Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holiday Traditions: Spreading out the Love.

"Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas."
-Dale Evans

When you marry, you not only gain a spouse, you gain another whole family. More parents. More grandparents. More siblings. More aunts and uncles and cousins. More love and craziness. When David and I first married, we alternated the holidays between our two families. Thanksgiving with my family, Christmas with his, and so on. Once we had kids, this strategy was seriously compromised. Now we take each holiday as it comes. Christmas is the trickiest since we love to spread out the love between each set, and having divorced parents on both sides only makes things even trickier. Navigating through the holidays can be stressful, but amid all of the scheduling conflicts and what-have-yous is the best of the best: togetherness.

Here are some of the highlights from this year's extended family gatherings.

It started with my side the weekend before Christmas. My little sister was absent, suffering from the flu. The rest of us ate until the top buttons on our jeans threatened to pop, exchanged gifts, chatted and then forced desserts down our over-stuffed tummies.
Keeping the boys busy on the long trek to my hometown.

Frosting cookies with Aunt Hopey.

Acting goofy with the cousins.

Then the weekend after Christmas was dedicated to David's side, with the theme: Winter Wonderland. It was a rare warm December day in Minnesota and we couldn't let it pass without spending as many minutes outside as we could possibly cram in. Garbed in snow pants, winter coats, boots, mittens, hats and scarves, we set out with sleds to tackle a big hill on a snow-covered cornfield. We weeeeeee'd our way down, and then were fetched from a kind old man on a Kubota to bring us back up. We only breaked for naps; then set out again later in the afternoon. Afterwards, we snuck in food and gifts and a bunch of togetherness.

Hitchin' a ride.

Meet Ted the Snowman, as named by my 4-year-old.

We snuck away during naps. As my husband was driving the Kubota, he says ever-so-nonchalantly: Let me know when you want me to stop for a selfie. Yes, he knows me well.

We tried photographing our shadows kissing, but it just looked like two blobs melding into one. We did this instead.

Back at it again; only this time the cousins joined us.

Opening our homemade gifts. I made a quilt with squares personalized by all the grand kids. My SIL modge-podged pictures onto giant letters spelling GRANDMA.

The next day was the final round with David's family as we gathered at our house for brunch. The cousins squealed downstairs, overtired and overstimulated, yet still managed to get along pretty well. A few hours after everyone had gone--the boys still wiping the sleep from their eyes after their long naps--they declared they already missed their cousins.

As we clean and purge this week, removing the evidence of Christmas, it'll be nice to begin a new season of our lives. the weeks pass, I'll smile when I unearth pine needles stuck in tiny crevices around the house, reminders of our wonderfully beautiful holiday season. It came and went all too quickly, but it'll be here again sooner than we realize.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Traditions: Carving Out Our Own Special Time.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” 
-Burton Hills

Amid the craziness of the holiday season, we try to carve out time for our family. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning belong to our little family of four. The agenda looks pretty much the same each year. A lazy Christmas Eve spent in our jammies, an early church service crammed to the brim with my most favorite Christmas carols, dinner at our family table and then exchanging our gifts with one another. That night we shuffle the boys off to bed early in anticipation for Santa's visit--only after preparing the snacks for Santa and his reindeer, of course. Cookies and milk perched on the fireplace for the big guy and homemade reindeer grain sprinkled on the deck for the animals. After the little ones are snug in bed, we sneak away to do our parental duties in secret--probably one of my most favorite parts of the whole thing, the experience laced with the anticipation of Christmas morning magic.

Just as Christmas Eve follows a pattern each year, so does Christmas morning. Dressed in festive jammies, we descend the basement stairs to discover what Santa has left us while we slept. Then we tear into the gifts, oohing and ahhing and test-driving the toys. Eventually we make our wake back upstairs for semi-homemade cinnamon rolls (recipe compliments of my Grandma Faye) and so begins our Christmas day.

This year, on the eve of the Eve, David and I spent a great while assembling the toys shipped from Amazon. At one point it was a competition. Husband versus Wife: a Fight to the Finish. I did end up winning--after shedding my warm robe when sweat formed on my competitive-rushed body. I'm no handy-man, and the easy task of screwing in a few parts (three, to be exact) threatened to defeat me. Once the items were finally assembled and arranged in the toy room--blankets thrown over as faux-wrapping paper--we finally settled in for the night.

Mimosas are most definitely a must during holiday handy-manning.

Handmade aprons by me.

Then came the morning of the Eve, when the boys excitedly tore off the blankets to discover their new toy kitchen. They played with that thing the whole live-long day. Baking, cooking, serving customers in their restaurant, shopping at the grocery store. They tore the basement apart with their imaginary play. Eventually, the overturned table was a boat, the new kitchen long forgotten. It's moments like these--my house destroyed by the hands of my children innocently playing the day away--that make me so very aware of the beauty of childhood. Sure, I cringe at the thought of repairing the damage, but it's all worth it in the end.

Christmas Eve, as we were tucking in Spencer, the day long behind us, we went around and listed our favorite parts of the day. Spencer chose playing with the new kitchen with his brother. Me? Well, that's easy. My favorite part was sitting shoulder to shoulder in the packed church belting out my Christmas favorites, every single one evoking a childhood memory so rich and wonderful. That's what Christmas is for me. Memories of holidays past spent with my loved ones, and knowing there are so many more rich and wonderful memories to be made.

Very excited for his new "yankie."

Custom "hunting" necklace purchased from my talented friend at the Owl Tree Boutique on etsy. Spencer asks to take it off while he sleeps because it's too special and he doesn't want to lose it. Now Daddy wants one for himself.

Preparing the Reindeer Grain.

Dumping the Reindeer Grain while the snow continues to fall.

A cookie for Santa; a cookie for me.

We always had big canvas "Santa bags" growing up. It's a tradition I was excited to carry over to my children.

Christmas morning my alarm woke us up sharply at 6 a.m. I nudged David out of bed to plow the inches of snow off the driveway. I threw the cinnamon rolls in the oven and scampered off to shower. All tasks we wanted to complete before the boys stirred. Spencer awoke first, and we tip toed downstairs to spy the evidence of Santa's late night visit. He left a few nibbles of his cookies, which Spencer gladly finished for him. Then we retreated back upstairs to await his brother. We waited and waited. Ashton chose Christmas morning to sleep in. Finally, the sleeping elf awoke and we tore through the stockings and Santa bags. Already, Spencer is making a list for next year: Dear Santa, I want a helicopter like Ashton's..... Oh, and somewhere along the way, Spencer was under the impression that Rudolph is not real.

Waiting patiently for little brother to awake.

Our plan was to load up the truck and head to my Grandma Faye's for Christmas. But, like most years, the weather had other plans for us. Overnight, it snowed and snowed and snowed, blanketing the roads with unfavorable driving conditions. We hee'd and haw'd over the decision to cancel our plans most of the morning, until finally we decided to hunker down at home to be safe. I was not thrilled with this, to say the least, but then I embraced our family day at home. Truth be told, it might very well be one of my favorite Christmases to date. We played with the new toys and games and books, watched the new movie, and bundled up for a sledding adventure in the backyard. It wasn't exactly what I envisioned our Christmas would look like, but I loved every minute of our family jammie day at home instead. Merry Christmas!!

Shoveling a path to the grill--a Mahlke staple all year 'round.