Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Eve & morning

Sometimes I feel like we have gotten this whole waiting for Jesus thing desperately wrong; twinkling lights, over eating, wrapping countless presents, endless sweets, busyness and usually stress. But I also missed some of those markers of the season when we lived in a distant place without much of that.  I just struggle more now with picking out fancy clothes and baking cookies in preparation for welcoming a king born to a poor young girl in a  humble manger.  I think on these things often and how to prepare our hearts during Advent and while I am certain we don't have it figured out I know that our kids look forward to our special Advent time and the fun activities and we so want their memories to be rich in times together as a family pondering God's promises and His lavish love.  I guess I have made peace with nestling our family somewhere in between the extremes, appreciating things from both the simple and the extravagant.  Christmas Eve and morning was simple and special.

We had family celebrations with both sides but for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning we just did our little family and invited some new friends over and celebrated the end of Advent. The wait is over! Jesus is born! We are still waiting for so much in this hurting world but we celebrate God fulfilling His promises on that night in Bethlehem. Our friends joined us in our nativity play that was put together that day and involved various props collected from the recesses of the costume box and the corners of the craft closet.  The girls were so creative and I loved watching them get so into it!

thanks for these images Jamie! And thanks for letting us drag you into the craziness!

a sweet Magi bearing gold

Last time Evy was Mary so Annikah was all about it this year and I loved taking these pictures of her "pondering these things in her heart." It is so sweet to see them act out elements of the birth of Jesus.

We are grateful for new friends we can celebrate with and stories we can hear about God's faithfulness to others.

We let the girls stay up LATE Christmas Eve and open presents. My favorite memory this year was the gifts Anni and Evy got and wrapped for each other- they were so excited to see each other open the gifts.

sister sweetness

it really is such a blessing to watch the kids open their gifts

The girls each opened a box that said "pull her" and had 20 one dollar bills taped together; they loved it.

J found a pair of barely used ice skates at Play it Again and Anni is sooo pumped to try them out soon.

Evy also gave J and I such a generous gift of her birthday money and she was so happy to see us open it. We were shocked but want to affirm her generous spirit and Annikah was so touched by her gifts that she started crying and I remembered why many days I want to be more like my girls.

matching robes!

Christmas morning stockings complete with bed head.

best Christmas presie face EVA!

Christmas morning this little guy opened a few hot wheels cars and this adorable Star Wars shirt. He is our son after all so he must start to embrace The Force.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 
Praying that during Advent and all year we are a family that prepares our hearts for Jesus. It is hard because life with small children is chaotic and crazy and everyday life tries to crowd out the vital with the immediate but taking even these simple days to be together and reflect and celebrate are so needed for me. May He be praised and glorified in our Christmas celebration and everyday,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

family advent-ures downtown

Our Adevnt-ures took us downtown to explore the city we love so.

The night before the girls read clues about where our next 'advent-ure' would take us and I am a complete geek because I loved watching them figure out that we were going downtown and staying at a hotel WITH A POOL (very important for the under 10 set)

The pool was adored by all except J who realized 3 minutes AFTER going in that his cell phone was in his pocket. Major fail.

The kids love our time downtown because there is a general disregard for the normal "rules."  Which if you are an Engstrom kid means there is a lot of hotel bed jumping and copious amounts of sweets-eating.

And by a lot I mean all the time.

While Abishai was napping I surprised the girls with a trip to movies to see the new Annie.

After the movie the rain cramped our plans to head to the windows so we decided to just hang out at the hotel and enjoy the cocktail reception, order deep dish pizza, and stay up WAY too late watching Christmas movies.

And how does one enjoy a cocktail reception with a toddler? Lollipops. GIANT lollipops. Don't hate.

Attempting to get a cute picture of all three is always complete tomfoolery and I love that Abishai looks like he is about to devour her doll.

movies and mama-snuggles

The next morning after eating our weight in breakfast buffet we were back on track and headed straight for the Marshall Field's windows (yes, I know there is another name but I just CAN'T).

And the best part about be woken by Abishai at 6am is it means you are at the windows by 8am and have them entirely to yourselves!! On the walk there may have been a bit of complaining by our oldest, "my leg feels like it is broken mama!!" seriously.

But once we were there: wonder.

After the windows we headed to the walnut room via the escalators for some tree viewing

Abishai loved the tree despite this photo. What he does not love is doing anything we want him to do EVER. We have a toddler folks.

Next stop hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a walk to the Christkindlemarket.

which was surprisingly quite in the morning....

What no one wants a bratwurst at 9am? What is wrong with people?

So while we missed out on getting our sugary almonds we did get our run of the joint and enjoyed the Nativity without having to elbow our way to see it (which does seem to destroy some of the Christmas spirit)

After a dreary and gray December this day of beautiful sunshine and family time was just amazing.

The only family picture we managed to get was on my iphone and Abishai is clearly over it but we had a great day enjoying our favorite city and celebrating Advent. Only one more sleep til Christmas Eve!! Hope you adventurers are grand,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Celebrating our Evy Imani turning 5

When you have over 25 kiddos running amok to celebrate with some serious Frozen swagger you have got to just Let. It. Go.

And you would be correct in assuming this was the worst idea for a picture ever "everyone get together."  Seriously, what was I thinking? And yes, they are singing "Let it Go" which if I hear anyone utter from their lips today I would like to make it clear that I am not responsible for my actions.

But seriously Evy skipped from the church building after we loaded the last crumpled and dirty table cloth in the van and proclaimed "Mama, that was the BEST birthday ever!" That makes it all worth it.

Swapna was an amazing help and I could not have done the party without her- from chocolate snowflake making to hair stylist she did so much!

Some of the snacks all ideas stolen from Pinterest most executed with less than shiny results.

And in my usual last minute-ness and lack of any responsibility I did not buy enough plates! Seriously. Lucky for me one of my gifts is surrounding myself with much more competent people that can help a sister out! It was a team effort. Especially because there were glue guns and crafts involved as well. I like to live dangerously people.

Catherine is amazing at face painting! She should totally charge for this (well, right AFTER this party  she should start:)

And just because 25+ kids running around is not enough noise there was Frozen Karaoke.

and I upon review of these images I might need to wipe down the microphone :)

cousins!!! yeah!!

and so many sweet friends

ok, and a few mug shots...

we played "frozen snowball" which coincidentally has the same rules as hot potato

Then there was a Frozen song lyric epic (mostly because of the near trampling & elated screaming that ensued) Scavenger hunt!

clearly the older girls who were "in charge" took their reading of the clue role VERY seriously

there were highs and lows and drama y'all.

prayers of gratefulness for Evy's presence in our life & prayers of blessing for all our friends and family gathered

cake time! And do I make this face all the time? Upon review of the images the answer would be an astounding YES! I think the level of noise was making my eye twitch. I'm kidding. A little.

Apparently most of these children had not eaten in days. Well, maybe it was the lure if the sugar since the sandwiches and carrots remained virtually untouched.

Abishai thought the cake was fabulous and we love Bibi for being the baby wrangler!

the few. the brave. the dads.

goodie bags (did I mention Annikah was a rockstar helper?)

The bibi hook-up with tickets to see Frozen on Ice in January!!

We asked for no gifts and explained that Evy had an idea to help a woman in Africa where we used to live so we had a donation jar and she collected over 50$!!!  We will send it along to the microloan program we used to help with in Tanzania. I'm so proud of her that she wanted to use her birthday as an opportunity to give and bless others!  She also got a few sweet gifts and some money to put towards saving for an American Girl Doll.

After the party when I surveyed the blue jello on the floor and scraps of felt everywhere I felt exhausted but in that same moment I was also so blessed.  Friends stayed and helped clean up and my girls ran around and played and loudly protested "mama why do we have to leave so early?" Umm, you mean as the last ones and after you have been here playing for 3 hours?   I was remembering that a few months ago everything here felt new and scary and difficult but God has made a way and He has a place here for our family.  There were a whole crew of amazing folks gathered to celebrate our little girl. We are blessed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

in the waiting

Each night we gather together and light the candles and try to come away from rush and hurry and focus on this season of waiting.  This time when we are reminded of the miracle of Jesus' simple birth in an obscure part of the world that was foretold from long ago. This birth that ushered in God's promise that a savior would be born and through Him everyone in the world can be with God.  It changes everything about how we live this life looking forward to the life to come.  This season of Advent.

But in this waiting we are still selfish, sinful, messy people.  I was reminded of this during the past week.  Three days in a row we would gather and the girls would start bickering, "Mama, I want to light the candles!" "It is MY turn to open the door!" "She did it yesterday!" "I want the bigger cookie!" And Abishai would attempt to light his hair on fire while smearing his cookie face all over the couch.  Honestly, I just felt defeated.  I wondered if any of this really matters. I wanted to give up. I wanted to scream "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH WORK I DO TO GET THIS ALL READY FOR YOU UNGRATEFUL KIDS?" The first day I think I did threaten them with taking away Advent time because they were not acting right.  And yes, the irony of taking away scripture reading as punishment is not lost on me.  I was desperate friends. And tired.  By the third night of pettiness I was just sad.  And tired. I felt like a failure.  I just want all the memories to be magical and perfect but that is not real life. Real life is messy.

And then just like a gentle nudge from the Spirit I remembered THIS is what the waiting means.  During our apathy, our pain, our suffering, our bitterness, our unforgiveness, our doubt, our selfishness, our pettiness God enters our world and fulfills His promise.  His love and grace is not merited.  We do not deserve to unwrap this Christmas story but yet Jesus came.  He came and comes not because we come perfectly but because HE is faithful.  My kid's momentary ugly behavior mirror my ugly heart and I was so grateful for the reminder that we are called to come and wait.  Not because we have it together but precisely because we do not. We are waiting to mark Jesus' birth and anticipating His second coming when He will usher in the New heaven and earth and sin will be no more.  That is worth the waiting.

This truth allows us to be forgiving and patient with ourselves and others.  We prayed together as a family and discussed how we can wait well together considering others before our selves.  Today we are baking cookies for teachers and making a meal for a family we don't know other than they are going through real pain and sickness.  Because we all need to practice this "value others before ourselves" because like so many things Jesus spoke of it does not come easily.  A few nights ago when it came time to open the chocolates during family Advent time the girls asked if anyone else would like "their" chocolate and freely and joyfully gave them up.  And I was so grateful. Not because there will not be a sibling smackdown tomorrow but because we are in this waiting thing together and we are committed to each to learn to wait well and forgive often.God so often teaches me through my children and I am so grateful.  Family time is hard fought but worth it. Always.
Happy waiting friends,

Sunday, December 14, 2014

cheering our little girl on

This girl.  She is beginning to be more young lady than little girl some days.  There are moments each week I just stop and stare at her because I cannot believe the years are going so quickly.  I just want to remember this perfect smile with gaps and big girl teeth betraying her baby girl status while her giggles confirm she still is all little.  This little girl who wants to wear her "funky shoes" but could care less about brushing her hair.  She is our oldest; our Annikah, and we are loving this age.

When her dance teacher invited parents to the last dance class of the session on Friday I'm not sure she realized we would roll in with friends and neighbors, Bibi, and our whole crew.  But that is how we do.  Cheering the girls on for their hard work and concerned less with their synchronized moves and more with the smiles across their faces when they realize everyone is rooting for them because; truly, we all need more people on our sidelines.

So we came and we cheered for all the girls and we thanked her teacher and we ate cookies and we told Annikah she rocked it and we are proud of her about 125 times.  Because she did and I want her to always hear that again and again.  I am apologetically her hugest, most obnoxious, emotional Mama fan for all time.

And thanks to Swapna we have this video clip:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saint Nicholas Day..more Advent Adventures!

Today was Saint Nicholas Day and we started our celebration first thing in the morning. The girls had put their shoes out last night and this morning (after Mama remembered last minute and made a sign and quickly filled their shoes) they discovered gold coins and $5 that they must use to bless someone else in a way inspired by the real Saint Nicholas of Patara and his love and devotion to Jesus. We read this book and then learned some about the historical figure of Saint Nicholas.  Although we don't do "Santa" we do like to embrace the story of Saint Nicholas and how he gave to others without expecting anything in return.  The girls already have some ideas and I'm excited to see how they bless others with their money.

In the afternoon the girls and I headed to the library for a Saint Nicholas story time and both girls got selected to help retell some of the stories.

Evy was an angel and Anni was a creature that brought switches to parents of naughty children...I die!

It was a great time and we learned a lot more about the history behind the legend and how the modern versions of Saint Nicholas are celebrated around the world.

After our Advent time we surprised the kids with a quick trip to the oldest house in Westmont; built after the Chicago Fire to house the man who started making bricks here to rebuild the city. It was a Victorian Christmas celebration night and the girls learned a bit about the Victorian age and Abishai pretty much tried to tear the place apart.

On further reflection taking a toddler to a house museum might not have been our brightest idea but we still loved checking it out (although we did not stay long because antiques are not toys y'all!)

Hope your Advent celebrations are full of blessing and joy,

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

the first day of Advent

Advents begins...

We lit the first candle, we ate raspberry thumbprints and licked icing off our fingers, the kids wore new jammies, and we opened the first door and read the scripture that gives us hope that we are waiting to mark the event that changes the world forever.

The girls were giddy all day because they knew we would start our Advent activities today and that made the preparations totally worth it! And Abishai is also now convinced of the merits of Advent after one taste of cookie.

This month is a reminder to slow down and remember why were are eagerly waiting for Christmas.
Happy Advent friends,

Monday, December 1, 2014

Giving Thanks

We headed to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for thanksgiving and spent time with Jason's parents and sister and her fam (we missed Annie's fam..sniff).  As always, we squeezed lots of chaos with hardly any real agenda into our few days together.  And Jason's mom always does the food up right!!  It was a great time to give thanks for our family and all God has and is doing. I tried to capture some memories of our time together...

snuggle time with Babu

some sort of football watching

new toys..(Abishai is obsessed with saying "ball")

and old ones

Bibi out did herself in the kitchen as usual (I think she needs to sleep for at least 3 days)

Prayers before we dig in

kids at the fancy table means a lot of silliness

dessert spread

ok, ok...he did NEED a haircut

after all that eating there may have been naps

my favorite activity this year was a thankful game where we each wrote down things we are thankful for and took turns reading them and trying to guess who wrote each one. So much goodness.

Auntie Jorie is always is demand and I don't think she minds

after we had lounged around and attempted a walk that lasted exactly one block because it was freeeeeezing we decided to break out Engstrom-opoly. It is a real thing y'all.

Can I get an Amen that Movember is finally over? hehe

so fun listening to the family stories...

and watching a new generation hear all the family history and memories...

and as I clicked my shutter I thought how blessed I am to have married into this amazing family.

and how awesome it is my kids get to be a part of this

Yep, I just kept smiling and thinking about what a legacy this all is...

It was a good night.

And because our girls are shameless and unrelenting in their requests (read they BEGGED) for Bibi's Swedish pancakes she acquiesced our last morning there.

We may be a bizarre bunch (we ll at least in this picture..and Joel..I die with the brilliance) but I'm grateful we have each other. Hope your Thanksgiving was filled with friends and family and food and hearts bursting with thankfulness.

Abishai gets a haircut and a Mama first for me

People, let's be real. I am not a baby person. I have been overly honest about this and the baby stage is rough for me.  And when people tell me to enjoy every moment while I am holding a flailing little boy who smells like poop I sometimes mostly want to punch them. True story.  But something about this little boy being the last little baby to come from us is making me all teary eyed as he passes milestones.  I feel myself gushing about the baby-ness that is slowing slipping away. I!! So can you humor me by thinking these photos are as adorable as I do (or at least pretend :)?

Our baby boy had his first haircut this past weekend in Iowa with the lovely Crystal.  Abishai is our first little baby who was not completely bald until the age of 2 so this was a mama first for me too.  Seriously, I had to tape bows to the girl's bald shiny heads! Because I just loved his little sweet baby hair I resisted for many months succumbing to the mounting pressure from namely my husband and other concerned family members who mentioned he might have hair long enough to braid soon. His first haircut also meant his first lolipop experience which; while being a questionable parental decision, made for a tear free haircut. And have I mentioned Crystal is awesome!!!

Go little man!! But please stop growing so fast,