your dad and I at how you get our adult (but not too adult-ish) humor.  You love laughing and love when others join you ;)
  • More and more you show us tiny signs that you might have some tomboy in you.  You are extremely physical.  You love running, climbing, jumping, dancing - ALL the time.  Your favorite game is chase.  You love your gymnastics class, riding your bike or scooter, playing soccer and street hockey.  The trend your daddy hates, has been very consistent now: wherever we go, you make friends with the boys.  Not because of anything your daddy is afraid of, but because they don't intimidate you and you easily keep up with them.  In fact, sometimes they seem better suited for you at this age than some little girls, because of the physicality level you like to maintain during the day.  I just wonder what you'll be like in junior high and high school...
  • You love preschool!  Even though some of our drop-offs would have me thinking otherwise (tears, tears), every time I come to get you you are beaming with delight.  And last week, I got to come help out for a couple hours because it was your birthday... and let me tell you, you were in your element - creative learning, friends, activities, etc.  I am loving seeing you learn!  You have become more and more of a book lover than ever.  And you are determined to always follow each word I read with your finger.  You love writing your name and telling me you'll read such and such for me ;)  Last week when we had to fill out your school "all about me" birthday banner... you were determined to write out the entire thing (I ended up letting you do your name and birth date).

  • The thing that continues to stand out most to us about you, and has since you were teeny tiny, is your HEART.  Your heart it gold.  You love other people.  They matter to you so much.  You are extremely perceptive of other's emotions.  This year of 3 has offered us a chance to see your heart bloom even more.  This past Christmas was the first year you were full of concern for the sick children at the hospital... you were the most involved you've ever been in our Christmas tradition of supporting  a family at the hospital.  Almost a year ago, you began asking me about all the homeless people who stand on corners or on freeway entrances.  When I told you they were people who needed help - maybe they were sick or had no family or had lost their job - you were heart-broken for them.  You started spotting the "people with signs" a mile away.  It wasn't long before I knew we HAD to do something about it.  I took you and Bentley to Costco and we picked out granola bars of different sorts to have in our car at all times.  If I'm perfectly honest, this made me uncomfortable at first.  I have never known exactly what to do with all the people with signs.  My heart has felt compassion, but my flesh has told me to not bother or pretend they're not there... You opened my eyes on so many levels this year, my girl.  You taught me the importance of letting others know that you SEE them... that they MATTER... no matter their story.  You have been fearless, Harper.  You have insisted you be the one to roll down your window and hand the bar to each person.  You've only been shy once that I can remember.  You smile and say hi and even answer extra questions from them if the light is red for a minute.  Some have been chatty with you, some have teared up when they see your sweet face, they all smile when they see a little girl reaching out to them. We have continued this wherever we go.  You know which of the street corners or freeway ramps usually have someone in need.  This has been one of the most beautiful parts we've seen in you as you approached 4.  Never ever lose that heart God has put inside of you.

The day before your birthday, we met your friends Lucy and Sadie and their mommy, Jillian, at McDonald's for an ice cream-play-date-treat!  What fun we had with them ;)

Your actual birthday began with daddy taking you to breakfast, just the two of you, at 7am.  When I told you where you were going and you needed to get dressed, you exclaimed that little girls need to wear a princess dress on a date!  You chose your Belle dress for your breakfast date with daddy.

I took you and Bentley to the Children's museum for the morning and we had a blast.  My favorite part is watching you guys paint your own face.  Always a work of art and oh so cute!

My two favorite tiny people!

After an afternoon of lounging, painting your OWN nails and hanging out with Mimi for a little bit... 

We made homemade pizzas by your request!  We had so much fun letting you guys roll out the dough, put on the sauce and all the toppings.  You guys love cooking and remained beyond focused through each step.  Let me tell you, they were each a work of art!

I can tell you that a lot of raw pizza dough was eaten and a lot of fingers were licked in the process.  Yum!

After dinner, we opened presents and then made ice cream sundaes - a total treat!  You were in heaven with the mouth of sweet teeth you have ;)

After dessert and a bath to de-sticky you, you thought you were going to bed... but daddy and mommy surprised you by letting you guys stay up for a family movie featuring Happy Feet 2!  It was a late and memorable evening of fun and laughs.  We love you so much our sweet 4 year old!

A Letter to Harper

I wanted to post this closer to Harper's birthday... but the birthday festivities began before I got to it... and after it all wrapped up, our family has been sick ever since.

This entire last week, you were dealing with double ear infections, my girl (one of them even ruptured - ouch!), which has only happened to you once before.  Too much birthday fun, I guess ;)

I wrote this letter to you, Harper, in hopes to give you a peek into your mama's heart.  A mama has so much love and hope, dreams and fears for her child.  I want you to be able to read these words from my heart when you doubt yourself... when you fear something in front of you... when you don't feel strong enough... when you don't feel loved... when you've all but lost hope.

Harper, I've been there and I know two things: your mama and dada's love will never end, no matter what; and Jesus is the only sure thing to hold on to in this life - He is big and He is good.

I love you my sweet, baby girl!

For those who don't know, I write weekly for Standing On Peace.  I posted this letter on our site on Harper's birthday last week.

A Letter to Harper

My sweet girl,

Today you turn four.  Four.  Your body is still so tiny, but your spirit is larger than life.  Reflecting an unhindered version we adults have mostly lost touch with.

Yesterday, your Mimi handed me a button that said, “Bearly 4 today!”  It’s the very button my daddy gave to me on my fourth birthday.  I wore the button on the lace collar of my floral, navy blue dress.  He took me to lunch, just the two of us, and I got to play on the playground while he looked on.  I felt so special.  Loved.  Adored.  To be on that date with just my dad.

Four is the first birthday I can vividly remember.  Four was the year our family moved into the house I most remember from my childhood.  Four was the year I became friends with Jesus.  Four was when I started a few important childhood friendships.

Four is a big deal my girl.

As if I didn't believe it before: Every memory holds impact.  Every interaction shapes your character.  Every little thing that pours into you will eventually come out.

It is my prayer, on the harder days... the days when your faith falters, when your heart breaks, when you wonder your worth... you'll remember your mama's prayers for you.  That you'll remember Jesus holds you close.
  • I pray your spirit will never be dampened.  That you will never allow others to smother the radiant light God has put inside of you.  That your joy, which makes your eyes sparkle, your dimple on your cheek to appear, your laughter to light up the darkest moment... will never be erased.  “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Matthew 5:16
  • I pray you will hold onto hope, keep it high as the heavens.  That you will believe life is worth living with everything you have.  No matter how faint your heart feels from circumstances, new beginnings are always possible.  Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.  Psalm 130:7
  • I pray the Lord protects your beautiful, beautiful heart.  Keep it soft towards growth.  Keep it open to love.  It is the most vulnerable, most real part of who you are.  Others will tell you it's about your beauty, your face, your body... that's not true my girl.  "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23
  • I pray you will overflow with love for others.  Love for anyone God puts near you.  Love for the hurting, the weak, the lonely, the invisible people.  A love that transcends differences.  Don't overlook the importance to love yourself as well; to be kind to yourself.  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love”.  1 Corinthians 13:13
  • I pray your eyes will look to Jesus.  In this life, you will have to navigate successes and failures, weather storms, carry burdens.  Jesus can make these moments so much lighter, if you let Him.  People will come into your life who you will think are special.  But remember they are not perfect.  Jesus is the only one who cannot disappoint.  "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." Hebrews 12:2
  • I pray no fear, no shame, no insecurity could ever make you feel unlovable.  Nothing could cause your dad and I to close our hearts, eyes, or arms to you.  Better yet, Jesus has loving kindness for you, always.  "But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your loving kindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress." Psalm 59:16
  • I pray if someday you feel stuck in life or find yourself bound to a hurtful habit...  that you'll remember true freedom is within grasp.  Jesus can break any bondage you may find yourself within.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1
  • I pray you find the beauty and meaning in the very hardest, perhaps impossible, things to understand.  This has been hard for me.  But this will be the bravest, most real and meaningful path you could tread.  " bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair..." Isaiah 61:3
These are just a glimpse into your mama's prayers for you, Harper.  Keep these things close to your heart.  I love you forever, my sweet baby girl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ice Skates

 Right after New Years, our family set out on an adventure.  A cold, icy adventure.

This past Christmas was the first year Harper actually sat on Santa's lap... without bursting into tears.  It was a really BIG deal.  And a tell tale sign she's growing up!  Of course little brother wouldn't touch Santa with a 10 foot pole (good boy buddy - he's still a stranger to you ;).

Jeremy and I stood close by and were curious what Harper would ask Santa for this year.  We had heard her talk about a horse on a stick (go-figure), a scooter, etc.  But we were truly surprised to hear Harper ask Santa for ICE SKATES!  Yes, ICE SKATES!

And boy!  Did Santa come through?!?

Somehow Santa just knew figure skates just wouldn't cut it in this house (perhaps having to do with mommy's past ice hockey days)...  So he brought Harper pink Bauer skates!

Harper was thrilled beyond thrilled and kept wanting to wear them in the house (Gasp! Not on the new carpet!).  So we made plans for a family date at the ice rink near by.

Of course Mimi and Baba had to come watch.  I think Baba was praying she'd be a hockey player prodigy, even if it was her 1st time on skates ;)

What were the results?

One kid in HEAVEN.  One kid in full panic TEARS.

Bentley was screaming in delight from the moment we walked in.  Harper was reserved and cautious.  Bentley was ready to charge the ice immediately.  Harper was unsure.  Bentley went right out and skated in stride.  Harper completely melted down when we tried to get her near the door onto the ice.

As we helped Harper warm up to the idea, we did finally come to understand that she was afraid the ice would break apart like a pond and she would fall into the water.  Poor girl :(

I truly knew she would love it if she could just get out there... so, I let her watch me skate a couple laps, I took Bentley out... and then it was her turn.  The scene still involved crying and a lot of tears, but as soon as she was out there - the tears stopped and she did great!  I know she enjoyed it because she keeps talking about it and wants to go again.  Her only condition was that I not EVER let go of her ;)  You got it my girl!

Getting ready.  I have to say, all of this took me WAY down memory lane.  And yes, it still hurts my hands to lace up my skates!

Loved helping Harps learn to skate!  Maybe she'll want to play a cold sport too?

 See that smile?!?  She did have a lot of fun!  And I have to say... I was sparkling inside too.  I loved getting back on the ice.  It's something I haven't tapped into in over 8 years.  Pure heaven.
This little guy was so surprising!  We wondered if he'd be able to join in the fun.  My how he showed us!  I literally have never seen him so excited and happy to do something.  Not over gymnastics, not over anything.  He was so brave and capable.  It was amazing to see something new spark in him like that ;)

 Bentley was beaming with pride over Mimi & Baba watching him skate!

Daddy skating with our little ice maniac!  Precious boy! 

 Family shot after the session was over.  Jeremy and I vowed that these are the kinds of moments we want to do more of in our lifetime as a family.  It was fun, active, created learning opportunities and amazing memories!

I laughed when Jeremy told me ice skating was his one dating "fail" with me.  This was Jeremy and my first time going skating together!  Seriously not sure how that happened ;)  Maybe because he didn't want to skate with me, maybe because I didn't want him to feel bad ;)  Skating was a HUGE part of my life for so long and all before Jeremy and I met.  Until this family date, I forgot how it's one of those things that makes me feel alive.  And Jeremy had never seen that with me in regard to skating.

This picture is for all my friends who never believe me when I say I used to play hockey ;)

Maybe one of these days one of our kids will want to play hockey and I'll get to help teach them... until then, I think we'll have more ice skating family dates ;)  It was a blast!

Friday, January 11, 2013

The 2012 Holidays: Ready to Take on 2013!

Very few remnants of Christmas remain around the house by this time in January.  But I am still basking in the warmth of the memories created over 2012's holiday season...  

Right as the Christmas rush was in full effect, my big 3-0 knocked me on my booty with pulled back muscles that had me literally flat on the couch for 5 days!  (I won't lie, the first 1-2 days were great to relax a bit...  By day 3, I was going crazy!)  I am beyond thankful for my sister and mom who took shifts helping with the kids while Jeremy travelled that week.  My sister even stayed over at night so I wouldn't have to pull Bentley out of his crib... now that's LOVE.  The very last day my sister was over to help, I probably should have continued to rest... I couldn't help but bolt to Costco (and a few other stops) to get ready for Christmas which was only 5 days away at that point.  That injury sure was a reminder to me it's best to be ready early for the holiday... just in case! (Perhaps some strength training is in order too?!)
Auntie Kara made the yummiest treats with Harper & Bentley.  The kids got their best "We will work for cookies" faces on and had a blast... BTW our kids have been sabotaged by all the Christmas goodies.  Have yours?  They look at me everyday now like "you want me to eat green what?!?" ;)

 We were blessed to spend a fun-filled evening with our dear friends Adam and Elissa.  We enjoyed stopping at different restaurants in the Pearl district of Portland for delicious food, amazing drinks and irreplaceable company.  We laughed so much that night my stomach was hurting... I love those kinds of nights.  We know our friendship with the Kollars runs deep because we arrived an HOUR late to our dinner that night... and they have since dropped off a coconut cake, sour cream orange rolls and truffles (and an offer to enjoy a bottle of scotch with them is still outstanding)... all because I mentioned some of my favorite foods to Elissa that night!  This type of thoughtfulness has epitomized our friendship with them.  We love you two!
Jeremy and I love being in downtown Portland anytime.  We love city life.  We always say we would have lived in Portland's Pearl district as young marrieds if it hadn't have been for our living in San Diego.  It's a magical place for us, especially during the holidays.  One of the best parts about the Pearl, is that it has a sister restaurant to our absolute favorite breakfast spot in San Diego, Isabel's Cantina.  Since living in Portland, we very likely go to breakfast as a family here at least once a month.  We love it, especially since breakfast is our kids favorite meal.  Right before Christmas, Mimi, Baba and Auntie Kara met us for a very spontaneous breakfast meeting.  The kids spent the time playing musical chairs sitting with each family member... Somehow Mimi always ends up with both of them.

While we waited for a table, we did manage to get a few cute pictures of the kids.

One afternoon, Jeremy broke away from work and headed to the mall with the kids and I.  I was happy to have him with me as I will admit, it was quite eerie to walk into the same place where only two weeks prior there had been a shooting that made national headlines.  Doesn't this picture scream "Best Dad in the world!"... He truly is.
On the eve of Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and I enjoyed our 2nd annual Christmas goodie baking day.  We enjoyed chatting and working away in the kitchen while the kids played and the guys caught up on football.  I think we made 8 different things!  I'm sad I didn't get a picture of us ladies hard at work.  Both Yvonne and Bonnie made their hubbies an extra special goodie as a Christmas love gift.  I was inspired to do the same for mine..
Of course I made Jeremy salted whiskey caramels.  They were to die for!  I think they'll be a staple every year.
Harper made her own work of art at school this year.  She was so proud of her gingerbread house that it sat on our nook table as the center piece all month.

Christmas Eve was spent with my side of the family.  It was lovely celebrating with them.  We enjoyed going to my parents' church for their Christmas eve service, then headed back home for a beautiful meal, presents with the kids and then presents with the adults (after kid bedtime).  My mom always does an amazing job making goodies and our traditional family Christmas bread... and there is always laughter to spare when we are all together.  Unfortunately, Christmas Eve was one of those harder days for our little family (for many reasons I won't mention here) where jeremy and I just felt off... exhausted... emotionally drained.  We absolutely enjoyed the holiday and as I think back on it, I'm overwhelmingly thankful for our family who extend grace upon grace to us (like how we arrived and I almost immediately headed upstairs for a nap with the kids).
Present time for the kids!  You can always feel the anticipation oozing from them.
For dinner, my parents actually set out their silver goblets for the kids... they thought it was beyond special... and I think that's all they had for dinner - sparkling cider.
The whole Nelson family.
This year, I was inspired to start a tradition.  This coming April will mark 8 years since my brother died.  And every year I have this almost desperate urge to find some way to honor and remember him during our family Christmas gathering.  The first year, we changed our family Christmas celebration entirely... it was too painful to keep things the same and not have him with us.  Some years it's entailed sharing a few beloved stories, other years we've touched on the heart-breaking stories.  Gifts have been given to one another in which were Jeffrey-inspired.  This year was no different.  I longed to remember my brother.  I decided to purchase a beautiful hurricane and candle to represent his life.  I brought it to my parents house and as we gathered in the living room, we lit the candle and placed a picture of Jeffrey next to it. He is always with us in our hearts and memories, but He had a place with us in a different way this Christmas.  I loved this burning candle representation.  It offered simple hope to me...
We made it home by midnight and told the kids they had to quickly get Santa and the reindeer their treats and then hurry off to bed.  They wrote Santa a note and set out cookies and milk for Santa... and carrots and milk for the reindeer of course.
I got virtually zero pictures of the kids opening their presents this year.  Just loved every moment with them.  Harper did get a Belle dress and scented nail polish in her stocking... so a rainbow mani/pedi was in order right after presents, and of course in her new dress.

Our kids received a joint gift this year - a little kid trampoline.  Have we stated that our kids are physical before?  Their favorite activities involve running, climbing, jumping and hardly ever sitting still.  We have since had hours of fun together in our basement.
After presents and stockings in the morning at home, we headed over to Jeremy's parents house for the rest of the day to celebrate with the Swift side.  We enjoyed cooking, chatting and moving at a much slower pace than years past since no one had to be anywhere on Christmas night.  We enjoyed that immensely!  The four grandkids took naps while we cooked.  We were all shocked to find (our nephew) Jensen woke up from his nap throwing up!  The poor little guy (and Bonnie & Josh) had a rough couple of hours, while the rest of us quarantined ourselves off in the living room.  We eventually got around to opening presents together as Jensen seemed to rebound pretty quickly.  The Swift family will look back on Christmas 2012 as the year Jensen got sick :( Jensen's whole family all got sick later in the week (poor things!), but to our amazement, no extended family members got it!
Love these two!

Only a few short days later, Jeremy and I got to head down to San Francisco to spend New Year's Eve with our sweet friends Kara and Eric Jung.  We had a deeply meaningful time with these two (on so many levels) and are overwhelmingly thankful to our sister-in-law Kaeluree for taking on our kiddos to allow us the opportunity.
Kara is a vertan mama of three and bravely (or sanely) left her tiniest, little Emily, back with her older sisters with Eric's parents.  We enjoyed dinner near Union Square at the Jung's favorite spot, Scala's.  We've never had so much fun ringing in the new year!
We laughed that the four of us acted like 22 year olds, staying up so much later than our 30ish year old bodies wanted to.
We woke up at a decent hour the next morning and the Jung's took us on a run on the coastal trail near the Golden Gate Bridge.  It was sunny, brisk and beautiful.  It was the perfect way to spend our morning.  Before hopping on our flight home, we hit another Jung favorite - Tacolicious.  We had the Jung's order... and yes it was delicious ;)  I even adored the ahi tostada (that was big for me and I'm so glad I tried it ;)  We were absolutely dead-dog tired when we got home, but the trip was a total blessing for Jeremy and I.  Our hearts are intertwined with yours, Kara and Eric.  We love you!
After the holidays settled down, Harper was obsessed with decorating her jewelry box she got from Uncle Brent and Auntie Kae!  It was the first "grown up" project Harper has worked so diligently on.  She would work on it, take a break and let it dry, and then come back and work on it some more.  She worked on it for a couple days like this and has shown her masterpiece to everyone who has entered our home.  4 is definitely right around the corner for this girl!  Thank you Brent and Kae!
I am always so sad to take down the decorations and the tree after Christmas.  I love the sparkle, glow and warmth it all brings into our home.  I was so thankful I had little helpers to vacuum up all the needles... while I dried my eyes ;)