Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Had Ourselves a Merry Little Christmas

The girls and I started our Christmas week with a little pampering. I told them I had a surprise for them but that they first had to earn it by doing all sorts of chores.  By day's end, I had a clean house and they had beautifully painted nails.  We were all happy.

The rest of the week passed in a flurry of Christmas cookies, holiday parties and merry-making.  Before we knew it, Grandma and Grandpa had arrived to celebrate Christmas with us.

We bundled up and headed to Bellevue to experience Snowflake Lane.  It's a festive kind of fun as long as you don't mind sharing the sidewalks with the big-city mass of humanity that converges near malls at the this time of year.

Then we went to the botanical gardens to see the prettiest light display.

These grapes were my favorite.

We made a Christmas Eve trip to the movies where we enjoyed Arthur Christmas.  Cute story.  Yummy popcorn.

Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner was altered this year to be gluten-free.  But steak on a stick, potato skins, cocktail smokies and spinach dip had everyone feeling satisfied.  We even had two different kinds of So-Good Cookies--some with gluten and some without.  We had gluten-free gingersnaps, too.

The traditional first gifts of Christmas were opened--pajamas, of course--and we were ready to begin our read and sing nativity celebration.

I'm choosing the omit the pictures that document Caleb's Asperger moments.  They may have threatened to spoil our Christmas Eve, but the Christmas spirit was still felt so we'll just focus on that.

Natalie decided she wanted to conduct the songs.

It's just not Christmas Eve without angel chimes.

I loved that Christmas came on a Sunday this year!  Since we're sleepers at our house, I knew we wouldn't be able to get our gifts opened before our 11:00 meeting started.  We decided we'd let the kids enjoy their Santa gifts and stockings before church and leave the rest of the gifts for after.  We also had our big breakfast on Christmas Eve so that we wouldn't have to rush that either.

On Christmas morning, I heard Jon say, "The kids are up.  I can hear them."  It seemed so dark and I was so deep asleep that all I could mutter was, "You've got to be kidding me!"  Our kids never get up early so I couldn't believe that they'd be up already.  But then I rolled over and looked at the clock.  It was 8:30.  So I decided that they had every right to be up.

Our church service was wonderful.  It just seemed so perfect to go to church on Christmas.

The kids were sure excited to go home and having waited to open our gifts just helped build the anticipation all the more.  We posed for a family photo before changing back into our Christmas jammies.

Natalie couldn't have been more thrilled about her American Girl doll.

Most of Alyssa's gifts were actually for the doll she got back in November for her birthday.

Caleb got more football helmets.  Evidently when you're that big of a fan you can't have too many.

He also got a foosball table.

We stayed in our pajamas for our traditional Christmas ham dinner.  Caleb ate candy all night long.
What a wonderfully Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It just happens to be that the hap-happiest season of all is also the bus-busiest. 

We started the week with two concerts in one night.  Jon took Alyssa to her first orchestra concert while I took Natalie to play her part as a cardinal in "The Animal's Christmas Tree" program.

There's something irresistably adorable about first graders in costumes, singing their songs to their perfectly timed choreography.

Nat's concert was a lovely 25 minutes long and since the 5th graders were playing last, we were able to race across town to watch Alyssa.  We found Jon in auditorium and sat down just as the conductor was gesturing for the kids to raise their instruments.

I was anticipating a lot of squawks and squeaks but was impressed to hear real music coming from Alyssa's ginormous group of string players.  So fun to see--and hear.

Also this week was Caleb's Christmas choir concert.  My favorite part was "O Holy Night."  Not just because they did the song well, but also because they sang lyrics about Christ's birth at a school function.  I didn't know they could get away with that, but I loved it.

On Thursday, Alyssa graduated from D.A.R.E.  The kids sang some really great songs that they had written about staying drug-free.  Then they collected their certificates. (They had to stand in alphabetical order so, wouldn't you know it, she ended up behind the tallest kid in the class.  Can you see her little head in the second row?)

This is Officer Smith that taught the program to the fifth graders at our school:

The next day, Alyssa helped lead the school sing-along.  She and several of her friends took turns leading the actions on lots of fun holiday songs but on Jingle Bell Rock she took the microphone.


That night she worked with Tom Koll at gymnastics.  He's a celebrity of sorts in the world of Junior Olympic gymnastics.  He's the chairman of the JO committee, the creator of the compulsory routines and a judge of the highest ranking.  Tom looked at Alyssa's beam and floor routines and gave critiques on how they can be improved.

Saturday morning, Natalie and I got to spend four more hours learning from Mr. Tom's expertise as he worked with our Level 4 team.

Each of the girls on my team did one event for Tom.  Natalie did vault and even though Tom is the self-proclaimed toughest-judge-in-the-country, he gave Natalie a 9.4.  Now if she could just master that posture that he looks for on beam and floor.

Phew!  What a week.  Busy.  Very busy.  But so much fun. 

And we still have Christmas to look forward to.  A wonderful time of the year, indeed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Best Part of Thanksgiving

We were somewhere in the middle of the Montana mountains when I asked the children, "What was the best part of Thanksgiving?" Spending time with cousins was the immediate consensus. But then Caleb quickly corrected himself. "No, not just cousins. It was aunts and uncles, Grandma and Grandpa, too.  The best part of Thanksgiving was spending time with all our family."

The cousins really did have a spectacular time.  Using croquet mallets and a baseball, the iced-over back patio was turned into a hockey rink.  They even made some tickets for spectators to attend their NHL hockey game.  I didn't get any pictures of it, darn it.

They also did a lot of wrestling and playing football day and night.

While the kids made their presence known out front, Carl instigated one of his thought-provoking conversations based on some gospel question that none of us really know the answer to.

When it came time for bed, the Childers kids headed off to a hotel and the rest of the kids found a spot in the basement family room.  Brendan and Caleb decided to share the couch.  It didn't look at all comfortable but they insisted that it worked for them.

The other kids alternated nights in the recliners and on the floor.

One thing's for sure, every night was a party.

I missed capturing our Thanksgiving feast.  (Or the Turkey Trot that many of us ran before we ate.) But the feasting really went on for days.  Pies, sweets and made-to-order breakfasts, too.  And Grandpa made turkey soup with the leftovers.  The kids seemed to like it.  We didn't tell them that he'd added all the gizzards to the pot as well.

The carousel is a must.  It's always fun to try for that brass ring.

Staggering Ox is also a must.  Here are the kids devouring their "guts"--which are not at all like gizzards.

And the whole gang:

Whenever the cousins get together, we compare heights and marvel at how much they've grown.  Some grow more than others.  Brendan and Caleb used to always be the same size until one hit his growth spurt.  He has a really low voice now, too. :)

Some of us strolled the walking mall and stopped for a picture in front of the historic fire tower.

We shopped, ate, went swimming and to the movies.  We slept in and relaxed, too.  It was wonderful in every way but the kids are absolutely right: the best part of Thanksgiving was spending time with family.