Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas: the Bitter and the Sweet.

Once you reach a certain age, Christmas becomes a mix of bitter and sweet.

Once you reach a certain age, you have experienced dozens of Christmases that you got to enjoy as a kid with child-like wonder.  Then you grow up a little and get to experience it with a spouse- all the melding of traditions, showering each other with presents, and making new memories.  Then maybe a little time goes by and you get to see it again with children- the anticipation, the joy, and the love of the season.

But with age also comes losses that give these memories a tinge of sadness.  With age comes the responsibility of making a magical holiday for other people.  It takes more time, more energy, and more money to maintain this magic for the little people in our lives.

All of this has been on my mind the last few weeks as I have been creating our 15th Christmas with children.

And I love it: the music, the church services, the hustle bustle, the gift buying and wrapping, the planning, the baking, the decorations.  I have a pretty good system in place by now and for some unknown reason was rarely stressed about the whole thing this season.  I have gone through enough of these to know that somehow it all gets done.

But the bitter creeps in at the strangest times.  Of course I miss my father and his huge part of our holiday.  I miss hearing his deep voice singing in the choir at church.  I miss buying gifts for him and making gingerbread houses for him.  I miss his open-faced excitement of getting presents and unwrapping them precisely with his Swiss Army knife, savoring every moment.  I miss his love, his strength, his wisdom and his humor.

But I have done a boatload of healing this year, through both hard emotional work and the grace of God and His strength. So while in past years I felt stuck in this sadness and bitter, this year I can feel it, acknowledge it, and move on.  Preferably to the sweet.

And I cry.  I cry at the Christmas songs, I cry at the Sunday School Christmas pageant, I cry at the mere idea of Mary, the same age as my oldest daughter, traveling to a strange place and giving birth to her first born in a stable with the knowledge of the awesome responsibility ahead of her, all the time responding to God that her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in Him.

I went to see the Disney On Ice show and even cried when Mickey first came out of the giant cupcake.

I cried yesterday when I heard the awful news that a long ago friend named Chris had suddenly passed away.  Chris was a few years older than me and lived in the neighborhood that we moved into when we moved from the country into suburban life.  I was 10.  Chris was a happy, kind, cheerful, nice kid who showed me that boys could be non-yucky and uncomplicated.  Chris was just easy to be friends with. For an up-and-coming teenage girl, that was a true gift.  He was nice.  He was just nice.

He went on to high school and we remained friendly but lost touch over time.  I would run into him every few years, and he was always armed with a ready smile and genuine interest in how things were going for me.  The beauty of Facebook helped me to reconnect with him, and in the last few years I have rejoiced at his marriage to his wife Michelle, laughed at their clever announcement to the world that she was pregnant, and oohed and ahhhed over the newborn pictures of his son, Max, when he was born 10 months ago.  I was really happy for him.

So when Dan shared this awful news when I got home from a Girl Scout event (happy but tired from coraling 18 first and fifth grade girls for a few hours and all the Christmas preparations and events that have been lovely but make life rather full), I was stunned.  And grief stricken.

I mourned for that happy kid that I met all those years ago and the gift he gave me of being my friend.
I mourned for his son and his wife and the implications of what his loss will mean to them.
I mourned that this happened so close to Christmas, and that I'm sure there are gifts for him that will never be opened.
And that reminded me of those innocent babies in Sandy Hook, who were killed for no reason a few years ago by that madman, and the gifts their parents gave them that were never opened.

And when I scrolled through Facebook and saw all the beautiful tributes to Chris, mostly saying what I felt- how nice he was, how kind he was, how easy to smile, how benevolent- I cried all over again.  I hope he knew all these people loved him.

This year I have thought a lot about why being involved in my church is so important to me around Christmas.  And a big part of it for me is realizing the structure it provides:  no matter who we have lost or gained over the previous year, whatever joys or challenges we have faced, whatever bitter or sweet we have experienced, the church service will be there on Christmas Eve at 4pm with a Pastor delivering the Christmas message, the choir singing the Christmas hymns, and my church family standing there in the pews next to me, either celebrating the year or holding me up as I struggle to get through.

So yes, I have lived long enough now to make Christmas bittersweet.  These shadows of sadness are there in the corners.

But I have so, so much sweetness: my babies. My babies. My babies.

Sharing Christmas with them... the anticipation, the advent calendars, the peaceful Advent church services, the Christmas music in the car, the special ornaments on the tree, the Christmas cards that show how they've grown, the holiday movies and baking shows we watch together, the Christmas Eve pajamas, the annual reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. So much sweetness and joy.

In three days, another Christmas Eve will be upon us.  My gifts are all bought and mostly wrapped.  The cards are out, the outfits are ready, the plans are made, and all I have left is some baking to do.  I will love every minute of watching them, taking a million pictures, and savoring all that sweet.

I thank God every day for the health of my husband and children, the blessings He has placed on me this year, and the church that I am a part of.  I understand God's sovereignty in my life and accept it.

I understand and accept the bitter and the sweet.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jenna Turns Double Digits.

Our sweet baby girl Jenna Alicia turned 10 on May 11th.  
I could hardly believe how quickly the decade has gone.
We started the celebration early with a family birthday party at the end of April.  We had a nice Sunday afternoon to celebrate Jenna, complete with a garishly decorated birthday cake.  "Oh WOW!" I exclaimed when I picked it up. And not with joy and admiration.  But it still tasted yummy.

A few weeks later, it was the real day.  She carefully chose her outfit and hairstyle for the day.

I brought in chocolate chip cookie bars for her class to enjoy per her request.  Her biggest concern was her food for the day- she had a very specific list of things she wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  And not all of it exactly "went together" in the culinary sense, but hey, I was up to providing whatever she wanted.  She's a real foodie at heart.

For her present she requested the Girl of the Year from American Girl, Grace Thomas, who is a baker who loves Paris and has dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles.  Sound like anyone we all know and love??  She is a beautiful doll and a great addition to the collection.

Here's Jenna enjoying her steak dinner:

After dinner we scooted over to my mom's for dessert (where Jenna had clear direction of what kind of drinks and sides she wanted with the cake- orange soda, sprite, and maraschino cherries).  Gammie had secured a super-crazy birthday candle that shot firework-type sparklers in the air, rotated and played "Happy Birthday" until you literally cut the power wire.  It was incredible.  We loved the instructions, which may or may not have been written by a non-native English speaker:

 "Mistake" vs. "Exactitude"

We really enjoyed the "elegant handicraft".

All in all, it was a beautiful birthday for a beautiful little girl, who is really not little anymore.  Jenna is still the sweetest, gentlest girl with an inner rod of strength and depth that is awe-inducing.  Let me be clear: I will not mess with her as an adult.  So for now I can nag her about her always-messy room, encourage her to not be quite so absent-minded, and help her be more independent with her agonizing decisions about what to wear each day (she has a reputation to uphold, you know), but once she is all grown up... watch out.  We are encouraging her dream of being a doctor one day, because she clearly has the ability to slice someone open with out blinking an eye.  She is smart and funny and so loving it overwhelms me at times... and at the same time she has a great sense of discernment and knows exactly what she wants in life... she is ambitious and driven and a perfectionist and has no time for nonsense.  It is an amazing gift to be her mom and watch her grow up.

Happy birthday to my sweet Nenna!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chocolate Chip Muffin Obsession and Sisterhood.

I don't know how your kids operate, but my kids have a somewhat annoying quirk when it comes to food: I buy an item for them, like a new kind of granola bar or fruit or cookie, and they fall instantly in love with it.  Love love love.  Can't get enough.  Want to have it all the time. Blow through boxes/servings/packages of it.  Then, noticing their devotion to this new food, I find it on sale somewhere and think, "AHA! They love this stuff! I'll buy three boxes/servings/packages of it!"

And three days later, just when I am breaking into my newfound stash of food greatness, they scrunch up their little faces and say, "Ooooooohhh... I don't like that anymore."


Well, this week we had a similar adventure in the food department.  Michaela went grocery shopping with me on Sunday, which is very rare, and she loves to push the cart (because she is the Firstborn Child and She Is In Charge) and she also loves to just casually toss items that catch her eye in to the cart.  We went with a list of five things to get.  We spent, I kid you not, $48 total.

One of the things she picked out was chocolate chip muffin mix.  When we got home, Jenna immediately spied it and asked, "Wait! Who is the muffin mix for?"

And of course Michaela immediately answered, "It is for me and you can't have any."

And of course Jenna whipped her head to me and said, "Can you get more muffin mix for me?"

And I said, "Yes, I will stop at the store and get muffin mix for you."

That night Michaela tried to make her muffins but I was short an egg.  "Can you get eggs tomorrow?"

"Yes," I answered.

"And don't forget the muffin mix for me." Jenna adds.

"Yes," I answered.

The next morning, as Michaela is saying goodbye and heading to school, she says, "Don't forget the eggs!"
To which Jenna adds, "AND THE MUFFIN MIX!"

"OKAY OKAY OKAY!" I yell back at them both.

So I get the eggs and the muffin mix.  That day after school, Michaela announces she's going to make her muffins.  "Can you make mine, too?" asks Jenna. "NO! Just mine!" Michaela says and I give her a very dirty look and say, "Michaela, REALLY? Just make a double batch."

Alec, hearing that a baked good is being made, pipes up, "I can help!" and climbs up on the chair next to the counter.

Michaela makes the muffins and miraculously, "her pan" gets 12 full muffins while "Jenna's pan" gets 9 full and three baby muffins.  Hmmm. She pops the first pan in the oven and walks away.  I take them out when the timer goes off and pop in the next pan.  They stay in a minute or two longer and end up a bit darker.

"Why are my muffins darker?" Jenna asks.  "Why aren't they like Michaela's?"
"They were in the oven a touch longer. They're fine."

Michaela makes me separate her muffins onto one plate and Jenna's muffins onto another plate.

Both girls are adamant that no one else eats their designated muffins.
Which leaves Alec in limbo.  But he doesn't care.  He spends the next few days grabbing muffins indiscriminately off of whatever plate he can reach.

Before I know it, a few days goes by and whenever I see my kids, they are all stuffing muffins into their mouths and leaving a trail of chips and crumbs wherever they go.  Its like living with Hansel and Gretel.

Michaela comes home from school Tuesday afternoon and I very solemnly say to her, "I don't know how to tell you this... but I ate every one of your chocolate chip muffins today."


It was worth teasing her to see her reaction.

So I am happy to report that it is Thursday and only one muffin is left.

Hopefully the obsession has waned.
All I know is I am not buying three more boxes of muffin mix the next time I go to the store.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Out and About with Cheryl: There Are Robots Among Us.

It's been awhile since my last Out and About Edition, where I chronicle various bizarre/ funny/ quirky goings on as I encounter people in various stores and places I go as part of my very exciting stay-at- home-mom life.

1. So every couple of weeks I rotate where I go grocery shopping, mostly based on what kind of stuff I need to buy.  A few weeks ago I was in the checkout line at Shop Rite, a store I truly love, though only shop at maybe two of the four weeks of every month.  Some of the checkout girls are familiar to me, like my favorite older lady who clearly is a smoker and unintentionally talks way louder than she needs to and is always very wistfully disappointed with me when I tell her I do not, in fact, have any coupons this week. ("Any coupons today?" she asks, hopefully. "No, none today," I answer. "Oooohhh," she says, sighing and dropping her shoulders as though my groceries will now cost HER more money.)  Others I am not really familiar with.

I was checking out maybe a month ago when a girl I vaguely remember seeing there before greets and I smile and greet her back.  I try really hard to be pleasant and present with my checkers because I'm guessing a lot of people just kind of ignore them.  Well, she sort of looks at me funny and says, "Well, I haven't seen YOU in a while! How have you been?" aaaaall friendly-like, and I instantly get a stomachache because 1) I don't know her; 2) It is clear she thinks she knows me; and 3) I am afraid she has mistaken me for someone else and I am going to have to at some point gently correct her mistake.

Whereas I am all hesitant at this point, she is happy to have an audience and launches into an incredibly detailed story abut how she has found a MUCH BETTER JOB than this one, with MUCH BETTER PAY, and she starts in a few weeks and she wishes she could just quit here but they called her in and she doesn't want to leave on bad terms, you know what I mean, and I smile and nod and try not to engage.

When I am finally done and check out and bagged up, I smile and tell her "Well, good luck!" and scoot on out as fast as I can.  And before she asks me for my phone number so we can keep in touch.

Ironically, I was at the same store yesterday and saw her.  Maybe the new job didn't work out after all.

2.  I have been going to the Y regularly for a few weeks now, and have had fun challenging myself to try new machines and new classes as I start to lose the 30 pounds I have gained since my dad was diagnosed and Alec's brain went a little kooky.  I call it my Grief and Anxiety weight, and I will be more than thrilled to lose it.

I have tried yoga classes, Zumba classes, Nia classes, strength building classes, stair climbing machines, my old favorite friend the elliptical, treadmills, the indoor track and bikes.  I have enjoyed it and it has nicely filled my time and energy for the last few weeks.

The Y I go to is large and busy, and filled with people of all shapes, ages and sizes.  It does seem to skew a bit older during the day while I am there with the other mommies who either have all their kids in school or take advantage of the childcare offered.  So there are a few classes that are mostly filled with women generally between the ages of 60-80, and I like those classes because I feel like my out-of-shape-ness will be generally ignored.  Or let me say that I myself am less self-conscious around the nice old ladies.

So I took a Zumba class that is actually called Zumba Gold because it is for people in their golden years.  I had never tried Zumba before, but I am mildly coordinated and love music, and am about 25 years younger than who the class is targeted for, so I figured I should make out pretty well.

Holy crap.

I was ridiculous.

I could barely keep up with the teacher, so I instead stared at a 75 year old woman dancing in front of me and did what she did.  And after the 45 minutes, I looked with great awe at her as she was completely dry and energized by her dancing, clapping and smiling, and I was a hot sweaty puddle of exhaustion.  How is this possible? As I trudged upstairs after the class to do a little more on the elliptical (I'm telling you... its an affair I'm having), I looked downstairs and saw some of my Zumba Gold classmates calmly sitting down together drinking hot coffees and chatting.  I was stunned.

Then yesterday I took a class for the first time called Women on Weights.  This class is right after the yoga class I usually take, so I see the Women on Weights ladies lining up waiting for yoga to end and their class to start.  They look even older to me, and some of them are these wispy, thin, frail little things that I could probably throw over my ample German-peasant stout thighs and snap in half.

Once again, I grossly underestimated them.

As I am using my puny 6 pound weights in the class, struggling to do all the moves and keep up and am dripping- DRIPPING- all over my mat, sucking down my water and exhausted, once again I see my older classmates, these little wisps of things, who are pleasantly and kindly following every direction, dry as a bone, and the only thing they even begin to mention is that its a bit tough for them to keep having to get up and then get back on the floor to do a move on the mat.

On my way out, I have to actually sit down and rest in the lobby.  And as I am thinking about this experience, I come to only one conclusion:

They are robots.

Friendly, pleasant, gentle, silver-bobbed-haired, dry-as-a-bone robots.

There is no possible other explanation.

So watch out, people who live in my town.
They are all around us, watching us, learning our habits and routines, and embarrassing those of us who maybe are a bit out of shape and prone to sweating.

Be alert, and keep exercising.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


During the last weekend of our Winter Break, which was even a little too winter-y for me, a lifelong hardy, upstate NY kind of gal, I thought it would be fun to watch my son's head explode.

So we went to Legoland in Westchester.

We drove down and upon arrival, realized it was inside of a huge open-air mall, which was kind of neat- easy to find and great parking.  When you first go in, you're in a big room the has all kinds of interactive displays showing how Lego pieces are actually made.  Then you come into a big place where the NYC skyline has been recreated- all in Legos.  It even simulated the sun rising and setting, and when it gets dark in the city, all the thousands of tiny lights come on in the buildings.  We saw the Freedom Tower, Empire State building, Statue of Liberty and of course, Times Square, also known in my house as "where GMA is filmed each day."  I am hoping to take a trip to NYC this summer and show the kids these actual sights, so maybe this helped to whet their appetite.

It is safe to say at this point Alec's head was swiveling around and he was a scootch overwhelmed.

After that, you moved into a huge area that had a playgym in the middle and offshoot rooms all around with different Lego themes: Ninjago, Friends, etc.  Alec was more than happy to go into the play gym area and explore.

Then we checked out the racer area where you built your own car and timed how fast it went on the track.

 I think everyone's favorite part was the 4D movie.  The theater had cool blue lights on before the show.

Some Mommy/Alec selfie action:

We explored some other sections and on our way out got this last shot with a guy totally made of Legos.

When we got home on Sunday, Michaela wrote this on the whiteboard in our kitchen:

How I love that funny girl.
Legoland, overall, was a hit and a great end to our vacation!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How I Spent My February Break, 2015.

Freezing.  Shivering. Turning up the heat.  Complaining about the weather in NY.

Looked at real estate listings for Charlotte, NC and Tega Cay, SC.  Sent the listings to Dan.  Showed the listings to the kids.  Listened to other people complain about the cold.  Felt bad that the kids can't even really go outside to play... -30 degree windchill rules that out.  Climbed into bed last Wednesday and realized I missed my opportunity to have the kids play outside- it was the warmest day of the week.

Slept in.  Stayed in my pajamas.  Watched television.  Watched movies.  Watched more television with my kids- Master Chef Junior is a favorite.  Watched Alec almost come to tears when his favorite contestant, Jenna from NYC, was kicked off the show.

Drove the kids to Vacation Bible School at our church.  Listened to them sing songs and have fun.  Hosted a sleepover for two of Michaela's friends.  Drove Jenna to a playdate.   Complained about how cold it is outside.  Hosted a playdate here for Alec.

Started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix with Dan.  Snuck downstairs to the den multiple times to watch as many episodes as we could.  Had to convince Dan that we still had to parent and feed our children even though all we wanted to do was watch more Breaking Bad.  Texted my brother, who also started watching Breaking Bad this week.  Considered staging some kind of intervention for Dan about his Breaking Bad addiction.  Had a great dream that I started dating a biker guy and for our second date he texted me this: "I have secured our crystal meth and prescription pills so we can party tonight."  Texted him back: "I never want to talk to you again."

Broke up a few arguments.  Said "leave your sister alone, please" about 15 times to Michaela.  Said "please pick up after yourself" about 115 times to Jenna.  Said "Sorry, I can't play Plants vs. Zombies right now" about 215 times to Alec.  Lounged around. Played Plants Vs. Zombies on the iPad with Alec.  Caught up on other people's blogs.  Organized part of my craft closet downstairs.  Used my label maker.

On Saturday went to Legoland in Westchester.  Watched my son's head almost explode.  Watched my girls have a ball, too.  Bought souvenirs in the shop they conveniently have you pass through on your way out.  Drove in yet another snowstorm to Dan's brother and sister in law's house.  Had a great get together with our whole family.  Kissed my nieces.  Watched Alec and Sophie chit chat and smile at each other.  Talked and laughed.  Slept over.  Drove home.  Watched the Oscars with my girls.  Picked out our favorite looks on the movie stars.

Shivered.  Slept.  Hibernated.  Carried blankets with me wherever I went in the house.  Turned up the heat again.  Considered that maybe in some kind of freak real-world Wizard of Oz scenario our town has been picked up and relocated to Siberia.  Looked at all the icicles on the houses.  Listened to the wind.

Thanked God over and over and over that I had a warm, safe, dry house that is filled with people I love.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Meet Eleanor Roosevelt and How She was Made.

So remember four years ago, when Michaela had to dress up as Clara Barton for her Biography unit in Ms. Lawler's class? And I couldn't figure out exactly how to do that with clothes I had on hand so I sewed this costume for her? And she loved it?  And frankly, I loved doing it for her?

Look at how teeny tiny Michaela was!

Guess who else was carefully watching?  Jenna, who was in kindergarten at the time.
And guess who has Ms. Lawler four years later? Jenna.
And guess what the month of January's book project was? Dress up like your Biography book subject.
Jenna was thinking of doing Jackie Kennedy, and I had it all set in my head... a tweedy pink suit with a pillbox hat, gloves, a smart little black bag and of course, pearls and sunglasses (though the sunglasses I had in mind were really later NYC Jackie O, not First Lady Jackie).

But then Jenna read some really inspiring quotes about Eleanor Roosevelt and did some of her own research and decided that was the way to go.
And I admit I was a bit stumped.  Because after looking through lots of pictures and books about her, it was hard to find a defining look for Eleanor, other than her furs, pearls and hats.  And rather dowdy droopy-bowtie-at-the-neck rumply suits.  And I didn't have a fur.
So I went to my trusty Joann fabric store and looked through the patterns and narrowed it down to two choices- one an early, early Eleanor (like around 1910) dress with a yoke and lace and a long skirt and 86 steps of instructions.  Yikes.  The other was a slightly older possibility, around 1920's but pre-flapper, with chiffon and silky fabric.  And only about 67 steps to construct it.  I was thinking it would be appropriate for NYS First Lady Eleanor.
Thankfully, Jenna chose option #2.
We went back to Joann's for Jenna to choose her fabric and to buy the notions (thread, snaps, hooks and eyes- no zippers prior to the 1930's, I think- and boning) I needed.  Yes, I needed boning because the dress has a real live one corset underneath it.  Seriously.

So the picture below was a few days in to sewing, and I hadn't even cried in frustration once!
You can see the picture on the front of the pattern in  the right of the photo.  I was making the light green version.

I worked on it for about a week and a half from roughly the time the kids got on the bus to when they got home, with a short break for lunch.  One day I worked all day and then when I had Jenna try it on that afternoon, I had not gathered it right and it laid funny, so I had to rip out pretty much everything I had done that day.  But I still didn't cry!
The chiffon was a nightmare to sew because it's so fine, and I had to do lots of experimenting with the thread tension.  Honestly, the satin was not much better.
The corset was time consuming but once it was done, I am proud to be able to say I've made one.   The corset needed lots of adjustments because the pattern was a size 6 women and Jenna is really a size 14 girl.  I had to shorten it, too, but not just lop off the bottom- it had a vent slit in the back and it would have ended up being 2 inches of a slit if I just shortened it.  So I had to rework the pattern a bit to find a place to take about 5 inches out of the skirt.  The other issue was that of course Jenna does not have a bust yet, so there was some draping in the front of the dress that I am not skilled enough to re-work to remove.
But it eventually all came together.

The morning of the presentation, we used this picture to guide us for hair.  Eleanor had pretty frizzy/ curly hair, so I tightly curled the front and sides of Jenna's hair, roller curled the back, side parted it and pulled it back in to a messy bun.

I had to get special permission to come to the classroom for her presentation because Jenna literally couldn't get in or out of the corset and dress by herself.  It made it much more clear why each woman on Downton Abby has a lady's maid.  They were trapped in those clothes!

So here's Eleanor, about to go into her classroom.  The hat is an old Easter hat we curled up on one side and the fur is a mink stole of my grandmother's that my mom let Jenna borrow.  And of course a string of pearls.  Fancy Schmancy!

Better shot of the front of the dress.
There were chiffon cascades sewn into the side seams of the skirt.
The light blue you see poking out of the top is the top of the corset.

And the back.

Giving her presentation.

Once the kids guessed who she was, she wrote her name on the board and her teacher took her picture with the book she read.

I think Jenna had a great time dressing up all fancy in a custom-made dress.  I have to admit it was a bit anti-climactic coming home that day, the presentation over,  a little unsure what to do with this precious dress.  So for now it is hanging in Jenna's closet and she can slip it on anytime and play dress up.  With help from her lady's maid, of course.

And guess who might have Ms. Lawler four years from now?
And guess who is praying he'll choose to read a book about a soccer star, and we can throw some kind of jersey and mesh shorts on him and call it a day?

But with my luck he'll chose Abraham Lincoln, and I'll throw myself in to making a custom black suit complete with period-correct top hat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Performance Overload.

We had an exciting couple of weeks here at the Libutti household: Michaela performed in the the Middle School's musical, Bye Bye Birdie, and Alec and Jenna performed in separate groups at their elementary's Lip Sync performance.

I am worn out from smiling so much.

You may recall that Michaela had a little part in last year's musical, Seussical, starring as the cutest little yellow Who in Whoville.  You may not recall this because I am not sure that I ever posted about it.  But trust me- it happened and she was totes adorbs as a smiling, happy Who Whom I Could Not Take My Eyes Off Of Because I am Her Mom.

Well, she tried out again this year and got a part WITH A NAME.  Big time, people.  She played Penelope, friend of Kim, the girl who Conrad Birdie (an Elvis-type character) kisses before enlisting in the service.  She was mostly in group songs with the other friends of Kim and had a few of her own lines in one of the songs.

She attended all of the rehearsals and meetings and dress rehearsals and I tried to be patient as I drove her back and forth to the middle school 8,483 times.  She panicked when it wasn't quite coming together.  But by the last week she relaxed and told me it was going to be a great show.

And she was right.

It was amazing.  On opening night, Dan and I sat in our middle front seats and drank the whole thing in and I could not get over how proud of her I was.  She was just so good- confident and smiley and happy and right in the moment, looking out at the audience.  The songs are great, it moved along quickly and it was a great all-around performance.

Michaela's big song... she's in the center with her back turned to the audience... 
she's a bit hard to hear because she wasn't wearing a microphone

Dancing!!(She's the one who ends up on the far left of the stage.)

Curtain call!  Can you stand how happy she looks?? (Last girl on the right)

Dan and I went to the closing night (the kids all cried because it was over) and a few of the performances in between.  I was a crazy woman trying to remember who was going what night, what tickets I had bought for whom, and what the overall schedule was for that weekend. (I also volunteered to help with the cast and crew afterparty on Saturday so I helped set up Saturday morning and then chaperoned Saturday night.)  By the time Sunday rolled around, we were all pooped out but happy.

Here's a couple of pictures of Michaela with her castmates:

Michaela with her friend Erin- 
they have been friends since they were in 3 year old preschool together.

So once that was wrapped up and we were just about recovered, along came the Lip Sync.  For those not in the know, Lip Sync is an event that occurs every other year (because the Mommies can't muster the energy to do it annually) in which kids form groups of 5 or more kids, a song is chosen and a dance routine is developed and rehearsed and eventually performed for approximately 30,000 people all crammed into a venue with not enough seats for the adoring fans of said children.
And we are no better- we brought a grandparent, an aunt, two siblings, two parents and even a friend of a sibling.
I fully accept my responsibility of adding to the madness.

This event was made much easier this year for me in two ways: 1) Alec's teacher organized the whole class to be a group and they rehearsed at school and even tie-dyed shirts at school so I was not responsible for brainstorming/securing/constructing any type of costume and 2) Jenna was in a group with several girls from our neighborhood and we were able to carpool to rehearsals.  Jenna's group was made us of fairly dance-savvy girls so we were not bogged down in rehearsals, anyway. It was the least painful Lip Sync ever.

Alec came home after the first few rehearsals at school, bursting with news. "I have a SURPRISE!" he said.  "I can't tell you but I want to tell you."  And he ended up spilling the beans: his group was going to sing Frozen's Let It Go with an introduction from the Beatles' Let It Be, and he had volunteered to be one of the four Beatles who stands in front with a fake microphone singing.  This was HUGE news. His teacher was so proud of him.

So the dress rehearsal came for the Lip Sync, and I was able to grab some good video and pictures:

Alec is the boy with the white long sleeves under his orange shirt.  And the only one correctly mouthing the words to Let It Be.

The lady in the orange shirt is Alec's teacher, the Altogether Saintly Mrs. Jones.

And here we are on show night, rocking' the Frozen-color-inspired tie dyed shirts:
(Alec is basically under the 0 in 2015)

Here is Jenna's group, pre-performance at the dress rehearsal.  Such a cute group of girls!

(Jenna is second from the left in the pink shirt.)

They rocked it just as hard on performance night! They did a mash up of a bunch of fun songs, starting with the classic "Everybody Dance Now" and moving into "Shower", "Shake it Off", "Classic", and "All About That Bass".

I was so proud of all of them!
See why my face hurts from smiling?

(I think a teeny tiny bit of me is also smiling because I only have two more Lip Syncs for Alec to be in and then we Libuttis are DONE.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Because I Enjoy Torturing my Children.

So I dragged my three kids and husband and (much more willing) mom to a celebration of the Twelfth Night of Christmas at two local historical sites.

Because I enjoy torturing my children.

But come on... the publicity for the event promised games, period-correct food, reenactors, tours of the sites and live music.  It ran from 4-7pm, and I promised that if it was really awful, we'd stay for an hour and then leave.

So after de-Christmassing the house that morning (funny how I have so many wonderful memories of putting the Christmas tree up every year, but no warm, happy memories of taking it down. It's like every year it's a new experience. How do all these ornaments fit in this bin? How does the tree go back into the box again?  Where do we put all this stuff?) we all got ready and left for the UNENDINGLY long (according to my girls) 15 minute drive across the Hudson River to Crailo Historic site.

We had gone there over the summer without Michaela and I think everyone kind of enjoyed it in a way that was uncomfortable for them to admit... like, "Hey! That was fun, right?" and they answered quite hesitantly, "Yeah, it was ... good."  It was nice to show my mom around to the cool displays they have set up, and even the house itself is pretty fascinating.  It is all about the Dutch who came and settled here and gives a very different perspective than my usual English/Pilgrim historical haunts.

They did have music, but it was just one lady playing a pretty instrument I had never heard before, and some crafts that the kids enjoyed doing upstairs.

Alec in his Three Kings Hat

But the real excitement for me was going into the basement kitchen, where two women dressed in period clothing were cooking in the open hearth and had displays of holiday breads and cookies.  Because I eat that stuff up, both literally and figuratively.  I even took one of their cards which promoted their group: Scions of Patria: Recreating the everyday life of the Dutch in North America 1650-1675.  Because you know what a dork I am.  I was apparently so overwhelmed with dork-ness that I forgot to snap any pictures of this amazing sight.  But here are a few from when we went over the summer, just to give you an idea:

 That stone foundation and heavy wood ceiling beams are original, and they are massive.  You can breathe in the history in that space.

 Over the front door heading outside... I love decorations with citrus fruits.

Front of Crailo/ Van Rensselaer House

When we left, the sun was just going down over the river and the light was beautiful.  I am so connected to the Hudson River and when I see sights like this, I can never imagine living anywhere else. (And then late January storms come and drop a foot of snow with windchill in the negative numbers, and then I can't imagine why I stay here. It's all relative.)

Then we headed over back to our side of the River to go to Schuyler Mansion in Albany.  I am ashamed to say that I have lived here for 40 years and have never gone inside.

When we got out of our car and started walking towards the house, we were greeted with a bonfire and a man playing a fife.  I just about passed out with giddiness.  (No one else I was with appeared to be as lightheaded as I was with historical glee.)

 Now, Crailo was pretty low key... lots of visitors, nice food... but this event at Schuyler Mansion was a PARTY.  It was wall to wall people and the period music was cranking.  There were tons of people in period clothing, eating and drinking and playing games and giving tours.  I was breathless.

The dining room table in this room was set for a holiday feast.  It was gorgeous.  On the wall are portraits of the house owners: Catharine Van Rensselaer Schuyler and her husband, Philip Schuyler.  Catharine was from the family who lived in Crailo.  See the connection there?  The Schuylers were quite well-to-do and the house was magnificent and filled with history.  Alexander Hamilton got married in that very house.
 The grand staircase was decorated with live greenery.

Upstairs bedroom

 In the upstairs grand hallway, musicians were set up and playing. 
 Being there at night, it was amazing to imagine what the parties they hosted there were like.

 In the downstairs hallway, this huge table was set up with period correct food and drinks.  
It was gorgeous.

 In the front parlor room. I couldn't stop looking at the woodwork on the fireplace.

 Alec and Michaela watched the kids play Shut the Box, which is a game my mom brought home for them from Colonial Williamsburg last year.

 My kids don't look too tortured, do they? 

There were two little girls there, both wearing period dresses.  I talked to the older sister about her dress and she blew me away with her vocabulary and familiarity with clothing of the time.  I examined the hem and detail work on her dress and couldn't believe how beautifully done it was (Eleanor Roosevelt's dress was a poor, poor, poor cousin of this type of sewing).  I later found out that the girls' mom does costume work for a living, and that made me feel better.

Love this picture and the light and shadows.  

The other highly entertaining thing that happened while we were there was that a king or queen was chosen every half hour via random drawing.  Alec happened to draw the paper with the picture of the king on it, and when Michaela called attention to the crowd that he was the king, he promptly burst into tears.  So who stepped in but my handsome husband, who was then officially crowned King of the 6:30pm hour at the party.  He donned a crown and a red royal robe and had to walk around the round table in the picture and waved his royal hands and we all yelled, "Huzzah! Hail the king of the 6:30 hour!"  He was embarrassed but I think secretly enjoyed it.  I of course took pictures of it but will refrain from posting them.

For the next few weeks, he identified himself to me as "Daniel, King of the 6:30 hour!"

After awhile, the kids indicated to me that their interest in all things 1700's had waned and they were ready to go back to the 21st century.  So, we travelled back to modern times and had dinner at our local Chili's.  And they breathed a sigh a relief.  The torture was over.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed every minute.  I have poked around online and found some groups about historical reenactors and the clothing they wear.  I have also discovered that a living history museum in Western-ish NY is doing a three day commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in July, complete with two battles a day!  Tons of reenactors! Games! Food! Activities! History, history, history!

I am planning my scheme to torture them some more.  Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!