Friday, December 21, 2012

Days 10-21: A Brief Recap of our Christmas Countdown Activities

I admit it, I fell off the blogging bandwagon after Day 9 of our Christmas Countdown! For the most part, we still did our daily Christmas activities, but I found myself putting off blogging until the evening, and evening is my running time and time with my husband. So the blog took a back burner, and that's okay!

Here is a brief recap of some of the Christmas activities we did:

We made Christmas Crack and delivered goody bags to a few friends. I'm pretty sure we endeared ourselves a little more to them, or at least made them Christmas Crack addicts!

We practiced Christmas carols and planned to go caroling. It hasn't happened yet...

Despite the wise warning from my friend Hanna, we made hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles and let the kids drink it while watching Elf. Miraculously we (and our furniture) survived!

We hosted the most awesome preschool Christmas party ever for 11 of our mommy friends and 16 children (counting mine). It was crazy, but oh so much fun! The kids decorated Christmas trees and wreaths made from Rice Krispie treats and green food coloring, and we had a delicious spread of food including Cranberry Lime Salsa Dip, Chex Party Mix, homemade chili (my MIL's awesome recipe), butter rolls, and an assortment of cookies that our guests brought. For party favors, I ordered adorable snowmen cake pops from my friend Kristen at J&R Cakes for the kids, and for the mommies I made these delicious Chocolate Peppermint Cakes in a Jar.

Hosting a party is a lot of work, and although I felt bad that most of our Christmas Countdown activities last week consisted of party prep (like shopping for supplies, making treats, and cleaning the house while listening to Christmas music, see how I "Christmased" that up hehe?) I think it was good for my kids to see how much went into our fun party, instead of taking it for granted.

We danced around to Christmas music. No, I wasn't short on time and ideas, why do you ask?

We taped up the paper and retied the ribbons on the gifts under the tree that Sweet Baby Ray has tried to unwrap. Okay, not a Christmas Countdown activity, but we have spent a significant amount of time on this, even though we know it's a lost cause.

Speaking of Sweet Baby Ray, I wanted to note that he took his first steps on his own yesterday. He was standing holding onto a wrapped large gift box (ironically containing a walking toy for him) and I was sitting a couple of feet away, and he randomly let go without any urging from me and walked stumbled the few steps over to me. He was very proud of himself and even game to repeat his trick when his dad got home later. So fun!

Tomorrow we will be visiting an elderly lady who loves kids and lives in a nursing home. We plan to bring her one of our favorites: Ritz Tagalongs. I won't be blogging more in depth on this to protect her privacy, but I am looking forward to spreading some Christmas cheer and hoping my kids cooperate.

In addition to the sacred favorites like Silent Night and Joy to the World, I've taught my kids some goofy children's Christmas classics. Hannah loves "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas" and requests it before every nap (we do silly songs before naptime and lullabies before bed every night). And Wednesday night, after tucking Nathan and Hannah in bed, we could hear them singing "I'm Gettin' Nuthin' For Christmas."

This is not a complete list, but it will have to do for now. Baby Ray needs some love!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day 9 - Making Snowflakes


On Day 9 of our Christmas Countdown, the kids and I had a blast making snowflakes and decorating our glass patio doors. Since the last time we had used their scissors, Nathan cut right through his shirt (some safety scissors, huh?) this time we used our art smocks that my dear friend Jeni gave us.

Meanwhile, Ray made trouble over by the bookshelf...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Day 8 - Giving to Others Part 2

On Day 8 of our Christmas Countdown, we finished up some Christmas shopping and the kids helped me prepare a package to ship to some of our family back in Montana. Nathan in particular was very excited to send everyone's presents, and even insisted that his Uncle Chris' present be wrapped in his special Cars wrapping paper. Considering his reluctance to give the day before, I was pretty pleased at his great attitude and happily obliged. Hopefully Chris (my sister Heidi's husband) doesn't mind!

This is a short post, but as you can see, our Day 8 activity was pretty simple!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Day 7 - Giving to Others

On Day 7, the kids found three tags in our Christmas Countdown stocking with the age and gender of a child in need this year, along with that child's specific gift request. I tried to pick tags that had gift requests that each of my kids could relate to. For example, a boy requesting an Operation Game, a little girl who wanted a toy shopping stroller, and a toddler requesting a Little People toy.

In keeping with my Day 6 post, Day 7 did not go exactly as I had envisioned either. I thought my children would be very touched to learn of kids whose parents did not have the money to purchase gifts this year. I had hoped they would be excited to be able to help get gifts for these kids, but the concept was a little too abstract for Nathan's literal mind. He has a kind heart, but his general attitude at first was that he didn't know these alleged children, and besides, he would rather we save our money for presents for him!

It took him awhile to warm up to the idea, but instead of getting frustrated and scolding him for being selfish, I decided to take a few minutes to teach him about giving. I explained that we are trying to be more like Jesus, and sat down and shared with him a couple of stories from the children's version of the New Testament that we own.

First, we read the story of the loaves and the fishes. I explained to Nathan that the little boy only had a small amount of food. When he brought it to Jesus, the Savior could have taken it all for Himself and His close friends, but instead He shared it with over 5000 others. I told Nathan that because they had shared the food, there was enough to go around. Likewise, if we share our blessings with others, God will bless us and we will have what we need.

Then we read about the Good Samaritan, which was a story that Nathan was already familiar with somewhat. We talked about how the Samaritan did not even know the Jew who was injured, but he helped him anyway.

After our short lesson, we went out shopping. Nathan seemed to be a little more enthusiastic about shopping for the other children, even making an effort to help me locate the toys we were searching for while only minimally distracted by toys that he was interested in for himself. For most kids his age, I would say that's a great start!

For a much more inspiring post about a little boy just about Nathan's age who radically changed how his family does Christmas with a couple of thoughtful and unselfish questions, click here. You will love it.

How do you teach your children to give to others? Or how did your parents teach you?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Day 6 - Decorating the Tree and Candid Mom Confessions


Last night, on Day 6 of our Christmas Countdown, we decorated our Christmas tree.

Can I be candid with you today? When envisioning this blog post, I thought I would dress the children in matching or at least coordinating clothes, and the tree would be perfectly decorated and I would write eloquently about the magic of Christmas as seen through a child's eyes.

Instead, Hannah wore her Halloween costume and the ornaments were placed fairly haphazardly (but all above the top third of the tree so Ray can't reach them). The kids were sweet and enjoyed it, but it was all a bit chaotic and to be perfectly honest, after the tree was decorated and the kids put to bed, I came back downstairs and cried my eyes out.

Why did I cry? A million silly reasons, really.

I cried because no matter how hard I try, our house is always a mess and I can never seem to stay on top of the cleaning, the clutter, the laundry (ohhh, the laundry).

I cried because when I had FaceTimed with my family earlier that night (wishing my mom a happy birthday and visiting with my sister whom I haven't seen in person in almost a year), the kids would not stop running around and screaming long enough for me to have even the shortest conversation. And I miss my family. The realization that they will all be together at Christmas except for me is starting to sink in.

I cried because Nathan told me I was the best mom ever last night. And I know I'm not the best mom ever. I make so many many mistakes every day that all come screaming back to me when he tells me this.

I cried because Ray still isn't sleeping through the night, and the only thing that seems to be working is letting him cry on his first waking of the night. Which goes against everything I believe in as a parent.

I cried because when I'm cooking dinner in the evenings, I have to send my kids upstairs because I just can't stand the noise and the chasing each other around the circle and the screaming one more minute. And I don't want to be like that. I want to love the noise. I want to love the chaos. And most of the time I do. Dinnertime is my nemesis right now.

And I cried because sometimes, just sometimes, Mom needs to have a good cry. And when she does, Dad needs to rub her back and tell her it's okay. He needs to tell her that she's wonderful, that the kids are happy, that she holds the family together. That he will help in any way she needs. And that tomorrow is a new day.

I'm thankful for this new day, for the beautiful life I lead, and for my amazing husband, who has made all my dreams come true and always knows just what to say.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Day 5 - Christmas Stroll


On Day 5 of our Christmas Countdown, we decided it would be fun to participate in the Westerly, RI downtown Christmas Stroll. Westerly is a small town not far from our house, and it has all kinds of cool downtown shops.

Although the stroll wasn't quite all that had been promised in the write-ups online (I never saw the horse-drawn hay ride or live music, and the luminaries had mostly been blown out by the wind), it was still a fun evening. After strolling around and mostly window shopping, as we had three pairs of hands that would have just loved to touch all the cool breakables in the stores, we decided to visit Santa at Mel's Downtown Creamery.

After meeting Santa, the kids decided they had warmed up enough for ice cream, so we decided to have a little treat before heading home.

The girl loves pink!
Everyone says Ray looks just like his dad, do you see it?
See the fun mural on the wall behind us?

Do you like ice cream in the winter, or do you think of it as purely a summertime treat?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 4 - Our First Gingerbread House


For Day 4 of our Christmas Countdown, we decorated a gingerbread house. One of my local friends makes beautiful, fresh and sturdy gingerbread houses and sells them already assembled with extra frosting to decorate. I had always wanted to make a gingerbread house, but was a little intimidated by the assembly process, so I jumped at the chance to get one pre-made.

When we received our gingerbread house last weekend, it looked and smelled so good we had to resist the urge to eat it! We finally had the opportunity to decorate it last night. As I was setting up the supplies, Nathan exclaimed "I'm so excited!"

They couldn't wait to get started.

The decorating and sampling began!

"No, Hannah, the trees go on the yard, not in your mouth!"

Go to our Christmas Countdown post to see all of our activities so far!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Day 3 - Christmastime in New York City!


Yesterday mid-morning, Jared came out of his home office to tell me that he needed to head to Manhattan to interview someone in the afternoon and would be staying the night there as he had a meeting on Long Island the following morning. "Want to come?" he asked, half joking. I think he was surprised when I responded "Yes!"

I love New York City and have been dying to go since we moved here but it always sounded a little daunting to take three young kids there. Somehow, though, after having six kids the day before, an overnight trip to the city with just three kids sounded totally doable!

I made arrangements with a nearby kennel to take our dog Jack overnight, packed some necessities for the kids, and hit the road mid afternoon so that we arrived in the city just after Jared's interview was over. I was super proud of myself for managing the crazy traffic and getting us to our hotel, the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, all by myself!

The best part about our room, on the 28th floor, was the awesome view of Times Square below.

Looking down from our window.
We loved this billboard across from our window!

The kids loved hanging out in front of the window, looking down at the traffic and people, and watching the ads on the giant screens!

After checking out the room, it was time to show the kids the city! Our first stop was the huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

This picture of the kids in front of the tree does not show how enormous it is. The part captured in the picture is just a tiny portion of the entire tree. There were so many people there, so it was hard to get a good picture from far away to get more of the tree in the shot!

We walked up 5th, past Saks Fifth Avenue, which had a really neat Christmas light and music display on the side of the building. Our next stop was FAO Schwarz, which of course the kids loved! Here are a couple of pictures of them playing on the giant piano.

Then we headed back towards Times Square, stopping for slices of pizza at Ray's Pizza.

Our last stop was the M&M store. Nathan and Hannah each got a small baggie of their favorite kind and color of M&Ms. Nathan chose red plain, and Hannah pink peanut.

This picture was really funny. I was taking a picture of the kids posing with the red M&M when a sweet young Asian woman got really excited and was gesturing and trying to talk to me, but didn't speak much English. At first I thought she was offering to take a picture of me with the kids and started to hand her my camera, but no, it turned out she wanted to take a picture of me and the kids with her own camera! So Jared took a picture of us with ours, and some lady we don't know now has a picture of us on her camera too! Strange.

We were pretty beat by the time we got back to the hotel, but the kids were troopers and let me take this picture of them in their matching Christmas pajamas. Every year I get them matching holiday pajamas (one year it was Thanksgiving pajamas), and it has turned into a fun tradition.

So Day 3 of our Christmas Countdown was even more exciting than I had originally planned! Be sure to check out Day 1 and Day 2 if you haven't already!

Do you have a favorite big city to visit? Have you ever been to New York City?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Day 2 - Christmas Veggie Tales, kettle corn, and Sandy clean-up


Day 2 of our Christmas Countdown was quite busy! Earlier in the week, we had received an email from the leadership in our ward (church congregation) that volunteers were need to help Hurricane Sandy victims in Rockaway, NY with clean-up this weekend. As it was a day-long commitment and I am still nursing baby Ray, I knew I would not be able to participate, so I started looking for ways to help from home. 

On Thursday night, I was talking to one of my friends and mentioned that I would be willing to watch kids on Sunday if a husband and wife wanted to go down. She was excited about that possibility and we decided that I would take her 3 daughters for the day (their 8 year old son is allergic to our cat, so he went to another friend's house). 

Jared had been considering going, but when he found out that I would be taking care of 6 kids ages 6 and under, he opted to stay home and help, which also allowed him to cover at church for the youth leaders who were volunteering (he is the Young Men's President in our ward currently, a youth leadership calling). I was thankful for his help, especially preparing meals and doing dishes while I managed the chaos!

Saturday evening we sat down with Nathan and Hannah and explained who was coming and why. We reminded them about the big storm that took our power out, and told them that some people's homes were "broken" in the storm, and that their friends were coming to stay for the day so that their parents could go help fix the broken homes. picture of a home in the Rockaway area of Queens, NY

It was an exhausting but fun day. The girls arrived at 5:30 AM in cheerful spirits, considering the early hour. I was glad that I had babysat them in our home before, so they were comfortable and not scared by new surroundings. I read books to them for awhile, but when our kids woke up around 6:30, things were in full swing!

Jared had church meetings at 8:30 AM, so it was up to me to get everyone ready for church. Dressing 6 kids plus myself in Sunday clothes while packing snacks and other necessities was a daunting task, but we managed just fine and were ready to load up by the time Jared returned just before 10 to help drive the kids to church. Of course once we got to church (a little late), there were plenty of people to help entertain kids during sacrament meeting (the main worship service), then get the kids off to their Sunday School classes and the nursery.

The rest of the day was quite fun with only a few chaotic moments. Why is it that dirty diapers, squabbles over toys, and cats throwing up all tend to happen just when you're trying to prep dinner?!

For our Christmas Countdown activity we chose something simple: we watched the VeggieTales video St Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving. I like this video because it relates Santa Claus to helping and giving to others without expecting anything in return. The kids loved the fun songs and silly veggie humor, as always.

Here is a picture of Nathan and Hannah along with two of the girls (ages 6 and 3) watching the video and munching on the kettle corn that we purchased at the Christmas tree farm the day before. Ray and our youngest guest were napping, and I had spread blankets and pillows out for the four older kids to help encourage them to rest.

Our friends returned for their kids around 8 PM, and it was wonderful to hear their stories of the people they were able to serve. The devastation that is still prevalent in that area is horrific. They told us that as people clean out their homes, they pile the rubble on the streets, where it is removed daily, but still there are just piles of rubble everywhere. Rockaway is a thin strip of land where the water came up on both sides and met in the middle. One person said that in order to comprehend what these people are dealing with, you would need to close up your house and fill it with 4 feet of water, then go without power or electricity for weeks. 

There were over 200 volunteers, organized into teams of 10, that worked up and down the streets helping anyone who needed them. In particular, our friends spent much of their time tearing out sheet rock and everything else in a basement that needed to be gutted.

We are thankful we were able to assist others to be able to go down and help, but I wish there was more we could do! I am thankful to be a part of a Church that is so organized and active in humanitarian efforts all over the globe.

Check back later to find out to read about Day 3, or read about Day 1 here. Here's an explanation of our Christmas Countdown.

Do you volunteer? I would like to look for ways to get more involved in the community, but it's hard to find things I can do with my young children, does anyone have good ideas?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day 1 - Christmas Tree Hunt


We started out our Christmas Countdown with a trip to Geer's Tree Farm in Griswold, CT to find the perfect tree for our living room. This tree farm is huge, with rolling hills covered in beautiful trees. First, we hopped on a wagon ride that took us to the top of one of the hills where the trees of our choice, Fraser Fir, where located.

Getting ready to ride up the hill

I was a little nervous at this point because it was chilly riding on the wagon. I was worried that the kids would get too cold before we found a tree!

Jared and the kids, pre-snowball fight!

I shouldn't have worried, for two reasons: first, the kids had so much fun running around looking at trees (and throwing snowballs at their dad while he cut one down), that they totally forgot about being cold. And second, it took all of five minutes to find a beautiful tree. Honestly, all of the trees were just gorgeous. We would have been happy with the very first one we saw, although we did feel like we needed to hunt a little, just to enjoy the experience!

standing in front of the tree we chose
All in all, it was a very fun afternoon, and a great start to our Christmas Countdown!

Here is a picture of our newly completed advent calender, made by my talented friend Brandy Lewis.

Nathan is already very excited and understands that the bird has to land in each of the pockets, one per day, until we get to Christmas at the bottom. In fact, when Jared said "Merry Christmas!" to him earlier tonight, Nathan replied, "No, it's not Christmas yet! We're only on the 1, we have to get all the way to the 25!" pointing at the calender.

Check back tomorrow to find out what we do on Day 2!

Do you prefer real Christmas trees or artificial?
If real, do you like to go cut your own tree down?