Stargazing

i have loved the stars too fondly

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

–Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil

Matt and I sat on the back patio on Sunday night watching the Geminid meteor shower.  I had forgotten all about it, though I’d read something on Facebook about it earlier in the day.  Then, just before heading upstairs to bed, Matt went outside to get the dog to come back in and saw a shooting star.  He told me, we put our coats and hats on over our pajamas, and sat holding hands in the patio chairs while we watched the stars put on a show.

It was a warm night for December, and I could gladly have sat there for hours.  In the half hour we did spend out there we saw five shooting stars.  I don’t think I’d ever seen one in real life before.  When that first star streaked across the sky, it was a total thrill.

It’s hard not to feel a bit insignificant when you stare at the night sky and realize just how tiny you are in the scheme of things.

But it also makes me feel content to know it’s all connected.  And that star, millions of miles away, is part of the same tapestry that I am part of, and we’re all intertwined and threaded together.

Totally worth getting to bed late.

Wreaths Across America

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There are few sights more powerful or humbling than the rows and rows of white stones lining the fields of Arlington National Cemetery.  No matter your religion, your background, or your beliefs, this is holy ground.

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On Saturday, we joined more than 25,000 volunteers to place over 200,000 wreaths on the graves there.

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Across the country, thousands more volunteers participated in similar ceremonies at hundreds of other national and military ceremonies.  In all, close to 750,000 wreaths were placed on the graves of heroes across America.

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Wreaths Across America is the organization that makes this all possible.  Their mission is simple and important:

REMEMBER the fallen,

HONOR those that serve and their families,

TEACH our children the value of freedom.

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“To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen… to be forgotten is the worst.” -Pierre Claeyssens (1909-2003)

On this gorgeous December Saturday, they accomplished their goal.  This year—the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery—was the first year since Wreaths Across America began that all the graves at Arlington had a wreath–the result of donations from around the country and the world.

The morning was clear and bright and chilly, but not cold.  Crowds of people streamed into the cemetery, where dozens of trucks full of wreaths waited, having traveled from Maine in a covoy down the East Coast earlier in the week.

Together with thousands and thousands of others, we placed wreaths on graves, pausing each time to say a silent thank you to the veteran lying in rest.

We found the grave of Matt’s Great Grandfather, who served in WWII.

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We visited the grave of Matt’s Great Uncle Don, who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  Matt’s Great Aunt Laura is laid to rest with him.

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It was an extremely powerful experience.  Although we were there to honor those who had served in our military, the privilege and the honor were actually ours.049-IMG_3219 As veterans ourselves, Matt and I want to teach our children the value and importance of service.  This morning was a  concrete way to show our children how we can thank those who have served, and to help them understand in some small way the immensity of our debt to those who gave their lives for our freedom.

You can donate here—$15 for a single wreath or $75 to sponsor five wreaths. Or go here to see how else you can support Wreaths Across America.

Moving Abroad: Passports

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When we found out it was pretty definite that we’d be moving, the first thing we did was make appointments to get passports for the kids.

Since it can take 6-8 weeks from the time of application to get the passports back in the mail, we knew we couldn’t wait for final confirmation to start this process.  We needed passports ASAP so that when the final date is decided, we’re ready to go.

Luckily for us, the Post Office about five minutes from our house has a passport office.  I stopped in one morning, got the blank applications, made appointments, and was able to speak to someone directly about payment options and specifics.

Here’s what I learned:

1) Passport applications MUST be filled out with black ink.  Don’t use blue ink on the first application, then read the directions, then have to go back to the Post Office for a new application.  Not that I would know anything about that.  Ahem.

2) Even though I was planning on bringing all 4 kids at once to turn in the paperwork, I had to make 4 individual appointments.  This limited me on the available days we could book–there were only so many days with 4 openings right in a row.  In addition, I didn’t want to take the kids out of school if I didn’t have to, so I wanted the last 4 appointments of the day.  Basically that left me with a choice of 2 days in the month of November.

3) Both parents MUST be present to file the passport applications for a minor, or you have to have a notarized form from the parent who is not there saying that they approve of the passport applications.  That meant Matt had to leave work one afternoon and meet us at the post office.

4) You have to have birth certificates for each child and those birth certificates are sent in to the State Dept along with the applications.  If those are your only copies of the kids’ birth certificates, you will be without them for a few weeks until the passports are approved and the State Dept sends them back.  Bear that in mind if there is any other reason you might need your child’s birth certificate during that time.

5) It’s less expensive to get the passport photos taken somewhere else in advance.  We went to a Walgreens nearby a few days before our appointment and got all the photos done for about $40.  It would have cost us closer to $60 and taken longer at the actual passport office if we hadn’t done it in advance.

6) Each passport costs $80, which you cannot pay with a credit or debit card at a Post Office.  We had to have checks (an individual check for each application) or we could have gotten certified checks at the bank in advance.

7) In addition to the passport application fee, the Post Office collected a processing fee of $25 per application.  This can be paid with a credit or debit card.

In all, it cost us about $460 for all four applications–$80 each for the actual passport, $25 each for the processing fee, and $10 or so each for the passport photos.  The passports came back less than a month later, which was a great turnaround.

The kids were so excited to open their packages and check out their passports, and I am excited to have one (major) To-Do item checked off our moving list.

Christmas Gifts

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Our family is so fortunate—blessed with abundance and more than we need in almost every regard.  We want for nothing, really.

But, still, even with everything we have, it’s hard not to get carried away in the “more” mentality that Christmas brings.  I work hard to make sure the kids focus on GIVING, but they are kids—and they know that come Christmas morning, they will also be receiving.  And usually they’re receiving A LOT of stuff.

Matt and I try to keep the presents under control.  Sometimes we go overboard, but for the past few years we’ve followed a few little rules that really help us keep the gifts to a reasonable amount.

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In addition to all this, Santa always brings each child ONE (generally amazing) thing.

The great thing about this set of guidelines is that it’s flexible.  The “something you want” might be the main gift for one kid, while “something to wear” might be the main gift for another. This little poem helps me focus on getting the kids things that matter and that I know they’ll love instead of slipping into a quantity-over-quality mindset.

There are so many different ways to approach gift giving, but this has really worked well for our family and it’s a tradition I know we’ll always keep.

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

Matt was away last week on a business trip and so each night once the kids were in bed, I sat on the couch with the cat on one side and the pup on the other and watched whatever movies I wanted, with no outside opinions to consider.

While I did miss Matt, it was pretty nice to have complete control over the remote.

There are a few movies that I really, really love that Matt really, really does not.  I basically wait until he’s not around to watch them, for two reasons: first, I don’t want to subject him to watching movies he hates (although he’s made me sit through Hunt for Red October more times than is decent); but second, and more importantly—I don’t want to have anyone interrupt me or ruin my movie with condescension.

And so, the first night he was gone, I went straight to one of my all time favorites: Pride and Prejudice.  I am very partial to the 2005 version, although I know many people swear by the Colin Firth-as-Mr. Darcy-version.

lizzieanddarcyThis is one of the rare occasions in my life when I don’t automatically hate the movie because it’s not as good as the book.  (Although the book is, obviously, still better.)  I hadn’t read it in years, but I read it again this past summer as I lounged by the Aegean in Turkey (le sigh…).  There is, in my opinion, no greater opening line in any book, ever.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

I mean, how can you not love a book with such a start?  You have to know it’s going to be good.  Lizzie Bennet is my hero.  And Mr. Darcy isn’t bad either.

Although I watched a few other movies, I probably should just have watched this one over and over each night.

What are your favorite movies–the ones you can watch over and over?

Lunch Confusion

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Some days I eat a lunch like the one above and I feel like a responsible adult who makes wise, healthy choices.

Other days I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of animal crackers.

Lunch is a weird meal for me to wrap my head around sometimes.  I need it to be fairly simple in terms of preparation and clean up because I never think about what I’m going to eat for lunch until about 3 minutes before I’m ready to eat.  But I also need it to be a) yummy; b) filling; and c) healthy.

Yesterday I nailed it—a leftover sweet potato from Sunday’s dinner and a simple mixed green salad with homemade salad dressing.  But there are just as many days when my lunch is the crusts from Q’s unfinished sandwich, a cheese stick, and a granola bar I grab on my way out the door at 3PM when I realize I never ate a good lunch and I’m starving.  Not ideal.

I’m working on thinking about lunches specifically when I grocery shop, so that instead of piecing together weird meals from leftovers and kids’ school snacks, I can actually eat a nice meal more often.

What are your favorite lunch ideas?