Monday, December 29, 2008

Just waiting for Santa . . .

The stockings are hung and the kids are in bed, excitedly waiting for Santa to come tonight! Joey and Michael even cleaned their room enthusiastically, when DH reminded them that Santa might check their rooms before leaving them gifts.

Oh, I know that at YOUR house, Christmas has come and gone, the presents opened, some no doubt broken already, the overflowing trash can taken to the curb (packaging drives me nuts!), and the battered tree holding on for just a few more days until you get the energy together to put it all away. But not here. We decided to celebrate Christmas Eve today and Christmas Day tomorrow. We emailed Santa and he was glad to have fewer houses to visit on December 25th, so here we are, waiting for Santa and the Christmas excitement to begin.

So why on earth would anyone delay Christmas? So they could hang out in sunny Arizona (ok, so half the time it was rainy Arizona, but still) and forget about the 11 inches of snow piling up back home:

DH's sister is in Sierra Vista for the next few months while her husband is in training at the Army base there. My in-laws decided to go there for Christmas, so we figured we'd take the chance to enjoy a warmer climate. We had an awesome time. Our kids earned junior ranger badges at four national parks or monuments:

The Petrified Forest,


Saguaro National Park,

Tumacocori,

and Montezuma's Castle.


We enjoyed the Painted Desert:


a mine tour in Bisbee,
and a hundred other things, including church and dinner with old friends, and Christmas Day with family. We stayed at a hotel while my oldest three spent two nights with my sister-in-law, Diane. They were there Christmas morning when her family of three (ages 4, 2, and 2 -- yep, she has twins too!) opened their presents. Diane said she felt like the bourgeois aunt who had invited the poor orphans over to watch her kids open presents. She may have felt that way, but my kids were still so excited and happy to open three presents -- one from us, one from her, and one from their grandparents. When we came over around 10 in the morning, all three came over so excited to show me their gifts! I was humbled to realize how simple Christmas can be and yet bring such joy. Lillian told me her favorite part of the day was watching her cousins get so excited over their presents.

So, in a way, my kids get to celebrate Christmas twice this year. We've never really traveled over Christmas before, and I don't know if we'll do it this way again, but it sure was fun!

And after all, what could say Christmas Eve more than watching a gunfight at the OK corral and eating lunch at a saloon in Tombstone?

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bright Spots in Dark Times

It's been an emotional, exhausting week for me. I spent Sunday through Friday in Boise, helping my parents through an experience that is beyond difficult. They are living in their worst nightmare as my dad struggles with a debilitating illness.

I took Harmony with me to Boise -- a nursing mother and her infant are not easily parted -- leaving the other six children in the very capable hands of their father, my mother-in-law, and a few neighbors and friends. DH scaled back his work schedule this week, my mother-in-law came for two days, and a few friends helped out here and there. In my preparations to leave, I was grateful to realize just how many friends I could call on, so many that I didn't even call half of them to help.

Harmony, by her very presence, helped in a small way to relieve the burden at my parent's house. She gave my dad something to smile at and my mom something fun to focus on. So it was more than significant, at least in my mind, that Harmony chose this week to learn a new skill:




No, not crawling, though she does scoot around in circles and move a few feet after toys. Nope, this little barely-four-month-old is up on her knees and rocking! Pretty amazing, and a good reminder that there are bright spots even in the darkest times.

For those who want to see more of my amazing little girl, here's a video of her new skill:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Visiting Santa (a.k.a. Who Knew?)

At our ward Christmas party last week, my kids were delighted to visit with Santa. After a few years of watching your kids interact with Santa, you learn a few things. Mostly, you learn that your kids are either hilariously unpredictable or hilariously predictable.

* Eliza was not impressed with Santa. Aren't we mean to make her visit him anyway?



* Sarah thought Santa's beard was just like a kitty and kept petting it. She wanted a My Little Pony for her room, even though Santa thought she wanted a big furry pony that you could ride. At the end, she turned her thoughts to the real reason we have Christmas and said want we all want to say but are too polite to say: "I want some candy."



* Allison wanted art supplies. She told me ten times in line that she wanted art supplies. By the time she sat on Santa's lap, however, all rational thought left her and all she could manage was "Skateboard." (Skateboard, skateboard, what's a skateboard?) Trust me, she doesn't want a skateboard.




* What can I say? I just hope Michael doesn't ever win a shopping spree. There he is, with Santa ready and anxious to grant all of his desires and all he can say is he wants a bouncy ball?



*Joey, at eight years old, believes whole-heartedly in Santa. He made a list a month ago of what he wanted for Christmas and we made sure Santa chose just the right present for him. All I can say now is, it wasn't a microscope. This particular Santa, however, must not have remembered that, because as he said, "Oh, I think we can get you one of those," I realized I'm in trouble. Anyone know where I can get a cheap microscope? By the way, the next day, when Joey was acting rotten and his dad told him he'd better be good so Santa will bring him presents, he protested, "Well, Santa already said I'm on his good list!"



*Lillian helped Santa leave out his presents for everyone last year, but she was a good sport about playing along anyway.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dear Santa, do you take requests?

I took a load to D.I. today but made the mistake of taking some of the kids along. Just as the workers were dumping the bin of toys out, Sarah spotted “my brush! OH, MY BRUSSSSHHHHH!” I searched through the mess and found two pony brushes, neither of which was the one she wanted.
She cried harder -- "No it's pink with sparklies!"

She cried and cried, but I got back in the car and drove home. I told her that maybe some little girl who didn’t have many toys would be so happy to get that brush. She considered that.

Michael patted her on the shoulder, “It’s okay, Sarah. Mommy did the same thing to me. She gave away a bike I really liked to D.I.”

I told her maybe Santa could bring her a new brush. "Yes," she said, "that very same pink sparkly brush from D.I." (Uh oh; we're in trouble, I thought). I told her maybe Santa could bring her an even better brush. By the time we got home,
I thought Sarah was feeling okay about the whole situation, but then I overheard her conversation with Allison.

Sarah: “Mommy gave my special brush to D.I. My pretty PINK one!”

Allison: “Oh, I will go find your special brush right now.”

Sarah:“You can’t! It's gone FOREVER!" Sniff, Sniff.

So, Santa, it it's not too much trouble, it would sure help me get on Sarah's good list if you could find a small beat-up pony brush for her stocking. Make it pink. With sparklies. Perhaps you could check at your local D.I.?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Second Photoshop Gift

Wendy sent me these two pictures of her cute family at her sister's wedding. I swapped one head, took out the archway in the background and ended up with two fun photos for her!



Sepia:

Color:

First Photoshop Gift

Here's my first Photoshop "Pay it Forward" gift for Chalice, my talented friend and amazing photographer!

Original:

Photoshopped:Original:

Photoshopped:

I still need two more sign-ups. Come on. I know you've got some pictures you want fixed!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Photoshop Services Gift

Brandy had a great idea for a fun holiday "Pay it Forward" exchange.

"Here's the challenge. I will send a handmade gift (Photoshop services, in my case) to the first three people to leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Pay it Forward Exchange. You will receive your gift within a month of leaving your comment. The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same comment on your blog within a day or two."

Since I'm not crafty, I'm offering up free Photoshop services for the first three who comment and want to play along. Be sure and sign with your email so I can contact you and you can email me your photo projects. Want me to swap some heads? Turn a blah photo into a dreamy masterpiece? Collage several family photos together? Make a custom Christmas card? Sign in and let me know. I'll get right to work and return it to you by the 17th of December.

You can pay it forward by offering whatever gift your own talents can manage on your own blog.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Free Christmas Cookies

Scrapbook-Elements has a treat in store for everyone! From now until Christmas, log in each day to download a special treat -- Christmas cookies! Be sure you're logged in and visit the Cookie Jar Forum to download your treat. Inside is a cookie as well as a recipe and a coupon!


My contribution is this great cookie alpha, which has been split into three sections and will be available on three random days only. Be sure to unzip your files because each cookie includes a coupon code good this month only at SBE!


I also included a 4x6 recipe card with my favorite rolo cookie recipe!

Monday, December 01, 2008

So I have this problem . . .

I try to treat my twins equally, especially when it comes to their representation in the family books, scrapbooks, and blog. But here's my problem: I try to save just the best photos of each girl. Sarah is easy to get great shots of -- she smiles and poses perfectly every time she sees a camera:
Even when she's striking a silly pose, she knows instinctively how to look cute:

Allison, on the other hand, is harder to capture, leaving me with images such as these:





I'll ask her to smile and get something like this:


So while I try hard to have a good mix of pictures of both girls in our family scrapbook, I've noticed that for 2008, I have a whole lot more pictures of Sarah. And they're adorable photos, so I'm using them. But I feel a small twinge of guilt, knowing that someday Allison might look through and notice the difference. Of course, I'm using pictures of her as well, just not as many and not nearly so cute. So you see my problem. I love them both to pieces and think they are both adorable, but the family scrapbook, at least for this year, seems a bit biased. I realize the fate of the world does not rest on me capturing better photos of Allison, but I sure wish I could do it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Morning Madness

Yesterday, I decided to brave the crowds and do the early morning Black Friday thing. I've done it in the past and found it a little thrilling to go in search of that must-have doorbuster. My only rule is that I never go to Walmart. I've been there, done that, and I must say it's a little frightening. At other stores -- Shopko, Target, and the like -- there's a sort of "we're all in this together" feel from the other shoppers. People will hand you items through the crowd if you want and the mood is jolly. The hunt for bargains is an exciting treasure hunt.

At Walmart, it's a whole different story. It's like someone broke a pinata at a birthday party for mean greedy kids. It's every man for himself. So I avoid Walmart like the plague on Black Friday.

Yesterday, I broke that rule because my two boys both want Lego sets for Christmas. Walmart had a two-day special on the King's Castle Siege Set -- $110 at Amazon, but only $50 at Walmart. I decided to try the Walmart in a smaller city south of here, in hopes that the craziness would be a bit toned down. I arrived at 4:50 to find the entire parking lot full with tons of cars driving up and down looking for spots. I had to park at a nearby Quiznos and hike over. I was a little confused to find no line outside, but when I got inside, I saw the reason why -- every aisle was jammed packed with shrink-wrapped pallets and people waiting for the 5:00 time. I got a cart, but soon had to abandon it because there was barely room for a person to get through, much less one with a cart. I had a credit card and driver's license in my pocket and was ready to go. I was jammed in the toy section, unable to get to the Lego aisle, much less search the pallets for the set I wanted, when they announced 5:00 over the loudspeakers. The resulting melee was truly amazing. People were ripping plastic wrap, grabbing ripsticks, barbie jeeps, and who knows what else. Within one minute, I was able to walk across an empty pallet on my way to the Legos. I got to the aisle and found no King's Castle set anywhere. The frenzy was going on all around me, and I could see no way down the main aisle, so I headed back and around, hoping that there would still be a set left by the time I got there. At the back of the aisle, there was one other customer, holding a King's Castle set. They were right there, and no one was around. I took three (one for my boys to share and the others for two of my friends who were wisely sleeping in) and was on my way through the madness. My main item scored, I somehow managed to weave my way through the frenzy. It took me about ten minutes to even reach the front of the store. Before checking out, I was able to find several sets of Star Wars Clone War Jammies for $4, DVDs for $2, a Rubbermaid container set for $7. After waiting in an enormous line to check out, I headed over to K-Mart and then Staples for a few things, where the crowds were small and jolly.

I made it through and got what I wanted, but I didn't realize until this morning that I may have been taking my life in my hands. People will kill for a bargain at Walmart, and yesterday, in Long Island, they literally did. Pretty scary. I'm so sad that in order to save a few dollars, people will disregard common decency and respect. This poor man's family.

I think I'll stick to my rule from now on.

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to enjoy a rainy morning


I'm pretty laid back as a mom. There are certain things I don't tolerate, such as fighting, hurting, or saying mean words. We also have a strict "food stays in the kitchen" policy. But otherwise, I let the kids do a lot of what they want to do. If they start doing something unusual, I ask myself, "Are they doing any lasting damage?" and "Are they having fun or learning something?" If the answer is no to the first, and yes to the second, then I let them proceed. I think childhood should be a time to get messy, make mistakes, and explore the world.


Crayola washable markers -- they really ARE washable!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

went here, had fun, the end.

I don't post a ton of "this is where we went and this is what we did" type posts on this blog. I do a lot of fun things with my kids, but I figure it's pretty boring to read. But we had such a great time Tuesday, I thought I'd break my rule. I'll keep this short and you're welcome to skip it altogether, if you like. On the other hand, if you can't wait to hear more about all the mundane things we do, leave me a comment and tell me so I can continue to delight you with my travelogues.

Tuesday, we went with our co-op preschool group to the Discovery Center in Salt Lake. I was able to use my membership to get everyone else in free, and we had a great time. We spent four hours there, including snacks/lunch.

The best part? Eliza, who is constantly hearing things like, "No, don't touch that," "Put that back," "Get out of the fridge, please," "Turn OFF the water!" "Stop" "Don't" and "No" at home, could play and explore to her heart's content. Ah, bliss. They had a water area where she spent about an hour playing. She ended up soaking wet, but so happy.

Allison and Sarah loved playing in the helicopter while we ate lunch. Allison kept sneaking more granola bars and feeding pieces of them to the sparrows. Here's Sarah:


Harmony pooed through all her clothes, and I hadn't brought any spares, so we borrowed a sweatshirt from my friend's daughter Julia, who is about 8 months older and 10 times heavier than Harmony. Harmony didn't seem to mind a bit:

And Julia had a great time, even without her sweater:We finally left at 2:00. On the way home, Allison & Sarah fell asleep. Don't they look comfortable?

So basically, we went somewhere, had fun, and came home, with pictures to prove it. The End.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Organization

I was watching a home improvement show at the dentist's office this morning. As I stared at the screen in between making unintelligible conversation with the hygienist, I found myself wanting to laugh. The show was a makeover of a family's home office. The family mentioned that it was always cluttered. During the makeover, the designer kept saying, "and here we're going to add more organization," as she added various pieces of furniture to the room.

No, people, organization is not a piece of furniture or a file cabinet. Adding storage to a room, even when appealing to the eye and cleverly designed, is different than adding organization. I'm willing to bet that unless this family undertook the work of actually developing a system of organization using those storage options (highly unlikely), that the office is going to be just as cluttered in a month as it was when they started.

Our family's office may be a mess, but at least I don't think I can add a piece of furniture and have it magically organized.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas in a Large Family

is simply magical. It's so fun to be the mother and watch it happen. We don't have a lot of family around, so mostly it's just us. Here are some of our traditions:

* We try to keep Christmas fairly simple and focused on the Savior. We usually sponsor a Sub-for-Santa family and go shopping together to pick out gifts the children would like. It is so sweet to see my children thinking about what a stranger might like.

* We keep our gift buying simple. We get several presents for the whole family (this year's gift? A counter-top ice cream maker), and then find two main presents for each child, one from Santa and one from Mom and Dad. The kids also get small things like books and socks and clothes. I don't worry too much about keeping the amount we spend the same per child, since their needs and interests are so different. I always try to find at least one gift that is hands-on. I remember one Christmas as a child being so disappointed because everyone else was playing with toys or putting together some cool Lego set while I sat there with nothing to do (of course I got plenty of great gifts that year, like books and clothes and things, but there wasn't the same excitement). So even though my daughter Lillian is a huge bookworm, I try to still give her a puzzle or an art project or something that will fill up some time on Christmas Day itself.

* To help us with our shopping, around Halloween, we have the kids make a list of things they want, and we try to get them at least one thing on the list. This year's lists cracked me up. Lillian wants a watch, a digital camera, Nancy Drew computer games and boring stuff like that. Michael wants Star Wars or Indiana Jones lego sets, plus dress-ups (specifically Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Knights, and Pirates). Joey wants a "gold locashion book," a 6" megaladon tooth, and a bag of sand with real gold in it so he can pan for gold. Oh, and a book on what to feed "hornd" toads, a package of "hornd" toad food, and a reptile cage. Think he's trying to tell me something? Sarah told me today she wants a baby, the real kind that grow in mommy's tummy. I hope that's not some sort of premonition!

* We usually decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. We collect nativities and buy a new one each year. It inspires reverence to see the way different artists and different cultures have portrayed the miracle of Christ's birth, and the older kids like to pick up the Mary in each set to see what year that nativity joined our family (I write the years on the bottom).

* Around Thanksgiving time, we draw names among the older kids (ages 3 and up). Each child spends their own money, usually about $10, to give a gift to one of their siblings. I love watching them plan and think and pore over ads to get their sibling the perfect gift.

* Each Monday night during our Family Home Evening, we try to do something Christmas-oriented, like making gingerbread houses, driving around to look at lights, reading the Book of Luke, and watching our favorite Christmas movies, such as The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (that's got some of the best lines in the world: "you mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox? Where was the child welfare?" "What were the wadded up clothes? You read about it -- they wrapped him up in wadded up clothes!" "I'm not going to be a shepherd. Gladys Herdman hits too hard!" "My mom doesn't have any white sheets. Can I wear a sheet with balloons on it?")

* Our Christmas Eve dinner for the last five or more years has been spent at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I love eating family style, and the kids understand the funny Christmas Story implications of our meal (in case you've never seen the movie, the neighbor's dogs eat all the turkey at Ralphie's house, so they end up at the only restaurant open on Christmas Day, a Chinese one). One year, we even ordered roast duck. It was gross, so we decided to forgo it in the future.

* On Christmas Eve, we have a simple gathering with our immediate family. We act out the Christmas Story and talk about Christ's life. Last year, Lillian (on her own initiative) spent much of Christmas Eve day searching out the perfect outfits for everyone's costumes, such as Allison as a wise man holding a beautiful geode to give to the Christ Child:

* After the nativity story, each child gets to open one present. Sometimes, the present is new pajamas to wear that night.
* After the program, we send everyone to bed. Sometimes, they gather for a party in each other's rooms, playing games for a while before excitedly trying to sleep so Santa can arrive.

* Once a child knows the truth about Santa, they get to take turns being Santa's helper. Last year was Lillian's first year to help. She was so thrilled and excited to set out the presents for each of her siblings with us, and a bit disappointed when we told her Santa didn't bring presents to kids who don't believe anymore (we were kidding! After she went to bed, we brought out her presents from Santa.)

* I almost always make butterscotch rolls and set them out to rise that night (my recipe uses frozen rolls and is very simple. You can find it here).

* Santa brings one main present for each child and fills the stockings, usually with oranges, peanuts, chocolate coins, candy, and a movie or a book.

* Christmas morning dawns bright and early, sometimes with a child or two running into our room at 2 a.m., announcing, "It's morning time!" After we put said child back to bed, we finally do get up around 6 a.m. and head for the stairs. We line the kids up youngest to oldest and the rush for the toys begins.

* Santa doesn't wrap his presents, so right away, everyone has something exciting to look at. While the kids are looking at their presents, I start the rolls cooking in the oven.

* After looking at their presents from Santa and emptying their stockings, we go to the kitchen for a yummy breakfast. I get out the rolls and DH usually makes sausages, bacon, eggs, and pancakes.

* After breakfast, we go back to the living room to open the rest of the gifts one at a time. The kids can't wait for their sibling to open the special gift they picked out just for them, and since both of our extended families draw names, too, there are usually a few surprises in there, even for mom and dad.

I hope your Christmas season is wonderful too!

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