Friday, December 31, 2010

A Magical Christmas

As long as I live, I'll always remember Madeline's words when she opened her new baby doll on Christmas morning -- "Santa knew just what I wanted!" It was like her first plane ride when she shrieked over the roaring engines, "I just knew I would love this!"

Christmas was a joy. In the days leading up to it, Nashville had its first snowfall (which melted by noon) -- we had so much fun bundling up, then drinking hot cocoa to warm up again and snuggling by the fire to read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The kids were manic in their excitement when Rob's parents and sister arrived -- Madeline literally screamed, and Charlie does whatever she does. Together, we went to a special kids sing along at Whole Foods, decorated a gingerbread house, and went out for a fun Tex Mex lunch. Rob and his dad took Madeline and Charlie out for Krispy Kreme early one morning, just like they used to do when Rob was a little boy.

On Christmas Eve, we went to the early candle light service at church. The music was incredible -- I teared up and got goosebumps at least five times and Rob said even he couldn't help but sing along to every song. Sandie asked if we'd made a wrong turn and ended up in Opryland -- it was quite a show! But also a lovely message that really reminded us of why we celebrate Christmas. We came home to a wonderful ham feast; every dish on the table was one of Gram's tried-and-true recipes. It felt like a special way to make her a part of the festivities. 

And then it was game on! It was like Christmas roller derby -- Madeline was winging presents to people and tearing them open faster than we could check the tags, pausing only to give hugs and say thank you. One of my favorite moments was when she opened her pink ballet slippers from Rob and me -- her excitement was palpable as she danced on her toes and spun around the room to Christmas carols. Charlie took his time, putting on every article of clothing he opened, and playing with each toy. He opened his bike helmet first, and never took it off again.

On Christmas morning, we awoke to our second snowfall of the season -- it was a true Tennessee white Christmas! Charlie woke up first, then popped his head right into Madeline's room to make sure she didn't miss a thing. The kids padded down the stairs in their footed pajamas to find their stockings and a special note from Santa and his reindeer, who appreciated their midnight snack and chocolate milk. We had a wonderful brunch with Sandie's strata (I've actually had vivid dreams about it) and a special Beef Wellington Christmas dinner, which is what my mom often made for our family growing up.

It was truly a magical Christmas. We're wishing you a very happy new year!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Gift of All!

We're adding more monkeys to the Vlach zoo! We are beside ourselves with joy to announce that we're expecting our third child mid-June. So now, we're officially the Vlach-Tastic Four-and-a-Third.

Madeline is enchanted. She asks me all sorts of questions about when the new baby is going to "hatch" -- the best way I can explain it to her is that she'll have a new brother or sister when we get to go swimming again in our neighborhood pool. And she is hatching all sorts of babies herself -- she has set up a hospital in Rob's office and carries her newborn baby dolls around in their carriage (a bag we carry library books in). She burps them, nurses them and puts them to bed -- there are parts of the day when we all have to whisper because the new baby is sleeping. Watching all that....well, I'm enchanted too. The other day, Madeline drew a mommy with a baby in her tummy. While she's sure it's a girl, we're trying to set the stage early that it could be a little brother too. She loves to tickle my belly, then listen to see if she can hear the baby inside me giggling.

Charlie has no idea what's about to hit him, but he gets really excited whenever anyone else gets excited, so he happily kisses my belly when he sees Madeline roll up my shirt. Today, he got into the wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree (it was the sound of paper tearing that drew me from the kitchen); he had opened his copy of I'm a Big Brother and ripped two pages out. We'll take it as a two-year-old boy's sign of his growing anticipation.

We feel so blessed that our family is growing, and that our children will have another best friend to throw into the ring. Thankfully, I'm never sick during my pregnancies. But the first trimester exhaustion with two young children was staggering -- I felt like I'd taken an imaginary dose of Tylenol PM and I was doing everything wearing a snow suit. Underwater. With weights on my arms and legs. I would lie Madeline and Charlie down for their naps, and collapse on my bed across the hall face first. We ate more frozen pizzas in the last three months than Dr. Oz would recommend. But I'm feeling my energy surge back just in time for the holidays. We plan to not find out the gender, just like we did with Charlie. That moment in the delivery room was so incredible that we can't wait to repeat it.

We have so much to celebrate this year, and we are simply overcome and infinitely humbled by how grateful we feel.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I am so in the Christmas spirit that I can hardly contain it. I'm wishing everyone aside from telemarketers a Merry Christmas (and that's only because we put ourselves on the Do Not Call list). So when we went grocery shopping day before yesterday and I saw Advent calendars, I had a flashback to my childhood and grabbed one. Then I imagined both kids wrestling to open the same tiny perforated window and sharing the tiny chocolate inside that I paid for a second one in the checkout line and grabbed it on the way out to our car.

This morning, before Madeline and Charlie had even finished their breakfast, I handed each of them their calendars and explained that we get to open a window every day leading up to Christmas. Madeline attacked hers and managed to open several windows in the short time that I helped Charlie with his. When they realized there was chocolate inside, their eyes got big and they forgot all about the made-to-order eggs on their plates.

Then this evening, we got caught in rush hour traffic while running an errand and a 30 minute drive took three times as long. But inside our car, we were singing carols and excitedly pointing out any Christmas lights we passed. In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined the kids would want to stay in the car even a second longer than they had already patiently endured. But they were so excited to look at more Christmas decorations in our neighborhood that we drove around for another half hour, slowing down at every third house to admire all the lights and colored bulbs! I actually had to pump more gas to continue on. Madeline would exclaim, "Ohhhh Mommy, you aren't going to believe what's coming next. Keep going....keep going.....okay! Ta-Da!!"

I've said it before, but having Madeline and Charlie allows me to experience the wonder of things through a child's eyes. And it really is wonderful.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Nashville Thanksgiving 2010

Thanksgiving was a blast -- we loved having my dad and Nancy visit us in Nashville for the holiday. And the best surprise ever was the call we got from Kyle, Andi's new husband, saying they were driving down from St. Louis for an overnight stay to sit at the Thanksgiving table with us, despite their busy work schedules. Family is truly the best gift life has to offer, though we missed Mollie and Kenny, who were celebrating in Denver, and Rob's family, who we'll see at Christmas.

Rob and I made two turkeys -- one was cornbread stuffed with maple orange glaze, and Rob smoked the other in his Yankee Smoker. There were so many sides that we staggered into the living room, where we all decorated the Christmas tree, listened to carols and waited until our stomachs made some room for pie. My dad and Nancy ordered every other meal throughout their entire stay from Super Suppers -- so they most definitely hosted us in our own home. They are so thoughtful and generous, reminding us of what Thanksgiving is really about -- being grateful for all the blessings in our lives.

We had a great time decorating a gingerbread house, of course eating the candy as we went (Charlie by the fistful). It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to hear his forlorn calls for "PaaaaPaaaa," even if he was just napping on the couch a few feet away. Madeline found a never ending stash of Skittles in Ning's purse, a little game they share. The day after Thanksgiving, my dad and Nancy treated Rob and me to an incredible dinner at the Red Pony, a fine restaurant in downtown Franklin. It was fun to get dressed up and go on a double date.

One of the highlights of the trip was when Ning took Madeline to her first movie. She was so excited that she dressed up like a princess to see Tangled! Madeline looked tiny in the oversize theater chairs, happily nibbling on fruit snacks and popcorn and never once taking her wide eyes away from the big screen. I think I watched her watch the movie more than I actually watched it myself. Even though she was enchanted by it all, after about 25 minutes, she quietly whispered to me that she was ready to go home, so we cheerfully packed it up and already can't wait for the next show. 

If you stop by our house, the carols are playing, the stockings are hung, and you'll find me addressing Christmas cards. 'Tis the season!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Haircut to Remember

Well, I've been waiting and the day finally arrived. Madeline gave herself a haircut.

While I was Christmas shopping with my aunt, Madeline pulled a pair of scissors out of a basket (set up high to keep kids out) and sheared her bangs to about half an inch from her forehead. Then she added some significant layering to the sides and gave herself a bald spot in the back for good measure. Rob said he found her standing with a mound of spiral curls around her feet.

I always wondered what would come first -- this, or the big wad of blue gum that peanut butter won't remove (that hasn't happened yet, but I'll look forward to it when the slumber parties begin). I guess this is just another example of Madeline's budding self-expression. For some reason, the back of her head has always grown like a weed, while the front won't grow at all. So for three and a half years, we've been carefully growing the front out, and whacking an inch off the back every few months to avoid the inevitable mullet. But the hair was gone with the flick of her little fingers in those giant red scissors. She absolutely glowed with pride at her work. It was impossible not to laugh at how ridiculous it looked. But I found myself yesterday noticing the sheer volume of her baby fine hair that's gone and missing those soft curls with an ache.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pigs in Mud

A couple of mornings ago, I came downstairs from quickly blow drying my hair to find Madeline and Charlie rolling in two pounds of shredded cheddar. In the living room. Visualize this for a second: Charlie is shirtless on his back, rolling from side to side, grinding the cheese into the carpet with his 32 pound body. Madeline is on her elbows and knees, stuffing fistfuls into her mouth like we've never fed her. And Maple thinks she's died and gone to heaven. The cheese is showered everywhere; the empty zip top bag that I just bought the day before is littered on the floor, next to a couple of mutilated string cheeses.

My first instinct was to laugh and take pictures, but then I realized I'd come downstairs to food explosions every day (I took the pictures secretly). So I made my face look serious and said, "Oh, this is so sad." I softly asked Madeline if cheese belongs on the floor. Then I asked her how we could clean it up. Fast forward five minutes, and Madeline's wiry little body was pushing the vacuum cleaner around the carpet with all her might. It would only move a few inches at a time. "Mommy, it's so loud!" she would cry over the deafening force of our new HEPA-approved vacuum. "I know," I told her sadly, then pointed out some more cheese under the ottoman. The weight of the machine rolled the cheese like a thin pancake onto its wheels -- it would have been so much easier to clean the mess up myself. But Rob and I had just gone to our weekly parenting class the night before and I was determined.

All this before 8am. I guess I should grateful that it was cheese and not peanut butter, or something much much worse. And that the rug is dark. But I have to say, I can certainly appreciate how rolling around half naked in cheese and eating it with reckless abandon would be absolutely fabulous if you're a kid. Or maybe even 32?

Monday, November 8, 2010

House of Madeline

Move over Chanel. Madeline is developing her own style, and it's all kinds of fabulous....if only she were still 18 months old.

About six months ago, Madeline discovered that many of her baby clothes are still in her closet. Once, they were neatly packed and labeled in bags and hung on hangers, organized by size. Ah, memories. Now, she has figured out if she pushes her padded rocking chair over to her open closet, she can pull down anything she wants. So she disappears into her room and emerges sometime later in sweatshirts that stop at her elbows, skirts that just barely cover her tiny rear end and mismatched infant socks that don't extend past her heels. There's often some random bikini top or bottom involved. Or a hat so small it looks like a polka-dotted yamika.

Soon after she discovered her baby clothes, she discovered Charlie's. A whole new closet brimming with possibilities.... So now there are little boy onesies covered in baseballs or fish, underneath sundresses that fit two years ago.

Notice Charlie's aquatic-themed onesie...
We made a deal. She can wear whatever she wants in the house. But when we go in public, she has to wear clothes that fit her (and I do use "fit" loosely. She still looks pretty wack-a-doodle sometimes). She'll happily comply, but minutes after we're home again, she's usually back up in her room piecing together a new ensemble -- a corduroy jumper that stops at her hips and baby tights with the crotch at her knees. The laundry is staggering, since the outfit changes are nonstop throughout the day and she has a deep love for yogurt and red sauce. And I know that I could stow the clothes away, but it feels cruel to take away something that makes her so completely and innocently happy. Today, she discovered the bracelets she received at her baptism when she was three months old, and don't think for a second that we didn't work for five whole minutes to get the clasp to shut around her 3 1/2 year old wrist.

Rivaling DVF's wrap dress in my tank top!
I have childhood picture after picture as evidence that my mom let my sisters and me dress ourselves growing up. She was an abstract artist, after all. It's such a small way to let Madeline feel like she's in control and help build her budding confidence. So on a superficial level, while I sometimes (desperately) wish Madeline would wear the outfits she has in her drawers (the ones that coordinate and actually fit her), I'm also proud of her for the choices she makes on her own. I suppose this is just the beginning. Once day, she might come home from college with a crazy major or a silly boy or blue hair, and I'll want to steer her the "right" way. But unconditional love is accepting her for exactly who she is, and these early fashion choices are a great way for me to practice the love and support that I expect will be easier to talk about than it is to exercise.

So I say, Go Girl. Rock those purple wellingtons with your pajama pants and velvet sparkly Christmas dress (from two holiday seasons ago). You got it going on.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Puppy and a Fairy Princess on the Loose

I know in my last post, I just said I love fall, but I really love Halloween! We had a blast last weekend. On Saturday, Charlie climbed into his barking puppy dog costume (it looked like we had two Maples running around the house, and yes, it actually barked) and Madeline dressed up as a fairy princess (everything came straight out of our dress up closet, including the clip on earrings and fairy wings) -- we piled into the car and drove five minutes to downtown Franklin's Halloween festival. There was live music, vendors passing out candy and the smell of kettle corn and fresh potato chips. It was a perfect way to spend an hour getting into the Halloween spirit.

The next day, several couples and their adorable ladybugs, Marios and Supermans came over to our house for a festive dinner (blood red martinis for the adults) and trick-or-treating. Our dear friends arrived fully decked out as characters from the Cat in the Hat, including Thing One and Thing Two. Rob went as Hillbilly Bond (or Redneck 007), tearing the sleeves off a button down, cutting off some denim jeans into gross jorts, and wearing his tuxedo vest and bow tie. Coors Light caps served as button covers. I pulled out an oldie but a goodie -- dusted off my feather boa, combed my black wig, found my fishnets and put on my flapper dress. And I'm going to give myself a little extra credit here -- I walked the kids around the neighborhood in four inch heels.

After two straight days of doing everything in his Maple suit, suddenly Charlie insisted on wearing his Ninja costume, a $2-purchase I grabbed at a consignment shop to try to add some boy things to the overwhelmingly feminine dress up closet. No joke: the kid was making ninja sounds and karate chop motions all night. Madeline enchanted neighbors with her sweet little manners in a flouncy tulle dress and glittering shoes.

Now I'm just trying to stuff an extra banana into my kids diet here and there to offset the crazy sugar consumption going on. But hey, it's only Halloween once a year!

Glorious Fall

Fall is my favorite season. It's romantic -- bundling up in a sweater and holding hands to stay warm. Rob and I even got married in the fall. But like everything, this season is zipping by at warp speed. Here's what we've been up to the last few weeks:

The weather has been incredible, and we haven't missed a chance to soak it up -- picnicking, playing on the playground, raking leaves, enjoying evening fire pits, and going for nature walks to see the changing leaves.

Madeline and Charlie had a wonderful time visiting a pumpkin patch with their Grammy and Aunt Nicki! What would autumn be without a hayride? This one wound us throughout a farm, and we got to ride alongside brand new calves still nestled into their mamas. There were hay mazes, tire swings and slides; we ended the morning by picking out mini pumpkins.

We had a great time visiting a fire station with my Moms Club -- I enjoyed it just as much as the kids. Charlie was so excited -- jumping, squealing and pumping his arms -- by the lights and sirens and just the sight of the trucks that even the fire fighters kept laughing. While we were there, the bell went off; we watched guys drop down the fire pole, suit up and tear out of the station in a truck.

In other exciting news, Rob is thrilled to have officially accepted a new role within Caterpillar right here in Nashville. Congratulations, Robbie!

He and I are taking a six week parenting course offered by our pediatrician's office, so every Tuesday night, a sitter puts the kids to bed and we go off to school. Ning called it my "Continuing Education," which is Caterpillar's terminology for ongoing job training -- I love to think of it that way! Though last night, when we couldn't find the course's new location, we decided to go on a pizza date instead. Even the child psychologist teaching the class agreed date nights win parenting points.

Madeline loves her swimming lessons twice a week. She dunks her spiral curls under the water in her oversize goggles and splashes around with Coach Katie.

She's growing up so fast; sometimes I'm just astounded by adult-sounding things she says, like, "I suppose, " or "This opera music is pretty." (Full disclaimer: we own one opera song, which she later heard on a commercial and blew Rob's socks off with her little comment). She loves baking, cracking her own eggs into a bowl and spooning batter into muffin cups. The kitchen looks like a Category Five storm has swept through when we're done, but any mess is worth the pride she feels. She begs for "ballerina music," then twirls around the living room to Mozart or the Nutcracker. Madeline has never particularly liked being separated from Rob and me in any way (the histrionics!), so it's a real joy to see how much she loves running into her Sunday school class...and begs to stay when it's over. She comforts Charlie when sitters come to the house, saying, "It's okay, buddy. Mommy always comes back." And today, when Charlie's balloon popped in the grocery store, Madeline didn't hesitate before saying, "I'll share mine with you, Charlie."

Charlie is learning a new word every day: this morning, he literally shouted "Bye!" at Rob while blowing kisses (which looks more like he's enthusiastically popping himself in the nose) and then grinned at each of us like he just solved world peace in the Middle East.  That said, most days are still like a 12-hour round of charades. When he's hungry, he gets a plate out of his drawer and puts it at his seat. When he's sorry, he hugs his sister and kisses her face. And naturally, there's lots of pointing, grunting and ultimately crying, if we can't figure out what he wants. These days, there is simply not one single thing that Madeline does alone; Charlie is at her heels imitating everything. On Monday, he stripped off all his clothes and tried to join her swimming lesson. He hums Twinkle Twinkle all day long to himself; often, the lyrics go "Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama...." He is probably the most affectionate child I have ever met. I feel like I've died and gone to heaven when he catches my eye from across the room and sprints, arms wide open, for a hug.

A boy, a ball, a stick and his dog. Life is good.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wedding at the Vineyard

Kyle sees Andi for the first time!
My sister, Andrea, had the most beautiful wedding this weekend at Chaumette Winery, a charming vineyard in southern Missouri -- she and Kyle compliment each other perfectly and we're so happy they're married! Andi was breathtaking in her strapless ballgown and cathedral veil; she wore the Austrian crystal necklace that my mom, Mollie and I all wore on our wedding days as well. It was so special to witness the moment before the festivities began when Kyle saw Andi for the first time -- his reaction moved Mollie and me to tears!

The ceremony was in a picturesque white chapel, set up on a hill looking over a valley. It couldn't have been more beautiful with all the leaves changing colors. A string quartet played as my dad walked Andi down the aisle. The readings Andi and Kyle chose were from a devotional that my mom gave to Andi; Mollie lit a candle in honor of our mom. As the sun set, everyone in Andi and Kyle's congregation held a candle and sang a beautiful African hymn, led a capella by a dear friend of Andrea's. 

Afterward the party started! Andi and Kyle had a travel themed reception, with globes and lanterns hanging from the outdoor pergola, a cake stand Andi made out of maps and an REI cake topper of a bride and groom in climbing gear holding a "Just Married" flag. Just before the couple got engaged, they climbed Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro together, so it was fitting that they were introduced to Toto's "Africa." The weather was perfect for their outdoor reception; white lights and lanterns twinkled, and heat lamps kept everyone warm if they weren't out on the dance floor like the bride and groom. Some of my favorite moments were when Kyle impersonated Michael Jackson, and when Andrea and all her Chi Omega sisters (including Anita, her mother-in-law), linked arms and sang a special sorority song honoring the bride.
Kyle told me at the end of the night that he hit the jackpot with Andi and her family, and that's definitely how we feel about him too! It was a profound moment, sitting at dinner with my married sisters and their husbands -- Mollie and Kenny, just married in September; Andi and her brand new husband, Kyle; and Rob and me. It's like we've entered a new phase of our sisterhood where we get to have brothers too.

We were lucky enough to have Rob's mom and sister fly down to Nashville from Chicago to visit with us and watch the kids for the weekend. While we were gone, they took Madeline and Charlie to the zoo and pushed them in their swing for hours; when we arrived back home, we went to a pumpkin patch and took a hayride! Madeline and Charlie simply adore their Grammy and Aunt Nicki.

Andi and Kyle are honeymooning in the Dominican Republic right now. Welcome to the family, Kyle! And congratulations to both of you -- we're all thrilled!