Is it me, or did November fly by at record speed? It seems like I was JUST blogging about Halloween costumes and carving pumpkins, and now it’s already time for Christmas trees and carols and all things winter. But first, a November recap. The month had some very tough moments (Election Stress, anyone?), and mental health continues to be a struggle for me, but I’m happy to report some huge positives and memorable moments this November.
// READING LATELY //
I read a few mediocre books this month as well as some really great ones. Favorite book of the month—and one of my favorite books of 2020—was this powerful story inspired by William Shakespeare’s family. I was deeply impressed with this moving story of faith, science, and family, and delighted by this charming romantic comedy.
In the realm of nonfiction, this book was an eye-opening look at some of the biggest challenges faced by today’s Christians. I’m so glad to have read this memoir from a legend who will be terribly missed, and I loved this heartfelt tribute to members of the former first family.
I will be reviewing ALL of these titles next week and sharing my favorite books of the year soon.
// WATCHING LATELY //
The Good Place, Season 4 ~ Luke and I both enjoyed this quirky show for its clever writing, endearing characters, and unique blending of humor with surprisingly deep philosophizing. After a rather strange Season 3, this fourth and final season was a delight! The story takes yet another surprise turn, and I was happy with this new direction, which adds decent finality to the series without summing everything up with too tidy of a bow. The characters all have very satisfying trajectories, and it was fun to watch each of them evolve over the course of the series.
The Good Place is truly one of a kind, and while I am sad to see it come to a conclusion, I am happy that the writers chose to end it when they did, as I don’t think any further story developments could have improved upon the show in any way.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
// LOVING LATELY //
I found this set of 101 cookie cutters on Amazon, and it has been such a fun purchase! The set comes in a convenient case and includes a wide variety of shapes including numbers, letters, and symbols for nearly every holiday. We haven’t used them for making cookies yet, but Charleston has enjoyed using them with play-doh and as stencils, and we have had fun using them to cut sandwiches and pancakes into interesting forms. Even the twins enjoy playing with these. The quality isn’t the greatest, but they have been perfect for our family. This would make a fun and unexpected family Christmas gift for neighbors or friends.
// MONTHLY CHARLIE-ISMS //
This boy of mine just keeps getting taller and smarter and even more fun. I have loved our time together this month, and homeschooling him continues to be a huge highlight of each day. I’ve especially enjoyed watching him improve in his reading and engaging him in conversations about politics, history, and faith. I’ve also loved documenting some great one-liners this month.
+ Me: “Who’s your favorite character in the Bible?” Charleston: “Probably God. He’s the most important. He can take all the bad guys and lock them up and put them in their good guy mind!”
+ “Did you know I’m planning to one day be president? Because I really want to explore the White House.”
+ “I think the prayer about God keeping our family safe is coming true. I mean, we’re always safe. I don’t think a piece of our family has been killed or something yet!”
+ His thoughts on clothes lines: “Back in the old days they didn’t have dressers. That’s why they had to put their clothes there, until they could wear them.” When I explained people used clothes lines because they didn’t have dryers: “Oh, just washing machines?”
+ Me: “You’re looking so old, Charleston.” Charleston: “Because I’m five years, that’s a long time to live.”
+ Seeing me eat a salad: “Leaves are gross. How come you’re eating leaves?”
+ Charleston was putting his beanies all around the house, on chairs and appliances, so I asked what he was doing: “It’s going to freeze tonight, so I’m getting the house warm.”
// TWIN LIFE //
Kalinda and Sullivan crossed the fourteen-month mark last Friday and they’re becoming more fun by the day. They’re into everything, of course, but for the most part they are amazingly easy toddlers who eat and sleep well and are remarkably independent, content to play together in their room or “join” me in my work around the house. I’ve loved watching their little personalities continue to blossom.
Sully is our chatterbox and has added a number of words to his vocabulary this month, the cutest being “cheese”, which he says for both the food and whenever we get out our phones to take a picture. He is a sensitive soul, crying when he sees someone upset (including Kali, whom he always attempts to comfort), but also very quick to laugh and play. Kali is more serious and gives the stink eye to everyone she meets, but she is becoming increasingly playful and enjoys pretending to feed me at meal times.
Both twins are great climbers, crawlers, and cruisers, and Kali took her first steps this month but hasn’t given too many repeat performances. Kali’s two bottom teeth came in just a few days ago, so now they have four teeth between them and we just love those mostly-gummy grins.
// HAPPENINGS AND HIGHLIGHTS //
So. . . we bought a van! And of course, there’s a story; settle in, because it’s long!
We’ve been talking about getting a van since before the twins were born, knowing that our 2007 4Runner wasn’t a great long-term solution for our family of five (and my 2008 CRV didn’t even hold all three car seats). We’d been sitting on the decision for a while, and Luke was eyeing a 2015 Honda Odyssey at a dealership in Houston, but we didn’t feel quite ready to make the purchase. And then, there was The Great Thanksgiving Plans Mix-Up.
Let’s back up to a few months ago, when we were planning on driving out to California to stay with my parents and attend a family camp for Thanksgiving week. Sadly the camp was canceled due to COVID, so we had less of a reason to be in California. Then I began experiencing mental health struggles earlier this fall, so my parents offered to save us the trip and volunteered to fly out to see us instead. We held those plans loosely following my dad’s series of unexpected surgeries that had the potential to derail their trip.
And then another pivot: Luke’s grandfather passed away two weeks ago, and we learned the services would be held (in California) on Black Friday. Our desire to attend the funeral, combined with my not feeling comfortable about my dad flying while still recovering, led us to the decision that we would go to California for Thanksgiving. And since flights were cheap, we booked tickets. . . but as we sat with that decision, Luke and I both experienced mounting anxiety about tackling the flight with three kids. I’m sure it’s possible, but we’ve never done it (and we’ve never flown during the pandemic and all that entails), plus, with COVID numbers increasing, we weren’t even sure if boarding a plane was a smart choice.
So . . . we canceled our flights and returned to our decision to drive. And we knew that driving across the country would require a bigger vehicle. We couldn’t find a rental at such late notice, so we decided this was the sign we needed to go ahead and buy the van. We made that decision on a Friday at noon, and by dusk that evening Luke had driven to Houston, traded in our CRV, and was headed home in our brand new (to us) Honda Odyssey. We are incredibly happy with our decision; it made our road trip so much easier than if we’d attempted it in the 4Runner, and though I never wanted to be a Van Mom, I think this will make daily trips with the kids much easier.
Two days after our vehicle purchase, we dropped Arlo off at the kennel, loaded all of our gear and kids into the new car, and set off for California. This was the twins’ first time out of state, and their first time being in the car for longer than an hour, so we had pretty low expectations. We were also unsure what stops would look like along the way; we’ve made this drive countless times, but not since the pandemic began, and never with twin toddlers. We brought a cooler filled with food for the road, so other than short stops at truck stops for diaper changes, nursing, and bathroom breaks, we were able to drive for two full days. I mostly sat in the back with the kids so I could manage meals and toys, and all three were fantastic road-trippers.
We made the trip to California in just two days and spent our night on the road at a hotel in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The kids had a lot of pent up energy from being in the car all day, but after lots of squealing and crawling and running around, the twins settled down to sleep in their tiny hotel crib and the rest of us got a great (but short) night’s sleep. The hotel wasn’t too different than usual, except that we had to wear masks in the lobby, and breakfast options were limited to a to-go bag of biscuit sandwiches, yogurt, and fruit. Overall, it was an unexpectedly “normal” hotel experience.
We made it to my parents’ place in Huntington Beach late on Monday night and spent the next few days with them at their house. My Dad had taken a turn for the better and was able to keep up with the grandkids all week long, which was such a huge answer to prayer. With twin toddlers and COVID limiting our outings, we mostly just hung around the house, but had a wonderful time together. We played board games and chased Kali and Sully around the living room, fished off my parents’ balcony, and took several trips to the playgrounds in my parents’ neighborhood. The twins surprised us with how well they did in a new place, and all three kids soaked up time with Oma, Opa, and their Uncle Austin.
Unfortunately we were unable to visit my grandmother in her nursing home during our time in California, but did get to spend a few hours with Luke’s maternal grandmother at her home, and I was glad we had the opportunity to introduce her to the twins. I wish that Grandpa had gotten to meet them as well; he adored children and would have gotten a kick out of them, and it saddens me that they never got to be the recipients of one of his jokes or warm hugs.
Thanksgiving day was spent with my parents, Austin, and Austin’s girlfriend. I spent some time on Thanksgiving morning recording this year’s blessings in our annual gratitude journal and it was exciting that Charleston was able to write his own entry this year. My mom put together a great Thanksgiving spread (impressive considering she had very little notice that she was hosting this year), and as we gathered around the table that afternoon, we reflected on this year’s answered prayers, of which there were many. Even in a year that hasn’t been easy, God has been so present and active in our lives. Of course the greatest blessing of the day was that we all were together, healthy and safe.
On Black Friday we had the opportunity to celebrate the life of Luke’s Grandfather at a beautiful outdoor funeral. Uvaldo Leos passed away in his home at 88 years old, surrounded by people he loved. He was a strong, kind, hard-working, humorous, and honorable man who left a great legacy, and it was touching to see so many gathered to honor him. Thankfully the kids were well-behaved throughout the funeral, and had a great time at the reception at Luke’s grandmother’s house, where the twins got to meet their various cousins and great aunts and uncles for the first time. It’s sad that we were all gathered under such circumstances, but I know Grandpa would have loved seeing his eight children and numerous grand children and great grandchildren gathered together, laughing and joking. At a time when so few people are getting to be with family, this was an extra special gift.
After five great days in sunny California, we said our sad goodbyes to my parents and headed back to Texas. It’s always so hard to leave them but we are grateful that we were able to make this trip happen.
I’m typing up this blog post on Sunday from the road. Last night we stayed at Staybridge Suites in Las Cruces and had an excellent experience: the room was large, comfortable, and clean, they provided a full warm breakfast for the road, and—best of all—the kids all slept great despite spending most of yesterday sleeping in the car. I’ve been amazed by their resiliency and adaptability this trip!
That’s about it for November. I’m happy we had an eventful Thanksgiving, and I’m eager to get back home to Texas and to all that this Christmas season has to offer. Although our seasonal activities might look a little different this year, we are looking forward to decorating the house, to our many Advent traditions, and to focusing in on the truly important things this Christmas season.