The 12 Days of Christmas a Mom Really Wants

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The Christmas season is fully upon us, which means I’m streaming my Pandora Christmas stations during all waking hours. My Christmas music streaming is done much to the joy of my husband and children, who especially love that I treat the Christmas music station as my own personal sing-along karaoke.

One of the more amusing Christmas songs that always pops up on my playlist is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Everyone knows the song: “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” As the song progresses we learn about all of the glorious gifts bestowed upon the recipient: Two turtle doves, three french hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a swimming (So many birds!!)…and all the way up to twelve drummers drumming.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if my true love gave me a boatload of birds to take care of for Christmas, I’d chalk that right up there with receiving a toilet scrub brush and some rubber gloves. No thank you, sir. No, if my true love gave to me what I really wanted, it would look something like this:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me one whole day off to do whatever I wanted.
I don’t even know where I would start, but it would for sure involve a lot of not-cleaning and not-responding to the needs/wants/whims of , well, anyone not named Me. We could just stop right here with this one and be set for life, but this is the 12 days of Christmas, so we’ll keep going.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two solid days of your time checking off items from your “Honey Do” list (that I so kindly wrote out for you).
Let’s turn that “Honey Do” list into a “Honey Done” list. I know that a lot of the things on that list don’t bother you because you’re away in an office for 10 hours a day…but my office happens to be our house, and they drive me bonkers! That little patch of the wall that still needs to be painted, the rattling pipe, the drawers that still need pulls (that we already bought) installed. Please and thank you.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three (proper) massages.
No funny business, just a good ‘ol back rub. And if you’re not up to the task, you’re welcome to send me off to the spa.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four weekends per month to sleep in.
Sleep is the one thing I dream about when I am awake. You, my friend, could make my wildest dreams come true.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five opportunities to work out every week.
How amazing would it be to just go to the gym or hit the pavement any time I wanted? No need to shlep along unruly children or push a whiny toddler in the stroller. I would actually have a legitimate purpose for wearing yoga pants and running shoes every day. Yes, this would be bliss.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six hours of time washing and detailing my minivan.
I’m not sure that 6 hours would be enough time to remove the slop and grime and pulverized goldfish crackers from my kid-mobile, but you have to start somewhere. I would absolutely love to sit down in that car some day and be reminded of the carpet’s natural color and look through windows that are not smeared with sticky handprints.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven days off of bedtime duty every week.
Bedtime is perhaps my least favorite part of any given day. The cajoling, the whining, the arguing, the pushing of buttons when my buttons are already worn out from the day. How amazing would it be to just give my kids a hug and a kiss goodnight, then sit down with a book and a cup of tea while the nighttime chaos unfolded out of earshot? SUPER-amazing, that’s how amazing it would be.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight hours of quality time with our family doing whatever I plan for us.
My true love does not (under normal circumstances) enjoy “adventuring” as I call it. Neither do two out of my three children. They’re much happier staying home working on a project or playing video games with their friends. I, on the other hand, am like a caged bird that needs to spread her wings.

For one solid day I’d like to take the whole family and go to all the places, do all the things, eat at all the restaurants, and enjoy all the time together. Everyone would be happy and well-rested and cooperative and excited to see all of the wonderful things I had planned for us. They would marvel at the beautiful places in nature we would visit and they would appreciate the new culinary journeys I would take them on. At the end of the day they would thank me for opening their eyes to new experiences.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine months of carpooling service for our children.
I spend approximately 27 hours a day driving my children to and fro. If someone could just help me drive kids to school and sports and clubs and playdates I would have enough time to do, well, everything. And I’m not even asking for a whole year of driving services. Nine months, from September-May, should do just fine for now. I’m so magnanimous.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten loads of laundry completed by someone other than myself.
In a family with three young children I do laundry every. Single. Day. Of all my domestic chores, laundry is the most consistent time-suck. I would love to have help every now and then with completing full loads of laundry. And by completing, I mean sorting, washing, drying, ironing/folding, and putting away everything. Not just one step in the process as is occasionally offered, but the whole shebang.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven fresh, healthy dinners prepped, served, and cleaned up for our family.
Even though I’ve been an “adult” for quite some time now, the fact that I have to make dinner every day is still surprising to me. Growing up I rarely gave dinner a thought because it always just appeared on our dinner table at 6PM. Now that I’m in charge of the whole dinner rigamarole, however, dinner carries quite a different connotation in my mind. Dinner requires planning, time to prep, time to cook, time to clean, and will power to not lose your cool when nobody eats the meal that you’ve spent all day obsessing over. For a few days I’d love to just revert to my childhood and show up to dinner on the table at 6PM–is that too much to ask?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve months of a housecleaning service.
Can I get an amen?! Admittedly, I am a terrible housekeeper. I love clean, but I despise cleaning. I mean, I’ll do the basic bed-making and vacuuming and putting things away, but I need someone to get into all the nooks and crannies. Someone to come in and mop up the dust bunnies and scrub the baseboards, and rub the fingerprints off our front windows. Someone to make my home presentable, even if it’s just for the 2 hours between elementary school drop-off and preschool pick-up.

So, there’s my twelve days of Christmas list. No partridge in a pear tree or calling birds (They’d just mess up my house and add more noise to the usual cacophony, anyway)–although I really wouldn’t mind the five golden rings.

Now it’s your turn–what’s on your twelve days of Christmas wish list?

My Favorite Family Christmas Traditions

Christmas is finally upon us, and it truly is the most wonderful time of the year! During this magical season I love making special memories with my kids. Part of that memory-making involves creating new traditions–or reviving favorites from the past–with your own family. Our family has several Christmas traditions that we begin each December. If you’re looking for some new ideas to add to your own family’s repertoire, here are a few of my favorites!

Wrapped Christmas BooksIMG_8383Every day in December the boys take turns unwrapping a special book for us to read together (after all, tearing off wrapping paper is one of the most exciting parts of Christmas!). The first book is a new book–an actual gift–and the rest are favorite books that we already own. Over the years I’ve collected enough Christmas and winter books to last us through the month, but any books would work just as well (or, if you’re looking to add to your collection, just check out your local used book or thrift stores).

Advent Chain

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Kids love counting down to Christmas–and parents love having a tangible way to show them how much longer they have to wait for their most anticipated day of the year! I’ve tried several countdowns, but my favorite is a simple advent chain. This year we are using a Jesus Storybook Bible countdown chain that uses stories and scripture references from the Jesus Storybook Bible (our favorite kids’ Bible) each day to tell the story of Jesus’ coming.

My Secret Angel And Me
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This is a Christian alternative to the ever-popular Elf on a Shelf. The Secret Angel kit comes with a book about the true meaning of Christmas and a plush angel that “flies” to a new spot in your house each night. The kids have fun looking for their angel each morning, and I like that the focus with this kit is still on Jesus.

DecemBear Activity
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When Jon was growing up his mom made this charming activity board for him and his sister. Every day of December you move the little bear to a new designated spot on the activity board so he can look for Christmas (our version is made of fabric and the bear attaches with Velcro). In all of her resourcefulness, my mother-in-law created extra sets of the DecemBear activity so she could pass them on to her children when they were grown and had families of their own. While you can buy your own DecemBear fabric on Etsy for a small fortune, your wallet might be better off making your own countdown with clipart and a printer.

Felt Christmas Tree
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Jon’s sister Stefanie made this for the boys a couple of years ago and they LOVE playing with it! The tree and ornaments are all made from felt, and the ornaments attach to the tree with Velcro. We have several personalized ornaments with the boys’ names and favorite characters. Find DIY instructions here.

Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set
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I bought this set a few years ago when David was a toddler, but he (and little brother Jacob) still enjoys playing with it. The pieces are all made of durable plastic so it’s perfect for keeping within reach of curious hands. All of the pieces are movable (you can even make the angel spin across the top of the stable and, if you spin her fast enough, you can even spin her right OFF the top of the stable. HIL-AR-I-OUS). Plus, it can play music (I still haven’t told the boys about his particular feature. Because noise.).

Christmas Dates
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When I was growing up my parents always took each of us kids out for a special one-on-one date during the year: a date with Dad for our birthday and a date with Mom for Christmas. My first mom-and-daughter Christmas date happened when I was about 4 years old, and we haven’t missed an annual date since then! Every year our date is different: going to the Nutcracker ballet, seeing a play or a musical, riding on the Christmas ships, spending time at the spa (guess which one this preggo is doing this year?!). Jon and I are continuing the date tradition with our kids, and I’m looking forward to spending this special time with each of them as they grow.

Santa Photos
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This is another tradition that my parents started with me when I was a baby and that I am carrying on with my kids. It’s amazing to look at our collection of photos each year and see how the kids–and our family–has grown and changed over the years.

Now it’s your turn–what are some of YOUR favorite holiday traditions?

Allison’s Favorite Things

Last week I went to a “favorite things” gift exchange. It was brilliant. Everyone brought a wrapped gift–one of their favorite things–then we exchanged them “white elephant” style so everyone could see and experience some new favorites together. The only problem with this little game was that I struggled for weeks to narrow down just one favorite thing to wrap up and bring to the party. There are so many products and services that I love–so many things that I could write a whole blog post about them.

So, because I know you’ve all been dying to know, here are a few front-runners for the 2014 edition of: Allison’s Favorite Things.

Flat ShotsOrla Kiely
I fell in love with Orla Kiely last year when we were living in Ireland, where everyone who was anyone sported her styles like they were…um…going out of style.  Orla Kiely is an Irish contemporary designer with the boldest, most beautiful prints you’ve ever seen. She designs all sorts of home and fashion accessories: purses, wallets, dishes, blankets, gardening tools, notebooks, clothing. Unfortunately, it usually costs you an arm and a leg to get into the world of Orla Kiely. That is, until TARGET stepped in (I should write a whole post on how much I love Target. Maybe next time.). That’s right, Target now sells Orla Kiely, and for a piddly fraction of the cost. Peruse the selection here or in store, but just make sure you have a hanky handy to wipe your drool off the floor.

sandalsRainbow Sandals
I know that I’m a bit late to the game here, but I’m new to this whole California-living thing. Rainbow sandals are the best–they’re made with real leather and, for a flip-flop, are incredibly supportive. From what I hear, they also last forever. And, now that I can actually wear flip-flops year-round, I’m getting a ton of use out of them.

 

Herbs_de_Provence_1024x1024Herbes de Provence
Really? An herb on your favorite things list? Yes, and don’t knock it til you try it. A friend introduced me to this stuff and now I put it in just about everything I cook: roasted veggies, marinades, mashed potatoes. I just hope my family loves it as much as I do! And, for the love, if you ever have to buy herbs/seasonings/pantry staples of any kind, please visit the bulk foods section at WinCo. You’ll thank me later.

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Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime has changed my life. Seriously. I am yet to find a single product in this whole vast world that I can not order on Amazon–and, with Prime, I get it all shipped in two days to my door. For FREE. Now, you do have to pay upfront for your Prime membership ($99 for a year), but it the benefits far outweigh the costs (plus, you can always do a free trial of Prime for up to 6 months depending on when you sign up). We get items shipped to our house via Prime almost every day–everything from diapers to clothing, to pantry staples, to our new BBQ (the same item shipped to our house from Home Depot was going to have a $50 shipping fee added on). Not having to leave my house to do my shopping is reason enough for me to order Prime. But wait! There’s more! In addition to free shipping, Prime Members enjoy a number of benefits: online access to Instant Video (similar to Netflix, but with much less selection), Prime Music (similar to iTunes Radio), Prime Photos (free unlimited photo storage online), and access to the Kindle Users’ Lending Library. I could go on and on about the amazingness that is Amazon Prime, but I’ll try to restrain myself. If you don’t already have Prime, sign up here. Now.

Airbnb-2AirBnB
2014 was the year of travel for our family, and it was all made possible by AirBnB. Traveling with two young children can be challenging, and finding the right lodging made all the difference for us. AirBnB.com allows you to rent a space directly from the owner, so you can find many more options for temporary or travel housing than your standard hotel: a single room in a house, a bed and breakfast, a full apartment, an entire house or even something more eclectic (think windmills in Holland and houseboats in Seattle). And, since you’re renting directly from the owner, the prices are usually very reasonable. When we were in London, for instance, we had a 3-bedroom apartment with our own kitchen and laundry facilities, a few blocks from the tube, for half the price of the cheapest hotel room I could find in the same area. I heart AirBnB ❤

nivea lip balmNivea Lip Balm
My sister in law got me hooked on this stuff a couple of years ago, and I just can’t stop. This is, hands down, the best lip balm I’ve ever used. My lips have never been smoother or balm-ier. Thank you, Nivea. Some of the balms come tinted, too, thus eliminating my need for extensive lip-makeup routines (let’s be honest here: If I manage to swipe some tinted lip balm on in the morning, I call it “putting on my make up”). Find your new favorite balm at any drug store or online here.

61yhxs1BiUL._SL1500_Double Walled Starbucks Cold Cup
If you have seen me in the last few months, then you’ve probably seen me holding this: a reusable double-walled Venti Starbucks cold cup (the name of the cup is just about as complicated as the names of their drinks).
I love this cup for the following reasons:

1. It’s big. I drink lots of water and I don’t want to be running to the faucet every two seconds to refill an insufficient cup.
2. It has a straw. I drink far more liquids when I am drinking through a straw and, since we’re all supposed to drink more water, this just makes sense. Plus it wouldn’t mess up my lipstick…if I ever wore lipstick.
3.My hands never get cold when I’m holding it. Since it’s double-walled, the cold stays inside the first wall and my hands only touch the insulated outer wall. Bring on the ice!
4. It doesn’t “sweat”. Again, since the cup is double-walled, you don’t get any condensation on the outside of the cup. And, since I hate using coasters, this is a hand feature.
5. It fits in the cup holders in my car and stroller (my favorite water bottle does NOT. Boo.)

Buy your own fancy cup at the ‘Bucks or online here.

PumpkinCupcakes
Alright, so my obsession with cupcakes is not new to 2014.  What has changed, though, is my close proximity to some of the best cupcake shops in the world. Within minutes I can be at no less than a dozen cupcake bakeries that have been featured on Food Network or the pages of foodie magazines. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, check out some of my (new) favorites: Kara’s Cupcakes, Sprinkles, Icing on The Cake, Frost Cupcake Factory, and Minicakes.

61N-ivATQYL._SY355_UnderArmour Gold Gear Jacket
This is the most versatile jacket I’ve ever owned and I wear it almost every day. It’s warm, but not too warm. It keeps the wind and rain (at least, California “rain”) off you. It’s the perfect weight for wearing pre- or post-workout…or just lounging around the house…or running the kiddie carpool. It has tons of zippered pockets so you don’t lose your keys or your phone or your mind. As an added bonus mine is neon pink, so I’m sure to always stand out in a crowd! Get yours here.

 

29823-spicy-chai-mixTrader Joe’s Chai Tea Powder
I’m not a coffee drinker, so I have to get my fix from other sources. And, as we’ve already established with my cupcake entry here, I have quite the sweet tooth. Chai tea is my favorite sweet, warm beverage to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night. As a chai tea connoisseur, I have sampled many different varieties. TJ’s powdered mix is my new favorite and it comes in a variety of enticing seasonal flavors (try the pumpkin spice chai in the fall and salted caramel in the winter). At less than $5 per container, the price point is also pretty sweet. Find yours in the Trader Joe’s beverage aisle next to the coffee.

article-1250992-083E2A01000005DC-544_468x324Sleep
For the first time in half a decade I have two children who consistently sleep through the night–which means I am back to a regular schedule of sleeping (in my own bed, until a humanly-sane hour in the morning). It’s pure bliss, and I can not recommend it enough. Find your own good night of sleep with a weekend getaway or having older children who literally run around ALL day to the point of pure exhaustion. And, if you are lucky enough to find sleep, it’s priceless.

So, there you have it! Some oldies, some newbies and, always, some goodies. Hope you enjoyed a little peek into some of my favorite things. What’s going on your “favorite things” list this year?

 

Why Jesus Is The Better Santa

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Childhood is such a magical stage of life, and Christmas has to be the most magical time in childhood. For a few short weeks every year the whole world transforms in anticipation for the most magical of all days: Christmas. Of course I loved Christmas when I was growing up, but nothing compares to seeing Christmas anew through my childrens’ eyes. The wonder, the excitement, the joy– everything is magnified with young children, and I can’t get enough of it.

I have to confess: when I think of the “magic of Christmas”, though, one of the first images that pops into my mind is of a jolly old man in a red suit with eight flying reindeer. I mean, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa.

Or would it?

Five years ago when we celebrated our first Christmas with our first baby, Jon and I had several discussions about what to do about Santa. We wanted to keep the Christmas-focus on Jesus–and all of the hype around Santa kind of gets in the way of that.

After much thought and prayer, we ultimately decided to put Santa on the back-burner (this article does a great job expressing our thoughts on this subject). We still have fun with Santa– we tell our kids about the real St. Nicholas who loved Jesus and served the poor in His name, we read books and sing songs featuring Santa, and we get our annual photo with the big guy–but we just don’t make him the center of our celebrations. Santa doesn’t visit our house on Christmas Eve, and there’s no man at the North Pole putting our kids on the nice or naughty list.  We acknowledge Santa without prioritizing him.

What it all boiled down to is that we didn’t want Santa to compete with Jesus for a place in our boys’ hearts or minds. And why should he? Everything that Santa “can” do, Jesus CAN do better.

In fact, if you think about it, Jesus really is the better “Santa”.

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts once a year, but Jesus gives us the free gift of eternal salvation.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings fleeting happiness, but Jesus brings forever-joy.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa condemns those who are naughty, but Jesus redeems our sin.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa comes just for kids, but Jesus came for all people.
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa wears a tacky red suit, but Jesus is clothed in righteousness.
“He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.” Isaiah 59:17

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings coal for those who are naughty, but Christ brings forgiveness for all who sin.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa only comes once a year, but Jesus never leaves us.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa tries to complete our wish list once a year, but Jesus answers every request we bring to Him.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa lives in the North Pole, but Jesus lives in Heaven.
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Luke 22:69

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa keeps a list of “naughty or nice”, but Jesus composes the Book of Life.
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Revelation 13:8

Jesus is the better Santa because Santa brings gifts that offer temporary pleasure, but Jesus brings the timeless gift of grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Jesus is the better Santa because your belief in Santa ends in disappointment, but your faith in Jesus ends in fulfillment.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

I am so grateful that God didn’t just send us any old gift at Christmas, he sent us the best gift–the perfect gift. The only gift that is guaranteed to never disappoint or break or fade with time. God became man to show his great love for all people–naughty or nice; today, tomorrow and forever.

This Christmas, may you experience the great joy that comes from this love! Merry Christmas!

 

 

A Month of “Dinovember”/Elf On The Shelf Inspirations

Last year I heard about this new–what shall we call it…a movement?–called Dinovemer. During Dinovember (a combination of the word parts “dino” for dinosaur and “November” for the month these escapades occur during) children awake each morning to find that their toy dinosaurs have caused mischief the previous night while the family was sleeping. Dinovember is similar to the profoundly popular Elf On The Shelf movement that has picked up steam over the last few years. I like the idea of the elf, but we already have several advent activities that we focus on during December so I just can’t with the elf. With two little boys at home, I knew that I just had to participate in the Dinovember festivities. So, I marked my calendar and when November rolled around this year I was ready!

And, I have to say, our first Dinovember was epic. I had fun thinking up antics for our dinosaurs to get into (er..I mean, the dinosaurs had fun getting into mischief all on their own…) but, even more, I loved hearing my boys’ squeals of delight and screams of astonishment each morning when they discovered their dino friends.

Dinovember helped our family play together and use our imaginations. As an added bonus, my boys also diverted some of their attention that is usually reserved solely for Toy Story and cars to a new topic of interest: dinosaurs. We checked out dinosaur books from the library, watched a dinosaur movie, and looked up the names of dinosaurs together on the computer. Dinovember was such a hit this year that we have already decided to make it an annual tradition.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your own family fun–whether it’s Dinovember or Elf on the Shelf or whatever other creature you feature during this festive season–I’ve got you covered. Here are the highlights of our first–but certainly not our last!–Dinovember:

Our Dinosaurs arrived on November 1st, the day after Halloween. They brought with them a cute little rhyming note that explained their presence and what they’d be up to this month. They also, conveniently, got into the boys’ Halloween candy and ate most of it up (“But, Dad, why is there chocolate on the corner of your mouth…?”).
IMG_0367The dinos left their mark on the bathroom mirror with dry erase markers. They wrote clever phrases like “Dinos rock!” and “Rawr!”:
IMG_0568They built intricate towers with blocks:
IMG_0579 ..and even made themselves a midnight snack (dino nuggets, of course):IMG_0594Our dinosaur friends made a mess out of TP:
photo (27)The dinos had a late night story time with all of their favorite dinosaur books:IMG_0613 ..and, knowing how important oral hygiene is (because, you know, they have all those sharp teeth), they even took the time to brush up:IMG_0629The dinosaurs got into some old-school mischief printing off pictures of themselves on our office copy machine:
IMG_0641 They got out some favorite board games for a night of good clean fun:IMG_0658 And, if that wasn’t enough fun, the magnadoodles were certainly entertaining! Our little dinosaur friends did some baking (poor little Stegasaurus even got trapped under a bowl!):IMG_0716 They must have wanted to go for a walk because the dinos tried on all of our shoes:IMG_0723 Then they decided to primp themselves up with some of Mom’s jewelry:IMG_0736 As everyone knows, art is a dinosaur’s favorite subject:IMG_0746 Some of the other toys retaliated against the dinos’ mischief-making tendencies:IMG_0561But, in the end, the dinosaurs were so very thoughtful. They even put their own ideas onto our family “Thankful Tree” (even if their ideas of “sharp teeth”, “loud roars”, and “sharks” were a bit unconventional):IMG_0749Hunger must have struck in the middle of the night, because one morning we found them outside grilling up a hamburger and reading our “King of the Grill” cookbook:
IMG_0763 Even dinosaurs get tired sometimes (can you find them in there?):IMG_0766 The dinos wanted to be just like Daddy and shave off their wiskers:IMG_0771 Occasionally the dinosaurs were downright helpful. Here they are starting a load of laundry:IMG_0783Our dino friends built impressive book towers with a bit of prehistoric ingenuity:
IMG_0819 Going back to their animal roots, the dinosaurs decided to go fishing…from the top of a doorframe:IMG_0825 After watching countless hours of our boys playing cars, the dinos wanted their own turn at the race track:IMG_0853 …And what visit to a little boys’ room would be complete without trying some undies on your head?photo (26)

Then, as one final goodbye, the dinosaurs left us with some lasting memories from their “professional” photo shoot:

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Dinovember has been a blast but, like all good things, it must come to an end. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and our dinosaurs will eat enough turkey to go into hibernation until next November. We will miss our little dino friends, but we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year!

Our Trip Home: From A to Z

Yesterday we returned from an incredible three-week holiday at “home” with our loved ones in Washington state. This was our first time returning home since our move to Ireland six months ago and we savored every moment of it. As with any trip of that magnitude, there were ups and downs during our stay. Here are the alphabetical highlights of our trip:

The ABC’s Of Our Christmas Vacation

IMG_0169A is for Annual Christmas date: I have gone on a Christmas date with my mom every year since I was 4 years old. It’s something I look forward to every year…no matter how old I get! We’ve done lots of different things for our dates over the years, but my favorite is always going to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. And, since I was feeling nostalgic this year, that’s exactly what we did. After our matinee performance (which was beautiful, as always) we walked around Seattle Center to look at the fountain and the Space Needle all decked out with lights. Then we walked up the street to the Melting Pot for some delicious cheese and chocolate fondues. It was a perfect evening, and I couldn’t ask for a better date!

IMG_0551B is for “Besties”: We’ve been missing our friends, so it was great just spending time with them and catching up. It’s amazing how time and distance can’t even change the bond you have with your best pals! From evening runs to dinners out and gatherings in peoples’ homes, every moment we had with our friends was precious. In addition to seeing our friends, I also loved meeting all of the sweet new babies that have been born since we were last here–the future best friends of our children, I’m sure!

C is for Christmas:

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We had a very low-key Christmas this year. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Jon’s side of the family and spent Christmas day at my parents’ house. The boys had a blast opening all of their Christmas gifts (David’s favorite gift is a tie between his blue basketball and all of his new Angry Birds gear; Jacob just liked rolling around in all of the wrapping paper). After brunch we went for a walk around the neighborhood and played with all of our new toys. We ended the day with a yummy Christmas dinner (ham) and a noteworthy Christmas film (Curious George’s Christmas Special). Then it was off to bed where visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

IMG_0040D is for Dentist: We love our dentist so much that we made time to visit him during our little stay in Washington. We all got cleanings, and Jacob even got his first turn in the big chair. Both boys did great job letting the dentist clean and count their teeth!

E is for Everett: During most of our visit we were staying with my parents in Federal Way, but we made a few trips up north to our former hometown of Everett. While we were in Everett we got to visit friends, check in on our house, and visit some of our favorite local places. We wish we could have spent a bit more time up there visiting more people but, alas, time was of precious short order on this trip.

unnamedF is for Family: Our family is the main reason we decided to pack up and head home for Christmas–and thankfully we got to see a lot of them! Besides our local family in Washington, we also had family members come up from California and down from Alaska to visit while we were there. To all of our parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who we got to see: thank you for making the time for us. It really meant the world to each of us to spend time with you!

IMG_0802G is for Grandpa: Unfortunately, four days after we arrived in Washington my grandfather passed away (you can read my tribute to him here). Grandpa was an incredible man, I loved him dearly, and it’s difficult to say goodbye. Still, though, I am so grateful that I got to spend some last moments with him before he passed–I will never forget that last day that I spent with him. Living so far away from home now I realize that this was God’s grace to me that I got to say goodbye in person and spend time mourning with my family. I love you and I miss you, Grandpa!

IMG_0177H is for Holiday With Lights: For the second year in a row now we decided to brave the elements and venture out to Holiday With Lights at Wild Waves, a local theme park. The whole park is decorated for Christmas with beautiful lights. Most of the rides were open–we enjoyed going on the carousel and the roller coasters (which are a bit scarier in the dark!). We even got to visit Santa just in time for our annual photo-op.

I is for iPhone: A few days before we left Ireland for our trip to Washington my iPhone died. I was a bit panicked for those 3 days that I didn’t have a phone. How would I call people? How would I check the weather before I went outside? How would I get people’s status updates on Facebook in real time? It was terrible. So, as soon as our plane landed we made an appointment for me at the Apple store to see if they could revive my poor little phone. In the end, though, the phone was bricked–as in, it was as useless as a brick. I sucked it up and traded in my “brick” for a new phone–and life went on again.

IMG_0814J is for Jetlag: Traveling with kids is difficult. Traveling halfway around the world and dealing with jetlagged kids is horrible. I’ve discovered that, for kids at least, it takes about 1 day of adjustment per hour of time difference that you travel. So, if you travel through one time zone, you’ll be back on track in one day. If you travel through 8 time zones like us, though, it takes 8 days before the kids figure out again how to sleep at night and not be terrors during the day. Moral of the story: jetlag SUCKS.

IMG_0533K is for Kid’s Museum: On Christmas Eve my mom and I took the boys to the Tacoma Children’s Museum for a fun morning of play and exploration. It was a beautiful museum with lots of fun activities that were perfect for the boys (and, best part of all, it’s totally free–donations accepted, of course!). Both boys loved the water play area, the drums, the soft “snowballs” that they could throw down tunnels and tubes, and climbing on the giant DaVinci-esque flying machine.

IMG_0418L is for Leavenworth: Jon’s parents live over the mountains (and through the woods…) in a little tourist town called Leavenworth. The town is in the middle of the Cascade Mountains and is set up to look like you’re in a Bavarian village. It’s all very cute and unique. We spent 3 days over in Leavenworth visiting Grammy and Grandpa Pete. During our stay we played in the snow, fed the deer that frequent their yard, walked through town, played pool, and relaxed by the fire. We had a great time on our mini-vacation!

IMG_0452M is for Mars Hill: Mars Hill is our former church that we attended for several years before moving to Ireland. The church has several campuses and both our church in Everett and my parents’ church in Federal Way got new “homes” while we were away. We got to visit both of those new buildings for services and catch up with our friends there. All I can say is “Wow!”. God is so good!

IMG_0561N is for New Year’s Eve: We rang in 2014 with some of our closest friends. New Year’s Eve was spent at our friends’ house where we played games, visited, and caught up with each other. We also started what will have to be a new tradition: a Christmas tree bonfire. The Christmas tree was quite impressive going up in flames…and it made for a nice warm fire on a cold evening.

unnamed (2)O is for Oregon: On January 3rd our family from near and far gathered in Longview, WA for my grandfather’s memorial service. It was a lovely Military funeral complete with Marine color guards and a gun-salute. It was a wonderful time for our family to spend time together, share memories of Grandpa, and honor his life. After the funeral we drove down to Oregon where we were going to spread Grandpa’s ashes the next day. Eleven of us stayed in a huge beach house called Arch Cape Lodge right on the Oregon coast. The next morning we drove out to one of Grandpa’s favorite places: Cannon Beach. When I was growing up we would visit Cannon Beach frequently and I have many fond memories of playing in the sand and walking out to Haystack Rock with Grandpa there. It was Grandpa’s wish to rejoin his fallen comrades in the Pacific after his passing, so Cannon Beach seemed like the perfect place. Incredibly, the day that we were at Cannon Beach to spread Grandpa’s ashes was one of the most beautiful, crystal-clear sunny days that I’ve ever seen at that beach–especially in the middle of winter! Yet again, God’s grace shone through.

IMG_0677P is for Pike Place Market: You can’t visit Seattle without a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market. So, of course, we went. We walked  through the market admiring all of the fresh fruits and veggies, the wide-eyed seafood, the lush bouquets of flowers, the samplers of homemade jams. And, since we were already there, we stopped by the new Storyville Coffee for a little pick-me-up before heading over to the Seattle Art Museum (it was First Thursday so admission was free–definitely an added bonus!). Then the icing on the cake: we walked down to the Seattle Waterfront and went for a spin on the Great Wheel. While it wasn’t quite as impressive as my last giant Ferris wheel ride in London, the views were definitely worth the price of admission!

Q is for Quiet Time: I took several naps on this vacation. That’s a rare enough occurrence that I thought it warranted it’s own little shout-out here. So, to the grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles who played with my kids so I could sleep: from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

IMG_0458R is for Russian Spa: Jon and I met up with a friend in Seattle for a new and unique adventure: our first experience at a Russian spa. The spa, Banya 5, consists of a tea room/relaxation area and a large room with several pools and saunas that you circulate through. At one point you go from a 240 degree sauna right into a 45 degree icy plunge. It literally takes your breath away. Crazy as it sounds, it was all pretty fun…and even a bit relaxing.

S is for Stomach Flu: It all started with one person having an upset stomach–and, before we knew it, every person in our family was sick with the stomach flu. For one solid week (Christmas inclusive) we took turns being sick and passing our sickness on to each other. By the end of the week, 11 of us had our turn with the sick bug. It was miserable. The one saving grace is that I wasn’t sick alone, which meant I had people to help care for my children and let me sleep when I felt like death. Moving on…

IMG_0809T is for Travelers: The boys did so well traveling on this trip. During all of the plane rides and car rides and airport layovers I just kept waiting for one of them to explode in an uncontrollable fit. But it never happened (Thank you, Jesus). In fact, both boys actually slept for the majority of our long flight home. It definitely helped that we had good seats on our flights and fun new toys from Christmas to keep everyone entertained. Still, though, I am so proud of them. What great little travelers we have!

IMG_0521U is for Ummelina: Instead of giving each other gifts for Christmas this year, Jon and I decided to go out on a special date. We started our date at Ummelina day spa where we each got glorious 90-minute massages and plenty of pampering. After our massages we walked down the street to Purple Wine Bar for a delicious dinner of bacon poutine, braised short ribs, lamb meatballs and pasta. Not exactly spa food, but it was incredible. We rounded out the evening at the cinema watching “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (by the way, we both give the movie two thumbs up). It was a wonderful evening with an even more wonderful date!

IMG_0640V is for Volcano: On New Year’s Day we drove out to Mount Rainier National Park (the mountain, by the way, is technically a volcano). My sister, her husband, and my nephew Noah were up visiting from California and they REALLY wanted to see snow. Washington has had very little snow so far this winter, so we had to drive deep into the mountains to find some good playing snow. It was a lot of driving, but the mountain rewarded us with an amazing day. We ended up having clear blue skies and sunshine, a bit of a rarity this time of year. All of the kids (and kids at heart) had a great time sledding and sliding and frolicking in the snow. Quite the start to 2014!

IMG_0666W is for Washington: Washington is where we came from, and it will always be home to us. Being back home reminded me of what a beautiful and unique place Washington is. After being away in Ireland for several months we were able to see things with new eyes and appreciate things in a different way. I heart you, Washington!

IMG_0376X is for Xbox One: Jon ordered himself a new XBox while we were in Ireland and it was waiting at my parents’ house when we arrived. Ah, boys and their toys…

Y is for Yummy Food: There are so many foods that I’ve been craving since we’ve moved to Ireland. And, me being me, I decided to try to eat ALL of them while we were home: Macaroni and Cheese, Pho, Reeses, Goldfish crackers, graham crackers, Mexican food…you get the picture. I guess the diet starts next week?

IMG_0683Z is for FeliZ Cumpleanos (Spanish for Happy Birthday): I know that it’s a bit of a stretch, but there is a “z” in feliz. Plus, this is really important. On January 2 we celebrated Jon’s grandma Doreen’s 91st birthday. NINETY-ONE! If I live 91 years I hope that someone will dedicate at least a few sentences to me on their blog. Grandma Doreen is an incredible woman: kind, confident, joyful, strong, and sharp as a tack. She is a big part of our lives, and we were blessed to spend this special day with her. We celebrated with a small family dinner at her house (decor provided by fresh flowers from Pike Place Market) and red velvet cake for the birthday girl. We love you, Great-Granny Doreen!

Our trip home had a little bit of everything: adventure and relaxation, excitement and heartbreak, health and sickness. What it had the most of, though, was love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love this place that we come from. I think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right: There’s no place like home.

Family Christmas Letter 2013

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Photos clockwise from top left: The Rock of Cashel, Ireland; Tower Bridge, London, England; Gap of Dunole, Killarney, Ireland; Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas! 2013 has been an exciting year for our family, full of many blessings and many adventures.

The biggest change in our family this year has been a new beginning–not a baby’s birth as in the previous two years, but a new life in Ireland. After many months of praying and waiting to see if this move would happen, we finally relocated to Cork, Ireland in July. We love our new home, our adoptive city, our welcoming church, and our wonderful friends here in Ireland. The time is flying by and I can already tell that our 2 years here will be over too soon.

One of the reasons we were so excited to move to Ireland was because would have to opportunity to explore new places. We have already traveled around Ireland quite a bit, spending time in Dublin and all of the southern counties. Ireland is an incredible country full of history and beauty. We even got to host our first visitors from home (!) when Allison’s parents flew out for two weeks in October.

We also went on a memorable family vacation to London and Paris in November. We brought along a family friend to help us with the boys (we are definitely going to have to bring helpers with us from now on–it was incredible!). While in London we visited Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, the Natural History Museum, the London Zoo, Big Ben and the London Eye. We loved, loved, loved London and will be returning again some day! Paris was beautiful and charming. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, toured the Louvre, played in grand parks, and managed to find our way through the spiderweb of subways underground. It was the trip of a lifetime, and we took lots of photos so the boys will know some day that we really did take them to cool places when they were little.

Speaking of the boys, they are our pride and joy. David is 3 (THREE!) and is enjoying his new surroundings here in Ireland. He goes to a Montessori preschool down the street from our house 2 mornings a week. David’s passions in life are: balls, Mimi (his stuffed monkey), Angry Birds, Daniel Tiger, and the color blue. Jacob is 17-months old this Christmas and he is our little snuggle bear. He’s the sweetest, cuddliest little guy and we can’t get enough of his grapple-hugs. Jacob enjoys snuggles, playing with his big brother, splashing in bubble baths, and getting into mischief (he’s a bit of a baby mastermind–we may have our hands full with that one!).

Allison continues to stay home and work as a full-time mommy. She loves spending her days trying to keep up with two sweet, energetic boys. You can read more about her adventures in mommy-hood on her blog here. Sadly, Allison’s grandfather (her dad’s dad) passed away on December 18th.  She was blessed to already be home for Christmas and spend some final moments with him before he passed.

Jon has kept busy with his new job at Cypress Semiconductor’s Ireland office (the reason for our big move overseas!). He is officially an inventor, and his 5th U.S. Patent was awarded last month. In addition to exercising his mind, Jon has been enjoying twice-weekly sessions with a personal trainer that comes in to his office for small group workouts. Jon has been doing a bit of International travel for work this year and, fully embracing the “European lifestyle”, took multiple weeks of vacation time for the first time in his career (much to the joy of his stay-at-home wife!).

It has been a big year for us, and God has been faithful to lead us every step of this journey. May you experience the peace and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas!

Love,

Jon, Allison, David, and Jacob