...is the process by which we create, discover, learn and grow with those we cherish most.


the gift


I have such mixed emotions about gift-giving. Especially at this age. We feel compelled to give them something to open Christmas morning - because we remember the joy that went into our own floating hearts as kids. I was probably 5 years old when I received my first gift. We slept near the radiator and Christmas morning was like any other morning in NYC. Except, Mom woke us up and said "someone" brought us a special gift. As if they had fallen from the sky, I got a plastic pool table and Wagma received a Donkey Kong Jr. game by our pillows. How did this happen? That feeling - of not knowing. Not expecting... only happens once.

It is a natural unfortune that we begin to expect. Anticipate. And then even desire certain things for the sake of "Christmas." It wasn't until my younger sister turned 18 that we decided - as a family - that it was better to save or donate than to wrap and unwrap a gift we already had a notion for.

My Dad - God bless him - enjoyed Christmas the most. Because he was never "in" on the shopping sprees or conversations, "what do you want this year?" He simply drank his hot tea and watched. And we couldn't help but shower the person with absolute no expectations with the most gift boxes. It was so much easier... And the best part - he loved them all. Whether it was a bottle of cologne or undershirts - he appreciated the gestures and they were all put to good use. It's been the toughest for my kid sister to accept this new tradition - and I empathize. I miss it too. But it's not the gifts I miss - it's that childhood feeling I use to have this time of year...

I struggle with finding the right balance on how to fully embrace and celebrate this time honored tradition while Ava and Noah are still young. I imagine that as they get older, the holidays will mean different things. And that's what worries me.

I thought 3 gifts for Ava and Noah each wouldn't be overwhelming. And although it wasn't in hindsight since they are toys that will grow with them, the question still lingered - did we do too much?

Christmas morning received the brunt of months of stressful days - and it didn't bring out the best in all of us. Driven with anxiety and deflated by exhaustion, Aaron and I were tremendously busy with our jobs on top of trying to maintain some sort of sanity from our families.

Huh? Where did it go?

But what I did love and enjoy so much was seeing Ava and Noah enjoy every moment on their own schedule today. From the lollipops they found prior to seeing the wrapped gifts under the tree and enjoying it more than opening presents... to baking sugar cookies with Grandma [who was graciously patient and let Ava take the lead]. It is their natural tendencies to capture what's great and let go of what's not. New toys? Who needs them? When you can share a cookie under a blanket with a loved one?

Sugar cookies

To be ourselves and be around those who respectfully love us and bring out the best in us - is the greatest gift we can exchange. Ava and Noah taught me that. And it is with my greatest hope, that they will uphold this as the new family tradition - for the sake of Christmas.

christmas eve

The Christmas Pageant

The holidays finally arrive and a month long of lights, tree decorating, hand-made ornaments and snow flakes, hot cocoa, and warm fires come together on Christmas Eve...

Playing Trains

Noah dressed for the occasion - wearing Aaron's Christmas cow-tie he's owned for too long. Playing choo-choo with his loving cousin, they cross paths, and crash. Oh what fun!


Our nutcrackers stand on corner tables all throughout the house... begining a new tradition of it's own... and I've had so much fun picking new ones this year...


Mom prepared a delicious Afghan dinner so that we could all focus on the spectacle of the holiday... the kids...

Santa Ornament

"Santa" smiles at us from the tree, and we decided to wait a few years before we explain to Ava and Noah about St. Nick.


We pose for a family photo - which continues to be a painful effort. The kids - all four of them! can't stand still, and we can't help but laugh at the chaos in between each flash. We all survived... thank goodness for lollipops.


This ornament is old and cherished. And use to hang at our tree when I lived with my parents. I smile when I see it and the many others that were passed down to me since childhood.


Before getting to bed, Ava plays a solo on the piano. The family of rabbits cheer her on... then whisper, "get to bed little one. Christmas is almost here."

Have a happy holiday!

Ava & Noah - Happy Holidays

Ava & Noah - Happy Holidays

With much love,
Ava & Noah

dress up is fun... but being yourself is better

When we told Ava she was going to a birthday tea-party today, she couldn't stop giggling. Not so much because it was a birthday or a tea-party, but because she hadn't seen her friend in a long time. She patiently waited while I wrapped the present and then asked if she could carry it. We held hands across the street and she told me to look both ways. Walking on the curb, she handed me the present and then knocked on the door. Unfortunately, the birthday girl glanced over at Ava and then trotted off without a welcome- which was not surprising since she hadn't seen Ava in over 6 months.

Uncertain of what to do next, I could sense how this was a good learning opportunity - for the both of us. I personally am considerably shy in new settings, and never gave it much thought until I watched Ava and felt how she was feeling standing in the doorway.

Like most parents, we want our children to make and take the best out of experiences - and have fun. What consistently amazes me about parenting is how it has this surprising ability to empower us in any situation where our children are concerned. I wanted her to enjoy herself- so I braced myself and pulled myself out my comfortable shell to show her that we can make this hour be what we want it to be.

Even though she liked her own dress better [I did too], I encouraged her to change into the dress the hostess picked for her from the rack of rentals. We colored and tried on a few different hats... sipped punch out of tiny glass teacups, ate purple m&m's and sprayed more perfume than our noses could handle...

Tea Party

Tea Party

Tea Party

Our hostess stayed calm while trying to instruct the girls on how to be in a fashion show. Not an easy task when considering these 10 little girls, only few who know each other, were dressed-up to look like contestants, and then expected to partake in an activity that overlapped their nap hour. I couldn't believe it when Ava, with a smile on her face, skipped along the runway all by herself, and then returned to sip more of her tea punch.

Awarded with ice-cream, cup cakes and strawberry milk, the toddler guests indulged quietly, until two had meltdowns. Finally it was over, and it wasn't until they got re-dressed into their own clothes, were they able to be themselves.

The birthday girl, holding hands with her best friend, started playing ring around the rosey - alone together. Ava stood close and threw her hand in their circle, hoping to catch one of their hands. She did. Then looked at me as if relaying her thoughts directly into my heart, I felt a "thank you for this Mom. This is soo much fun."

Tea Party

holiday minature moments

Trains at NorthPark

Holiday minature moments perfectly replicate our images of the holidays.... Lovers snuggling during a carriage ride through central park... mom taking a break from holiday shopping on the bench, while her child looks on with curiosity...

Trains at NorthPark

Trains at NorthPark

Trains at NorthPark

Trains at NorthPark

And curiosity is exactly what you need before your arrive at the Trains at NorthPark benefiting the Ronald McDonald House - especially if you have a train fanatic in your family. We couldn't help but lean in... and then back when a train dashed through. Noah was exceptionally happy this day - "choo-choo" is his favorite thing to say and do. Whether it's with a sippy cup, or VHS tape, he'll take an object and choo-choo it on tables, sofa arms, and walls - every where except the floor?

We were just so thrilled to be able to experience something so great with the kids, and at the same time support a great cause...

Trains at NorthPark

Many cities offer something similar - and we highly recommend the visit with loud choo-choos!

Do you have a childhood memory of playing with trains? I'd love to read about it...

the gift of wonder

We tried something new this year - like the Neiman Marcus Adolphus Children's Parade, benefiting the Children's Medical Center. When we found a corner to watch the spectacle from, we realized we had actually missed all the floats.

In between Dallas skyscrapers, we chased Santa's shadow until we finally met face to face -from the best view...

Christmas Parade

Christmas Parade

While watching the kids take in the sights, I asked myself if this experience was worth it [running around the house to get ready, driving to downtown and avoiding a car accident before parking... spilling my coffee all over the stroller and my jeans while running to catch glimpses of giant balloon characters in the sky?]

If my Dad could see me now, he'd shake his head and say I'm crazy for even stepping outside of my house on this cold winter day. He'd say that the kids should be at home, and that I'm taking risks with their safety... what if they catch a cold? Or worse, get lost? Hearing his voice in my head makes me smile, because I know he loves us all too much.

I came to the conclusion that when we do things unexpected of us - and immerse ourselves inside a bigger picture - we are inevitably creating opportunities for our children to experience great things.

And it is in their wonder, that we, as parents, get to see the world, and grow as a family.

Bring their wonder to life, and create a family tradition that is unexpected. Now more than ever, is the time to teach our little ones about the holidays and how they can be a part of something bigger than the picture we have painted for them.

Noah at parade

Ask family members to make a donation to a local charity in your family's name.
Pick a charity that focuses on issues you care about as a family. What you are passionate about - chances are loved ones will be too. Offer family and friends the opportunity to experience the joy of giving by letting them know in advance or sending them info in your annual greeting sentiment. Enlist the help of Charity Navigator to learn about individual programs in the US.

Exchange the gift-exchange mentality. Instead of buying presents for each other, gather resources and adopt a family less fortunate. There are several local programs that start pairing families together for the holiday season right after Thanksgiving.

Buy two. While shopping for your little ones, consider buying two sets. When you know how much your daughter would love a new tutu - the probability that another two-year old would love one - is certain. Before you get home from the store, drop off your item at a local participating business, school or church.

Give handmade. I get mushy when I receive something handmade. Whether a card or a piece of jewelry, the time a friend spends crafting with me in mind, is priceless. Give a piece of yourself and creativity by tackling that project you've left behind months/years ago and make some thing special for someone on your list. Recycle a wool sweater into a purse. Reupholster a container with beautiful fabric as a table top piece or jewelery box. Knit booties for a baby...or a pet animal for a toddler using fleece [Aaron can help you with these]- the ideas are endless.

Buy handmade. If you don't have the time or the desire to sit still to create something unique, consider buying from local artists who do. Many online stores support the time honored tradition of handmade and have made it easy for you to shop and support the movement. Try Etsy.com or the fair trade market, where you are literally helping to alleviate poverty and working conditions in global countries. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving...
Suggestions: Original Good, Global Exchange Store, Handmade Expressions

If you have young children, this is the perfect time to discuss family celebrations and traditions for the future years. Consider integrating one or more of these ideas - or better yet, come up with your own on how your family can embrace the holiday season together.

baby... it's cold outside

My eyes barely open this morning, and I still couldn't believe what I saw. Snow. White. Soft. Snow. Falling.

First Snow

First Snow

I yelled "Ava! Noah!" and had them rush to the back door to see it for themselves. Noah kept saying, "wow...wow" over and over. It took us 20 minutes to locate and dress the kids in somewhat of a snow suit before opening the front door. And when we did, they both stumbled outside as if walking in a floating bubble.

First Snow

Ava couldn't decide what to do. Frozen in her boots, she was frustrated with her layers. Meanwhile, Noah took this opportunity to play outside and enjoy himself...

First Snow

First Snow

Ava finally got around to picking berries, but then realized she couldn't actually pick them with her mittens on. Then the twig fell from her hands.

With a grunt, she bit the end of her left mitten and took it off [even though we told her not to]...

First Snow

First Snow

After picking up her twig, she looked up and said, "Mom, it's cold," and then slipped her wet fingers back inside her mitten.

Oh baby yes... it's finally cold outside...

Our adventure outside was cut short [much to Noah's disapproval] and we read books from our home library. Some of the books took a new meaning to Ava - as she finally got to witness, touch and feel - snow. Real... cold...white...snow. Yes!

Books we recommend:
The Mitten by Jan Brett
The Snowy Day by Ezra Keats
Snow is My Favorite and My Best by Lauren Child

p.s. later in the evening, we headed back out to see Christmas lights and Ava got her mittens and hat all by herself... Yes!

hello holidays

The morning after Thanksgiving, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming holidays - picking out a real tree, decorating the house, opening up our boxes of ornaments and reminiscing at each one... driving through neighborhood streets to ooh at lights while sipping on hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music on the radio to accompany our accapella voices...

But recovery from Thanksgiving took a bit longer than usual with two kids. So we started on Friday with a trip up to the attic to bring down all remanants of the Christmas season. Ava and Noah got their own tree this year to dress up for the playroom...

Tree Decorating

Tree Decorating

I've always had plastic trees growing up - but since I got married, Aaron and I started a tradition of our own to buy the real thing and somehow recreate a snowy-lodge feel with a roaring fireplace and pine tree.

I'm a little sentimental in that I wish there was a nearby farm I could prance around with the kids. But the thought of driving back home with a tree on top of the car only took me as far as 2 miles away from the house. So on Saturday we headed to our nearby Home Depot and picked out our real tree for the family room.

Once we got there, we were blown away by how many trees that had sold already. We were also blown away by the weather - literally. This prompted a quick selection - but not after Ava and Noah experimented with the different textures and played a game of hide and go seek between the aisles.

Getting a Christmas tree

Hunting for a tree

Hunting for a tree

Hunting for a tree

Noah inspected its safety - and it passed thanks to the HD tree man who secured it tightly. Meanwhile, I was fantasizing about my hot cocoa....

Once we got home, the kettle started boiling and I began sorting the ornaments. Aaron dragged the tree inside and left it in the foyer to help detangle lights. The kids' interest had waned them over to the playroom, and I could hear pots and pans banging in their kitchen. When Aaron was ready with a pair of scissors to cutoff the netting, he discovered an ornament hanging from it's spire. We couldn't help but laugh - and amuse ourselves with how quickly the kids have welcomed the holidays - all on their own...

Getting a Christmas tree

thank you for family

Thanksgiving 08

Every day is a blessed day. And like millions of others this Thanksgiving, we got together to celebrate us, and our growing family....This year, a special table was brought out to the dining room to sit parallel with us. Tiny blackboards with names Ava, Noah and Humzah dangled over tiny antique chairs... and little pumpkins were filled with treats of raisins, candy, and race cars for them to zoom together... without crashing into a gravy boat...

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

This holiday is meant to honor family and the memories that each of us carry heavy in our minds. And I wanted to be sure this transcended to the kids more than any other holiday.... from eating cranberries to making turkey hand-prints... from collecting fallen leaves... to pulling on a wishbone.... from cooking a variety of "once-a-year" dishes together in one kitchen... to sitting across the table with those who fill our hearts all year long...

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

and of course... to look back and count the many ways the year has brought us lessons, strength, love, courage, friendship, hope, trial, patience, and wonder for all the days that make life and the moments shared with family string together...

moving on


Ava's last day at her Mother's Day Out program was spent with mixed emotions.

"School's finished Ava. Today is your last day. Give your teachers a big hug and say thank you." She did. When we left the classroom, she looked at her laminated photo in her hand and asked if she could put it back with the rest of the photos still posted on the wall.

I was sad. Confused. Worried. Happy. And excited for her.

Sad - because I know that Ava wants to feel included with other kids. Unfortunately, the program wasn't like what I had imagined and told her it'd be like. And therefore, I didn't want to give her the impression that this was "school" when there was no academic learning. To hear her already saying, "I don't want to go to school" on different occasions was like sudden static in my head. If this was the impression we gave her of what school was like - then we failed her.

I was also sad because it wasn't THE last day of the program - just Ava's.

Confused - because we were the only parents standing on the fence on whether or not this program was right for us. Other parents seemed to float in and out with signs above their heads reading, "this program saved my life."

But for us... it was difficult to see the silver lining when we found ourselves more stressed on Mondays and Wednesdays. We would have to push Ava out the door, motivate her and remind her that she has fun at "school." Drop-offs were difficult, but by the end of the day, she'd have stories to report while taping her new art project on the fridge.

There were also a few "incidents" that tipped me over and finally realize that we weren't ready to deal with her modeling behavior that wasn't from us... like saying...

"If you don't listen, you have to stand on the square."

"If you don't clean up, you won't have any skit-els."

We of course are left speechless, and nervously attempt to address her proclamations she'd repeat towards Noah - the innocent bystander in the playroom who just wants to zoom past her with his car.

Worried - for the outcome of our decision, and how it will impact her future.

Happy because we won't be late again... and I don't have to stress about her sleeping in or wanting to have fun and run around before breakfast...

Excited - because she has a little brother at home, that looks up to her. And on Ava's last day of school, he waited outside for her... so he could split his bag of yummy "skit-els" together...


first annual parent retreat

With Aaron and I being work-from-home parents, and raising our 2 kids beside us - it has been an extremely challenging and yet fulfilling two and a half years. Wow. Has it really been that long? Making the decision to take our careers indoors rather than trade them in was semi-planned. I knew for certain that I'd want to be home - but what I didn't know, was how to make it all fit.

For Ava and Noah to be able to see us "work" is heartening - I sense their appreciation for our time, as well as the opportunity to understand a bigger picture outside of their own worlds. It also gives them their own "space" to explore and "play" throughout the house without us monitoring them like hawks. My annual bonus comes to me daily - by spending all day with them and even stealing moments of them during my "office hours."


From the moment our children wake up - to the moment they lay their heads on the pillow - our hours are preciously spent nurturing, loving, teaching, and learning as a family. We feel blessed to have this way of life, which is why if we want to maintain it, keep it healthy and strong. So we invented our own "Parent Retreat" - a weekend specifically dedicated to the cause of our family by reflecting, repositioning, and redefining our commitment to parenting.

This past weekend, we drove down to the Texas Hill Country and stayed at a cozy B&B so that we could relax, rejuvenate, and realign what we work so hard for.


Our Parent Retreat kicked off with first examining our calendars and how we could better prioritize our individual roles. We created a family calendar using Google so that we could update and access it anytime and anywhere. Then we ran through the gamut of important topics such as:

Managing the flow of money is a job in itself. You can't rely on your financial adviser to plan your future for you - only we can do that - because our goals change so much and ultimately, are responsible for what we want to achieve.

Great resources: Mint.com is a free website that pulls and updates all your accounts [from banking to investing] in one central place. What I love about this site is how it gives me a clear [and sometimes scary] graphic picture of our spending habits and how easy it is to adjust, prevent, and prepare with this knowledge in my hands [sorry Starbucks, we had to let you go].

Motivational reads:
Smart Couples Finish Rich and Smart Women Finish Rich

Weekly menu planning
Our biggest expenditure no doubt is food. And that's a good thing since it's our primary source of health and energy. Not having a planned menu has caused fatal incidents - like throwing away unused fruits and vegetables... to therefore not getting a good balance of healthy choices each day.

On top of wasting food, we weren't spending enough time in the kitchen cooking. What was a chore is now something I look forward to as a family. We blocked off times each day for just meal prep - with planned ideas on how we could include the kids [such us ripping the lettuce or setting the table...]. This requires dedicating a day for shopping and drafting our menus - and includes pre-washing, chopping and preparing our ingredients ahead of time - not to mention another way to involve the kids.

Great resources:
Spreadsheets - we created ours in Excel, but any notebook will do if you want to try this. We categorized each meal time and filled it in using cookbooks and memory. This was tremendously helpful because the overview allowed us to see how balanced our diet was - as well as categorize exactly what we need to put on our grocery list. [On Monday when Aaron did the grocery shopping for the week, we cut our average grocery bill by $40!] Buying exactly what you need saves money, time and food from being wasted - and not to mention agony over, "what's for dinner?"

Children's education and daily learning

A very huge topic that is personally sacred to me. With a little pre-planning, we can take advantage of our resources and produce creative experiences for our children. From listening to music to clearing out the furniture for an evening of dance... art projects to express ourselves to dressing up and making puppets for a show...There's also nature walks, reading books, playing instruments [bought and made], board games, and even attending local festivals around town. All of this could easily be done in a week by making use of what we already have and planning ahead so that the creativity continues indefinitely.

While I see the importance of setting routines for Ava and Noah [meals and nap time], I also see the value in letting them lead me in the direction they are feeling creative. For example, I started with finger painting - it may lead to playing with cars instead... and that's ok. Because my overall goal for that activity was practicing fine motor skills...

In addition, we also dedicated time each night for the family to do something together. This helps us wind down [even when we are dancing] simply because Aaron and I have committed to this time to not think about work... or the tiles falling off in the bathroom...

Great resources:
The Complete Daily Curriculum, The Playful Toddler, Child of Wonder, The Creative Family and of course, Savvysource.com. There are also countless wonderful parenting and educational resources available for late night online browsers [like me] to check out too...

There were a few other items on the agenda - such as date nights once a week and designating home chores [We decided it's fruitless to stress over chores left undone and therefore simply split the responsibilities and designated various "clean-up" times throughout the week]. Ahh.....


We ended the weekend with a couple's massage, and got back in the car and headed home. The four hour drive gave us a lot to think about.... and look forward to. First being, the look on Ava and Noah's faces when we walk through the door.... and then all of the new fresh ideas we have in store for them.

The main idea or purpose behind a Parent Retreat - is to dedicate some time to yourself - and your partner.
We are accountable for how we spend each precious day we are given - and the idea of a parent retreat is just one way to help map out our days ahead. I would encourage it for every dynamic family - in whatever shape or form that may be. Just as birthdays or anniversaries are celebrated - so too should parenting.

This is just a sampling of what we've experienced, and I hope you find your own way that works for you and your family.

Happy retreating...
If there are additional resources or shortcuts you've learned along the way... we'd love to know!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...