Dear Olivia: Weeks 25, 26, and 27

OLIVIA25-26-27Dear Olivia,

Oh, dear. These letters kind of got away from us, hmm?

Despite having three weeks worth of letters to cram into one, this isn’t going to be very long. I’m declaring letter amnesty and we’re going to move forward.

I just want you to know that this is no reflection of our love for you. We adore you and everything that’s going on with you right now is so exciting. You’re sitting up (mostly — you can’t quite be trusted without a nest of pillows scattered around you, but you’re getting better), rolling over in both directions, and you started eating solid foods (sweet potato fries for the win!).

You laugh and smile and you hold my heart in that chubby little fist of yours. And my hair OW OW OW PLEASE LET GO.

Love always,



Happy Holidays from the Happy Helmraths!

merry-christmas-webMerry Christmas, guys! Or if you’re celebrating something else…happy Friday.

Thank you so much for reading this tiny little blog. I certainly have fun with it, and it means a lot that you stop by every once in a while to see what we’re up to.

May you, too, experience all the joy, delicious food, and laughter of family and friends that the season as to offer. And a baby copping a feel. It’s just not Christmas without that, amiright?


The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

shareasimage (3)I love Christmas music. I mean, I LOVE it. Usually I can’t wait until the day after Thanksgiving to start playing it, much to Will’s chagrin.

But just in case you’ve realized it’s Christmas Eve and you don’t have a sweet Christmas playlist to listen to while you open presents tomorrow, I’ve got you covered.

Best Version of a Song I Normally Can’t Stand: Last Christmas, Jimmy Eat World

I don’t know why I hate this song so hard, but I’ve never liked it. Until I heard this version and thought, “Hey, that’s kind of catchy.” Damn you, Jimmy Eat World.

Best Medley: Angelic Proclamation, BarlowGirl

A Christmas medley! It’s all your favorite Christmas songs mashed together in the most amazing possible way. For best results, belt it out as loudly as you can in your car.

Best Duet, If You Can Get Past the Rape-y Lyrics: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Glee Cast Version)

These guys can sing, man. This is, hands-down, the creepiest, most rape-y Christmas song ever written (“Hey, what’s in this drink?”) but if you can get past that, this is a really nice, kinda jazzy duet.

Best A Capella Christmas Song: Carol of the Bells, Pentatonix

I discovered the Pentatonix Christmas album last year, and this year they have a new one. I think about half of my Christmas playlist is Pentatonix. They’re amazing and everything they do makes me wish SO BADLY that I could sing.

Best Christmas Song by a Boy Band: The First Noel, N’SYNC

I’m a die-hard N’SYNC fan and I say that completely un-ironically. Their Christmas album is fantastic, and I also mean that un-ironically. It’s Justin Timberlake and 5-part harmony; how can you go wrong? Runner-up: Anything from the 98° Christmas album. I love me some late 90s pop.

Best Version of My Favorite Christmas Song Ever: 12-Way Tie

O Holy Night is indisputably the best Christmas song ever, and everyone has a different version on their own Christmas album. I can’t pick just one (there are at least six on my playlist), but Jewel, Third Day, N’SYNC and 98° (obviously!), and Point of Grace all have really nice versions.

Most Likely to Make Me Cry: Where Are You, Christmas?, Faith Hill

No I’m not crying, I just have something in my eye. GODDAMMIT FAITH I ALMOST KEPT IT TOGETHER THAT TIME.

Best Song with Made-up Words: Welcome Christmas, Glee Cast version

FA-WHO FOOOOOOOO-RAY, DA-WHO DOOOOOOOOOO-RAY. Don’t even pretend you don’t want to grab hands with the person standing next to you and sway in solidarity around a giant Christmas tree.

Most Disturbing Christmas Song But You Don’t Even Know It: Winter White Hymnal, Pentatonix

The first time I heard this song I got caught up in the harmonies and didn’t pay too much attention to what they were singing. The second time through I thought I must have heard wrong. And then I looked up the lyrics, and, huh…that’s odd. “I was following the pack / all swallowed in their coats / with scarves of red tied ’round their throats / to keep their little heads / from falling in the snow / and I turned round and there you go / and Michael you would fall / and turn the white snow red as strawberries in the summertime.” Oh…um…ok then. Beautiful song, weird lyrics.

Best Instrumental Christmas Song: Christmas Eve in Sarajevo, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This is just such a fun song. Everything they do is awesome.

Best Alternative Christmas Song: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings, Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan

It’s got a fun beat AND it’s a medley. WIN WIN. If I ever did Christmas karaoke (is that even a thing?) I would totally pick this song.

Weirdest Christmas Song: Merry Christmas Darling, The Carpenters

“Logs on the fire fill me with desire.” Enough said. Weirdo.

Best Mash-Up: The 12 Days of Christmas, Straight No Chaser

Such a fun song. Just give it a listen if you haven’t already.

Best Electronic (?) Song: The First Noel, TobyMac feat. Owl City

I’m not quite sure what genre this falls under, so we’re just going to go with “electronic.” Definitely not your standard Christmas fare, especially with a rap breakdown in the middle of the song.

Best Christmas Song That’s Really About Something Else: This Gift, 98°

The first time my middle-school self realized this song was about a guy proposing to his girlfriend it was like POW mind blown (doesn’t take much when you’re 12). And then it was ALL THE FEELS, because, obviously: 13-year-old girl. PROPOSE TO ME NICK LACHEY.

Song So Annoying It Should Never Be On Any Playlist, EVER: Dominic the Donkey

I’m not even going to link to this one. If you go to the trouble of finding it, you deserve to have that godawful earworm stuck in your head forever. I’m serious, guys: this song is the WORST. And not even in a “so-bad-it’s-good” kind of way. NO. Do not believe that nonsense.

And here’s my playlist in its entirety if you’d like to take a peek at the whole thing. What’s the best version of your favorite Christmas song?


Dear Olivia: Week 24

olivia-week24-webDear Olivia,

You might as well know the truth now: we didn’t get you any presents.

Don’t feel bad; we didn’t get your sister anything for her first Christmas, either. With so many family members dying to spoil you both, it’s easy to have a far more modest Christmas. You’re not going to remember, and it’s not as if you’re really wanting for anything.

There’s one exception to this: you both get an ornament for Christmas. Your first Christmas and every Christmas thereafter until we decide to not do this anymore, which will most likely be when you’re nearly as old as I am (ANCIENT, I know).

This was a tradition that my parents started with your aunt Leslie with me, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season.

Because it’s not just an ornament, you see; there’s also a note explaining why that particular ornament was chosen and how it relates to whatever happened in our life that year.

Some years it’s straightforward and heartfelt, like my wooden dove signed by the children’s book author Tomie dePaola, chosen because a) Tomie was in town doing book signings, and b) your aunt and I LOVED reading his books.

Others make me groan and laugh at the same time, like my tiny little Wheel of Fortune ornament from 1995. To anyone else it just looks like I was a fan of the show, but it’s actually a reference to the super old-school handheld Wheel of Fortune video game I received as a gift when I was in the hospital after having my appendix removed. With nothing to do for five days except read books and watch bad tv, that game was a godsend. I played it for hours and hours, and now it’s immortalized on our tree.

I have ornaments representing vacations, family traditions, beloved pets, hobbies long since put away as well as ones I still do, and current events from that particular year. Opening up the boxes and reading the accompanying notes written in my dad’s neat block handwriting or my mom’s delicate script is like watching a highlight reel of my entire life.

Before your dad and I lived together and had our own tree, trimming the tree with my family was a collective walk down memory lane. We all have ornaments with notes, and hanging each one sparked a conversation about, “Oh my god, remember when? I’d nearly forgotten about this…”

The year your dad and I got married was the last year I received an ornament from my parents. It was the chance for your dad and I to start our own Christmas traditions, and we have. But this is one we’ve continued, and will for quite some time.

Years from now I hope your ornaments bring you as much joy as mine bring me. I hope you and Natalie laugh as you hang them, carefully choosing which ones to display and which ones to return to their boxes — just for this year; next year will be their time to shine on the tree.

I can’t begin to guess what your ornament collection will look like. I don’t know what life experiences you’ll have, what sports you might play or what books you might adore, or what will be going on in the world that we’ll want to have a reminder of on our tree.

But I can’t wait to find out.

Love always,


Natalie Right Now: Two and almost-a-half

  This blog has been pretty Olivia-centric lately. They say that it’s the second child who gets the short end of the stick, but during the last several weeks (mostly since Olivia’s sleep regression started) I think it’s poor Natalie who’s been neglected.

“Natalie, I need you to be patient while I feed Olivia.”

“Natalie, can you sit in front of the TV while I rock your sister for 45 minutes just so she’ll sleep for 15?”

“Natalie, please just raise yourself for the next few days; Mommy’s too tired to be useful. You know where the peanut butter and jelly are.”

And even though she’s not quite two-and-a-half, even though she has the attention span of a typical toddler, even though she’s been feeling out of sorts and jealous of her sister, this child has been, by and large, a saint. 

She’s amazing. Every time I turn around she’s learned something new, made some connection I thought she was too young to understand, or showing an incredible level of empathy for Olivia.

And then she turns around and yanks Olivia’s toy out of her hand and runs away shrieking with laughter, because, you know, two-and-a-half. 

Natalie right now…

Loves play-doh and wants me to help her make snakes and trains and balls every day. When she’s done she announces it’s time to “pick up pay-doh” and meticulously sorts all three of the colors back into their original containers. There is no mushing together of colors, oh no, not in this house.

Is a bottomless pit. She’d eat twelve snacks a day if I let her. She also uses this as a stall tactic and declares almost every day before naptime, “So hungry, mama, so hungry.” Mmm-hmm, you must be starving after a sandwich and a clementine and a piece of ham and sliced cheese and a glass of milk. So hungry, indeed.

Adores her baby sister. For every time that she rips a toy out of Olivia’s hand, there are three more when she rubs the top of Olivia’s fuzzy little head like a good luck charm, drapes herself over Olivia to give her a hug, or retrieves Sophie when Olivia chucks it on the floor for the millionth time.

Is a Stage 5 Clinger. Good god do I love this child and I would go to the ends of the earth for her…but I’d also like to be able to pee alone without tiny fists banging on the door while she shouts MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA from the other side. Thirty seconds, child; no need to try and push your fingers underneath the door. She also won’t let Will do anything. And I mean anything. Diaper changes, wiping her face after she eats, helping her out of her booster seat, giving her a bath, even walking downstairs with her. NO NO NO NO MAMA DO IT MAMA DO IT MAMA DO IT!!!!

At first it was kind of sweet, like, aw, my baby loves me better than anyone else in the world. But now? I totally hit the wall this weekend after everyone, including myself, was sick the whole week and I hadn’t spent more than a few minutes away from one child or the other. Every time Natalie grabbed my hand or started to tantrum because she wanted me to do something, I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. Touched out. Completely. It passed, thankfully, because that’s a really horrible feeling to have. But also a good lesson, because that’s what happens when I don’t take time for myself.

Anyway, back to Natalie. She…

Doesn’t understand the concept of Christmas or presents, but asks to listen to Christmas music (“Tis-mis music”) every day. My sister’s birthday party was this weekend and Natalie kept trying to distribute Leslie’s presents to everyone else at the party. She should be entertaining on Christmas Day. 

Thinks the whole world works at either the shop (what she calls my uncle’s business, and it’s true, most of the people in her orbit do work there) or Hobby Lobby, where my sister works. Only she pronounces it “Hobby Obby” and I’m going to be so, so sad when she starts saying the letter L. 

Parenting her feels like higher stakes than it used to — I mean really, it’s not like you “parent” a baby; you just take care of their basic need for food and clean diapers and affection. Sleep training kind of falls under that umbrella but it’s not the same as what we’re doing with Natalie: trying to raise a decent, empathetic, thoughtful, curious, and ultimately independent human being. NO PRESSURE. 

Higher stakes but higher rewards. The daily grind of “no you can’t do this/eat that/throw those” is finally starting to pay off, little by little. Not without many, many setbacks, of course, but she’s absorbing at least some of what we’ve been striving to teach her. 

And it is rewarding. When she throws her wiry arms around me and presses her sticky little face to mine and shouts “I got you, mama!” I think to myself, “You have no idea, kid.” 

She’s got me, alright. Hook, line, and sinker. 


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