By the time we got back home, our tree was nice and crispy. This was Harper’s idea for what to do with all of the fallen needles. Daddy helped her with the glue. Cool idea, huh?
For the second year in a row we celebrated Four Christmases. Yup, four separate family gatherings, four rounds of gifts and four Christmas dinners. You read it first here: this will be the last year that we do this! While we do love the chance to see all of our family, we were utterly exhausted by the end of it and feel like we are still recovering!
Kicking it off was the Anderson Family Christmas Dinner, which we hosted for the second year in a row. Grandpa and Grammy Anderson and Uncle Jared drove up from NC, Uncle Luke and family from Charlottesville, Aunt Cammie and Uncle Carson from DC, and the kids’ great uncles Ron and Jhoel from Alexandria. It was a really fun night having everyone together, and it’s such an easy way to celebrate Christmas with everyone in the same place. This year we did an Italian pot-luck dinner, which was much easier than last year’s turkey dinner. There was tons of food, wine was flowing, and the kids got to open some much-loved gifts from Grammy and Grandpa. What more could we ask for? Oh, a bigger table. We could ask for that. Maybe next year!
The next day we packed up the kids and headed to Hershey, PA for a quick family adventure before the next Christmas party. We had planned to spend the day at Hershey Park, but didn’t realize that the park wasn’t open until 5pm! We scrambled and found some other fun activities to fill the day – a local farm with an indoor playground and Chocolate World (which was free). The kids wanted to do the ride at Chocolate World over and over again, so we did. It was free, and I swear they liked it just as much as Disney! We bundled up and headed to Hershey Park right at opening time, and oh man did we have fun. The kids were able to do 10-15 rides before we had to cut them off, despite the fact that it was 33 degrees outside! The whole park was decorated with Christmas lights and holiday decorations, which added a huge element of excitement for the kids. It was really fun for all of us, and we will definitely head back when the weather warms up. Oh, and did I mention that the tickets were only $12 each?! Suck it, Disney.
The kids were almost as impressed by the hotel pool. We went swimming three times (our first time in a pool since the summer) and they jumped right in as if no time had passed. Harper didn’t skip a beat and strapped on her goggles and swam. Ada was an ANIMAL in the pool. She was happiest when she wrestled free from our arms and slipped under water, only to be “saved” by us seconds later. She would come up laughing! She is definitely the fish in the family and I predict that she will quickly catch up to her big sister. Roman is still very tentative near water and prefers to just sit on the edge. We didn’t push him – hopefully he will come around this summer.
On Christmas Eve we drove a mere 30 minutes over to Lancaster, PA to visit Portman’s grandparents en route to his family’s Christmas celebration. Harper got to make pizzelles with Gaga (her Italian great grandmother), which is a Christmas tradition in Portman’s Italian family. We ordered a pizzelle maker and hope to incorporate this into our Christmas traditions.
After visiting with Gaga and Pop-pop, we drove just a little further to Glenmoore, PA to Portman’s cousins’ house. Every year Portman’s 100% Swedish great aunt (who is married to his 100% Italian great uncle) cooks a huge Swedish feast for Christmas Eve. We eat, visit, play with all the cousins, and then the Elves drop off pj’s for all the kids and we pack up and head home. The kids had SO much fun playing with all of their second cousins and were not excited to leave, but did manage to fall asleep on the drive home. We got home at midnight and tried to get some sleep before Christmas morning!
We were all dragging on Christmas morning. We actually had to wait for about an hour between the girls waking up and when we finally woke Roman up! The kids were beyond excited to open their gifts. Let me rephrase that, Roman and Harper were excited… Ada walked directly past all the gifts, climbed into her high chair and demanded “nack.” She could care less about her gifts! Harper helped her open some, and she did get excited about her new Boots and Dora dolls, and has since set aside all other dolls and comfort items in favor of Boots.
We stuck with our 3 gifts per kid rule, and were once again so happy with that decision. The kids were super excited about everything that they got and played with everything that day. Harper was legitimately surprised that she got more than one gift since she only asked for one thing! Favorite gifts were: pillow pet and fish tank (Harper), Boots doll (Ada) and Design and Drill game (Roman). Santa brought one group gift. He had to leave a note in the tree because it was too big to fit under the tree. The kids followed his directions and found it in the basement: a soft slide with soft stairs. It has since been re-positioned as a slide, “super slide,” platform from which to jump on the trampoline, “mountain” and race car. I think they like it.
Nona, Uncle Julian, Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Mandy came over for Christmas dinner. We served two big pots of fondue and a big salad. This has become our Christmas dinner tradition since I can’t seem to handle cooking a big dinner by the time Christmas day rolls around! We put the kids to bed early and had a really fun evening playing board games with the fam.
On Boxing Day we drove down to Charlottesville for our fourth and final Christmas with Yaya and Pop Pop. Great grandma Abie was in town for a few days and we got to spend some quality time with her. Harper roped her into playing endless rounds of Pretty Pretty Princess, she and Abie read books and they colored together. Roman had pretty much maxed out on fun and spent most of the trip lying on an Aero-bed in Portman’s office while Portman did some work. Ada spent three days terrorizing Yaya’s kitties and exploring the space. The kids opened a new round of gifts and we tried to catch up on sleep. I could kick myself for not taking a single picture of the kids playing with Abie, but suffice it to say that Abie was often seen decked out in Pretty Pretty Princess jewelry. The highlight for me was watching Abie, my 90 year old grandmother, send a text message! Abie, you are amazing and we love you!
Whew! It was a busy Christmas and we won’t likely try to pack all of that in again, but we really did enjoy getting to see everyone! This sums up how I feel right now:
I’ve completely neglected my blog during this crazy busy holiday season! We had a very busy December around here getting ready for Christmas, having the big kids out of school, celebrating Harper’s birthday, and just surviving the holidays. This time of year I’m always thankful for indoor toys that they really enjoy, like their magnet tiles. Seriously, if you ever wonder what you should get your toddler, get these! They’ve been turned into animal hospitals, doll playgrounds, boats, pirate ships, birthday cakes, rocket ships, a fire station and a fire truck, which held an array of fire-fighting Little People:
Harper turns 5 in just a few days, but we had her birthday party in mid-December. We started doing that a few years ago – we found that by January 2nd everyone was all partied out, so it’s much easier to have her party a few weeks early. This year we had her party at a “place” for the first time (rather than our house), and I swear it was the best decision I ever made! We did it at Kids N Motion, or as Harper and Roman call it “the bounce house.” The kids had an absolute blast, and all we had to do was show up and bring the cake! It was stress free, I didn’t have to clean my house, and the kids all loved it. We will definitely keep it on the list for next year! The only downside is that the “bounce house” is essentially in a warehouse, so it’s impossible to get a good photo. I got a few, but they are terrible.
Harper requested a “gingerbread house cake” for her party. I thought about it for a few weeks, and ultimately decided that it would be really hard to make the cake and have the icing distributed evenly. I convinced Harper to do a gingerbread house (from a Trader Joe’s kit) as a centerpiece, and I made Christmas tree cupcakes to go around it. I took photos of the process and will explain it in a separate post, but they turned out so cute. The only mistake I made was to make the cupcakes from scratch a day early. They didn’t taste as good the next day, and I definitely should have just used a box mix, as much as that kills me to admit!
The kids’ last day of school was in mid-December, so we had over a week to kill before Christmas. We caught one of our favorite holiday exhibits at the National Botanical Gardens with the Bastos family. Every year they do a big replica of the National Mall and other historic sites made entirely out of plant materials. The dome of the capital (as well as the Jefferson Memorial and Monticello) are made of giant Amazonian acorn shells. They have train tracks running through the whole thing with Thomas, Percy, James and other engines that the kids know and love. The kids love the exhibit, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours!
Finally, on the last day of school the kids participated in a school sing-a-long. Roman surprised us by belting out all of the songs and participating in all the dances. He was really into it! Harper’s class put on a nativity play. Harper was one of the angels. I forgot my camera, but took a few photos on my phone.
While reading bedtime stories tonight:
Me: “As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.”
Roman: “Is that Spanish?”
I could not stop laughing!
We moved a lot growing up, and I always wish that we had more photos of the houses that we lived in. I remember all of them, but I would love to have more photos for posterity. A few years ago I started taking pictures of the house once a year – a room-by-room tour of where we lived that year. I didn’t do it last year because we were still unpacking, so I wanted to make sure to check it off the list for 2011. I got most of the rooms, but skipped Portman’s office and our bedroom (aka the dumping ground for all laundry and everything else that doesn’t have a home) because they were just too nasty!
Kid’s playroom. Our big project for 2012 is going to be a full basement renovation. The playroom won’t change much except for the lighting and flooring, but we will add a big office/guest room and fully-finished laundry room (with a second washer/dryer!), as well as some big storage closets.
“Fireplace room” and family room. The family room is new to us since it used to house all the kids’ toys, and we are loving having an adults-only TV/lounging space! After we moved out all the kids’ stuff we realized that we had practically no furniture, so it’s a work in progress. My mom helped me with the color scheme, and I’m working on switching out all the pillows and upholstery. The blues will be replaced with gold and cinnamon colors. Maybe in a few years it will be finished!
Dining room. My mom recently made the valance for us (which contributed to my decision to change the colors in the family room!)
Art nook. This was a breakfast nook when we bought the house, but we don’t have a breakfast nook table. We do, however, have an extensive collection of art supplies, so that’s what we did with the space.
Front hallway and Roman’s room. The cabinet in the front hallway was one of the first pieces of furniture that Portman and I ever bought together. It is a TV cabinet for an old CRT style TV. We were going to get rid of it (can’t put a flat screen in it), but I randomly had the idea to install a clothing rod in the cabinet part. Now we hang all the kids’ coats and bags in there, and we put their hats, gloves and shoes in the drawers. It works perfectly!
Last one – photo gallery in the hallway. In our old house we had this cool curved staircase with the photos going up, and this is my weak attempt to recreate that. It’s okay. It’s really hard to keep all the pictures straight, and that kind of thing drives me nuts. This probably doesn’t surprise anyone!
My friend recently introduced me to the term “musical beds,” and that could not be a more accurate description for us right now. Before I launch into that, however, here’s a quick Ada update.
She is doing GREAT in her new digs. She waves “night night” to Daddy’s office (her old room) before we go in her new room, we read stories on Harper’s bed, and then she snuggles down in her favorite corner of her crib and goes to sleep. To add fuel to the fire, last Friday I took the kids to Buy Buy Baby to try to find a gift for their cousin. Ada had an absolute fit over a pink sippy cup, and practically launched herself out of the cart and onto the shelf to get the “bah bah.” She was so insistent that we get the pink “bah bah,” that I decided on the spot that this was our chance to get rid of her baby bah-bah’s and switch permanently to a cup. So we bought the “big girl bah-bah” (as well as a new Dora cup because she is obsessed and I couldn’t say no) and headed home.
As soon as she was distracted (probably with an episode of Dora – seriously, obsessed), I hid all the baby bah-bahs, and that night at bedtime I put her to bed with her cup. She didn’t protest, and she slept for 15 hours straight! Throughout the next day she gave me a little sad whiney face and pointed to the cabinet where we used to keep the bottles saying “bah bah,” and I had to gently remind her to find her “big girl bah-bah.” She was fine with it after a few days, and that transition was SO much easier than I expected it to be!
But I digress.
So, musical beds. Here’s what has become our new normal. (1) Ada goes to bed between 5:45 and 6, with a cup, in her crib, by herself. (2) The big kids go to bed between 6:15 and 6:45, Roman in his own bed by himself, Harper in our bed by herself (occasionally in her bed, but she likes to fall asleep in ours.) (3) Around 10pm I move Harper into her own bed and I go to sleep in our bed.
This is when the fun starts. Sometimes we make it until after midnight, but usually just before midnight, right as Portman is coming to bed, Harper wanders back in and gives us some BS about “there’s a scary shadow,” or “I can’t find my mimi,” or “I’m cold.” Then she crawls in between us and goes back to sleep. At some point when one of us gets kicked in the back or face, or has too many limbs on top of us to sleep, we kick each other until one of us caves in and moves her back to the bunk beds. Everyone is happy and asleep for another hour or so until we wake up and find that she is back between us.
This is when Roman makes his entrance. He sees Harper sleeping in our bed, wants in on it, and Portman has to go sleep in his bed with him. More often, however, Portman gets pushed out of the bed by Harper’s erratic sleeping positions, gives up and goes and sleeps in her bunk beds. This is the ideal situation for me because he is now in the room with Ada, so by default he has to get up with her in the morning. If he ends up in Roman’s bed, I have to try to sneak out when Ada wakes up without jostling Harper awake, since Roman sleeps in until 9 or 9:30.
I know some families have a strict “no kids in mom and dad’s bed” rule, but we actually love sleeping with our kids. They are only going to be in this snuggling phase for a short time, so we can have our bed back when they are teenagers and want nothing to do with us!
The kids have been hard at work on their usual art projects. The two things in our house that get used the most are the Magna Tiles (best toy we own), and the art supplies. Roman has recently taken an interest in drawing, and comes up with some creative descriptions for his artwork. He has also recently learned to write his name and draw an accurate person!
Christmas “ornaments” that Harper painted at school. While she is incredibly creative in her pretend play, she has recently wanted all of her drawings and paintings to be real-life accurate in both colors and shapes.
Last weekend Daddy and Roman brought home our Christmas tree ($29 for a 8 ft tree from Costco – amazing!) and we spent nearly two days getting the house decorated for the holidays. I am very, very particular about how the tree lights should be put on (does this really surprise anyone??), so I spent nearly 4 hours just lighting the tree. I think the only person in the world who would appreciate this effort is my mom, who also lights her tree “correctly,” but hey, it’s so perfect when it’s done!
After four hours of labor, we blew out the fuse on the longest strand of lights not once, but twice, then blew out the fuse on the replacement strand of lights before finally figuring out that the extension cord had a short in it. I don’t think any more f-bombs have ever been dropped while decorating a tree! Oh, and of course the fuses blew out AFTER the ornaments were on.
We let Harper and Roman stay up to decorate the tree with us. We had to encourage them to spread the ornaments out, but they really had fun. This was the first time we really let them do it, and they were so excited to unwrap the ornaments, even with us constantly barking “be careful, you’re gonna break it!”
I don’t normally go overboard decorating for seasons and holidays (I can’t stand clutter – I’m working on that!), but I do love to decorate the tree. Years ago, Portman and I started a tradition where we buy a Christmas ornament when we take a vacation, trip, or special event, rather than buy souvenirs. Decorating the tree is a trip down memory lane for us as we remember where we got each ornament. Sometimes if it is a special family trip, we get one for each kid, but normally we just get one ornament for the family Christmas tree. Here’s a sampling of what we have collected so far:
One for each kid from our trip to Disney World this year (March 2011):
Roskilde, Denmark (purchased at the Viking Museum, June 2009):
Kennebunkport, Maine (August 2009):
A few more decorations from around the house. This year I ordered a mini tabletop-tree from L.L. Bean to put in the fireplace room since we put the big tree in the family room. I actually thought it was fake and could be used year after year, but it turns out they shipped us a live, pre-lit tree. It’s very pretty, but I don’t think I would spend that much on a live tree again!
The stockings are hung and we’ve had lots of questions about why mom and dad have stockings if Santa only brings gifts to boys and girls. My answer was “we needed a few more decorations” and that seemed to fly.
Another thing we started to do a few years ago was to take a family trip, or do a special family event around Christmas time rather than go overboard on the gifts. Each kid is allowed to ask Santa for 3 gifts, and that works out really well for us. The rest of Santa’s holiday budget is spent on some fun-filled family time. We’ve been to NYC, saw the ICE show at National Harbor, went skiing, and this year we are taking the kids to Hershey Park, which gets all decked-up for the holidays. So this year we will probably add a Hershey ornament to our collection. The kids remember and talk about our holiday trips, and we feel like we are creating some wonderful holiday memories for them!
Last week, after months of discussion, planning and procrastination, we finally moved Ada’s crib into Harper’s room, and the girls are now bunking together. We had planned to do this much earlier. Harper’s room (now “the girls’ room”), is the biggest bedroom, she has a huge set of bunk beds, the room has two big closets, and we want the girls to share a room. It made sense. However, as of just a few weeks ago, Ada still wasn’t sleeping through the night and we were so scared of the possibility that they could both be up at night. We like our sleep! But, ultimately Daddy needed a real office and we couldn’t wait any longer.
Ada is a little creature of habit and just hates change, so we knew we would be moving her crib with her exact bedding into Harper’s room. There would be no way that I could coordinate the crib to match Harper’s room – Ada just wouldn’t go for it. Instead I tried to do a combination of the two rooms – pink from Ada’s room and purple from Harper’s. The result is a very girlie, but cute palate of pastels. At some point I want to change out the duvet covers on the bunk beds for something more than just purple, but that is obviously not a priority!
We were gifted these hand-print/footprint frames when the kids were born, and I switched out the matting on Harper’s to match Ada’s:
Hers and hers laundry bins:
Ada finally has a closet!! This is possibly the most exciting part of the switch for all of us – everything crammed into her two-drawer dresser just was’t cutting it anymore:
We moved a lot of things from Ada’s nursery – the curtains, the butterfly hooks, and the big dresser with changing table on top. We also moved the professional-quality sound machine from our room (we are now using the baby one) because we needed white noise with lots of volume. It has proved invaluable!
Day one: Ada screamed for at least an hour before napping for about 40 minutes, then fell fast asleep at bed time (presumably because she was exhausted from no nap). Harper initially fell asleep in our bed at bedtime, then we moved her onto the bottom bunk. Ada woke up screaming around 5:45 AM, waking Harper up with her. They were both up for the day.
Day two: Same story with nap time, but once she fell asleep, she stayed that way for about 2 hours. Harper slept in our bed for the night and Ada slept until 8am without a peep!
Days three-five: naps were okay, but definitely not as long as they should have been. Harper fell asleep in our bed every night, and we either let her stay there, or moved her in with Roman. Once in with Roman, she usually crawled back in bed with us at least once, and we had to keep moving her until we just gave in and let her stay with us.
Day six: Ada screamed for a total of two hours (in several batches) before I finally gave up on the nap. It turns out she had tummy stuff going on, so that was probably the issue. Bedtime: Ada went to bed at 5:45, slept soundly through the night until 6:55am. Harper asked to fall asleep in her own room, was asleep by 7:30 and woke up with Ada at 6:55 (she claims that she was already awake when Ada started talking). Success!!
Based on last night’s accomplishment, I’m going to try to make Harper fall asleep in her own bed from now on. (I’m not confident in my ability to follow through with that statement.)
Oh, and on the other side of the move – after years of carving out a corner of the basement or a bedroom, Portman finally has his own office! He is not about to give it up, and claims that if we have another baby, it is going to live in our room until we can move it in with Roman. I am so happy that he has a real, actual office with a door that shuts (and hides the mess!) that I am inclined to agree.
Portman and I are not church-goers, but we do send the kids to a church-affiliated preschool. Our thoughts on sending them there were that although we do not believe in Christianity, we appreciate that our parents dragged us to church as kids so that we could make an informed decision as adults. We want to afford the kids the same decision-making opportunity, so we send them to a church-based school hoping that they will learn the other side of the story.
That being said, we are constantly amused by the stuff they come home talking about. Tonight we were roasting s’mores after dinner, and:
- Harper made us sing “oh the lord is good to me” before we ate them, and made sure that my hands were folded in prayer position under my chin and my eyes were closed,
- Harper started to explain that she made her s’mores with love and that love comes from your heart. Roman piped up with “and baby Jesus lives in your heart too!”
- They then proceeded to explain to me that “did you know baby Jesus was born on HAY? Can you believe that? He was born on a real, actual farm.”
We’ve had a lot of other questions about Jesus lately. As we were putting up the Christmas tree, Harper asked “so is baby Jesus real or pretend?” I was stumped for a minute, but then told her very honestly that “some people think he is real, and some people think he is just a character in a story. You are allowed to think whatever you want.” She never did tell me if she thinks he is real or “pretend,” but she did want to know other people’s opinions: her teachers (real), her friends (not sure), mom and dad (part of a story).
I’m actually excited to raise them with an honest opinion on the subject, and it will be interesting to see what they decide for themselves.