Monday, April 13, 2015

Our First Christmas On Our Own

Steve and I decided this year, that since Ellie was now four, she would be old enough to start remembering Christmas morning years down the road.  As much as we love having Christmas with family around, we wanted her to have memories of Christmas morning in her own home.  So, it was our first year to spend part of break with my side, part with his, and Christmas Eve and Christmas at home.  Honestly, this was kind of a depressing prospect.  The last several years we have opened presents Christmas morning with at least one other family around us, and having just the five of us seemed small and lonely at first.  However, we were excited to start our own traditions and have fun with Christmas on our own.

We started Christmas Eve out in Spokane, and drove home that afternoon.  We raced to get our last few things for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners before stores closed, and then came home for dinner.

Grandma Sun had sent some sugar cookies home with us to decorate, which was great, because driving home Christmas Eve and wanting to make cookies for Santa that night were not really going to work the best together.  The girls really showed just how different they are while they decorated their cookies.

Ellie was big enough she enjoyed frosting her own cookies.  She carefully made sure she frosted the whole cookie.  Then she took turns with the sprinkles - first this type, then that - painstakingly covering each area in different sprinkles till the whole cookie was covered.  She would not consider a cookie done till the whole thing had sprinkles.
Ellie and her finished cookies.
In contrast, Mckayla was content to let me frost her cookies after trying one knife of frosting.  She then would grab sprinkles and shake with both hands with reckless abandon, spraying sprinkles.  Now, to be fair, the girl is fairly ambidextrous, but that had little to do with her technique of just getting the job done quickly.
 MG and her finished cookies.  Man this girl's mischievous looks terrify us!
 Comparing the two finished products.  Funny girls.
 And Kassidy enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in.  Next year, Kassidy....

 After we had decorated cookies while listening to Christmas Carols, it was time to continue a fun tradition from the Bennett side.  We had picked out an Olaf pinata for the girls, hoping they would be less afraid of this pinata than they had been of others in years past.  We also let the girls wear their shooting muffs which we use for anything loud, like viewing fireworks or going to hockey games, because Ellie is extremely sound sensitive and Mckayla wants to be just like her big sister.  It was fairly hilarious to watch, and took some help from Daddy to finally put the poor thing out of its misery, but the girls did have fun.

I have to say, the first time you shove a My Little Pony figuring into a pinata through a small hole in its back, you feel really bad for poor Olaf, and you laugh till you cry even though you should be more mature than that...
 Daddy is always the pinata holder.
 This kid is too funny, and decided to get some cheap shots in when Steve went to get something quick.  I just laughed and took a picture...
 Ellie and Mckayla also cracked us up by taking turns using Ellie's camera from last Christmas to "take pictures" of each other as they hit Olaf.
 The big girls enjoying the spoils of their hard work, with Kassidy watching from her walker (at a safe distance).

Then, it was time to leave cookies out for Santa and get ready for bed.  Steve and I had been trying to get presents wrapped and things ready over the weeks leading up to Christmas, and thought we did well, but it still ended up being a late night for us.

Here was our tree this year.
 After Santa came!  One day I will finally get around to finishing and personalizing the girls' stockings.  For now, I am just content that they each have one and they are homemade.
 Santa loved their cookies.  Especially the gingerbread ones Grandma Sun made.  Delicious!
And then it was Christmas morning!  The girls were good and came and got us up right away.  They still aren't old enough, nor do we talk it up enough, for them to have been super excited, but Ellie is getting there.
 We were mean and made them get dressed and ready before they could open anything.  Then we let them get into stockings.  Santa usually brings them a new toothbrush, and every year it cracks me up how excited they are about that, even if I only usually get blurry pictures of it.  They were also obviously excited about other stocking-stuffers.
 We then started with the real presents.  Call us mean, but we had them take turns one at a time, helping the morning excitement last a little longer.  Mckayla got a car tower here.
 One present the girls got to share was a trunk with some Frozen dress-up clothing.  Needless to say they wanted to put it on first thing, and wore their Frozen clothes the rest of the morning.
 Ellie opening her new magnet set from Santa.
 I love that I have pictures of the girls patiently waiting to see what the other got, but with intense interest.
 We let Kassidy sleep in where she was still sick, but eventually it was her turn to open presents too.  Wrapping paper was so fascinating.  Everywhere we opened presents she mostly just wanted to eat wrapping paper...
 Our happy girl and her new giraffe toy.
 I like to think of this picture as a great illustration of "Christmas Carnage," and it makes me happy.
 Kassidy dressed and playing with some of her new toys.

After presents we had pancakes and sausage for breakfast - a favorite of our girls - and later watched A Muppet Christmas Carol.  The movie is an unofficial tradition from growing up with my Muppet-loving Dad, and so all of us girls have a soft spot for the Muppets as well.  I LOVE this movie still, and the girls thankfully do too, so it's now one of our family traditions to watch it with them each year at some point in time for Christmas.

Steve and I tried really hard to stay to a reasonable budget for our first Christmas with 3 kids, and were worried about how that might go.  All I have to say, is that we had a fantastic first Christmas on our own.  The girls loved their gifts, we had fun really putting time and effort into buying gifts we thought they would enjoy and were within our budget.  We fudged a little in the end, but not by much, and the girls were so spoiled anyway!  It felt great to not over indulge honestly.  And they played all day with their new things while we enjoyed a guilt-free Christmas.

It was great to start our own family traditions, even if we did miss having more family around.  It was wonderful that we got to do presents with family on both sides and have time aside for our little clan this year as well.

That night Steve made a tasty turkey.  I made real mashed potatoes (just like Grandma Sun's which are my favorite kind!).  We ate far too much good food, and even had pie after.  We also took time to watch some wonderful youtube videos The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and others produced about the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  It was so wonderful to spend time on Christmas Day to focus on the real reason we give gifts and have such joy.  The girls still occasionally ask to watch those videos, and it still brings us all joy each time we do.

Yeah, it was a quick layover at our home for Christmas between coming from one set of Grandparents and leaving for the next, but it was a great first Christmas in our home, and we look forward to many more to come.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

December - Minus Christmas

December is always such an intimidating month to blog - especially months after the fact - because it is always so busy, but here we go anyway!

One of the first things I like to do after Thanksgiving,especially where we travel for much of December, is get our tree up.  On the 4th we put up the tree and the girls loved helping put up some of the less fragile ornaments.  I have to say, not good for my OCD...  But I loved watching them stare at and talk about the ornaments after.

Our December started out with Kassidy making sure I knew she had gotten those two teeth in over Thanksgiving break.  I got bit.  A lot.  Like 7 feedings in a row a lot.  And as a result, she went for about a day on bottles exclusively as I decided that I was done nursing.  Then at church the next day I couldn't get into the kitchen to warm a bottle of milk without interrupting a class, so I nursed her.  And what do you know - she liked nursing better than bottles and never bit much after that...

The beginning of the month was also very exciting because Steve and I went on a DATE.  I know, with 3 kids four and under, it doesn't happen much, but we did it.  We headed out to a work Christmas party my employer throws each year on the 7th and left the girls with a girl that had babysat for us a couple years earlier.  The poor girl apparently couldn't figure out how to turn off our blu ray player and listed to Frozen about 3 times in a row before we got back, but Steve and I had a fun night out socializing and eating a nice dinner at a local hotel before heading home to be parents again.  It's always nice to have the reminder that we still really enjoy time just the two of us.

The blessings just kept rolling in too.  I cried to a stranger on the phone on the 10th.  Literally.  We always save up money, but with healthcare changes Kassidy barely being in the hospital with a quick, normal delivery cost us the same as Ellie's emergency c-section followed by ultrasounds, tests, and a four-day stay at the hospital despite our using the same facility, doctor, and health insurance plan.  We had been (and continue) to diligently make payments on our debts, which is unromantic, but real.  I called our OB/GYN to make that month's payment with questions about my last bill, only to have the office's accountant tell me that she had been impressed by our steady, timely payments and had deducted a large sum (to us at least) off our bill.  She simply told me she enjoys rewarding people who are doing the right thing occasionally, so merry Christmas.  And I thanked her, in tears.  Only a few weeks later when I called to pay off the last of that bill, another woman in accounting discounted my last payment in half.  We were very, very blessed and I am grateful we work with such wonderful people at my OB/GYN.

Our next blessing came with a phone call from my Dad.  We had been looking at using our Christmas money and some savings to finally buy a new washer as we were getting mystery stains on clothing occasionally, ruining the stained clothes.  We were fairly certain after looking around we couldn't really afford one yet and then my Dad called about a washer they were looking at in a store which was going to be a discontinued, popular model and happened to be on for a great price.  We looked up the model and told them to snatch it up for us and we would be happy to pay them back for it.  Steve and I seriously have the best parents who always help us in so many ways...

So, on December 13th Dad and Kerry brought our new wash machine to us.  We celebrated with "Indian Tacos," a recipe which Steve had resurrected from his mission days, and homemade cheesecake, another of Steve's old recipes.  It was delicous and we were so happy to have a new washer!
That same day we also got a super fun package from Aunt Lori with a small, cushioned nativity set for the girls - boy did they love that, and we loved that it was a reminder of the true reason for Christmas - and some fun aprons and chef hats which got pulled out a lot for science and cooking over the coming weeks.  Thanks Aunt Lori!

 On that note, here is a picture Ellie drew of the Nativity.
And another, which had nothing to do with Christmas.
And if we're doing random December pictures, I love this one of Kassidy asleep on the way from preschool.

We also had fun at our Ward Christmas party on December 11th.  The only child who wasn't terrified of Santa was Kassidy, go figure.  Mckayla did warm up some when he offered her fruit snacks, but that was the best we did for the big girls...

On the 15th we continued Christmas fun by going to a local garden shop here that brings in reindeer and has Santa's workshop set up.  The girls still had no desire to approach Santa, but they did like seeing the reindeer.

Ok, so at this point we were awfully spoiled and blessed, so things had to even out a little bit...  On the 16th Kassidy got really stuffy and sick, coughing till she would vomit, with red weepy eyes.  I was up with her till 3 AM and ended up calling friends to take Ellie to preschool so I could try to let Kassidy rest and recover as much as possible.  The poor baby just looked miserable, and neither of us was getting much rest.
This was literally the only way I got her to take 20 minute naps some days - skin to skin.

Kassidy seemed well enough to go spend a few days at Grandma and Papa Rose's house for Christmas still, so on the 19th we headed to Spokane.  This was a mistake.  Kassidy slept all of 3.5 hours that entire night and screamed and cried, refusing to nurse or eat anything all night.  The next morning we were able to see that she had even screamed until she burst a blood vessel in her eye.

However, that was the worst of the nights, and she slowly got better day by day.  So, we still got to have fun with family and celebrate the season.  On Monday, the 22nd, we got together with my Mom and sisters Jennifer and Julie, and Jen's kids and celebrated Christmas with them.  We met my mom at Chuck E. Cheese's and the kids had a lot of fun playing and eating pizza there.  Mckayla even accidentally hit the jack-pot on one game!
We then headed to visit my Mom's father, who has been suffering from dementia and is in a group home.  He was having a very bad day, and did not want to get out of bed and could not process or handle the noise of the 6 young children.  We quickly left, and it was a very hard visit.

On the 23rd the sisters and cousins met again, but this time at Grandma Sun and Papa Rose's house for Christmas out there.  Despite my parents now being retired, the kids still got abundantly spoiled and had a great time.  Our traditional Christmas dinner with my Dad is prime rib, so that was delicious, although as I recall Mckayla gagged and threw up some again, just as she did at Thanksgiving.  We are getting quicker on the reaction to her weak gag reflex though and it wasn't a big deal this time.
I love the sprawled out 6 grandkids and two aunts in this picture.
The grandkids with their stockings Grandma Sun cross-stitched with their names.

We also learned that the Durango needed some work and asked my Uncle Brian (who is WONDERFUL and a mechanic and always helps us out with car issues) to come help Steve and my Dad do some routine work on the vehicle.  It turned out we may have much bigger issues as some parts needed replacing, and potentially some very big parts.  In the end we were very lucky that of our potential problems, we only actually had the smaller one and were exceptionally grateful that we didn't have to invest a lot of time and money unexpectedly into the car on December 23rd!  Especially since we had already just paid to put new tires on the thing.

Normally we would have stayed in Spokane anyway and done the extra work, but Steve and I had decided that as our children were growing older, it was time to start spending Christmas at home and creating our own traditions in the years to come.  So, on December 24th we headed back home.  This was the girls in their matching Christmas outfits they got at Papa's as we left that day.
As you can imagine, it was a bit of a rush when we got here.  We had some groceries to buy before stores closed, and things to get ready for the big day where we hadn't been home.  I also got a call that my new glasses had arrived which was a big deal for me as the glasses I was wearing each night and morning were literally from 6th grade and were now about 15 years old.

We managed to get all our errands run and then it was time to have fun with our girls getting ready for Christmas!  Here's where I am going to be lame and make this it's own blog, so I'm going to skip Christmas for now.

After we wrapped up Christmas on the 25th, we then rushed to get laundry turned around and all our bags re-packed.  On the 26th we drove down to Preston to be with Steve's family.  The only day we could see one of our nieces was the 27th, so that was the day we were all doing family Christmas and other adventures on the Bennett side.  So, on the 26th we drove down to Preston and on the 27th we drove again, this time to Draper, UT where we were all meeting to go to the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium.  This was everyone minus Curtis, taking the picture.  Ellie latched right on to Aunt Sheri.
Ok, so it was literally the only day that worked for everyone, but just so you know, don't go to a major public attraction like an aquarium on a Saturday!  It was still great, just busy.  But we all did have fun looking at the animals and watching all the cousins interact.  The girls loved all the animals, of course.  And Ellie is seriously enamored by Ella and Amanda.
I was also so impressed and surprised, although maybe I shouldn't have been, that Mckayla wanted to cross the giant rope bridge they had there.  I started her off, and then she just went, carefully walking on the giant rope.  She was awesome!

After the aquarium we all met at a buffet for lunch.  This was Kassidy trying to be her father's daughter on the way.  (And no, of course she isn't drinking Dew!)
 MG was too funny at the buffet when everyone was finishing up.  The big girls surprised everyone around us, but not us, as they both ate huge salads for lunch.  Then, once Kassidy was done, Mckayla crawled into the baby seat we had, and tried to clean up the left over baby food.  This kid is a mischief maker, but man does she crack me up!

And then we headed back to Aunt Kathy and Uncle Ryan's house for gifts.  It was the biggest gift exchange the family has had since we got married, with all four siblings and most of the cousins there, which was a lot of fun.  The girls got totally spoiled, and we had a lot of fun giving the gifts we'd purchased.
 Mckayla was the only one of our girls who participated in the family pinada this year, but what we lacked in numbers she made up for in enthusiasm!
The family party is also always meat night, so Steve cooked steaks and everyone ate far too much.  It was such a fabulous time with wonderful people we love to be around.  I know I say it in my blogs all the time, but one of our biggest regrets is that we don't live near enough for our kids to be around family more often.

We spent the next couple of days recovering and enjoying time with Grandma and Grandpa.

On the 30th Grandma and Papa watched the big girls and Bridget and Aunt Lori watched Kassidy for us (so she would be closer if she needed nursing) so that Steve and I could go to the Temple.  It was the first time we'd been able to go together since we had gone and received confirmation that it was time to get pregnant with Kassidy, so it was long overdue.  I wish I could say that it was an especially wonderful trip, but mostly I felt that I needed to try better to be making the daily choices that would lead to my feeling greater peace in the Temple and that the answers I was seeking were not there yet, but would come in time.  Regardless, it was wonderful to just be in the Lord's house with my husband.

December wrapped up with a bang for us all, too.  We didn't throw any amazing New Year's Eve party.  Instead, the 31st was the day that Steve's mother needed to have shoulder surgery.  Honestly, it was such a relief to us that we could be down for part of the recovery time and try to help out in any small way, especially with all the help that Steve's folks always give us.  This was sunset that day though - seriously, Cache Valley is BEAUTIFUL!

And that pretty much wrapped up our December.  Like I said, always busy, and with some definite ups and downs, but still so wonderful.  The girls make each Christmas season more and more fun as the get older, and we got to spend so much time with family this year that it made it one of my favorite Christmas seasons ever.