Christmas 2018

Honestly, we did our best. It was a tough year, so it’s hard to be festive during a time that’s meant to be shared with family. Chuck and I focused on the boys and kept our days lazy.

We had Tom Jr. with us for several days, Chuck’s cousin who lives in a nearby home for adults with developmental disabilities, as well as a quick 24-hour visit from our niece, Hayli.

Per usual, the gifts we give our boys are minimal but exactly what they wanted or needed. The Four Gift Rule is still in play, though sometimes there’s an extra small thing or two thrown in.

Jackson’s expression was priceless when he opened a pack of international flag bunting to hang in his bedroom.

Jackson has had a terrific year with good grades and a cheerful attitude, not to mention the dozens of times he made the right decision in a moment of tension or stress. He will be 13 this year, a number I cannot even imagine for my little Jack, but after hearing him say over and over again, “I’m going to start saving for a Nintendo DS,” I suggested to Chuck that we go ahead and surprise him with one. We’ve actually never bought a device of any kind for our kids, so it was a big treat.

He was speechless.

I’m not sure he could’ve smiled bigger.

Jeremy, too, was surprised to find two new soccer bags, a Liverpool soccer ball, and a note in a water bottle that informed him we’d signed him up for an indoor soccer season. His reactions were also satisfying.

I captured both of their reactions on video:

My favorite photo from the day is this one: Jackson is reading one of his new flag books while Joshua, his Build-a-Bear bunny rabbit, enjoys his new Miles Morales (Into the Spider-Verse) outfit.

Jackson was thrilled to learn we had not forgotten about Joshua.

I made a simple meal and enjoyed visiting with Hayli while I cooked. We took a quick photo together with my cell phone (forgive the low quality), and after we said goodbye to her, we all slid back into pajamas (for those of us who got dressed for the day) and watched Christmas 2018 fade away.

It wasn’t terrible, but it was different. It will always be different after family members leave us. Fortunately, the low-stress method was the right way to go. No muss, no fuss.

However, if there was one lesson I learned this holiday season, it’s that staying home and keeping it simple is fine, but opting out of traditional Christmas in favor of traveling is better.

Christmas in Wisconsin 2017

Since our experience in Hilton Head two Christmases ago was so positive, we decided to do it again. However, instead of warm, we went cold. Wisconsin cold.

We met in Chicago first to regroup and make cookies, then we caravanned north.

We stayed in Lake Geneva, courtesy of my sister’s in-law’s timeshare (Thank you, Mary Ann and Ed!). We did all of the things one might do over the Christmas holiday: puzzling, reading, board games, eating more sweets than necessary…

To our delight, it snowed on Christmas Eve, which made our time in Lake Geneva more beautiful.

We went for a walk around the quiet town on Christmas Eve just as everything was closing for the night.

It was SO COLD, so we wrapped up our evening walk and went back to the hotel to get back in pajamas and settle in for the night. Come Christmas morning, we had no new snow, but the frozen tundra of Wisconsin was still gloriously white.

The four boys woke up ready to open presents!

Because they had already been given so much this year and every year, I did well to stick to the Four Gift Rule – something they want, something to read, something to wear, something they need. To have a small pile of gifts and not hear complaining is a GLORIOUS THING.

Iceland beanie!

My sister honored my grandmother, who passed away in March, by having some of her collectible spoons made into jewelry for my mother, herself, and me.

And when the gift-giving was over, we disbursed to read and work on the puzzle, which we were determined to finish by Christmas night.

We left Wisconsin the next morning and returned to Chicago, where we had one more day together before going our separate ways. I value our time together so dearly since we don’t live close to one another.

We all know what happened next. The drive home on Wednesday was overshadowed by my growing fever and vomiting in the car. The next day Chuck came down with the flu, and the day after that, it was Jeremy’s turn. We were fever-free by New Year’s Eve, but the whole of last week is a complete fog. Somehow it turned into 2018.

Ultimately, I’m thankful we were all well for Christmas! Where shall we go in 2019?

Hilton Head Photo Dump No. 3

Are you tired of Hilton Head pictures yet? Because here’s another photo dump.

We went to Savannah on Christmas Eve to have lunch at The Pirates’ House and browse River Street shops. It’s a nostalgic city for the Treadways since my sister and I were born nearby.

JEM_6002 low res

JEM_6008 low res

JEM_6027 low res

JEM_6023 low res
JEM_6031 low res

JEM_6032 low res

Some of us shopped, some of us waited.

JEM_6046 low res

JEM_6053 low res

JEM_6056 low res

JEM_6060 low res

JEM_6074 low res

JEM_6079 low res

JEM_6080 low res

The original four:

JEM_6068 low res

JEM_6085 low res

JEM_6087 low res

Last batch here.

A little Christmas

I put on my big girl pants and added a little Christmas decor around the house. The boys like it, and I do too. This morning we played some Christmas music during school. It’s helping.

Nutcrackers on the mantle are my favorite. I try to get a new one each year once the sales hit.

Christmas Mantle

Of course, there are doves.

Dove tail

Little owl

This ceramic house was part of a Christmas village Brenda (my mother-in-law) started to collect many years back. I’m not sure she would’ve followed through on collecting the whole village since that wasn’t really her style, but the house is adorable. And fitting.

Miller house

Red nutcracker

Welcome back, Timmy. Make this month a good one.

Timmy 2015

When dogs and cats go shopping

My sister and I didn’t grow up in a household that taught us that Santa Claus was real. We knew full well that our parents purchased every gift under the tree and that the idea of Santa Claus was derived from the real Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Yet that didn’t stop my parents from making a grand reveal on Christmas morning or my mother from writing a myriad of oddball names on the gift tags. For many years sister and I received presents from Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Tweety Bird. We’d also receive gifts from whomever our pets were at the time — Peanut, Heidi, Rascal, Max — all names written in my mother’s distinct printed cursive.

In my youngest years, I thought it was funny, but when she continued to sign packages this way when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes. (Of course I rolled my eyes!) Why didn’t she just sign Mom and Dad or even Santa, which was far more relevant than Daffy Duck and Goofy? However, without fail, the pets always gave us gifts, and I always found it endearing.

All this being said, you can imagine the surge of nostalgia I experienced the other day when sorting through a mishmash of recycled wrapping paper in a holiday gift bag and found this little gem:

To Jen from the cats

After the nostalgia wore off I paused to consider the fact that I’d hung on to a gift tag from the late 1990s. Both Precious (my cat) and Rascal (Mom’s cat) have been dead for more than a decade, and if this gift was given from them as a pair, the last time they lived together was just before I got married in 2000.

Let’s pause to consider that maybe I should clean out the bag of recycled wrapping paper more often.

“Like Mother, Like Daughter” doesn’t always apply to my mother and me, but when it does the phrase refers to our smiles, our laughs, and our persistent love of animals. Oh, and our habit of giving gifts on behalf of our pets:

To Jackson from Major

To be clear, Jeremy already rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head as he tears open the gifts from Salem and Major. Jackson, on the other hand, believes his pets have a genuine interest in giving him gifts and he always thanks them properly.

I’d like to say that I’ll stop writing gift tags this way sometime soon, but if I had to make an honest bet, I think our pets will be shopping for the kids as long as I’m alive.

Gingerbread Houses 2014

Like the tree, we were late getting to the Gingerbread Houses. No matter how I try to slow things down, it’s not working. Christmas is indeed in three days.

We invited a couple of neighborhood friends to join us for construction, so there were plenty of sugar rushes and giggles to fill the house. Major enjoyed every piece of candy they dropped on the floor.
Timmy wants to build houses

Worms for a fenceA mess of candy

Jackson abandoned his house after thirty minutes and read, so I was happy to take over and organize the candy in a way that made me calm.

the J House

In website news, I’m mostly finished moving everything over from the old site, so if there are a few wonky bits and broken links, feel free to let me know. (There’s an email link on the top menu bar in the righthand corner.) One thing I know still needs to be resolved is transferring subscribers. Hang in there, folks. I’ll sort it out eventually.

The last week has been a big lesson for me in domains, name servers, and other terms that tie my brain in a knot. Special thanks to those of you who helped me!

City people in the mountains

On my sister’s last day in Tennessee, we took the Chicagoans to Gatlinburg, taking the scenic route through the national park. I don’t love Gatlinburg, but I love the drive to get there.

Pokemon cards on the wayJacob loves Tennessee

City boy at the river

Sis and bro-in-law

Come here


Roots and moss

The road to Gatlinburg

Waving the white flag with long division

Single-digit division was a snap. Double-digit division was a breeze. Triple-digit division with remainders has left Jeremy in the pit of all that is wrong with math. He gets caught up in the process, forgetting where he is in the multiplication and subtraction, forgetting to add back the remainder when he checks his work, forgetting his multiples of seven and eight, and so on.

We nearly didn’t survive yesterday, so today I’m declaring that triple-digit division is on hold until January. Did you hear that squealing? That was Jeremy. He’s thrilled. He loves me again.

Jackson, on the other hand, cannot be held back. He zoomed through an entire math unit in one day and got a hundred on his test. Wait until you have to do long division, says Jeremy.

I’m floating along in a stupor this month unable to fully devote myself to any one thing. I can’t believe we are a week away from Christmas. I must have blinked. (If you haven’t received a Christmas card from us it’s because I didn’t write one.)

We’ll be boarding Major next week while my family is here, which has me both relieved and sad. I’ve never excluded our pets from Christmas morning rituals, but our blue tick hound would lose his ever-loving mind in all the commotion of unwrapping presents. He would try to steal the turkey off the dinner table and he’d probably knock down my grandmother in an attempt to lick her face. In the last 24 hours, Major has stolen Jackson’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich off his lunch plate, chewed the computer mouse from the boys’ school desk, destroyed a piece of mail, and nearly swallowed a Lego. That is in addition to three new holes dug in the backyard and waking me up at 6:30 three mornings in a row.

I swear. If I didn’t love running with this dog…

Do I sound like a Scrooge? I promise you I’m not there yet. However, Chuck finished reading my novel yesterday (what I’ve written thus far) and gently told me last night that he doesn’t think it’s realistic to finish by New Years. He knows the general direction the story is going, and based on what he knows, he thinks I’d be rushing myself unnecessarily to meet some sort of faux deadline. I conceded that he was right. I’m not sure why I’m rushing, aside from blaming one of my distorted perfectionist flaws. Technically, since this book is my capstone project to complete the master’s program, I don’t have to finish it until next December. I have a solid year to write and edit it.

Speaking of Chuck, I’ll end this post with his contribution to this year’s Elf on the Shelf:

Everybody poops

Timmy and the Avengers to the rescue

Just when a frost giant tried to attack the Baby Jesus, Timmy showed up to save the day. I don’t know what the shepherds or Wise Men would’ve done without our elf’s bravery and quick thinking to call on the Avengers for help.

Frost GiantTimmy and SpidermanHawkeye protects Baby Jesus Iron Man protects Baby Jesus Capt. American protects Baby JesusThis is our last week of school until I give the boys two weeks off for the holidays. They are itching to be done now, as am I. My plan is to work steadily on the novel every night until my family shows up for Christmas. Word wise, I’m close to 100,000. Everything forward!

The hot air balloon is deflating.

When my novel writing journey started in November, I was full of hot air. I was ALL IN for writing 50,000 words in a month and had an entire saga of plots in my head ready to pour out on the keyboard. Everything forward, remember? 

Now I’m tired. I’m at 90,000+ words and still have much farther to go. Clearly, I did not store enough fuel to get me to the finish line by tomorrow, which is when the novel is due for class. I’ve already received permission from my professor to turn in what I have, along with an outline for the conclusion. That’s fine. I can do that. Even though it’s not what I prefer.

Part of the problem is that I’m distracted by the holidays. Another part is that the boys and I have been playing catch-up with school. I’m also just plain tired. The story is much longer than I could’ve foreseen, which is good in the long run, but putting such pressure on myself to finish by December 13 has been unrealistic. It’s a personal failure, which haunts me every night while I’m waiting for the Ambien to kick in.

To think that I wouldn’t finish the rough draft by 2014 feels like an even bigger failure, so I’m wondering if a New Year’s Eve goal is more plausible. Minus the week when my family is in for Christmas, I should have plenty of time to write. I’d rather not have an unfinished novel sitting on my shoulders while enrolled in Short Story and Performance Writing next semester.

Plus, there are two books staring at me everyday day – my holiday reading reserve – begging for attention.

Holiday readingIn other news, the boys are itching for Christmas. I’m trying to slow things down, but the calendar keeps turning. At least we’re having wintery weather again. That weird week of Spring threw me off entirely.


Signing Off

I’m going to surgically remove myself from the computer desk for the next few days (except to edit photos, because not editing photos would be ridiculous!) and spend some time with people in real life. You should do the same. Maybe I’ll see you there!

I hope your home fills up with joy and laughter, and may all your holiday dreams come true.

Merry Christmas

– Jennie

Timmy crossed over.

Something happened to Timmy. He’s gone rogue. One day he was being all cute and cheerful hiding in the homeschool room and then the next day he’d apparently teamed up with Loki. We’re not sure what they were doing, but the Avengers didn’t like it. When we got up Sunday morning, Timmy and Loki had been bound.


Avengers AssembleIt was quite alarming! We didn’t know Timmy had it in him! Loki is very persuasive, so when they somehow broke free by Monday morning, all the Avengers had been captured and trapped in a pitcher.

Timmy and Loki team upChuck and I are certain Timmy will return to his sweet Elf ways by Christmas, but based on this morning’s scene, I’m not so sure. This time, the Army caught him.

Telling Timmy a secretNaturally, Timmy’s predicament didn’t keep Jackson from whispering to him his Christmas wish list. I’m pretty sure I heard him say web shooter.


Can I get an amen? This morning feels like I’ve got a toe on third base and I’m about to run to home. And I don’t even like baseball.

Last night, after a successful game of hide-and-seek, we finished up a Christmas cartoon we’d taped earlier this month. When the credits rolled I felt a little sad. It’s always like this. The Christmas season rushes in and we work to decorate our homes, shop for gifts and prepare to collapse on December 24th. Then it suddenly becomes a week away from Christmas Eve and you realize there isn’t much time left at all to just enjoy it. Both weekends between now and Christmas are busy – albeit with holiday stuff, but still – and then we’ll skate through Christmas too fast and be left with the post-Christmas blues.

And then you’re left staring at all the stuff you put up in your house and realize it’s going to take so much effort to take it all down.

Do you sense my poor attitude this morning? Yeah, me too. I’m working on it. More sleep would help. I’m also going to go hold a baby this afternoon, so that will SURELY help. Holding babies is super fun.

Fortunately, the boys are enjoying the heck out of their Christmas season. They’ve maintained a sweet excitement about it, which has helped me tremendously. Christmas really is so much more joyous with kids.

Timmy seems to be having fun, too.

Timmy in the china

Timmy playing dominosMerry Weekend to all of you. I hope you’re soaking in every second.

Rethinking Christmas

It’s everywhere now that Halloween is over. Retailers pounce on the first of November ready to suck you into the “season of giving” and I have to physically restrain myself from joining in early. A few years ago Chuck made this crazy family rule about not putting up the Christmas tree until after Thanksgiving and because I choose my battles wisely I’ve not contested it. (Even though I totally disagree, Scrooge.)

Anyway, it’s been on my mind in recent years that my kids are getting too many gifts for Christmas. I know that sounds weird, and in comparison to other families and folks I know the amount of loot my boys get is noticeably less. Still, as they get older they ask for more things and Christmas becomes more about getting than giving. Thanks to the people of Target, who sent their Holiday Toy Catalogue to my house somehow, the boys are now obsessed over what might come their way on Christmas morning. I hear about it every day. They even flip through the catalogue while sitting on the toilet. No lie.

And then I saw this on Pinterest:

It’s almost like a challenge. How brilliant! When the boys were toddlers I attempted a three-gift rule (Jesus got three gifts so you get three gifts) but I failed miserably. I kept finding great deals or little things I knew they’d love to have, and that problem is no different today. Shopping for them is a blast! I’ve already found three or four things for both of them and tucked them away in my closet for Christmas. But now with this Four Gift Rule in mind, I’m reconsidering. Perhaps I’ll keep things tucked away for birthdays or special treats throughout the year, or maybe I’ll give these things away to other children on behalf of the boys. I’m not sure how it will play out but I’m trying hard to listen to the voice in my head telling me to scale it back.

Last year was the first year I made a bigger deal about Advent, which totally debunks Chuck’s argument that Christmas is a day and not a season, which is the foundation of his argument about no Christmas trees before Thanksgiving… But I digress. (I love you, babe!) Christmas is absolutely a season. It’s all about the preparation of our hearts and minds for the birth of Christ, but I’m afraid we’ve conditioned the boys to instead prepare their hearts and minds for the receiving of toys and video games. They might be disappointed this year when all of their hopes and dreams don’t come true under the Christmas tree, but I’m thinking this shift to a less-is-more holiday is necessary.

Remind me of this when I find a massive Lego sale or all the Avengers toys are half off.


I probably could’ve brushed my hair for this.

Anyway, it was great having my sister and her family in town for Christmas. This year was a do-over from 2009 when everyone was scheduled to come to Texas. A few wrenches were thrown into the plan but they high-tailed it to Tennessee this year so I could host the holiday.  I loved having everyone in our house. It was full and busy, but that’s exactly what I hoped for. Cooking for 11 was a pleasure.

As you’ve already seen in previous posts, the four boys had a ball together with only minimal fighting, which I see as a major success. They dearly love each other, despite the fact that they may only see one another twice a year.

We started school today and the boys were a bit of a challenge. When they weren’t giggling, they were complaining, and when they weren’t complaining, they were hungry. And when they weren’t hungry, one boy was making faces at the other boy and we retreated to our separate corners. Back to the grind, I guess!

North vs. South

Last Thanksgiving, when we all met in West Virginia and I drove 21 hours (each way) on my own with boys, we started what seems to be a holiday football tradition: the North versus South Game. As I recall, the 2010 game resulted in a tie as to spare little boy feelings. The 2011 game, however, was for real.

The North won, which I suppose is the result of choosing jinxed jerseys.

Making a plan…

… for those pesky Bears.

Rematch: Thanksgiving 2012.

Be Merry, Be Bright

I’m signing off for a few days to enjoy Christmas with my extended family. Our blessings this year have been exponentially amazing, and I pray the same for all of you this season.

Merry Christmas!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We still don’t have an official Christmas tree (perhaps this weekend?) but the boys and I have been doing a little decorating. Chuck also weathered a cold spell putting up our Charlie Brown lights outside.

Next on the list is gathering supplies for building a gingerbread house. Chuck and I are both training for spring races, so the last thing we need is candy and icing sitting around, but that’s just too bad. M&Ms sound like a good start, right?

Happy Weekend!