Thursday, January 25, 2018

Christmas Letter 2017

13 December 2017
Merry Christmas from our home, where as I write, Rebecca is ripping open other people’s presents under the tree (Sorry, Kendra!). This year in particular I have struggled to write a Christmas letter. It was a year where few noteworthy things happened: we didn’t take any exotic vacations, didn’t run any marathons (have we ever?), and mostly just adjusted to life as a family of 4. On reflecting, I think the most exciting thing that happened this year was the time Benjamin accidentally ran over the neighbor kid with his motorized Jeep. Somewhat exciting? Sure. Christmas letter worthy? No. And yet here I am, telling you about toddler hit and runs. Merry Christmas! Everybody is fine, by the way. But let this be a reminder that the suburbs have their own dangers.
Basically it was a year of small things. Rebecca was an infant when 2017 began, and my motto repeatedly during the difficult early months was “keep your head down.” What I meant was, just focus on the small, day-to-day tasks in front of you and try to take life in small pieces. If I became too concerned with the big picture—when will I ever sleep again? How many more months until this child can eat solid foods? When will I ever find a normal life rhythm again?—I felt very overwhelmed. Approaching life myopically was the best option. But the result was that in looking back the year also felt small, uneventful, and much of my memories are of the mundane: diapers, dishes, picking up 100 Ziploc sandwich bags from the floor every day (emptying drawers being a favorite pastime of Rebecca’s). But as anyone with small kids knows, the challenge is to find joy in the simple tasks and treasure in the ordinary.    
So in that spirit, let me share with you some of the small treasures and everyday snapshots I do remember of the year:
-Benjamin seated on the breakfast bench next to Andrew every single weekday morning while Andrew takes an 8:00 a.m. work call. Later, I would overhear Benjamin on his toy phone saying phrases like “Elastic Search Plug-In.”
-Rebecca looking wide-eyed (a euphemism for unbelievably startled) at every single person she saw for the first 6 months of her life.
-Staying at a house along the Klickitat River with my family over the summer. Coming back to the house after an afternoon fishing and seeing Benjamin running in circles in the front yard with my mom, the sun setting, bubbles trailing from the wand in his hand.  
-Finally potty training Benjamin. Hearing him walk down the stairs 5 times a day yelling, “Momma! I pottied!” The excitement and inflection are the exact same every time.
-Enjoying the process but attempting to no avail to perfect my green curry recipe so that I can stop pining for the Thai restaurant down the street. Why is it so much better than mine? Legitimately asking.
-Andrew waking up perfectly lucid and coherent from knee surgery. No embarrassing viral videos to be had.
-So many late nights with Rebecca, walking her around the darkness of her room, simultaneously trying to feel the shape and weight of her body so that I could impress it on my heart and mind for when she would be too big to hold like this, and also desperately, desperately wanting to put her down and go to sleep.
-Hiking the base of Mount Hood with Elizabeth and Jonathan, and my in-laws Rich and Cindy, in which my 60-year-old in-laws were out of sight and up the mountain in a matter of minutes while the rest of us younger ones complained about things like altitude and inclines and knee pain, and slowly trudged along.
-July, tying the fishing lines my dad taught me over and over again with the same lure, hoping the muscle memory would last me the rest of my life. Curious if it has even lasted me through the winter…
-Finally convincing Andrew to buy a grill this summer, which we used for basically every summer dinner: grilled pesto pizza, grilled chicken with homemade barbecue sauce, vegetable kebabs. How have we lived the last 5 years without one?
-Andrew turning the lock in the door at the end of the day, so relieved to see him and glad he is finally home and the parent-to-child ratio is reset.
-Every single morning I used my Keurig and thought of all my Oregon coffee snob friends judging me. Contentedly sighing as I felt not one ounce of regret at my instant hot coffee.
-Long evenings talking to Rich and Cindy when they stayed with us for the month of August.
-Benjamin playing his ukulele every day, and still left-handed. He has had to start learning chords upside down since he refuses to switch. His latest hits include “Pinecone Song” and “Rockout Song.”
-Rebecca’s “crawl,” which is both endearing and terrifying. She drags her body by doing the splits and then folds her left leg under her, flopping forward. The rhythm is unsettling, and as my brother pointed out, looks like something from Resident Evil.
-Accompanying Andrew on a quick work trip to North Carolina and basking in 5 hours of uninterrupted quality time on the plane, followed by the perfect southern pulled pork dinner.
-Rebecca aggressively cuddling her stuffed kitty upon every reunion at night in her crib. And Benjamin petting his stuffed puppy’s ears so much it eventually tore a hole in one of them. I think these stuffed animals will be treasures of mine forever when the kids are done with them—a small part to represent the whole of the preciousness of childhood.
Let me leave you with one last Christmas snapshot. Benjamin is practicing to sing with the other preschool kids for our Christmas Eve service. They are going to perform “Go, Tell it on the Mountain.” Currently he’s strumming his ukulele and mixing up the words a bit, but he has this verse memorized: “Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born / And brought us God’s salvation that blessed Christmas morn.” I’m reminded that Christ Himself was born into the lowly and commonplace. He is always able to meet us where we are and transform our everyday elements, our bread and butter, into a gracious feast. I think he’s done that with me this past year—in the mundane, in the drudgery of seemingly meaningless and never-ending tasks, in the toil of routine, He has given us so much beauty in these “small” days. My mind may not remember the big events of 2017, but my heart will certainly remember its sweetness.
Merry Christmas,

The Browns

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

16 December

Merry Christmas from our sleep-deprived home to yours! 2016 was a year of some notable events: we saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, became a family of four, and that guy I used to watch on the Apprentice became the President-Elect. Here are some other highlights from our past year.

-In March, Andrew and I traveled to Arizona where we spent some time hiking and riding 4-wheelers in Sedona before driving up to the Grand Canyon. At the Grand Canyon, which was both immensely impressive and the largest tourist spectacle I’ve ever seen, we hiked the South Kaibab trail and biked the South Rim. On our fourth day of the trip, I had some inkling I might be pregnant when, looking for food options in one of the lodges, the only thing I wanted was a tuna melt. Craving mashed tuna and mayonnaise seemed out of the ordinary for me (and most people, I assume), and sure enough, just a few weeks later, it was confirmed that little Rebecca would be joining us in November.

-We continued chipping away at our long list of house projects. Sanding and painting our kitchen cabinets (all 22 of them) proved to be the worst renovation project we’ve undertaken. It was like being a part of one of those home renovation shows where everything that can go wrong does, but instead of the issues being resolved within the show’s one-hour timeframe, the caption underneath reads “one year later…” because that’s how long it took us to complete. But complete it we did. Thanks to Andrew, they look great and now I no longer have to pretend that I’m really into “open shelving” all year long. We also finished our floors, painted all the downstairs walls (again with the help of Elizabeth and Jonathan), and as of last week, finished the kitchen island. But Chip and Joanna Gaines we are not…

-Benjamin proves to be more fun each and every year. His current interests include construction work and playing his ukulele. He lives to “fix things” with Andrew and my dad, and dutifully wears his construction hat from his Halloween costume anytime he has to work. This habit has proved particularly useful considering both a DVD player and stocking holder have fallen on his head just this last month. His other construction interest involves building a Lego tower in his window, nearly every day, as high as possible. He also has shown himself to be quite talented at writing songs while playing his ukulele. So far his main hits have been called “Fire Alarm Song” (he is traumatized by it going off so many times this summer while I cooked pizza at 500 degrees…though I appreciate him turning his difficulties into art) and “Ceiling Song,” which I can only assume is a follow-up to “Fire Alarm Song.” Of course, his most anticipated hit is one we haven’t heard the words to, only the title: “Hearts in the Rain.” Sounds like he is working through some emotional times.

-At 32 weeks pregnant, we took a “babymoon” to New England to experience the fall foliage in late September. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston (somehow this turned into a 10-mile journey), ate cannolis, and generally tried not to engage with angry Bostonian drivers. We later drove through the Massachusetts countryside and into New Hampshire where we rode a train to Mount Washington, the highest peak in NE, which, should be noted, is about half the size of our nearby Mount Hood. But New England gets to claim things like the birthplace of the American Revolution and the Patriots, so I sort of doubt they are sad about their diminutive mountain sizes. Plus the New Hampshire license plate tag says “Live Free or Die,” which seems far superior to Oregon’s single evergreen tree and no tagline.* So all in all, they still have our respect. To end our trip, we drove east to visit the mother Portland (Maine) where we met up with Rachel and Adam to enjoy lobster rolls and the Atlantic ocean. The lighthouse tour by boat in Casco Bay was a highlight for me, because sightseeing by boat is definitely the preferred way for a pregnant person to travel. (again, 10 miles of walking in Boston!)

-On November 25, just one day after her due date, Rebecca Evangeline joined our family. We arrived at the birth center around 6:45 a.m. and she was born just 3 hours later. We were grateful to God for her speedy arrival and for a much easier labor than Benjamin’s. As of today, she is officially three weeks old and shares a likeness to her brother: they both have a similar disposition, many of the same facial features, and a high-maintenance need to be walked around when crying—no sitting allowed! But there are differences. Rebecca’s hair and skin look like they will be a bit darker, and unlike her super-metabolism brother, she has the potential to be a fat baby—something I’ve always wanted. My brother aptly called her a “little pot roast” when she was born and so far it still fits. Benjamin has thus far been welcoming of her, mostly because his life seems to be minimally disrupted if not enhanced: Thanks to Intel, Andrew has a 7-week paternity leave so he has been able to spend a lot of time with him, taking walks to the creek and working on the cars. We shall see if Benjamin’s warm spirit remains once Andrew returns to work, or more telling, once his sister becomes mobile and interested in destroying his Lego towers or eating his ukulele.

Other notable happenings include:

-Rafting the Lower Rogue again with Elizabeth and Jonathan and my dad.

-Seeing nearly everyone from Andrew’s family this year.

-Andrew continuing his PhD work at Portland State (Benjamin and I are sometimes able to walk with him to and from the train).

-Building a raised bed in our backyard so we could have a summer garden—cherry tomatoes were a nightly staple.

-Chick-Fil-A opening in our town, complete with a playplace for Benjamin. If you know anything about Chick-Fil-A, this is worthy news.

-Andrew and I running a half-marathon and 10k. It’s not important who ran which race. It’s just important that some people think me actually capable of running 13 plus miles…

We are busy and we are tired in this new season, but our hearts are full. I told Andrew the other night that as overwhelming as this stage seems, I imagine we will look back and see this time as a period where our home was brimming with “life.” Maybe some of that life looks hard at the moment, like middle-of-the-night feedings or telling a toddler not to flick on and off the lights for the hundredth time (because as I say too often, “our house is not a rave”), but it is full nonetheless. We are grateful for all the ways the Lord has provided for us and blessed us this past year. We pray his peace and love over you this Christmas season: “Mild He lays His glory by / Born that man no more may die.”


The Browns

*I realize it’s a shame we don’t have a state motto for our license plates here in Oregon, so I’ve been considering some options: “Stay in California” is one. “Don’t Associate Me with Portland” is another.

**Update: my dad has since informed me that "Pacific Wonderland" was once the license plate motto of Oregon. I say it's still a good option and much more welcoming than my previous suggestions.

Rebecca Evangeline Brown
25 November 2016
9:50 a.m.
8 pounds 6 ounces 21 inches

We are blessed to announce the birth of our daughter this holiday season. We chose the name Rebecca Evangeline knowing that Rebecca means "to tie, to join, or to secure," and that Evangeline means "the gospel, good news." We pray that our daughter joins her life to the greatest cause of all--the good news that Jesus Christ has been born to reconcile the world to God. We wish you God's joy and peace this Christmas season.