Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our Year in Ornaments: 2014 Edition

It’s that time again—the week after Christmas Day but before New Year’s. The time when we reflect on the year that is about to end. The time when we make plans and goals and resolutions for the year that is about to begin. The time when, as longtime readers know, I write about our little family’s participation in a tradition begun many years ago: The Ornie Competition.

Jeff and I have participated in this competition every year since our marriage in 2006 (though I didn’t begin the blog until 2008, and even since then there has been one year in which I did not blog about our ornaments). We have included Alexa every year since her birth in 2010.

This year was no different—we participated. Yet, this year was different—two of the three of us had a very hard time deciding what ornament best represented our year, or indeed, what theme the ornament should represent at all.

Let’s start with the easy one, shall we? Alexa’s ornament was so easy to pick out this year that she picked it without ever thinking about the competition or her year or anything other than her love for and excitement over it.

Alexa's 2014 Ornament: Disney Cruise Ship

It was September, and we were on our R&R: a 14-night transatlantic Disney cruise, aboard the Disney Magic. We planned this R&R almost a year in advance, and Jeff started talking it up to our timid girl right about the time the flowers started to grow in the spring. She was excited from the first time he mentioned it. She spent the spring and summer talking about meeting Mickey Mouse and his friends, looking at pictures of the Magic’s Oceaneer Club online, and convincing herself that she wanted to experience all the ship has to offer—including the parts that were offered to her alone, in the kids-only zone, without the security of Mama or Daddy’s presence.

On the very first night of the cruise, we visited one of the onboard stores. We’d heard from veteran cruisers that the good stuff sells out quickly and that it was wise to hit the stores on day one, as soon as they opened. As we looked around, I saw a small display of Christmas ornaments. My mind immediately went to the Ornie Competition, so I called Alexa over “just” to show her—and she immediately exclaimed that she wanted one. She picked out a relatively realistic depiction of the Disney Wonder, the Magic’s sister ship. As there was no Magic ornament, I was thrilled with her choice. We bought two—one for our Christmas tree, and one to leave with my mother-in-law as Alexa’s ornament for 2014.

The rest of the cruise did not disappoint. I have intended to write a blog post gushing about how amazing the cruise was, about the friendliness and dedication of the cast and crew, the beauty of the ship, the comfort of the cabin, the extreme deliciousness of the food, the stellar performances that were the shows, the fun and interesting people we met, the relaxation of temporarily forgetting the world outside the ship … but life has happened, and I never wrote that post. Rest assured, however, that Alexa has not forgotten the cruise: it inspired many of her requests for Christmas gifts, it provided the “happy thoughts” upon which she relies as she falls asleep to avoid nightmares, and it has spurred countless askings of the question “When will we go on our next cruise?”

It is safe to say that although Alexa’s (and Jeff’s and my) first Disney cruise lasted only 14 nights, it has been the theme for her entire year: excitedly anticipating it, thoroughly enjoying it, and longing for a repeat of it. She picked the perfect ornament to represent her year, and she did it without even trying.

Jeff's 2014 Ornament: Chewbacca

Jeff’s ornament was a bit more difficult to pick out this year. It was not because he couldn’t decide what theme he wanted to represent—it was because he wasn’t allowed to steal Alexa’s ornament. As he conscientiously prepared Alexa for the cruise, as he showed her pictures of the kids club, as he talked up the opportunity to meet the characters, as he introduced her to the idea of playing in the pools and going down the water slides (well, the one slide for which she was tall enough), he built the anticipation for himself as well as for her. When the time came to leave for the airport, to leave the hotel for the port in Barcelona, and finally to board the ship for the first time, he was as excited as she was. After a day or two onboard, he told me that he hadn’t realized just how much he needed that vacation, that time away from work, that ability to relax and have fun for an extended time, without being on call, without knowing that he had to be back in the office in a day or two. He anticipates our next Disney cruise as eagerly as Alexa does. Unfortunately, however, he could not simply point at Alexa’s  ornament and say “That one. Me, too.” He had to pick a different one.

He settled on Chewbacca. Chewie, as Jeff affectionately calls him, is a more subtle representation of the cruise than the ship would have been, but in my opinion, he represents Jeff’s year more fully. Disney recently purchased the Star Wars franchise, so despite Chewie’s absence from the ship, he now is a representative of Disney … as Alexa puts it, “Chewbacca works for Mickey now.” In addition to the Disney tie-in, though, Chewbacca represents hard work, and strength, and the provision of protection, things that represent my husband’s personality in general and this year in particular.

Deborah's 2014 Ornament: School Time

I am the loner in the family this year—the only one who did not even consider the cruise as a theme for my year. Although I thoroughly enjoyed it, heartily recommend Disney cruises to anyone and everyone, and am excitedly anticipating our next Disney cruise, I refrained from getting excited about it until just before we left. I allowed Jeff to do the preparatory work with Alexa, and he did all the planning for the trip in general—the flight and hotel reservations, the car rental arrangements for the week we spent in the United States afterward, finding and joining the Facebook group dedicated to the cruise. He did all that. I did not become emotionally invested in the cruise until a week or two before we left. I was too overwhelmed with what really defined my year: school.

We finished up Alexa’s preschool year in the spring, then began almost immediately working through the curriculum for pre-kindergarten. We schooled year-round because I knew we’d be taking a long break for R&R and a shorter one for Christmas, and I also knew that we need to be done with her preK year by mid-April 2015, before our lives get hectic with next year’s move. While working through her current curriculum, I also busied myself researching and making plans for her next curriculum—the one we’ll begin for kindergarten in fall 2015. I knew that I did not want to continue with Sonlight; I knew that I did want to purchase or create a classical curriculum; and I knew that I will have no time for researching curriculum during the most typical planning time—the spring and summer before the curriculum is used. So my attention was divided among teaching Alexa for preK, planning for Alexa’s kindergarten year, and fitting in my regular household tasks as I could.

Luckily, preK was mostly about reading quality books aloud, but there also have been some workbooks: math and handwriting (both of which Alexa loves), the preK Explode the Code phonics series (which she does not love), critical thinking (which Alexa loved until we finished the age-appropriate book and the next one was too advanced for her), and the Developing the EarlyLearner series (a mixed bag of activities—some loved, some hated, and all put aside for now since they’ve progressed to the point of being too difficult for her). I also began teaching Alexa to read, using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, which has been shelved temporarily in favor of a subscription to the online Reading Eggs program.

Throughout the year, there have been times when I was excited to “do school” and teach Alexa new and wonderful things, times when she was excited to do school and learn new and wonderful things, a few blessed times when we both were excited, and too many times when neither of us was excited. Thus, this ornament with an excited-for-school Chip and a less than enthusiastic Dale seemed like a good fit … and the nod to Disney does help my ornament fit in with Jeff’s and Alexa’s, as well. And I did really enjoy the cruise.

In our family, it was a Disney kind of year, though there also was plenty of hard work. Next year promises to hold new adventures, with all the stresses, joys, and uncertainties that tag along with any new endeavor. One thing is for certain, though: next year, we will NOT be schooling year round!