Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bauer Bunch Best Of {2017}

The sparkling juice is on ice {right beside the hard stuff}, and we're ready to ring it in!

My family is more than ready to welcome 2018. While most of that eagerness comes from getting to stay up four hours past bedtime, we all love a good start. I adore the feeling that comes with tossing a calendar into the trash and cracking open a fresh one. The Christmas decor is being boxed up as I type and we'll tidy this place until the fizzy drinks flow.

I like to take "clean slate" as literal as possible.

We are busy packing and storing 2017, but I do enjoy a good glance backward. Per the tradition I created for myself several years ago, the last blog post of each year is dedicated to a Top Ten list of my favorite posts. This year I decided to go beyond my favorite experiences or journal-style entries. We shared some great memories, but the blog entries I've included below are my favorite pieces of writing. The following words mean the most to me and I suppose that's okay since I made the rules. Throughout 2017 I tried to let my voice come out more in my writing, and I plan to amp that up in 2018. Heck, I'll even make it an official resolution.

Here's to reliving the good memories, reconciling with the bad, and allowing both to propel us forward. Cheers, y'all!

{Click the title or the photo to link to each full post.}

My Home
I am from piles of laundry and forgotten toys, from discarded school papers gleaming with praise and little pink shoes left in the hallway. I am from the ordinary house at the end of the row, nestled in the quiet cow pastures. From the yellow door that welcomes visitors and chickens that do the same.

You know how they always tell you to write what you know? Well at this particular juncture in my life... I know tomatoes. As the heat index dwindled from triple digits to still-sweltering doubles yesterday, I stepped outside wearing my pickin' apron. The weekend was full of fun away from home, so it had been a few days since I'd explored. I started picking.

Their Faces
I snapped the photo above yesterday afternoon at the request of my sister-in-law. She painted these pieces for me several years ago, and may or may not be working on another set for someone else. She wanted a reminder of them, so I happily obliged. Once I shared it with her, I returned them to my bedroom wall. I didn't think anything of it until this morning when I was scrolling through my phone photos and these three images caught my eye.

Valentine's Day: Then + Now
Eleven years ago Jonathan and I celebrated our first Valentine's Day together. Sitting on the couch in a tiny one-room apartment that cost us less than $400 a month {you read that right}, I watched him cook in our meager kitchen. We were engaged and counting down to our June wedding, blissfully unaware of how easy life was.

She Is More
She's not just the fluff of blonde curls slicing through the breeze on the front yard swing. She's not just the comic relief when she hits her punch line just right. She's not just the stubborn mule who'd rather stand on the back porch from dusk to dawn than take her boots off outside. She's not just a pair of twinkly blue eyes that wash away the aforementioned scenario. She's not just a round face, short fingers, and a high-voltage smile.

The Seedling
Since the moment I ripped open this year's seed packets, I have watched. On a warm day when timing was right, we began. The seeds were put into place and watered, and our patience was tested. In the few weeks between that moment and today, I have noticed beauty in the waiting. I've also seen an incredible alignment between parenting and gardening.

Each of My Kids
Each of my kids can ride a bike. One has a hot pink flower helmet and training wheels, but she can match her brothers' pace. All of my kids can open the refrigerator door, grab a juice box, and poke in the straw without help. All of my kids can write their names and identify numbers and sit still for a whole feature film.

Always Be
Last week one of my youth group girls asked me a simple question. I was unloading my flute from its case to practice the music for our upcoming Stations of the Cross. Fun Fact: I saved for months to buy that very open-holed flute when I was 16 years old to upgrade from my standard version. It was my first eBay purchase.
{It might have been one of the original eBay purchases.}

Joy in the Mourning
There's always a bit of poetry that comes with this time of year. We watch the old turn over to new as winter threatens to leave and we bounce between short sleeves and warm coats. Buds wait patiently for the perfect temperature, and we teeter on the brink of two lives. While there's all sorts of metaphors and similes and I could weave into this time of year and this season of life, it's been a difficult few weeks.

To The Graduates
Tonight the Hope High School Class of 2017 will walk across a stage, shake a hand, and peace out. Some will leave the auditorium in tears, some will leave clueless about their next step, and some will hit those doors and never look back. Still, that school will always be their first chapter, no matter what waits in the next one. When thinking of all these teenagers making their great escape, ready or not, the thought that hits me the hardest is how old I am.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Merry Monday

My eyes blinked into the morning light on Christmas Day. Yes, you read that right: morning light.

For the first time in years, no child rushed into our bedroom on December 25 until after the sunrise. When I asked my husband what time it was as Owen impatiently shifted his weight from foot to foot, he told me 7:00. Seven?? If we had a rooster, he'd have crowed long ago. Parents across the country were already picking up wrapping paper and starting breakfast, some even going back to sleep. Heck, it even took a few minutes for the boys to rouse Nora enough to realize what day it was.

I think it was the combo of Christmas Vigil Mass, followed by an obsession with the Santa tracker app.

While there was a bit of discrepancy between me and Santa when it came to this year's nice list, everyone's stocking was full. Nathan was shocked to see a "stinking Nintendo Switch" in his pile, and had this face on, patiently waiting to get his mitts on it while his siblings finished first:

Nora was able to get the big, pink Hatchimal she requested first-hand from the big guy {he was shocked to find one on sale at Target just weeks before}. We were all excited to see what would happen, so we rubbed the egg. We carried the egg around. We shared pancakes with the egg. When it finally cracked, it revealed a surprise: twins! Had Jonathan and I looked, the packaging would have told us. More fun this way, really.

Owen's Santa present this year was a doozy. A parental-supervision-required doozy. Santa took it a step up from the Red Rider and got Owen a .22 rifle. We hooked him up with a camo jacket and camo boots and he was that much closer to his dream of a hunting trip with Dad. Once the floor was halfway clear of paper and the pancake dishes were in the sink, we trekked outside to test it.

{I'd leave out the part where I nailed the target on my first shot, but how else would you know I'm a dead-eye?}

Jonathan said Owen needs to work on his stance, but I was so impressed with the safety he showed. He took his listening very seriously and he was super proud to make the target spin several times. He's always been interested in hunting, so I can't wait to see what kind of adventures his dad takes him on this year.

We had such a blast emptying stockings with the kids this year. The night before, when we were waiting on Santa to arrive, Jonathan and I were talking about this being the most magical Christmas yet. Each kid is old enough to really get into it. Sure, they're excited about presents, but I love seeing this family unit growing its own traditions. Everyone lives for the family time. I mean, they were elated to wear matching pajamas and take self-timer photos on the living room floor.

It reminds me of Christmas mornings when I was a kid, and I pray that I'm using these years to instill the same magical memories my parents made for me. I had frequent flashbacks of me and my brother while sitting on the couch watching my own children, so I hope I'm doing it right.

I think the best Christmas parallel I saw this year, though, was a pew full of family at Mass. As I listened to the parish sing of all being calm and bright, I looked at my kids' faces. Our section was still and quiet, but the Holy Spirit sparked the air. Our priest read from the book of Matthew about the birth of Jesus Christ, when all was still and quiet, and the Holy Spirit lit into the night sky and shined in the heavens. When the Word became flesh. When a tiny baby was born and the world was changed forever.

It will always be fun to pile in the car and look at Christmas lights, to watch Elf six dozen times, and to delight in watching someone open the perfect gift, but I think my favorite Christmas tradition is to remember the first:

"All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Holiday Medley

Just five more sleeps 'til Christmas, friends, and things have been insane.

I'm pretty sure I only have three kids, but it feels like we've been to 17 Christmas parties. There's been a class party for all, a Cub Scouts party {did I mention Owen's a Tiger Scout? Give that an "Aww" for now and I'll have more later}, and Jonathan and I hosted one epic youth group party. That's technically only five and I was merely responsible for one of those, but my goodness I'm up to my ears in holiday cheer.

On top of the parties, we've been doing a lot of hustling and bustling to holiday performances. Owen sang his first-grade set no less than four different locations this year {whew!} and Nora entertained the masses at both a local nursing home and her preschool party. Before I get to those stories though, I'll start with Nathan.

If you've been with me for a while, you already know Nathan plays the piano {and if you've been paying attention, you know he plays the piano very well}. He's taken lessons for three years, and it's incredible how quickly he's learned. His teacher had so much faith in him at this year's Christmas recital that he not only opened the show with "Silent Night," he ended the entire recital with "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," a performance that had every mom, dad, and grandparent asking about him afterward. Don't take my word for it, though. Watch his performances below:

Words cannot express how proud I am that Nathan has the dedication and motivation to enhance his talent. There's nothing like tackling a piece that looks like a foreign language at first glance. He may be naturally inclined toward music, but he puts in hard work to get it where he wants it. I am so impressed by him, and I can't wait to find out what he can play next season.

As for the little kids, their instrument of choice this year has been voice. He may not be the first to admit it, but Owen Bauer has the voice of an angel. Stop laughing, I'm serious. The primary music teacher produced a wonderful collection of songs from a rockin' reindeer melody to the gentle tones of "I Saw Three Ships." Owen's favorite was the latter. Again, I'm serious. Check him out:

He was so excited to don a button-up and fix his hair just right to join his buddies and let his voice soar. He told me he stayed focused as long as he completely forgot I was there and made zero eye contact with me. If that's what it takes, I'll never look at him again. {Small joke. Promise.}

This year was Nora's first time on the other side of the pint-sized program and she admitted to her nerves. There were so many words and hand motions she had to memorize, but she took the stage with the focus of a champ. Sure, it may look like she would rather not be there, but she's just making sure she hits every mark. And she does!

I hope your holiday season is going well and you're finding a bit of magic in what can be a hectic time. We have so much Christmas fun planned, and I am doing my best to will myself to let go of the stress and just bask in it. Here's hoping for success? Maybe I'll just run through these videos one more time to be on the safe side.

Happy Wednesday, y'all!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Santa Surprise

When the preschool Elf on the Shelf says a special guest is coming to town, you'd better watch out.

And probably skip the crying and pouting, just to be on the safe side.

Nora politely denied a chance to see Mall Santa this year. Even though she wants to tell him about her wish list and her reduction in sibling brawls, she'd rather not engage in such a public display of Christmas joy. That's why I was nervous when I heard the Big Guy himself was coming to Nora's school. Her teacher asked us to keep it a secret, so I did. Barely.

I dropped her off and, as most moms would, stalked Facebook for any sign of holiday merriment. When I was tagged in a photo and clicked to see the faces above, my heart soared! I counted the minutes to when I could hear Nora's side of the story {and crossed my fingers she’d remember what she told him}. She was super eager to tell me everything that happened, so I thought I'd share. Obviously, I was not there to prove this did or did not happen. So do with the following information what you will:

  • Twinkle Toes, Elf on the Shelf in residence, was holding a letter when the kids arrived Thursday morning.

  • Twinkle Toes is also getting ready to head back to the North Pole with his report. Nora thinks she's good to go, but she's worried about a few of her classmates.

  • Nora told me the daycare's name was on the front of his envelope, so they knew it was official.

  • In the letter, the elf said a surprise visitor was stopping by to see them. It was at this point that they all screamed "SANTA!" {"I know him!"}

  • He did not have reindeer, he had a white car. Driven by elves, apparently.

  • "Ho Ho Ho" was not how he greeted them, so he may have been a phony. His beard was fluffy, though, so he could have been the real deal.

  • Nora told him she wanted a big, pink Hatchimal and a new bike. Both of these requests were news to me.

  • The girl who went before her also wanted a big, pink Hatchimal, so he said he'll make two at the same time.

  • No one but the baby cried on his lap, which is a huge deal in a class of three- and four-year-olds.

  • He had a stocking full of candy canes and gave her one. Nora said she hopes he empties it quickly so he can fill it up with presents for himself.

  • He was very sweet and cute and gave Nora a big hug. And he was strong enough to pick her up by himself.

  • She already has plans to set up special ops to see him on Christmas.. just to make sure this guy was legit.

Were your kids willing to sit with Santa Claus this year?
And do you know where to find a Hatchimal other than the triple-priced listings on Amazon? {asking for a friend}
Happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tales from Timehop

Every morning my phone whisks me through space and time, drumming up memories I cherish {and others that elicit eye rolls}.

The Timehop app shows me two things: 1) my kids are growing fast and 2) I'm ancient by social media standards. I'll see a post from an entire decade ago of a friend chatting me up on my Facebook wall. This is likely a foreign concept to most these days. I'll see photos of myself that remind me how old I am and how far I've come. Just last week I saw a status along the lines of: "Does anybody else have a Twitter yet??" I was too cool. In reading through my past online habits, one thing sticks out: vague posting.

Forgive me, y'all. I didn't really know how to act on social media, as it had literally just been invented. However, one secretive post I made 11 years ago recently caught my eye and jogged my memory.

Anytime someone is "VERY happy" but they don't share why, my first thought is pregnancy. It has to be pregnancy or an engagement or some other milestone that has them on a detail-less Cloud Nine. Walk with me through time, won't you? Because that one sentence brought me back:

Jonathan and I had been married a solid five months when we decided we could be parents. We were of legal drinking age and we knew the physical mechanics, so what more did we need? I bought a how-to manual {seriously} and we jumped in. While that part was easy, I wasn't ready for the scene that quickly followed.

Starting on this journey created some of the longest days of my life. I had to wait two weeks before I could know if anything happened. Ludicrous. I remember asking my husband to buy a pregnancy test, then carefully reading the instructions because "pee on it" couldn't have been all there was to it. Spoiler Alert: It was.

At this point we lived in a cozy rental outside of Conway. It was nestled against the pines and had a white picket fence that made it easy for us newlyweds to play house. I stood in our small bathroom and waited. The wallpaper was a stark contrast of black and white stripes, and I counted them as the fancy digital test patiently blinked.

Then the room started to spin.

The black lines and white lines engaged in an awkward dance as they bent and swirled around me. The room was tilting, but my feet were glued to the floor. My cheeks began to overheat and my stomach dropped. The word pregnant stared at me. The word seemed to appear so casually, as if it didn't comprehend how its readout just changed my life. I sat down to focus, but my thoughts ran wild.

Can we afford it? Is it going to hurt? What will the nursery look like? Is it a boy or a girl? Am I allowed to be someone's mom? Do I need to go to the doctor right now? What's going to happen to my body? How can I be responsible for another human being? How can I grow a human being inside of me? Why does it feel so different now that it's real?

Even though I prayed for this to happen, I was grossly unprepared. I know some women have elaborate plans of revealing this news to their husbands, but I hadn't gotten there yet. The words spilled out with hot tears and together we sank onto the floor in bliss. I had no idea what I was doing, but he was going to do it with me.

I had never been more in love with him, and I had never felt such a strong connection to someone I didn't know.

And apparently my next move was to post on Facebook?

Seeing what I had for lunch in 2012 or that I was "bored at work" in 2009 makes me cringe, but I love that the highlights of my life, no matter how vague, are recorded.

Y'all already know the rest of the story. Nathan was born the following July to two clueless parents who have been navigating parenthood ever since. Add three more positive tests, one miscarriage, two births, and a million lessons and I still feel just as clueless. While I now know the answers to some of the questions that flooded my brain in the bathroom that morning, they've been replaced with more.

Still, Jonathan and I are in this together. And we can do anything.

So tell me, do you remember? Can you picture the scene from when you found out you were someone's parent?
Does Timehop remind you of your annoying Facebook nuances?
Let me know in the comments and have a great Thursday!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear December

Maybe it's just me and my anxiety, but the homestretch of anything is a bit intimidating.

Did I do everything I was supposed to do? Did I grow enough? Change enough? Learn enough? Did I leave a big enough mark to let it lie and move forward? Basically, is this project ready to turn in?

This year is just a handful of weeks from being due to the teacher and at this point {as always} I'm wondering what happened to the rest of it. While it's not over yet, I already find myself going back to check my work. Although the shocking realization of unpreparedness is part of all my Decembers, I am glad the year ends with such hope. Advent is a beautiful time {you know, after the Christmas decorating's done} and I love that we spend time remembering we're waiting for more than a simple calendar flip. It's a huge reminder/reality check for my stress levels.

While today is the beginning of the end, I'd rather not fret over making most of what's left. So I shall turn this post into a wish list. 'Tis the season, after all. Following are a few things I have written to the month of December to help make this a both holly and jolly season:

Dear December,

I wish you would bring snow! But, you know, just enough to where it looks pretty for exactly one day and then melts completely the next. Thanks in advance.

I wish the magic you put into my children's eyes could never fade. Interest in Santa and Rudolph and maybe even Buddy will wane over time, but I pray the magic stays.

I wish for the ability to help my kids realize where that magic comes from. This holiday season is not just one of merriment, but one of patience. Help us prepare as we wait for the greatest gift of all.

I wish for a little extra time, December. It's a jam-packed month, but I'd like to spend some of those frosty nights in the hot tub with my love.

I wish for long quiet mornings lit by the Christmas tree and warmed by a coffee cup.

I wish for willpower when it comes to all those holiday Ghiradelli squares. You know the ones.

I wish to actually, truly surprise my husband with a birthday gift this year. Or at least spend some QT with him if I can't keep a secret.

I wish to not be home when the UPS man comes to my house every single day this month. Amazon Prime, you and your free shipping are killing the game.

I wish to sleep until at least 6:00 on December 25. Can we this year, kids? Please?

I wish to soak in every last drop of the holidays this year. Time is doing nothing but moving and it's taking my babies with it. I want to live through their joy and hold on to the magic.

What are you wishing for this December?
Have a wonderful weekend, y'all.