Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Wagner Christmas Letter

Writing a Christmas letter has become an annual tradition. I usually send them to friends and family with a card and picture. In honor of the courageous #nomakeupselfie movement, I chose this one.

In all seriousness, hashtags make me want to stab something. This no makeup photo was simply because:
a. we were on vacation
b. we were on vacation
c. I'm not sure I care anymore.

Because I can't possibly send each one of you* hand signed and addressed Christmas cards, this wonderful photo that I'm certain you all want for your refrigerator and my annual Christmas letter, I've decided to post it here.

*Some people did make the cut; such as close friends and family members, anyone who attended my birth and anyone who sends me a Christmas card... or a wallet full of cash.

Hey, don't be sad. Maybe next year you can try a little harder.

Dearest friends and family,

As the end of the year draws near, I always find myself simultaneously scurrying around like an insane person- creating “Christmas Magic” for my precious children- and trying to steal some blessed quiet moments for reflection and gratitude. In all honestly, most days I find myself scurrying more than reflecting. Yet, as I sit here well before 5 pm, sipping a beer on a Saturday, I feel gratitude in my heart. Probably because Brock took the boys to run errands and I have an unusually quiet house. But I also have a beautiful, healthy family, the most amazing friends on the planet, and lots of critters to entertain and distract me. All in all, life is grand.

We have a first grader in da house! It’s Thing 1, fyi. He’s a busy, energetic seven year old with a passion for life. Brock and I are envious of the tirelessness of this guy. He loves new experiences, meeting new people, and always is looking for adventure. He also loves touching our stuff. I have never yelled “STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF” more than I do now. Seriously, this guy gets into EVERYTHING. He uses this stuff that does not belong to him to make incredibly elaborate booby traps and other contraptions that I, as a female, do not understand. He also loves school, plays baseball, reads brilliantly, rides horses courageously, and is (mostly) sweet to his little brother. He received a new, ornery pony named Clyde from Papa S and Grandma C for his birthday and the two have bonded. Clyde is a fancy, cresty-necked, palomino Welsh with four gaits: walk, trot, canter and buck forward. That fourth gait is a real doozie.

Thing 2 is now four and enjoys the laid-back lifestyle. He’s totally chill and likes his down-time at home- which I completely understand. He also loves preschool and his “preschool buddies”. A playdate with one of these buddies is the highlight of his week; right behind that is getting a balloon from the local grocery store or eating Popsicles. He is currently obsessed with making art, watching episodes of Paw Patrol, and taking long, luxurious baths- complete with lavender bath salts. He, like his brother, also greatly improved his horseback riding skills over the summer. He rides a black and white pony named Duke, who is about 28 years young. Thing 2 and Duke are about the cutest duo you’ve ever seen. So much precious happiness in one team. If they don’t make you smile, you should check to see if you have a soul.

Brock has been busy working his remodeling business. Among his many projects, he put in a lot of hours this year up the little town of Glen Haven, helping restore the Glen Haven General Store after the massively destructive September flood. It was an honor for him to be able to assist in the restoration of a town that we have both grown to love, as we spend many weekends in the summer there at our dear friends’ cabins. He also (almost) finished a project for his beloved wife- a quaint, screened reading room that I named “The Zen Den” after I rejected his proposed name of “The Rage Cage”. It’s very charming and a most relaxing place. The wine I drink out there has a particularly lovely flavor. He continues to be the good cop/fun parent, which obviously make him the favorite with the wee ones. He is trying to become “a reader” and has almost finished the book he started last year. He enjoyed the return of his handsome bay steed, Prince Charming, and actually got to ride him on occasion. Brock’s a good, kind man and I am lucky to have him by my side.

I have been busy playing the roles of camp counselor, riding instructor, homework facilitator, cook, maid, and drill sergeant with my boys. In my epic amounts of leisure time, I write stuff for money… or for free.  I currently freelance for two publications of APHA’s (American Paint Horse Association): Chrome and Paint Horse Journal. I also continue to share my irreverent observations (occasionally) on my blog and on a few other various places on the web. I was published last year in the humor anthology, I Just Want to Pee Alone and was a speaker in the 2014 Denver Listen to Your Mother- you can find both of those online. After considering a pseudonym for writing and/or everyday purposes, I have decided upon “Huh?”, as that is what my family members say to me most when I speak to them. While I feel most accomplished in the art of online distractions and procrastination, I have also been working on honing my photography skills, writing/illustrating a children’s book and positive self-talk (think Stuart Smalley). Yet the biggest impact on my life was when I celebrated the return of my beautiful buckskin Gus… then I proceeded to spend every dime I made writing on attempting to heal his laminitis. I mostly failed, but he’s worth it, even though he squelched my DSW habit.

After many prayers for peace and calm, we decided to get the boys a baby kitten. Because that makes sense. His name is Captain Fluffernutter and his hobbies are sleeping provocatively like a Playboy Bunny, mewing loudly at 2 am, annoying our other pets and climbing the Christmas tree. He’s also ridiculously adorable and we all love him irrationally.

We would like dedicate this line of our letter to you all; to thank all of you for being a part of our lives and for making this world a better place. We all wish you a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and joyous New Year.

Much love from our home to yours, 
The Cornfed Girl and clan

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Belated Advent Guide

Christmas is a time for traditions and giving. It is a time for reflection and gratitude. It is a time for moms and dads to make magic for their children! It is a time for those little numbered calendars that count down the days until Santa arrives! Er.... I mean, until Baby Jesus was born.

Yes, I realize it is December 4th and we are already four days into Advent, but maybe some of you are like me. As in, behind. For instance, I am posting about Advent on December 4th, I've yet to write a post about my new kitten... that we got in October, I just found the Mother's Day card for my mom and her birthday present is sitting on my dresser that hasn't been dusted in four weeks.

Regardless of my (dis)organizational skills, Advent is a fun way to make one of those memorable "Christmas Traditions" for your kids.

Growing up, my Great Aunt Ann always sent two advent calendars; one for me and one for my sister, Jessi. Each November, I looked forward to that manila envelope arriving in our country mailbox. The calendars were the simple, no-candy kind... just a beautiful picture full of little paper doors which opened to pretty images of the season. Those numbered doors revealed so much Christmas magic. There were stockings and ornaments, cookies and kittens, gifts and carolers. On the 25th, the picture was always of Baby Jesus. Every morning I looked forward to opening another tiny door to a soft, glowing picture representing the building excitement for Christmas day. Advent embodied so much about my favorite season: beauty, anticipation, thoughtfulness, surprise and reward. I counted on those calendars from my kind, Great Aunt.  I've loved those calendars. Even today, they are one of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood.

When I had kids, I wanted to continue the Advent Calendar tradition. I searched for similar calendars but could never find the same ones with the pretty pastel drawings and watercolor paintings. In fact, the only calendars I found had candy, thus our great Advent tradition of "chocolate for breakfast" was born. This was not what I needed for my tiny, gift-crazed Christmas elves. The candy never stayed in place when the calendar was hung. Sometimes the boys would open doors to reveal a disappointing empty plastic well. Other time they would open the door and the chocolate would catapult from the calendar. Then we would end up searching for the little pieces of chocolate and finding it in unfortunate locations, like the dog water bowl or under the stove where the moths and spiders go to die. There was no consistency with these candy calendars and the sugar and treat aspect only added to the overall manic behavior of my kids during the month of December. I longed for a simple. pretty picture of a candle or an angel behind a tiny paper door to be enough, but my kids are four and seven and I thought maybe I'd missed my window.

Enter the Seasonal section of Target and their adorable wooden Advent houses...

I spotted one last year and, like a good, thrifty farmer, I waited for it to go on sale. Unfortunately, they had all been snatched up by other Advent Traditionalists. Sometimes being a cheap bastard doesn't pay off.
Determined to win Christmas this year, I nabbed one as soon as I spotted it on that Christmas filled Target endcap. VICTORY WAS MINE! Then I realized I had to fill it, which was going to require some work and thought on my behalf, thus adding to the Christmas Tradition of Mom as the local Magic Maker! Cookies! Gifts! Music! Decorations! Cards! Pictures! ALL OF THE THINGS!!!!!! WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

I remembered an email from church that mentioned Advent so scrolled through the 8,000 emails in my inbox (I'm sadly not exaggerating) until I found it. After reading through it, I made my own version. I used some of their ideas and added some of my own to fit my family. I typed it out and cut the paper into strips. Then I loaded each tiny drawer with a customized strip of paper. Because I'm a slow learner, I added two caramel and milk chocolate Hershey's Kisses to each drawer. Then, as a reward for all my hard work, I ate all of the remaining chocolates.

Here's my Advent Calendar:

1st: Make a blessings jar. Place on empty jar on the table. Each evening at dinner, have every member of your family write down a blessing and place it in the jar.
2nd: Read your favorite Christmas book. Talk about why it is your favorite.
3rd: Make a list of the people that you want to buy or make gifts for.
4th: Do something kind for your brother. Write a letter to Santa.
5th: Sing Christmas carols!
6th: Read Luke 1.26-38. Give each of the animals a special treat and tell them that you love them.
7th: Bake Christmas goodies!
8th: Write a family prayer about hope, peace, joy and love.
9th: Pick a local organization to donate to.
10th: Discuss the true meaning of giving.
11th: Is it snowing? Play in the snow!
12th: Wrap gifts you made or bought.
13th: Read Luke 1.39-55. Draw a picture of what you read.
14th: Call Aunt Jessi and wish her a happy birthday~ Sing her a song!
15th: Do something nice for a family member or friend. Keep who did it a surprise!
16th: Say a prayer for others.
17th: Go on a Christmas Light Tour!
18th: Read your favorite Christmas story to someone lonely.
19th: Make more Christmas goodies and give them away!
20th: Read Luke 2.1-5. Help Mommy and Daddy prepare for Christmas.
21st: Have each family member share what they want to do for Christmas celebrations.
22nd: Say a prayer for all the homeless people and animals. Make a donation.
23rd: Write a letter to each of your family members to open on Christmas morning.
24th: Read Luke 2.1-20. Hold hands with someone you love.

25th: Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! Read the blessings from the Christmas jar.

The kids are enjoying this new spin on our Advent Tradition and I feel like it is making Christmas a little more heartfelt and meaningful. The boys actually remind me about the Blessing Jar every night at dinner!

Or maybe I'm just deluding myself so I feel better about spending $25 on a charming, painted wooden house from Target.

Either way, I'm winning at Christmas, and that is obviously what this season is really about.

Peace, Love and Christmas Traditions,