Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reflections

Our last big trip before our first baby!

I found this picture of us in Maui amongst the tons of downloaded-then-ignored photos we've taken over the years, and it made me smile. Ryan and I (and our friends the Engerts) went to Hawaii in July of 2011, blissfully unaware that one year later we'd have a brand new baby in our hands (the Engerts too!). Amidst all of the preparation to take on a new year and new life goals, finding this picture makes me eager to take a breath, a moment to think back and reflect upon the past year and how far we've come. And what a year it's been...

I remember feeling really, really frustrated in the fall of 2011. I kept telling Ryan that I felt like I was floating along with no purpose and that I desired something, anything to change in my life if nothing else than for the sake of variety. We had many late night talks during that period of life, and I remember telling him over and over and over, "I really just need something to happen--change my job, sell our house, have a baby...just SOMETHING!" I'd repeat those three things constantly to him, then pray for God to create movement in at least one of those areas in my life.

I prayed, but truthfully had little hope that anything would actually change. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for my life's work, so leaving a reliable job (and my Pottery Barn discount) seemed foolish; our house was on the market, but we had absolutely no control of when or how it would sell; and although I felt ready to take the baby plunge, Ryan wanted to wait until his business settled more before trying. (Oh, hindsight makes me laugh!) I felt helpless and frustrated and, well, sad.

Then, in October of 2011, within a two-week span, God created movement--and lots of it--in ALL THREE areas of my life. I got a new job, our house went under contract, and we found out that I had unexpectedly gotten pregnant! I remember the adrenaline and excitement of those few weeks, and I specifically remember thinking how strange it was to be so down, all the while unknowingly hurtling toward our wildest dreams coming true in such a short timespan. I was elated to say the least.

Then God pulled back the reigns. Our house fell out of contract for very odd and strange reasons. A few weeks later my new and wonderful job turned out to be a bust. I was feeling nauseous 24/7, exhausted, and confused. I felt like a phony, putting on a fake smile and telling everyone that life was great, all the while disappointed and secretly feeling like I had the permanent stomach flu. I remember praying for God to just give me a healthy baby, that "movement" in that one area, the MOST important area of my life, was enough. And He did.

2012, then, began after a series of exciting events and subsequent let-downs. Now, one year later I can see God's hand in every event that's carried us to where we are today. In the middle of it all, though, it was stormy seas characterized by a lot of tearful nights and crying out to Him. Slowly, though, throughout the first half of 2012, the chaos and ruin that 2011 left us in began to regroup and reform. Our lives took new shape and I began to be happy at how they were turning out. Looking back, I know that I would've never left my job at PBK, especially once pregnant (i.e. needing insurance and my discount), so God gave me a legitimate reason to leave with the seemingly perfect job opportunity. He also knew that my role in Ryan's business was going to be way more fulfilling and rewarding and allow for the home life I desired, so He made my seemingly wonderful job then turn into a job-gone-bust. Our house going under contract in 2011 gave me hope that it could happen and thus stamina to endure until we actually sold it in 2012. I think that God took away the chance to sell our home in 2011 because he knew that we'd buy another house--any ol' house--super quickly without thinking too much about it because we had a baby on the way, and that would've eventually put us right back where we already were: busting at the seams, mad about a hasty decision, and frustrated about having to sell another house. All along, throughout all of those let downs, there was our little baby, comfy and cozy, growing healthily and happily in my belly.

The first half of 2012 was about clearing out our life in order to usher in a new era for the second half. The birth of Emma Vance in June was, of course, one of the biggest events in our lives, and the past six months have mostly been about her. (And I suspect that most of 2013 will be, too!) Thinking back on praying about those three areas of life, now I can see how God was orchestrating all three of them in perfect rhythm in order to bring us to our lives today. In 2012, we sold our house (finally); we moved into a rental house so we can think long and hard about our next home purchase; Ryan's business has grown exponentially; I've found a new career assisting Ryan and taking care of Emma Vance; and, of course, our "we" has become "three." It all seems to be falling into place, and I hope that I look back at the second half of 2012 one day and see that it was, in fact, a time of God's preparation for the new and wonderful adventures of 2013.

Reflecting on the past year makes me realize so much has happened. Our lives are completely different, in a good way, than they were 365 days ago. I'm thankful for every one of those days that God gave me over the past year, for the growth, change and joy I experienced during them. 2012, you were good to me...


Elves, Ketchup and Christmas at the Shoves'!

Oh, Christmas Tree!

We had quite a Christmas here at the Shove household. It was E.V.'s first, and although I'm a little regretful that it happened in our temporary home and not the house she'll grow up in, we made the best of it. Every year I let myself buy just a few new Christmas items, and this year I opted to put my budget toward live bay leaf garlands, which, to my surprise, ended up smelling SUPER strong. In fact, I regretted my purchase for the first few days because their smell permeated our house, but once they began to dry out, they were amazing. I love the lush, natural feel they gave to our Christmas decor. We always have a matchy-matchy tree (and I suppose we'll have a smaller, kid-centered one in the coming years), and my existing green and silver ornaments enhanced that natural vibe we were going for. Since I splurged on the garlands, the only other items I added to our collection were ornaments from my mother's childhood that Mrs. Emma Vance mailed up to me from Florida and a "free" mantel craft project, an art board for which I already owned everything I needed. It's so funny how loooong it takes to get everything up and how quickly it comes down...especially since I'm always ready to repack everything at 12:01 a.m. December 26th. On to the New Year, right?

For posterity's sake, here's a few of our Christmas decorations from Emma Vance's first holiday:

(ornaments from my grandma)


(free craft project!)

(Yes, the television is in the way, and, yes, our other stockings are hiding behind it!)

To celebrate the big day, we had three major events: Wendi's Christmas Eve party, breakfast at our house and Christmas dinner at Wendi's.

Christmas 2012 started with Wendi's semi-annual Christmas Eve party. She decorates and cooks and bakes for hours on end, and then hosts an open house for friends and family. This year Emma Vance wore a dress from Nanny, and I can't help but smile and think of "Elf" when I look at these pictures. How appropriate for the night Santa Claus comes to town! :)

We spent the night eating and talking with Ryan's family, my family and Wendi's friends--and Tree and Jenny, aka "The Foxes" stopped by too! When she began to get sleepy, I tried to put Emma Vance down, but the laughter and ho-ho-ho-ing from the mechanical Santa downstairs kept our little elf wide awake, and eventually we rejoined the group for a bit before heading home.

All dressed up and ready for Santa to come!

Aunt Alana and E.V., post-bottle.

Dad and E.V. talking outside with The Foxes. :)

(Who can sleep with all this excitement?)

Aunt Lisa teaching E.V. about Tori Burch.

playing with Granmargo

laughing with Nanny

Now, before telling you about the next event, I must catch you up on the Aquilio family "Legend of the Christmas Ketchup." Many years ago, my sister-in-law, Jill, and brother, Tony, came up with a fabulous idea: Since they were the only ones with kids, instead of carting them around see the rest of the family Christmas morning, they invited everyone to have breakfast at their house. That way the kids could open gifts from mom and dad and Santa alone and then mid-morning grandma and grandpa and aunt and uncles came by with their gifts for a separate time; everyone got to see everyone and still got alone time, and it was a great concept that made everyone happy. It became tradition that they would serve potatoes and Jimmy Dean Scramblers, and my dad in particular looked forward to it each year. A few years ago, my dad showed up and sat himself down to eat as the kids opened gifts, only to discover that Tony was running low on ketchup. By The Donald's reaction, you would have thought that his son had committed high treason, and it became a running joke that anyone who hosted my father at their house had better have adequate amounts of ketchup on hand. In fact, the following year my mother gifted Tony with ketchup on Christmas morning to get a chuckle.

Tony and Jill and E.V.'s cousins have moved to Florida, and thus the honor of hosting Christmas morning fell on us this year. We invited Ryan's family to attend our "super casual, no frills, no obligations" breakfast, and it was a great time where everyone could eat, open a few gifts and visit. The night before Ryan and I had a disagreement about the course of events in the morning: I told him that I should cook because he wouldn't have the time management skills to bake and cook everything on time, and he told me that he should cook because if I did then everything would taste bad. We resolved that we were both right, that Ryan should cook and I should help him plan it out. Everything turned out delicious--save for TWO burned batches of muffins, which both gave us a good laugh and clued us in that our oven cooks way fast. And, of course, we had a brand new bottle of ketchup ready and waiting for The Don.

After everyone left, we rested and played for a while before our final event.

a "must have" for an Aquilio family gathering

E.V. loved playing with her new exersaucer while Mom and Dad cooked.

"Oooo! What does that do?"

Ryan at the helm of the breakfast extravaganza!

(and breakfast is served)

(I love this moment when my dad didn't think I was looking.)

(She was so excited to show Papadon that the iguana lights up and sings.)

resting after the madness

Emma Vance and Dad had fun playing with her new toys--toys that make noise, lots of noise!

(Looks like Ryan was more beat than the baby!)

Christmas night we went to Wendi's for dinner and presents (because there were way too many to cart over to our house!). Aunt Alana cooked the juiciest turkey I've ever eaten, and Mike ordered in Junior's cheesecakes for dessert. Then it was on to the gift opening, which took longer than usual with the addition of a baby to the mix. :) By the end we were all sleepy and worn out from a long day of celebrating, so we said our goodbyes and headed home to pass out. We gave literal meaning to "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a GOODNIGHT!" :)

A good uncle always puts together his complicated gifts... :)

Enjoying the twinkling lights with Aunt Lisa...


Uncle Shane got Emma Vance this jumper--and she thinks it's sooo fun.

"Thanks, Uncle Shane!"

Let the gifting begin!

"Wow, that's a lot of gifts, Aunt Lisa!"

my little sugarplum fairy

Nana, Nanny and E.V.

Oh, these guys...being Jewish doesn't keep Les from getting in the spirit...

So thrilled to be cuddling with Nana and Pop!

Island Mike and Nanny

It's bedtime when Emma Vance starts arching her back, and she was plum tuckered out this night.

Dear Ryan,
You thought you'd be funny and slip this picture in for me to find amongst the others.
Joke's on you because now it's on the interweb for all to see! Merry Christmas! :)
Love, Me

Overall, it was an eventful first Christmas for Emma Vance, and we're already thinking about her next one! :)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thank You Spencer

Growing up, I spent my summers at camp. Many of my best memories come from that time in my life, and even thinking about it now wells up in me emotions that only former Merri-Mac campers can comprehend. I remember those hot summer days in much detail, and even now, more than a decade of camp-free adulthood later, I would give anything to go back and recapture that time in my youth again--even if just for one more summer.

At the helm of those carefree days was Spencer Boyd, a man whose impact will be felt for generations. At Merri-Mac, Spencer created a safe space where girls can grow up carefree, spending their summers truly being kids, building friendships, learning about life and growing up a little in the process. From year to year I would spend the 11 months in between summers missing my camp friends, writing snail mail, watching the promotional tape over and over, dreaming about the upcoming season. Spencer's vision for Merri-Mac gave me an environment where I made some of the most impacting relationships of my life, an environment where anything seemed possible, where legend and lore came to life, an environment where I chose to follow Jesus Christ for the first time. There is something magical about Merri-Mac, and every camper and counselor who has ever been lucky enough to call Merri-Mac their home knows this to be true. When I think about Spencer, I wish that I had had the wherewithal as a teenager to tell him thank you face to face, to tell him thank you for his vision for Merri-Mac, thank you for the history he preserved and cultivated there, thank you for giving me a place to spend my childhood summers. The magic of Merri-Mac and the love so many girls have for it is a testament to Spencer, and as the magic lives on, so will his memory.

Ryan and I spent our third anniversary in Asheville so we could visit Merri-Mac. He's spent hours listening to me ramble on about my time there, about my friends and adventures, about its traditions and  how closely I hold them to my heart. I have never been so excited to show my husband anything as to take him down to Sunspot where Evelyn Penuel and I spent our final summer painting a giant sun on the floor, to show him the Chapel where I accepted Christ, to step into Sunny Side so that he could finally envision where all of my stories took place, finding my name inscribed in various places on the walls. We have a six month old daughter now, and we've already talked about her time at Merri-Mac, how she will be an Iroquois (chief?), how she'll go every year possible, Tweedle all the way to Sunny Side, how she could be Princess one day, how I'll be so proud the first time we drop her off and cry with her the first time we pick her up in tears because she doesn't want to leave. I'll know exactly how she feels, and that will be both heart breaking and wonderful.

Yesterday the world lost an amazing man with the passing of Spencer Boyd. I know that there are many people grieving out there, but I take solace in knowing that although he's no longer with us, his impact will be felt for generations to come, that around campfires each summer legends will be told of The Great Spencer Boyd and of the place he created that so many hold so dear. Thank you, Spencer.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dear E.V. (Month Six)

Dear E.V.,

I can't believe that half a year has passed already. It seems like only yesterday I was dreaming about who you were going to be, and at the same time it's hard for me to remember what life was like without you in it.

Every day you surprise and delight me. You are the greatest joy in our lives, and you never fail to seize an opportunity to confirm that notion to us. You are growing and changing and becoming a little person day by day, and every time you reveal a new facet of your personality to us, it is more precious than diamonds. Your smile (toothless as it is!) lights up a room, and I cannot wait until you recognize your God-given gift of bringing joy to others. I truly believe that you might be the happiest baby ever to live, and I pray that your wonderful, joyful demeanor remains with you throughout all of your days.

This month, like every other that has preceded it, was full of development and growth for you. Your grabbing objects is now very intentional, and when you really want something you can be so precise in getting it. You still love scratching everything within reach, but now I can see you processing the items you scratch in that little mind of yours, cataloging and comparing anything you touch. The down side to this adorable habit is that you love to scratch faces, which can be a bit painful at times! (You've even taken to grabbing the dogs' fur, to which we always have to remind you, "Gentle!") It's caused your dad to cut your nails quite often, although he swears cutting them just makes them grow in faster. Over the past few weeks you've mastered how to easily sit up on your own for long periods of time, although when you're "done" you're done and tend to throw yourself on the ground, which is a bit concerning. :) You never seem to get hurt, though, and are a very tough little girl. In the moments when you seem like you're about to cry because of a bump or boo boo, I just simply smile and start talking to you and your tears disappear quickly. You also love pulling yourself up into a sitting position, but you can only do so if you're already somewhat propped up. You get so frustrated when you're flat on your back, flailing and throwing your feet down, trying to sit up unsuccessfully. (Soon enough, my love.) You adore playing on the ground now, sitting up for awhile then plopping down and rolling around. Going from back-to-belly is now an easy task for you (that one took a while to develop), and you use your abilities to roll all over the living room during your activity time. Although you have yet to crawl on your own, man are you trying! Toward the end of your sixth month you discovered that you can scooch backwards, making your mobility even more impressive. I always thought you might walk before you crawl because you love standing up so much, but you're so close to crawling now! You are such a determined little baby full of self-motivation; when I put you down for naps in your crib, you always spend at least a few minutes working on your crawling skills before passing out, which I love to watch through our monitor.

Nap time is always a big topic of discussion around here, little lady. For your first three months you were a three-hour schedule baby like clockwork, and for your last three months you've been a two-and-a-half-hour schedule pretty regularly. This month you continued to take your 45-minute naps, but we discovered that if we put you to sleep in our bed, you'll gladly sleep longer. Add a mom, dad or dog to snuggle with in that bed, and you're out for a few hours easily! :) I love that you love comfort and closeness, and confess that I snuggle you during your naps (and early in the mornings) more often than I'd like to admit. (It's just SO sweet of a time, and that time is so fleeting!) The hard thing is that I totally understand: Your crib is cold and hard and lonely, and our bed is warm and soft and lovely. How could I blame you? When you do sleep in your crib, you sleep on your belly nowadays. Ever since you learned how to roll over onto your stomach, almost immediately you stopped sleeping on your back. I was nervous at first, but I know that you're a big girl now who can turn your head and flop around somewhat easily (although I still stare at the monitor to make sure you're breathing). I had uninstalled your bumper for fear of suffocation, but since your newfound mobility caused you to get your chunky little legs stuck between the crib spindles TWICE, I opted to put it back in and have been very happy with that decision, especially since you flop very hard into the sides of your crib a lot! 

This was your last month of only drinking formula and milk. You drink about four ounces at every feeding, although the experts say you should be drinking six to eight ounces per feeding. I tried so hard to get you to drink more, even using a little syringe instead of a bottle. (You, by the way, love that syringe!) We try all sorts of tactics, the most effective of which is singing to you as you drink. It seems to keep you focused, allowing you to drink away while concentrating on our faces and voices. Unfortunately for you (and your dad), I can't carry a tune to save my life (although my singing sounds perfect in my head). It's been quite entertaining for him to listen to me try and try. ("O Holy Night" is the song of choice as of lately). He, of course, is much better at singing than I am, and you love listening to him. One night I practically forced you to take six ounces, and upon completion, I was so proud of you. Then you immediately spit up a full ounce in one big burp. And then another. So much for that! Ever since then, I've just let you eat to your heart's content, and you've gained weight just fine.

Emma Vance, you are a natural born talker. It's constant noise and babbling from you, and I have to admit that I love it. As you're getting older, you've developed different sounds and voices. You love to make a wookie sound, to gurgle and blow raspberries, to screech and hoot. Every morning you wake up saying "dada," looking for you dad and grinning when you see his sleepy face. In fact, "dada" has become your favorite thing to babble on about, and he loves hearing it (as do I). You say "mama" when you're sad or upset, which I also love hearing. (Who doesn't love being needed?) You can also say "nana" and "yaya," and I swear on occasion you answer "yeah" or mimic full sentences you hear. I cannot wait until you are able to tell me all of your little thoughts. There are a million of them already, and each one is precious to me.

You are so darn cute, girl. It's almost not fair. Seriously. You have the most expressive face I've ever seen on a baby, and it is nothing short of adorable. Every day your looks change. Sometimes you're the spitting image of your dad, and sometimes I feel like I'm looking in a mirror. Your eyes are slowly getting specks of brown in them, so we're curiously and eagerly awaiting the final result. The mohawk is still going strong, although we've discovered that a good brushing post-bath can make it lie mostly flat now. (An option we don't often choose for you.) Your rattail is growing to ridiculous lengths, and cracks me up every time I look at it. Every time your dad looks at it, though, he beams with pride. He cannot wait for you to be his little Rapunzel, long locks and all. 

This month was your first Christmas, and it was full of excitement, family and presents. Everyone was so eager to be around you and hold you, to pass you around and play with you. You were a little lady, enjoying everyone's company politely and without fussing, but you slept so hard after all of that stimulation! You received a lot of toys for Christmas, including a jumper, and exersaucer and a playmat for you to roll around on. Most of all, though, you love the noisy toys, of course. Anything that makes sound fascinates and amuses you, which fascinates and amuses us. Your dad and I are already talking about how we'll shape your future holidays; yes, dear, the company and gifts are delightful, but it really is about Jesus Christ and we want you to not only know that, but also experience that.

Perhaps the most terrifying moment of your life happened this month, Emma Vance, and I hate even thinking about it. Your dad was in the living room, and I was giving you a bath. You've started to squirm around in the tub nowadays, and I've gotten in the habit of having a hand on you at all times. However, on this particular night, for whatever reason, you decided to try and roll over in your little whale tub. It happened so quickly that I couldn't stop you even with a hand on your arm. You threw yourself on your side, slipping under the water for a moment. I plucked you up immediately. I will never forget the look in your eyes, wide and pleading as you found that you couldn't breathe for a moment. I cried out to your dad, threw you on my lap and hit you on the back until you spit up the bit of water you had swallowed. E.V., I was terrified for you. I love you so fiercely, and the reality that I could lose you so quickly now haunts me. The reality that you were so scared and looking to me to save you also terrifies me; I'm just a person, not a superhero. I pray that you are always safe and that if I'm ever put in such a situation that I will have the strength and clarity to come through for you.

E.V., you are SO smart and curious and adventurous and determined. I cannot tell you enough how much we love you, how much joy you bring to our lives. I don't want you to grow up, thinking that surely this is just a wonderful phase, but with each month you just seem to be getting better and better (if that's even possible). We adore you and know that you are going to do great things with the life God has given you.

Love you always, 
Me (and Dad)