Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010: Catching up with the Siblings

Between Christmas and the New Year, we traveled to Oklahoma for a family dinner and game night. My brother Russell came from Missouri with my niece Kate and her boyfriend Jeremiah. Christy and James, my sister and brother-in-law, hosted us. Their children Chelsea and Ethan were also there. It was great to see everyone and to enjoy a casual evening together after the craziness of the holidays. We caught up over a lasagna and a couple of pizzas, then we all crowded around the table to play Farkle and Taboo (except for Bub who watched movies and took over the Wii).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Camouflage Cowboy Spy is my Bwahs

If I had my way, my kids would stay little forever, or at the very least, for a good while longer. Time is flying way too fast around here, which is why I was so pleased to see a camouflaged cowboy spy come barreling down the stairs as stealthily as a very loud little boy could. Following closely behind was a bouffant-haired blondie with a New Jersey accent. "This cowboy spy is my bwahs," she said.

"Think left and think right and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"

~Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

"Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."
~Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010: Spies and Dolls and a Great Big Trip

On Christmas morning, James woke me up, his face in mine, whispering, "Wake up! It's Christmas!!" He'd been up for a while, anxiously awaiting the gift exchange. Though he'd never admit it, he's the biggest kid of us all! My mom must have heard us and she drowsily began dragging herself around upstairs. We had time for a cup of coffee in front of the beautiful fire James built before waking the kids. Yes -- we had to WAKE the kids. All of them. Even the baby.

I love our new Pottery Barn stockings! I generally just ogle the PB catalog and look for some cheap knock-off, but early in the season PB offered free shipping and free monogramming through their Facebook page. I could not pass on that good deal! I was concerned the little elfin stockings I chose for the kids would be too small for all their goodies, but they're the perfect size and adorable.

Brystol had a Yo Gabba Gabba Christmas. Usually Yo Gabba Gabba stuff is impossible to find, but I hunted around online and not only found some fun Gab n' Sing plush characters, I also found them on clearance for $8.50 each (reduced cost after online coupon, plus free shipping!) through Bealls Florida. The Muno character was not only not available through the same site, he's apparently a collector's item and available for $100 or more through collector sites -- yikes! I thought I'd try my hand at sewing together a simple Muno plush, but all the red minky was sold out at the craft store.

I did put my sewing skills to use, though, and I made Brystol a DJ Lance Rock doll. While hunting for toys to purchase, I discovered the Gabba Friends fan site, and featured there was the idea for creating a DJ Lance doll at home. I did as the original creator did and ordered an Urkel doll on eBay. I ordered the smaller, non-talking doll. Not only was it cheaper, but there's no chance it will spit out an Urkelism -- I like that better. I found some free doll clothes patterns online -- one for a turtleneck shirt and one for pants. I picked up about $2 worth of fabric and felt, then combined the patterns to make the super cool orange jump suit, making modifications for fit and style. The most significant change I made was using felt instead of fur for the hat. Brystol is still small enough for things to frequently make their way into her mouth, so for now, felt is a better option.

Brystol also got her first Asian baby doll -- the little almond-eyed Bitty Baby from American Girl. Gracie got an Asian doll when she was just a bit older than Brystol and it's still a favorite.

Gracie also got a new doll this Christmas -- a Just Like Me American Girl doll with brown hair, green eyes, earrings and braces. Gracie already had Chrissa, the 2009 Doll of the Year, but she really wanted a doll to resemble her more closely. I'm so pleased we bought her one this year -- she is really enjoying it. Also, I think this might be the last year she asks for baby dolls, a thought that makes me oh-so-sad. Gracie was also happy to get a new robe and slippers and a portable DVD player -- perfect for watching movies while at home or on super-long road trips with Mom.

I had a lot of fun pulling Bub's gift together. Though he's way too cool to admit it to the general public, he still loves imaginative play, so for his big (what would be a Santa) gift, I created a spy kit. I had a hard-sided case onto which I decoupaged the words "TOP SECRET." Inside, I tucked a video watch, a snake camera, rear-view spy shades, a magnifying glass, notebooks for field notes, a small flashlight, handcuffs, a machine gun, tiny tools, several badges, fake mustaches for disguises, disposable gloves, a brush for collecting fingerprints, a itty-bitty microscope for catching even the tiniest clue, and a Top Secret spy manual full of secret codes, recipes for invisible ink, etc. He loved it as much as I hoped he would and has been playing with it nearly nonstop.

He also added to the Tomica train universe that has taken over our game room, a pillowcase like his favorite candy, and substantial collection of Goosebumps books I picked up secondhand.

James got boring grown-up gifts that he both wanted and needed: new shirts for work, books, cologne, cold weather wear for his work up north. New video games made up for the boring.

We gave my mom lots of fun stuff. We gave her a new digital camera since she lost hers in a recent flood, but my favorite gift to her was this fun shirt. Mom works for the Home Depot -- perfect!

Without a doubt, though, this was MY Christmas. Christmas is usually okay for me, but James really, REALLY outdid himself this year. For who knows how long, he'd been conspiring with my BFF Marcie to plan a GIRLS-ONLY FOUR-DAY TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY. I had no idea. James kept saying things like, "I think you're going to like your gift," and he and the kids wrapped packages to be opened in a certain order. Gifts from the kids had a travel theme, but we do travel, so that didn't clue me in. Then I opened James' first gift to me -- a bag with a big apple inside. (Is that a clue that it's time to diet again? Have I said yes to one too many Christmas cookies?) The second gift was full of pictures -- one of a cityscape, one of what I thought was a planet, and one of some body of water. (Actually, I now know that the "city" was a picture of the Waldorf Astoria where we'll be staying, the "planet" was Mars, and the "body of water" was the sea. Mars + sea = Marcie, my dearest friend and travel companion. Very clever.) Here I am, crying like a blubbering idiot after James tells me what all the clues mean (because I totally couldn't figure them out on my own).

This gift is awesome because not only is it a GIRLS-ONLY FOUR-DAY TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY, but it also represents so much sacrifice. James travels a great deal for his job, and he really works the system for airline miles and hotel rewards and points. He spends so much time away from our family that we do not waste those miles and points -- they're reserved for family time together. For James to use some of those points to fly my friend from Oklahoma to Texas, and then to fly us both to NYC and home again means so much, then to use his hotel rewards to book a room for us at the Waldorf Astoria -- an 8-star hotel in a class of it's own -- is sacrifice. Moreover, for James to take off work during his busiest time of the month to stay home alone with three kids -- I cannot even describe to you what sort of sacrifice that represents. His generosity has blessed me deeply, and while I am super, SUPER excited about my GIRLS-ONLY FOUR-DAY TRIP TO NEW YORK CITY, I'm more excited about the love James showed through this selfless gift. I am a truly blessed woman!

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Today, my family celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We wish your family peace and joy both today and throughout the holiday season...

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them."

Luke 2:1-20 ESV

photo credit: Evans & Sutherland

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas: Christmas Eve 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

S'mores Bites: Wherein I May or May Not Have Invented Deliciousness

As we prepared Christmas sweets this year, we had a special little helper in the kitchen, although I think more chocolate made its way into her mouth than onto our candies. I love these little pretzel kisses. They're so good and so easy, and one of my all-time favorite treats!

Speaking of treats, this year, I invented a new little sweet for our family. (Mind you, I use that term loosely because I'm certain someone far more inventive than I has suggested this snack in the past.) We love s'mores and have spent many winter evenings roasting marshmallows in our fireplace. Brystol's gotten bigger and so far she's been very good around the fire -- she hardly even notices if one is burning, and she's never made a move to get close to one. Because we want to neither draw her attention to the fireplace nor make her think it's okay to put things into the fire, this winter we've only made s'mores with the big kids while the baby slumbers. We've all been missing the taste, so I went on the hunt for ingredients to make s'mores bites.

I wanted to use graham cracker sticks, but I looked at a three different stores and couldn't find them anywhere. I substituted Teddy Grahams for this first batch -- not the best option, but a decent alternative. I placed Hershey's kisses on each cluster of two and warmed them in the oven (at 250) just until they were slightly melty to the touch (maybe 5 minutes). While the kisses were warm and gooey, I pressed a mini masrhmallow into each one, then I put them in the refrigerator so the chocolate would cool and set. Delicious!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Yo Gabba Gabba DJ Lance Doll for Baby

Brystol loves Yo Gabba Gabba and will be getting a few of the Gab n' Sing characters for Christmas this year. I'd been looking for a DJ Lance Rock doll to go with her plushies, but no one makes a reasonable looking DJ Lance doll. While searching, I ran across the Gabba Friends website where someone posted their version and knew I had to try my hand at something similar.

I hunted for an Urkel doll on eBay. There were two versions available for purchase: a large talking doll and a small non-taking doll primarily comprised of fabric. I went with the smaller non-talking doll because it's essentially just a plush doll with a plastic head and hands, and that's better for the little girl who'll be getting it. (She tends to hit people when wielding large plastic objects.) As a bonus, the non-talking doll was cheaper, and I'm a big fan of cheap (although, free is my favorite).

After I scored the doll, I researched free patterns for custom clothes and combined a couple to fashion Lance Rock's orange jumpsuit. I made some adjustments to the original patterns, but I had a basic outline for the turtleneck and for the pants. I then used felt and free handed the trim details and belt. I also used felt to make some orange sneakers and the big hat. I used felt for the hat instead of a furry material because one-year-old Brystol and furry material don't mix. Maybe someday DJ Lance will get an upgrade, but for now the felt hat works.

My Mini DJ Lance Costume

DJ Lance Rock from Yo Gabba Gabba

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas in Aggieland

When Bub was one and I was pregnant with Gracie, we traveled from our home in Oklahoma to East Texas to spend Christmas with my father-in-law and James' grandmother. Our whole car was so full of baby paraphernalia there was barely room for the gifts we were bearing. It was on that long trip in that very crowded car that we decided we'd stay home on Christmas until our kids flew the coop. The decision made sense, really. James has one brother who, until this year, was single and had a very flexible schedule. James' dad and grandmother were the only other two in his family we ever spent a holiday with. They were both teachers until retirement, so because of the school holiday, they had the flexibility needed to travel as well. We had the kids and James has always worked in industries that require him to work through Christmas Eve. Staying home and creating Christmas for our kids was so much better, and if family members wanted to celebrate Christmas with us, they were welcome.

This year, though, James' brother Jerald got married and his wife, Hayley, has long spent her years dividing the holidays between one parent in Tennessee and the other in Georgia. They flew to Georgia for Thanksgiving and were driving to Tennessee for Christmas, and because of the way the holiday falls, they were going to have to drive straight back to College Station after the holiday to prepare for the post-Christmas reopening of Jerald's restaurant. They wouldn't have the chance to see us until the next weekend or later. Because Christmas is OVER for me on December 26th, we opted to head down to B/CS in advance of Christmas to share a meal and exchange gifts.

It was nice to get away from home this weekend and to escape the holiday hustle and bustle, even if only for the night, and we love spending time with Jerald and Hayley, so that was a bonus. And the kids -- they were SUPER excited to open presents early. They never get to do that!

Littles in Front of the Loot

What Could It Be?

Taking a Peek

No Need to Finish Unwrapping -- Wheeeee!

The Ripping and the Shredding

My father-in-law joined us for our pre-Christmas celebration in College Station, so while our regular family holiday will still happen at home on December 25th, this year it will just be us and my mom around the tree. Because Jerald and Hayley still need to figure out what works for their little family with regards to future holidays, I don't know what Christmas will look like next year, but the arrangements for this year mean a lot less work for me. I think we'll open presents, share a breakfast casserole and watch movies and/or nap all afternoon -- that's a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Charlie Brown in ICE! at the Gaylord Texan

Because a friend shared a great deal and we got BOGO event tickets, we went to the Gaylord Texan to see ICE! for the first time ever. Before ever arriving at the exhibit, though, we enjoyed the lights and holiday displays in the hotel. The Gaylord is already a gorgeous venue, but at Christmastime, it's unbelievable. Everything is lit and decorated and no detail is overlooked.

We explored the lobby briefly, then made our way to the main attraction. ICE! is an unbelievable 14,000-square-foot exhibit that features a variety of holiday scenes and sculptures hand-carved by 40 visiting artisans from Harbin, China. The display is comprised of two million pounds of ice and is kept at a wintry nine -- yes, nine -- degrees. This year the Gaylord Texan and ICE! recreated Charlie Brown and the Whole Peanuts Gang from a Charlie Brown Christmas.

Bundled in the Mandatory Blue Parkas

The ICE! Exhibit

Kids Enjoying the Ice Slide

Our Message to You
(Note: please ignore the random lip-licker. James took the photo.)

ICE! was truly a spectacular experience. Here is a little PR video from
the Gaylord in Tennessee, but the concept and process are the same.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Fun at the Ho-Ho-Hoedown

The neighborhood school had a "Ho-Ho-Hoedown" open house to celebrate the holidays. Gracie's choir caroled through the halls while I took Bub and Brystol around to participate in some of the activities. We decorated cookies, visited the holiday shop and used pennies to vote for our favorite trees decorated like The Homeless Christmas Tree in the book by Leslie Gordon. Not surprisingly, our pennies went into the buckets for trees decorated by my kids and their classmates. The "votes" will be contributed to the homeless shelter to provide holiday meals for the poor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Choir Concert -- December 2010

Gracie joined the choir at the neighborhood school and just had her first concert. They sang several wintry songs and a couple of spirituals. They also collected blankets for residents of a nearby rehab home that they plan to visit as part of a community service project. Though this was her first performance with a singing group, Gracie wasn't the least bit nervous. She had a blast, she remembered all the words and moves, and she did a GREAT job. She's a natural!

All dressed and ready!

Lining up...

Singing holiday songs

Showing off the collected gifts


Posing with her BFF, Sarah

Brystol and the Big Elf

Our family doesn't celebrate Santa at Christmastime. Though we don't "do Santa," we do have a picture of the big kids with him when they were small. We took it while we were still figuring out which holiday traditions were important to our family and when we allowed other voices to tell us that not "doing Santa" would screw our kids up for life. Note: it hasn't.

Our kids are great and they love Christmas in spite of Santa never visiting our home. They get plenty of gifts and they know that we exchange gifts as we remember the gift of Jesus. You can follow the link above to read more about how and why we do Christmas the way we do. The point here is that the big kids had a picture with Santa and Brystol had to have one too, so we headed on down to Santa's Wonderland at our local Bass Pro Shops to have her picture taken for free. The kids enjoyed all the free games, activities and carousel rides while waiting, and I enjoyed all the free.

When the time came for Brystol to meet the Big Elf, she was not a happy girl. Looks like she too will be okay with the big guy not popping by.

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