Monday, December 28, 2015

Amazing Race in Seattle

Truth be told, my parents are hard to buy for.  I always struggle to know what to get them for Christmas.  When I learned that a little first grader at our school had been cast as Gretl in the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of "The Sound of Music", I knew I wanted to see it and decided that tickets to the show would be a great Christmas gift for Grandma and Grandpa, too.  

Then we decided to take it one step further and turn their gift into an Amazing Race.  Their race would end with theatre tickets that evening, but we wouldn't tell them that.  Not yet.  We wanted to make it a day in Seattle full of surprises.  The kids knew the final destination, but the clues along the way were equally as surprising for them.  We had so much fun!

The first clue that they opened on Christmas Eve simply told them to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and be ready to leave at 10:00 am.

Once in the car, they opened their next clue which directed them to the Space Needle.  They were told they needed to take a family selfie at the top to receive their next clue.

Our next stop was MOD Pizza for lunch.  Yummo!

Then they had to make their way to the gum wall and add a piece of chewed gum to the mess.

Their Road Block required them to go to Jon's 22nd floor office and count all of the boats in the Puget Sound to receive their next clue.

We stopped for a pic in front of the market on our way to Jon's office.

It took several tries to correctly count all of the boats in the water.  Ferries, barges, sailboats...all had to be included.

The Detour took us to Game Works where Grandma and Grandpa were required to score a certain number of points in either Basketball or SkeeBall.  

We played lots of other games, too.

Grandma and Grandpa even drove a Hummer:

Jon got on a Harley:

Then we made our way to the Gingerbread Village to see the Star Wars-themed gingerbread houses.

Next, we walked across the street to visit the Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel.

We sipped warm drinks, had a snack and rested our tired feet at Starbucks before making our way to the show.  All in all, 9 clue envelopes were opened.  At last we had arrived at our final destination.

The show was fantastic and the Amazing Race Christmas present ended up being an amazing day for all of us!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Traditional Christmas

I'm one of those people that likes things to be the same year after year.  We always celebrate Christmas exactly the same way and all of our activities follow the same order.  The kids are fond of our traditions and we like the consistency of them.  

First is the traditional Christmas Eve buffet:

Food is followed by our Nativity program, which would not be complete without angel chimes.

Then it's time to open Christmas pajamas.

And then we cuddle up on the couch to watch The Little Drummer Boy.

Once the children are nestled all snug in their wee little beds, Santa sets out some goodies.

Jon and I feel lucky to have sleeper-inners, so our Christmas morning never begins too early.  After the stockings have been opened, we take our time eating a yummy Christmas breakfast.

Finally, it's time for presents.  My mom always wraps her in a clever way:

It wouldn't feel right if Caleb didn't get at least one BYU gift.

The girls tried to throw Caleb off by wrapping a Subway gift card in a big box weighted down with lots of books. 

If you know Natalie, you know she has an intense love affair with claw machines.  She also has an uncanny ability to win.  Every. Time.  I mean, it's really unbelievable. You can tell by the look on her face how she feels about getting her very own candy claw machine.

We were so excited for Grandma and Grandpa to open their gift from us.  It was a clue for an Amazing Race that would start the next morning.

We enjoyed a lazy day in pajamas, a trip to the movies and later, a traditional Christmas dinner.  All was exactly as it always is and exactly as it should be.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Amazing Race to Las Vegas

Our oldest child will venture out of our nest in the coming months.  As that time draws ever near, I've felt an urgent and almost desperate need to make memories and have the kinds of experiences he will always hold dear.

As soon as it was announced that BYU would be playing in the Las Vegas Bowl, I knew it was a trip we had to make happen.  Attending a BYU bowl game just might be at the tippy top of Caleb's bucket list and we wanted to make family memories while helping him check it off.  We bought the game tickets before even knowing our opponent--The University of Utah!--and made airline and hotel reservations.  Because I thought this might be the trip of Caleb's dreams, I told Jon I wanted it to be a dramatic surprise. We would wait until we were on the way to the airport to reveal the secret.

Then came the challenge of how to lure the kids into the car.  The five of us really only ride together in car if we are going to church.  We only had to keep the secret for two weeks, but the struggle was real!  We'd been planning to do a Seattle Amazing Race for Grandma and Grandpa as their Christmas present, and because the kids are big fans of the show, Jon and I decided to plan our Vegas surprise with the same theme.  We told Alyssa that she had an MRI scheduled in Seattle and told the other two--separately--that we were going to make it a family outing and maybe do a dry run of the Amazing Race we had planned for their grandparents.  We were so worried about them being suspicious that we didn't tell them any of these lies until just prior to departure.

But then we hit a snafu--a rather large one--that put a damper on the excited moment of reveal that we'd been imagining.

Caleb has sixth period seminary, but on the day we were scheduled to fly out, seminary had been cancelled.  That meant that Caleb would be home much earlier than usual.  I couldn't pack the bags prior to work that day or the kids would know we were up to something.  So I raced home from work and knew we were in a time crunch to get all the bags packed and loaded in the car before Caleb got home.  I got Caleb's bag done and set it by the door.  Then I loaded an extra large suitcase with all that the girls and I would need.  Jon was hauling the 50 lb. bag down the stairs when Caleb walked in from school.  He fumbled awkwardly back up the stairs, trying to run the massive suitcase back to our room as he whispered urgently, "He's home!"

But it was too late.  Caleb had already spotted his bag--which was still open and revealing a much despised collared shirt that I had packed.  (With the exception of church, he only wears collared shirts when coerced.) Because he had been told that morning that we were going into Seattle for Alyssa's MRI and the Grandparents' Amazing Race dry run, the overnight bag had him immediately making assumptions that we were staying overnight in Seattle.  To most this might seem a non-issue, but his rigid Asperger mind decided long ago that staying at a hotel in Seattle is utterly ridiculous when we live a mere 45 minutes away.  What's worse?  Mom having packed a collared shirt must mean he was going to be tortured with some sort of theatre ticket.  Oh the horrors!

Before the complaining could go too far, Jon raced Caleb out the door with the excuse that his car needed a new headlamp--which was true.  While they were gone, I ran around like a maniac trying to get everything packed before they returned.  When Natalie--the last one to get home--arrived from school, I informed her that she wasn't going to gym but that we were going to Seattle as a family. Being much more adaptable than her brother, she simply said, "ok."

So we managed to get them all in the car, but Caleb was exceptionally grumpy!  He stared out the window, begrudgingly coming along with the family.  When we were about 10 minutes from the airport, this happened:

Their clue said to use their phones to decide which of three zip codes we would be traveling to.

The second clue said to go to SeaTac airport and Natalie figured it out immediately!  Caleb was very slow to come around.  He gave the tiniest hint of a smile, but was still disbelieving.  It certainly wasn't the celebratory reaction I'd been imagining.

Natalie was confident that she had figured it out.  Caleb didn't know what the heck to think and heaven forbid he should be happy and just go with the flow:

He was literally shaking as we made our way through the airport.  It wasn't until we were through security and grabbing a bite to eat that he finally started to come around.  Evidently parents should never lie to their children, even when an awesome memory-making trip of a lifetime is involved.

When we landed in Vegas, the kids got their next clue which directed us to our hotel.  We stayed right on the strip, but not in a casino, so it was very family friendly.  We took a family selfie on the roof of our hotel:

Our two bedroom suite was fantastic.  The girls shared the room on the left, Caleb had a pull-out in the living room and Jon and I had a room on the right.  It had two bathrooms and a full kitchen.

We woke up Saturday morning and gave the kids game day shirts and this clue:

We got to Sam Boyd stadium early so that we could do any and all tailgate activities.

My Aunt Shauna and Uncle John drove down from Orem, Utah for the game.

While tailgating, the kids were presented with a detour:

The girls decided to do both sides of the detour.  Doesn't Natalie look thrilled to be posing with a Ute Cheerleader?

All of the kids made sure to high-five Cosmo.

This is proof that Utes and Cougars can actually be friends:

Finally it was game time.  It was chilly, but beautifully sunny!

The first six minutes of the game could only be described as painful.  We were forced to witness five consecutive turnovers that resulted in Utah points.  By the time the scoreboard read 35-0, all we could do was laugh because it seemed like a sick joke. But thankfully for us, they never scored again and the Cougars came roaring back.  Three quarters of the game were an absolute blast as we sang the fight song over and over again.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time and fell one touchdown short.  If only we'd had two more minutes--maybe even just one--we could've left as victors.   But honestly, as we crowded out of the stadium with the masses of Utes and Cougars, the vibe was subdued.  The Utes left feeling like they'd lost even though they'd won and the Cougars felt like they'd won even though they'd lost--which in a weird sort of way made it felt like neither of the bitter rivals had really gotten what they'd wanted. Bottom line is this: the game was super fun and it was a memory that my boy will cherish forever. That was all I could ever want, so in the end, we won!

We ate dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  Here the kids are singing along to Livin' on a Prayer":

Lys' salad was served in a guitar-shaped plate:

That night we saw the Cirque show, "KA" at the MGM Grand.  The acrobatics were great, but the kids said it was hard to follow the story.

Sunday morning, we went to church and then to see the Hoover Dam.  The kids were given clues every step of the way and they were always looking forward to getting the next one.

Our game tickets were good for free chicken from a restaurant called, "Raising Canes."  Free lunch is always good.  Plus they had Buddy the Elf promos and Caleb and Buddy are pretty much cut from the same cloth.

The High Roller was our next stop.  It's the tallest observation wheel in the world.  We got on right at dusk, which meant we enjoyed both daytime and nighttime views.

Next we rode the Vegas Monorail, which ended up being a total bust.  It wasn't convenient or close to anything.

We watched the Bellagio fountain show and then returned to The Linq for a Mat Franco show.  We had a blast.  His tricks really are great and he was very entertaining.

The Paris hotel all lit up at night:

The kids enjoyed some sibling bonding time in the rooftop pool of our hotel.

We started Monday with a trip to the Las Vegas temple.

Then we spent the rest of the day at New York New York.  The kids rode the roller coaster over and over--10 times, actually!  

The brownstones inside of the casino were just Alyssa's size.  She has a real love affair with New York.

The kids gave the coaster two enthusiastic thumbs up.

There were video games, too.

This was a fun store with lots of zany items:

Soon enough it was time to go home.  The trip's surprise reveal didn't go as I'd planned.  BYU didn't win.  But other than that, this trip was darn near perfect--insanely fun family memories and experiences we will all continue to reminisce about for years to come.  

We didn't necessarily race, but it was definitely amazing!