Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Year's in Tucson...Soviet Style

Silly me, I made grandiose plans to go to Tucson this year for Christmas and a friend's wedding...and then I remembered that I work in retail and that I was hired as a seasonal employee, so taking off from a store where people shop for Christmas at Christmas was not a good idea.  So, we went to Tucson (to see Jeremy's sister/husband, brother, parents, various aunts, cousins, & second cousins) for New Year's instead, but celebrated it like Christmas...kind of how they do in the former Soviet Union (i.e. Kazakhstan)--New Year's Trees, New Year's ornaments, Father New Year...only there they did it to replace a religious holiday with a state-approved holiday...we did it for purely economical and practical reasons.  Anyway, it was great to be a little relaxed and not have all the expectations of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (and to buy presents for each other at a fraction of the price those same items were on the other side of Christmas).
Hangin' with Pa J in their jammies the first morning

Jeremy's parents, Glenda and John, had given us the budget they wanted to spend on the kids' "New Year's presents" and asked for our help in picking out the perfect gifts.  We decided on bikes, and also decided that it would be impossible to hide bikes in our van without the kids discovering them on the trip to Tucson (duh).  After arriving at 2:30 am, we woke up and commenced our well-orchestrated, strategic gameplan for procuring THE best bikes for THE best prices that would make our kids THE most excited children in Tucson.  Okay, I had a plan and a notebook and a pen and Jeremy just mumbled something about stopping for coffee first.  The kids spent the day at the zoo, oblivious to our mission.
We were blessed to find 3 great bikes in our price range (one was brand new, one was a great brand used at a pawn shop, and one was promised to us for $5 if we could get ourselves to the Salvation Army across town before they closed for the night.  We'll never disclose the values of each bike to the kids in case they somehow decide to extrapolate a value for our love of each of them...not that my sister and I ever did things like that or anything...I keep getting off topic.)  Anyway, here are the kids doing a scavenger hunt for clues to each of their bikes:

Yes, I did hide a clue in the toilet.

Somehow I, because of my strong case of Visions of Grandeur Syndrome, expected squealing and jumping up and down and emotional break-downs comparable to Extreme Makeover Home Edition during each big reveal, but the kids were just like "cool" and wanted to take the bows off right away (sniff).  But if excitement and enjoyment and thankfulness could really be measured, one could argue that it would be less in profuse exclamations of gratitude and more in the actual enjoyment of the which I will say that we could hardly keep them off of their bikes the rest of our time there (despite the fact that it was bitterly cold and I forgot to pack any warm clothes and I was borrowing Sam's sweatshirt the whole time--we can share clothes now!  Again, I digress...).  They even rode them each night while wearing their new headlamps.  So, thanks Gamma and Pa J!  Perfecto!

Before Christmas/New Year's, when asked what they wanted for gifts, Sam expressed a desire for a new bike but quickly said he knew he wasn't going to get one (hee hee), Evan vacillated between a stuffed raccoon or a football or any other random object that popped into his mind, and Annie declared she wanted 6 puppies.  Now, I have always been slightly suspicious that I lack a part of my soul because I do not want a pet and I do not want my children to have a pet and I do not want even a fish, Sam I am!  Really, the thought of even half that amount of puppies sounded like a nightmare to me.  Well, at Gamma and Pa J's house, there were not one, not two, but 3 doggies!
Second to the bikes was playing with Jae and Stacey's puppy (Leia), Uncle Jack's dog (Tanner), and Stacey's chihuahua (Sarena). 

We all exchanged nice and thoughtful gifts, but Aunt Stacey and Uncle Jae surprised the kids with these awesome LCD screens called Boogie Boards (from Brookstone)...kind of an Etch-Sketch for the new Millenium (not really, but it just sounded good).  The kids are still playing with them almost every day!
Annie loved brushing hair with Aunt Stacey, who is always ready to share beauty tips like rubbing a little lotion on flyaways to keep them in place (it works!).  Sorry, Atlanta cousins, but we are glad Uncle Jae and Aunt Stacey live closer to us now!

Evan and Uncle Jae and Leia...Aunt Stacey would make the kids hot cocoa in grown-up coffee mugs and the kids would act all mature and sassy while they walked around sipping them.

On New Year's Eve, the kids stayed with Gamma and Pa J and made a huge art display on leftover packing paper--some of the hidden perks of having just moved into a house and having nothing on the walls!  We went with Jack, Jae, and Stacey to a party and then to the movies (we saw Jack Reacher...meh, but the other choices, Lincoln and Les Mis both didn't seem very...festive).

Sam is trying to scare me with his Hulk cut-out
See how sassy Sam looks?

So after watching my kids have so much fun hanging out with someone else's dogs for a week, I was happy for them but happy to come home to a dog-free life. I got a glimpse into why grandparents like grandparenting so much, I think--you can enjoy the little mess-makers for a while and then give them back guilt-free to their "parents" when you are done. 

 But I still felt a little guilty when I saw this note on the morning that we were leaving... 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

So This is Christmas

Being in Southern California for Christmas offered no shortage of Christmas "Holiday"-themed activities for us to do...this was a Holiday Party at the Discovery Center.  The kids got to make racecars out of edible items and actually race them down a ramp.
Sam's was the first one done...
Evan's was most carefully built...
and Annie's was actually the fastest, due to the random stack of cheese crackers she insisted on adding.
Evan was adorable in the kindergarten Polar Express performance.  They did a good job making a totally PC performance while still retaining the essence of a Christmas play.  Evan stole the show with his spot-on motions and creative hip movements during "Mele Kalikimaka".
The kids wore their jammies and had hot cocoa and cookies in the classroom afterward.  Parents wore their video cameras and politely shoved past each other in order to get the best pictures or secure cocoa for their child.
Evan and our next-door neighbor, who is also in his class.
Sam's class party--Winter Party is what it was called.  But there were still candy canes and melted snowman snacks and presents and finger-painting and all things Pinterest. 
My parents' friends invited us to take a boat ride through their neighborhood, which is built on man-made canals in a very nice part of Yorba Linda.  It was really nice and fun! 
Christmas Eve...opening a few presents after the service at church
Eating dessert in new jammies 

Christmas Day dinner...with my delightful children and all their good manners
No really, we've been working on table manners since we eat at a nice dining room table in my parents' formal dining room most nights. 
We even had fancy jello salad served on a lovely lettuce leaf garnish (see Mr. & Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers in the background?  It wouldn't be Christmas at my parents' house without them!  Oh, and you see my daughter in the back of the background with a spoon on her nose?  Yes, manners, I said.)
Never mind, I give up.

Random photo that turned out to be awesome during a spontaneous excursion to the park...hopefully a new tradition for Christmas Day, especially in a warm climate!

Opening a present that is shaped like a Wii game...

...little brother trying to retain gift-opening designation from older brother...
Older brother prevails and yanks paper off...

But no time for pouting, Yes!!! Lord of the Rings for the Wii!

More present opening and nose picking.  It's a lost cause, people.

The back row participants who make jokes and have a common knack for saying what a present is before the recipient has opened it.
Here's Jeremy, pretending to be surprised while opening the gift he bullied his 5-year-old son into revealing at least a week before Christmas.  That's how he enjoys Christmas gift-giving and I've decided to appreciate it as part of how we celebrate Christmas...I can even admit that it's become slightly endearing but hope it's not genetic.  Isn't this kind of what family Christmas celebrations are all about anyway?

Family Christmas celebrations are also about the decorations we laugh at but would miss if they weren't there every year.  I think my mom made these with fabric and a lot of schlack back in the 70's cuz that's what all the crafty moms were doing that year or something.

The peace and quiet of the dinner cleaned up and the kids playing with their new toys (no more waiting or being told to put on their Christmas finery...just relaxing and enjoying...possibly the best part of the day and a strong defense for giving the children new toys (or just bubble wrap))

I was laying on the floor of my parents' front room and just wanted to capture the memory.  This is the house they lived in when I was born...and I think the holly garland has been on the bannister every Christmas.  The only thing missing in this picture is my dad sitting in the swivel chair in his den.

So This is Christmas...familiar decorations, familiar people, the same jokes and stories told, the warmth of smiles, staying up too late to wrap presents, colored wrapping paper strewn all over the floor, the nostalgic Christmas decorations (including the one with the candles and the angels that spin around and ting the little bells above the know which one I'm talking about?), and maybe a few new touches that represent our family as we develop our own unique traditions...
Bat-Snow-Man (made out of trash bags, dirty laundry, a carrot from Annie's play kitchen food, and a baseball T for support.  We changed his costume every few days, but he was mostly Darth Vader or Batman.  Go figure.