Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: My family's year in review 

I have a couple family members who send out annual newsletters at Christmas time. They're always full of stuff that sounds super-impressive like: so-and-so ran a marathon, so-and-so finished writing his book, or so-and-so spent four months in an impoverished country building a school for orphans. Reading them is a great way to make yourself feel humble.

For some time I've considered writing such a letter myself, chronicling a year in the life of my family. Misty contends that we'll end up sounding pathetic, but I think we fared pretty well this past year.

Misty got a new job working as the communications director for Fresh Air Family, a non-profit organization that promotes outdoor activities. With this career change, she's been able to work from home and keep Emily and Kendall out of day care. That situation has not been without its difficulties, but the reward of spending more time with the girls has been nice for Misty.

With her job to propel us, we've taken numerous trips around the state to enjoy Alabama's natural beauty. We've gone camping in Conecuh National Forest... canoeing and camping at Bear Creek... explored caves at Rickwood Cavers, Sequoya Caverns, and Cathedral Caverns... searched for fossils at Shark Tooth Creek... and made other trips to places like Oak Mountain, Ebenezer Swamp, and Turkey Creek.

As for recreational vacations, we made three trips to Disney World this year. In February, Misty and I took Emily. We returned in September with both girls (and on that trip bought ourselves annual passes). Then in December Misty and I visited sans children to celebrate our 5-year anniversary (which was actually in November). With our annual passes, we're planning two more trips in 2009.

In between our jaunts to Orlando, we also managed a trip to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida for a few relaxing days at the Gulf and another to Columbia, South Carolina where we got to visit with my brother and sister-in-law before they moved out to Denver.

Emily started taking a dance class in September. Supposedly, she's learning ballet and tap, but it's more like choreographed chaos. The teachers tell us that at her age, the main thing is to make the kids understand that dancing is fun. Emily has also begun working on a video project in which she'll host her own cooking show. Hopefully it will debut in the coming year.

Soon after she turned a year old, we began introducing Kendall to the idea of using the potty -- she doesn't do it on her own, but she'll usually go if you place her there. At around 18 months, Kendall gave up her pacifier with very little struggle. She's learned about fifty different words and has just begun putting them together.

I haven't had any significant career or life changes, but I'm happy with that. I reached my 10th year at al.com, and I enjoy my job. I've been able to attend events at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Alabama Ballet, the Birmingham Zoo, the McWane Science Center, Disney on Ice, and more -- all in the name of "work." I've also seen a number of great concerts in the past year -- Band of Horses; Stars; British Sea Power; Islands; Ingrid Michaelson and Josh Ritter; Maria Taylor; Erin McCarley, Jason Isbell, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Michael Franti at City Stages; The National, Modest Mouse, and R.E.M.; KaiserCartel; Crooked Fingers and Okkervil River; and Wild Sweet Orange -- my proudest moment though was on Father's Day, holding Emily in my arms as she shouted through the noise, "I love it!," while giant balloons and confetti rained down on the audience for the Flaming Lips performance at City Stages. And like Misty's excursions around the state, that too was "work" for me.

Our final notable event of 2008 is that we joined a church. After a couple months of visiting Homewood Church of Christ, we decided that it was home for us. The people there have been wonderfully friendly and welcoming, and the classes and services have been enriching. Having grown up in the Episcopal church, it's a little different for me, but I really love it. It's the first time I can remember actually enjoying going to church.

Coming out of a year when so many people have had it rough -- especially considering the economic recession -- I'm thankful that my family has had so many good things happen to us in 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A little ham before dinner 


Kendall is a ham
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Kendall has begun posing for pictures when she sees the camera pointed at her. She's become a little ham, and it's so cute.

I took this picture last night before we headed out for dinner at Iguana Grill with Trion, Stacy, and Paige. It reminds me so much of a photo I took of Emily when she was about the same age as Kendall is now. It was the first time (as far as I know) that Emily actually posed for a picture. In both photos, the girls are wearing sweaters and standing near a Christmas tree (though you can't see the tree in Emily's photo).

The cousins departed last night, and I've never heard Kendall wail so much. She and Paige were inseperable over the past two days. Everything that one of them did, the other had to do too. But it wasn't just Paige that Kendall was attached to; she constantly reached for Trion and Stacy, as well. It broke Kendall's heart for them to leave.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Young cousin camaraderie 


Kendall and Paige
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Emily is up in Cullman visiting Aunt Wanda for a couple days. Meanwhile, Misty's cousin Trion, his wife Stacy, and their daughter Paige came to Birmingham to visit us.

Most of our time was spent playing with the girls. Paige is only about six weeks older than Kendall, and the pair got along great. They played with Potato Heads, had a tea party (something they never could have accomplished if Emily -- who knows a thing or two about tea parties -- had been around), sang songs, and made the most of being the center of attention.

Unfortunately, our attention lapsed briefly while Trion and I were playing Mario Kart Wii. The girls were playing in Kendall's room, and we'd commented that there was nothing in there that would cause trouble. However, when we heard a steady thumping noise, we went to investigate. I found Paige sitting in the rocking chair banging it into the wall. Her noise served as a warning, since I also discovered Kendall with a electrical plug in each hand trying to fit them into an outlet.

After dinner (where the girls ate very little and were more interested in getting up from the table and wandering around) Kendall and Paige had a bath together which resulted in much splashing and laughter. Misty read them a few stories as the girls stalled for time, but despite acting like they were firmly opposed to going to bed, the two of them both laid down in Kendall's crib around 8:45 p.m. and were immediately still and quiet. Apparently, they'd worn each other out.

Trion was worn out too, I guess. He fell asleep while we watched Tropic Thunder.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kids take things literally 

As I was hanging up laundry this afternoon, Emily was nearby running around and hollering. She'd been acting particularly wild today, so at one point I gave her a stern talking-to (the sort she generally ignores) about calming down. Only this time I happed to say, "you need to shape up."

A minute later, she was in another room with Misty and Kendall. Misty heard Emily making grunting noises and turned around to find her doing what appeared to be stretching exercises.

"What are you doing?," asked Misty.

"Daddy told me to shape up," Emily replied without sarcasm, "so I'm trying to make myself a triangle."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Emily's rambunctious imagination 

Emily's creativity astounds me. She and Kendall got a musical keyboard for Christmas along with toy microphones from Misty's mother. Here they are performing an impromptu (and borderline insane) concert in the kitchen, where Emily sings songs made up as she goes along, including "Unicorns of the Night," "Rock and Roll," and "Sad Robots" (named after the new Stars EP, which Emily and I both heartily recommend).

Hyper kids create their own music


I didn't say they were good songs. But they're still adorable in a grit-your-teeth sort of way. At four years old, she manages to concoct a couple rhymes in the lyrics, pairing "night" with "sight" and "town" with "sound." I know I'm biased as her dad, but I think it's pretty impressive.

For more of Emily's musical magic, check out this lullaby she composed and her cover of "She Don't Use Jelly" by the Flaming Lips.

Cookie Monster strikes 

Misty just called me at work with a report on how the girls were faring in the post-Christmas frenzy. A few minutes ago she'd heard Emily hollering from her room, "Mommy, come quick! Kendall just threw up in the tent!"

Kendall had indeed thrown up, but it wasn't that bad. Following a brief investigation, Misty discovered the source of Kendall's upset tummy. A gallon-sized Ziploc bag, which yesterday had held a batch of M&M cookies my mother had made, was now empty. The girls had pilfered it from the kitchen and indulged themselves. Emily confessed to eating three of the cookies, so apparently Kendall had eaten the rest.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 

I didn't take too many pictures from Christmas morning. Whenever I try to, I end up frustrated trying to get the girls to look at the camera when their attentions are so obviously occupied elsewhere. I don't want to miss out on the joy of them opening presents by viewing the day through a camera lens, so I snapped a few photos at the beginning and then set the camera aside. It's more fun for us all that way.

Christmas eve pictures were plentiful, however. After a drive around a few neighborhoods to see the holiday lights and decorations, we took part in our annual family traditions of making reindeer food (which consists of Chex mix, marshmallows, baby carrots, and glitter -- the reindeer must love it, because they eat it every year), reading Rudolph and The Night Before Christmas, and leaving out cookies and milk for Santa (who got a big plate this year because we still have plenty of leftover treats from Sunday's party).


Under the glow of the Christmas tree
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Emily was pretty good about going to bed -- she'd skipped a nap and had been nodding off in the car while we looked at lights -- but Kendall wanted to stall. She took one last chance to lay down underneath the tree and gaze up at the lights before we drug her off to bed.

The morning was plenty of fun. Emily was more excited than anyone else, of course, but Kendall showed plenty of enthusiasm for opening presents this year.

It's hard to say which gifts generated the most attention from the girls -- they were into everything. However, I am proud that Kendall loves her Brobee doll from Yo Gabba Gabba so much -- she dances around whenever he sings his "Party in My Tummy" song. That toy was the first gift I bought this year, way back in early October. Both girls also spent a lot of time today playing with the Mr. Potato Head parts we got them from Disney World. They can dress up their potatoes like Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins, Donald Duck, or even Malificent.

In the evening we headed over to Misty's mom's house where we took part in the third and final round of gift opening. By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but it was indeed a merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Emily's Christmas creations 


Matt opens his gift from Emily
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best. Emily worked for several days with the help of Misty's mom in creating Christmas presents for the family. They were tin cans covered in construction paper and decorated with glitter, stickers, stencils, ribbon, and other such things. The night before our family (Misty's) Christmas party, Emily set them all up in a semi-circle beneath the tree.

I wanted to wait until Christmas morning to open mine, but she insisted that I do it during the party when everyone else received theirs. Inside there was an assortment of edible goodies -- a couple packs of cheese crackers, a couple packs of Mini Oreos, a handful of 3 Musketeers Minis, a packet of cocoa mix, and a homemade bookmark with a picture of a snowman Emily had drawn. I'm not kidding when I say it's one of the nicest gifts I've ever recieved. Emily put a lot of work into her project, and I'm so proud of her.

She even took this picture of me opening my gift!

Pennies from Heaven? 

I just came from the men's restroom at my office where someone had left a stack of five pennies next to each of the three sinks. It felt like some sort of Candid Camera operation revealing who's going to pocket the money.

Whatever. My kids like pennies. They'll be impressed, so thanks, mysterious change stacker.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Anniversary vacation photos 


Cinderella Castle at night
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
I finally finished posting the pictures from our 5-year anniversary trip to Disney World.

As I mentioned before, we made the trip without Emily and Kendall. It was wonderful to be able to go at our own pace -- taking our time when we wanted (with no one telling us they were bored) and hustling through the crowd when we wanted (with no one asking to be carried). We were also finally able to ride together on all the rides with height restrictions (since Kendall is still not tall enough, and Emily is too scared for most of them). Without the kids to slow us down in the mornings, we were able to make rope drop on three occasions. As such, we were able to ride Toy Story Mania twice one morning and on another occasion rode Expedition Everest four times in a row.

Meals were a particular joy, not having to plead with the kids to eat or to simply sit still. We took advantage of the Deluxe Dining Plan and dined at an array of the fancier restaurants. Almost everywhere we ate gave us some sort of treat for celebrating our anniversary -- from champagne to special desserts. There's a whole separate photo gallery with pictures of our food (since Misty says this is a popular theme on DISboards).

Disney World was all decked out in holiday glory. There were huge Christmas trees in every resort and each of the theme parks. We made sure to visit the Grand Floridian to see the giant gingerbread house. Over at the Boardwalk we saw their gingerbread gazebo with Donald, Daisy, and Stitch made of chocolate inside. It's all edible, but the thought of destroying the creations seems cruel. Even the Polynesian had statues of Lilo and Stitch crafted out of chocolate.

The Magic Kingdom was particularly spectacular. Main Street USA was strewn with wreaths, garland, lights, bows, presents, and even life-sized toy soldiers. Cinderella Castle was almost completely covered in lights, and we enjoyed a short lighting ceremony one night where the characters debated how to decorate it. We stuck around for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (despite not having the extra event ticket) and watched another Christmas show in front of the castle and the Christmas parade.

On our last day of the trip, we won dream pastpasses (again!), so even though we'd planned to get on the road early, we stuck around for a while to ride all the big rides in the Magic Kingdom with no waiting.

It was our third trip to Disney World this year (since we bought annual passes) and we're planning to head back again in February. The girls will be along for the fun then. As much as we enjoyed the trip by ourselves, I don't think we'll ever be able to go without them again. For one thing, I don't think they'd stand for it, but also, we just missed them too much.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wild Sweet night out 

After Emily's dance class last night, I changed clothes and headed right back out. My friend Yancey drove down from Huntsville to accompany me to Bottletree for the first of two back-to-back hometown concerts from Wild Sweet Orange. Here's a video I recorded from the show.

Wild Sweet Orange - 'Mad World' live at Bottletree


I've posted a few more videos from the concert in my Get On With Your Nightlife blog on al.com.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Our annual Santa visit 


Emily & Kendall with Santa
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
I had a half day off from work Friday, and we used the opportunity to take the girls to see Santa at Brookwood Mall. The benefit of going in the afternoon instead of the evening is that there was not a single person in line. With no one waiting, there wasn't a sense of urgency to speed through, so I was able to take several pictures in the hopes of hitting one we loved.

Kendall never smiled -- she just eyed Santa with a look of caution. Emily, on the other hand, was extremely cooperative with the camera.

When it came time to actually talk to Santa though, Emily got very quiet. She wasn't quite shy -- it was more like a display of reverence. She asked what kind of cookies he liked best, and Santa told her he liked all kinds. He did specifically mention chocolate chip and sugar cookies though, so it's likely we'll have to leave some of them by the fireplace on Christmas Eve.

Afterward, both girls received candy canes and coupons for a free cookie at Great American Cookie Company. Emily took one lick of her candy cane and was finished. Kendall devoured hers. The cookies, of course, were a hit for both girls.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

360-degree views of Birmingham 

Birmingham finally has Google Street View! Unfortunately, the Google maping car didn't drive down my street, but here's al.com's office. This thing is so much fun to play with.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Chinese food is a new favorite 


Kendall dines with chopsticks
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
Emily and Kendall were introduced to Chinese food last night. Of course, Emily's first reaction upon hearing our dinner plans was to insist, "I don't like Chinese food." Nevertheless, we picked out a couple of what we thought would be less spicy entrées -- sweet & sour chicken and sesame chicken -- from Peking Wok and let the girls try their luck at eating with chopsticks. All went well until Kendall poked Misty in the eye with one of her sticks. After that, we all switched to standard American flatwear.

Apparently the food was a big hit, though. The girls both demanded the leftovers for lunch today. They also insisted upon eating with chopsticks again, and they followed up lunch by watching Mulan.

Emily is fascinated by the idea of throwing her food up into the air and catching it with chopsticks (something she saw in Kung Fu Panda), but luckily we've avoided any such attempts at culinary acrobatics.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sardines, Spider-Man, and toilet paper 


Packed like sardines
Originally uploaded by MCuthbert
I squeezed into the back seat of the car between Kendall and Emily for a short trip to Cullman for Traie's 4th birthday party this afternoon. Misty's mom came along, thus the need for my sardine impersonation.

On the way, Emily enquired about Traie's cake. When she heard that it would have Spider-Man on it, she said she thought it would also have Batman and Hulk because Traie likes all of them. I explained that such a notion was preposterous, as Spider-Man and the Hulk exist in a different universe from Batman. Something in the way my wife's eyes rolled told me that Misty thought I was the one who was preposterous.

The party was typical 4-year-old fare, but despite having once owned a comic book store, I never quite realized how much Spider-Man stuff there is out there marketed to kids. Seeing it all in one spot made me realize how Marvel pulled themselves out of bankruptcy.

After the party, Misty recruited Brittney and Leah to "hide" the Spider-Man party favor masks around Kriten's yard -- one on a birdhouse, one on the sattelite dish, one on the inflatable snowman, etc. But this was not enough delinquency for Misty and her young protégés. Next they ventured across the street to Cathy's house armed with several rolls of toilet paper and proceeded to decorate her trees.

Toilet Paper Mischief


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Messy art project 

I came home today to discover this scene in the kitchen.

Finger paint gone awry

Disney World without the kids 

Misty and I just returned from a trip to Disney World sans children to celebrate our 5-year anniversary. Feeling guilty about being there without the girls, we asked each of the characters we met to leave a video greeting for them.

Disney Character Greetings