Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fa la la la la la la la la

I have many romantic dreams, and one of them is about my children gathering around the piano at Christmas time and singing carols. Ever since I got my piano, this has been one of my dreams. I fantasized that they would always cherish the memory of everyone singing together... it really was a nice dream, and it looked a lot like a Norman Rockwell painting. Since we moved to Arizona, I have had my family over every year for a Christmas sing-along, and every year some of the kids are naughty, lots of them just run around, and most of them know very little of the music. That doesn't seem to stop me, though!! We had the kids toss paper snowflakes from the upper floor during "Let It Snow!" to make it more fun... that's what those white things are.

One little guy made sure it kept snowing almost the whole time.

The lovely pianist (who didn't have time to practice much, but pulled it off anyway).

Some of the lovely choir members. It's sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting, isn't it?

This year, I decided to throw together a nativity to get the kids more involved. Yeah, Joseph and the shepherd weren't about to let that happen! Ben, on the other hand, was an excellent stand-in when the little guys wouldn't cooperate.

Russ read Luke chapter 2.

Joseph wasn't getting into it. Mary was lovely. Baby Jesus was a girl doll that I wrapped in a zippered pillowcase in a desperate attempt to try to hide the pink bows that were on its head. It's a darn good thing the scripture says he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Paige wanted to play a couple of Christmas songs on her violin for us. She played "The First Noel" and "Stars Were Gleaming."

The other girls were fabulous angels... especially my nieces. They sat and were good the whole time. I gave candy canes to all the good little girls... and none of the good little boys (since there weren't any), so they had to earn theirs later. Oh well, maybe next year!

I love my family.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Parade Time!

This year, the annual boat parade at the lake behind my parents' house happened to fall on the same night as the ward Christmas party. I was a little sad that the kids wouldn't see Santa, but they didn't seem to mind at all. We showed up early to decorate the boat and get it ready for the parade, and we invited a few friends to join in the fun. Since I was the captain, I couldn't take pictures, but at least I had my friend to snap a selfie!

We threw candy at the hundreds of people lining the edges of the lake, and it was obvious early on that I just didn't bring enough. It was worse than the trunk-or-treat! Part way through, we docked at my parents' house to steal my mom's candy cane collection. She wasn't too happy about that, but I felt bad for the kids that were down lake farther. I bet they didn't get much candy, but then again the kids at the beginning probably had to fight five other kids for each piece of candy. It was that crazy! After the parade, we sipped hot cocoa out by the lake while enjoying the bonfire...

...and laughing with our friends.

The kids went inside to watch a movie and play on the iPad. This is what friends do now days, apparently.

Later, Lisa showed us her mad skills with the paddle ball. I ain't never seen skill like that!

Then we picked some citrus... the first batch of the season! There were lots of other people there, lots of food, and lots of playing going on, but I just didn't get enough pictures. Fun times were had by all.

Christmas Cheer

With everything going on, it took a long time to get into the Christmas spirit. I didn't even start shopping until the second week in December!! Thankfully, Kyle and Paige had concerts to help us out. First was Winterfest at the high school, which featured the choir that Kyle is in, as well as the band, the orchestra, and dance. It was a great show.

Originally, the kids made it sound like their concerts would be on the same night, but we found out that night why that couldn't have been true. Paige's elementary orchestra teacher is also the high school orchestra teacher! Paige was so proud to be fourth chair for violin, and I was so proud of her, too. She said the kids in first and second chair have been playing a long time, so I am thinking that makes her one of the best. Her musical skills have blossomed this year in violin and piano, and she practices all the time without being told. I love the sound of her music in my home.

The show included several numbers done by kids from the high school, so it was an especially nice show. A rose for a job well done!

At the Hop... Sort of

First the bad news. The sock hop at the girls' elementary school was ridiculous. They had three food trucks there, each with a 45 minute line. Brandon looked at all the people and asked, "Mom, is everyone in the world here?" Indeed, child, very perceptive. Russ couldn't go with me again this year, and so I had to keep the kids in line with me since I didn't want them running around with no supervision. Luckily, we were already in the pick-up line when Brandon announced he had to go potty, so I sent him with Kallie. By the time we got our food and ate it, the whole thing was over. I hated it last year for the long line at the photo booth, so now I am wondering if I will even try to go next year. At least it was for a good cause... admission was one new toy, so I felt good about that.

Even though the lights were back on and the music was over, Kallie got a chance to play with her friends a little bit while the party was being cleaned up.

Paige and Brandon didn't let the lack of music stop them from dancing.

Then there was the tug-of-war for the balloons.

Kallie got one! Then she played with her pink ladies some more.

This picture was to look like we had a great time, and really I think it was fine for the kids. Paige and Kallie had Waffle Luv for dinner, and that made them happy (it was quite delicious!!). I will do it different next year for sure, though.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gingerbread Manor

Even in the busiest of Christmas seasons, I have to make time for a gingerbread house. And every year, I want to do something different and better, so that usually means it's... complicated. I spent the night before baking day designing Gingerbread Manor. I didn't end up following the plans exactly, but I had the sizes I needed.

Because I'm such a nice mom, I made gingerbread houses for the kids so they could decorate them how they wanted AND NOT MESS MINE UP! Great mom, right? I thought so. Sadly, I underestimated the amount of effort all these houses would require, so I was only able to finish the kids' houses the first day.

I love how proud she was of the J.

I think they were having fun.

All done!

I made a house for the neighbor kids, too. I am so nice! And humble. Ha ha!

Since it took me so long to get the houses ready, the other neighbor had to come back later to finish theirs.

I did manage to get mine constructed and ready for decorating, though.

A couple days later, it was time to start decorating. Wow, it took me SO MUCH LONGER than expected! I spent about 3 hours working on it on Sunday, and then I worked late into the night after the kids went to bed Monday. Every time I thought I was almost done, I thought of something else to add. I was so happy with the result, especially the fact that the roof didn't cave in. What an architect and engineer I am... just wait until you see what I do next year! Just kidding... I think. I did get some great ideas for next year in the process, I have to admit.

Like a more detailed interior with lights... this year, it was just a window with a Christmas tree inside.

And maybe a door that opens? My neighbor told me not to invite her next year for that ridiculous endeavor. Good thinking.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Survivor, 16th Birthday Edition

For Kyle's 16th birthday party, we decided to go big and throw him a Survivor party with all his friends. We set the scene with a tiki theme, complete with plastic ants crawling on the food table and Survivor cups and plates.

I've had this Survivor game in my closet for years and have always wanted to use it, but it takes some preparation. I figured teenagers were the perfect people to test it out on. I bought green and orange bandanas and put them in a pillowcase so the kids could pick one to determine which team they would be on.

Green team picking their name and planning their strategy.

Orange team.

The first challenge was to build the highest house of cards. We had three challenges in the loft, and the orange team ended up winning two out of three, so the green team had to go to tribal council and vote someone off their team. I had two tiki torches and a fire pit set up outside for tribal council, and a ballot box for casting the votes. Hosting a party with 15 teenagers, I didn't have time to get pictures of everything. Bummer.

For the next round, we had a karaoke contest, and the kids liked it so much, we did two rounds. Orange team won both times.

Down but not out, a guy on the green team was the first to put a basketball between his legs and fling it up over his head and catch it in front to win immunity for his team. We started to realize at this point that we were going to have to speed up the game because it took so long for each challenge. We started having tribal council after each challenge instead of two out of three, and we even had one team vote off two people at tribal council. The challenges included a limbo game, a balloon inflating race, a competition to see which team could visit every room with a balloon between two of their foreheads first without dropping it, and more. So fun!

We had two food challenges that were all plays. The first one was octopus, and one guy who was voted off earlier managed to get back in the game by finishing before both teams, so both teams had to go to tribal council and vote someone off. I made up that twist in the game to keep the people who were voted off involved in the game. The second food challenge was to decide the final three, and only two of the four remaining people would eat the pigs feet. I thought Kyle was going to gag. The two who ate them advanced to the final round, and we had another face off between the last two to determine the other finalist.

For the final round, we had a brain teaser where the kids were supposed to cut a piece of paper in such a way that they could make an unbroken loop that they could walk through.

They cut up a lot of paper, but in the end, no one could figure it out.

So we had a different contest to see who could build the tallest geodesic structure within the time limit.

The suspense was palpable.

This guy wasn't in the final round, but he wanted to build just for fun.

Most of the other kids had already gone home, so these were the only kids to witness the final round.

And we have a winner! I couldn't believe it, but Kyle won! I guess his friends were too nice to vote him off at his own birthday party.

Prizes were A&W rootbeer for the top 12, two king size candy bars for the final 9, $5 cold stone gift cards for the top 6, $10 In-n-Out Burger gift cards for the final 3, and a $20 Harkins gift card for the winner! That meant you could win multiple prizes, and Kyle won one of each! Good thing since we didn't give him anything else for his birthday besides his party. It was a huge success!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Giving Thanks

For Thanksgiving this year, most of Russ' family came out to Arizona for dinner at Russ' brother's house. We hosted Grandma and Grandpa while they hosted the rest. We got the easy end of the deal!

Thanksgiving morning, I was eager to get some exercise, so I planned to hike Camelback Mountain in the morning. I didn't know if I could get anyone to go with me, but my sweet Paige agreed to go if I had no one else. Luckily, we got Uncle Ian and Aunt Leah to tag along with us. Unfortunately, our original plan was foiled by the mob of people trying to do the same thing! Dang... I have never hiked Camelback and was looking forward to it! Down but not out, we drove a few extra miles to hike our old standby... Squaw Peak. The city has officially renamed this to Piestewa Peak, but it can't be my old standby without its old name! Since Paige jumped out of bed and hopped in the car without breakfast, she had a hard time on the way up... and her punk Uncle Ian didn't make things any easier. He was totally in the doghouse with her.

We finally made it, and I got a half smile out of her for our selfie.


Finally got her to perk up a bit for our victory shot.

The whole group.

Kristen served up a beautiful and delicious feast of which I got NO PICS! I just enjoyed the family. As usual, I offered to make the frog eye salad and the homemade rolls because they are some of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

The following night, Ian had the brilliant idea of leaving all the kids with Grandma and Grandpa and going on a triple date. Leah and Nate had gone to the Grand Canyon for the day, so they missed out. We started by eating at a new Vietnamese restaurant by our house. The food was excellent, but the drinks were a little questionable. Kristen insisted we try boba tea. It did not look appetizing (like a toilet bowl that hadn't been flushed in a while), but I knew I had to try it if I ever hoped to be a biker chick. The flavor was okay, but it was creepy to drink! Some people at our table enjoyed it, though.

Afterward, we all agreed on bowling. Russ won the first game. Kristen and I tied for last!

Some people are serious about the game... some not so much. Not really, but it looks that way.

I have no idea what this is all about.

Half way through our time, it was time for cosmic bowling! Kristen and I got our groove on because I won and she tied for second! I guess I told them winner buys ice cream a little too early on in the game. Ha ha!

The next day, we headed down to the farm to pick up a gun and some ammo from my dad so we could go shooting in the desert. Aunt Leah played with the kids on some of my dad's toys.

I know you've seen this little pedal tractor many times, but it never stops being cute to me. I turned this pic sepia to make it just a little different.

Soon it was off to the desert.

Kyle was one of the first with my dad's gun.

It was a little intimidating to me, but after I saw Katie do it, I knew I had to do it to develop my biker chick skills. If I look stiff and uncomfortable... I was.

When we got there, we realized there was a trigger lock on my rifle that we hadn't taken off in years, and we didn't know the code. Luckily, we had some really determined people working on the combination, and we finally managed to get it off.

This gun is the best for kids, so they finally got a chance to try shooting.

Even the little guy wanted in on the action.

They were very serious and careful, which was great.

And I finally got to try my new hand gun.

When it got too dark for shooting, we headed home to make caramel apple burgers for everyone while the others went back to the farm to return my dad's things. Geoff and Kristen came over on time for dinner, and we just couldn't wait for the rest of the family to show up. Apparently they were having too much fun at the farm... and getting lost on the way home. They finally showed up just about the time we were wiping the caramel off our faces. As any gourmet chef would do, I refused to provide ketchup for the burgers, even when Leah requested it for her kid. Caramel or nothing! And I love ketchup, so that is saying something. I had to use onion buns this time because I couldn't find Hawaiian buns, and everyone thought they were just as good or better. What a delicious way to end a fun weekend with family!