Saturday, December 28, 2013

Merry Christmas!

We have not had the merriest of Christmases this year.  I know things could be much worse, but things have not gone according to plan.  It's just been a tense and stressful week, not as joyful as I would like.  But we are trying to keep good spirits and make the best of everything.

First, Isla started puking on Christmas Eve.  I have written about this before, but I cannot handle vomit.  Obviously no one likes vomit, but I seriously have a real fear and major anxiety about it.  It is completely irrational and even the threat of vomit will turn me into a nervous wreck.  So to have a child vomiting on Christmas was a BIG bummer.  The good news is that the rest of us have stayed well.  Knock on wood.

Audrey woke up at 4:30 on Christmas morning eager to open presents.  She didn't go back to sleep but we made her wait until 7:00 to open any presents.

First, stockings!

Isla didn't even want to sit up to open her stocking, though we got a little excitement out of her when she opened this Minnie Mouse puzzle.  Shortly after, she vomited again.  Fortunately that was the last time she vomited, so the whole vomiting spell only lasted about 24 hours.  But that was a LONG 24 hours.  =)

The girls each got one gift from Santa.  Audrey asked Santa for one thing for Christmas:  a Brave doll.  She has a collection of Disney Princess Barbie dolls, and Merida from Brave is the one princess she doesn't have.  So that's what she wanted for Christmas.  And that was a very easy (and cheap!) present for Santa to get for her!

Santa got Isla a Peter Pan doll.  Isla loves Peter Pan after seeing the show at the Muni last summer.  She gets so excited every time she sees anything that has do to with Peter Pan.  But in her sick state the most excitement she could muster was to give Peter Pan a sad hug.

From us, Audrey got dance lessons.  To open on Christmas, she got a new bag which held her new tap shoes, ballet shoes, leotard and tights.  I wasn't sure how she would react to this present since it wasn't a toy.  And she wasn't quite sure how to react either.  But once she tried on the shows, she got pretty excited.  She is a big fan of those tap shoes and all the loud noise that they make.

We were supposed to drive to Daniel's parents' house in Indiana Christmas afternoon, but we had to wait a day since Isla was sick.  His family's Christmas celebration was scheduled for the evening of the 26th, so we were still able to make it in time for that.

I didn't take too many pictures in Indiana, but we managed to get one of all the cousins together...even though Isla was not too happy about it.

The other sad thing about this Christmas was that Daniel's dad was in the hospital and unable to celebrate with us all.  Also, my brother in law was not able to be with us either, because he is also in the hospital, recovering from some serious burns from an accident a couple of months ago.  We knew this was the plan, so it wasn't unexpected.  But still it's just a bummer for everyone that they couldn't be there with us.

Then while we were opening presents, we got a call from the hospital that Daniel's dad had fallen and hit his head.  This added some extra tension and concern to our evening, but thankfully it looks like he is going to be okay from the fall...just a little beat up looking.

And then at the end of our Christmas celebration, I got news that my aunt Lorri had suddenly died that day.  It was very unexpected and shocking for our family.  She was only 48.  I am especially sad for her husband, whose dad just died (also unexpectedly) on December 17.  To lose both his dad and his wife so suddenly and so close together and so near Christmas, it is just devastating.  It definitely makes my heart heavy and sad this Christmas.

So, we are headed to the St. Louis area tomorrow for my aunt's visitation and funeral.  We will have the girls with us, so it should be interesting.  We will be staying at a hotel and going swimming, so the girls think this is going to be the best trip ever.  It's hard even for Audrey to grasp the idea of death, as she has never had anyone close to her die before.  She understands what it means, but I don't think she is able yet to grasp the impact that it has on us.

After the funeral, we will head to Iowa to celebrate Christmas (and New Year's) with my mom! 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Programs

We had a crazy week last week with Christmas programs and Christmas parties and a Christmas recital!  I like all of these events, but I did not enjoy having them all in the same week.  But we survived.  Now we another crazy week is about to start, but I don't think it is going to be quite so hectic.

First up, Audrey and Isla's Christmas program at church last Sunday.  Audrey was counting down the days until it was time for her to be on stage.  Our little drama queen is finally warming up to the spotlight...oh dear!  Isla, on the other hand, would not even go on the stage.  I am one of her teachers, so I was helping the kids get on stage.  If I wouldn't have been there, I think Isla would have gone on stage.  But with me there to cling to, she wouldn't do it, and I didn't want to force her and make a scene.  So, Isla just sat in the front row with me.

Here is the whole preschool group at the church program.

And a few close ups of Audrey.

On Monday night, it was time for Audrey's school program.  It is a madhouse at this program.  Way too many parents and family members in a space that is not big enough to hold them all.  The stage is not elevated much, so it is nearly impossible to see...especially with all the eager parents standing in front of you trying to take pictures of their kids.

This year, Audrey was a donkey.  She knew all of her class' songs perfectly, as well as all the other class' songs, and she was constantly singing them for anyone who would listen.  She was ready for her big night on stage, and she took it very seriously!

On Tuesday night, I had my Christmas piano recital with my piano students.  It was crazy and I didn't even take a single picture!  But it was a great recital, and my students did such a good job!  I was a very proud teacher.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anniversary Trip: Our Day at Disney

I never thought I would want to go to Disney World without the kids.  I think a lot of the magic of Disney is much more fun when viewed through the eyes of a child.  Plus I don't like to ride roller coasters.  Or any ride that moves too fast or spins around or does anything fun.  So spending a day in the  park kidless without riding any fun rides has never sounded like a great vacation idea for the two of us.

But then we ended up in Orlando because we found a cheap flight.  And we found our cheap hotel right next to Disney World.  And we realized that Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party was going on while we were there.  So we decided to give Disney a try without kids.  And guess what, it was  lot of fun!!

I have to admit that it was fun to watch parents struggling with their strollers and diaper bags and souvenirs and crabby kids, while we were able to walk around hands free and carefree and doing what ever what we wanted whenever we wanted.   But I also felt bad for those parents, because I have been there...often.  It's usually me in their shoes, so it was refreshing to be the one not in those shoes, for a day at least.

Here is how we spent our 12 kid-free hours at Disney World

We got there around noon and parked at the Magic Kingdom.  Then we took a monorail around to the hotels on the monorail line.  I had never seen these hotels before, so it was fun to see their themed decor as well as their Christmas decorations.  Taking the monorail was fun for the two of us, but it would not have been fun with kids.  Getting on and off the crowded monorail while messing with a stroller and bags and stuff would have been too hectic for me.

Our first stop was the Grand Floridian Hotel.
Besides that ginormous Christmas tree, they also had a 1000 square foot gingerbread house.  And they sold gingerbread cookies from inside the real gingerbread house.  The line was long, so we didn't try the gingerbread, but it was a pretty cool house.

Then we stopped by the Contemporary Resort, where they had this gingerbread Christmas tree display.  Really, the coolest thing about the Contemporary Resort is that the monorail runs through the hotel lobby.

From the Contemporary Resort, we took a boat to the Ft. Wilderness Lodge.  
 We wanted to eat lunch somewhere fun but not super expensive, so we decided to try the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Ft. Wilderness Lodge.  It's a fun Western-themed restaurant, where the waiters are known for the loud and funny antics.  For example, when someone asks for ketchup, they may bring out A LOT of ketchup.  And then when the next person asks for ketchup, it is your job to take all the ketchup they brought you to that table.  Daniel asked for ketchup, and this is what he got:

After lunch we took the boat back to the Contemporary Resort and then hopped back on the monorail to the Polynesian Resort.
We were planning to have dessert at the Kona Cafe, because I heard that they serve good desserts.  But we ended up getting there right during the time they were closed between lunch and dinner.  Instead, we went outside and got drinks, sat on the beach and enjoyed the warm sun.  

From the Polynesian Resort, we took a boat right to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom.  It was 4:00, which meant we could get into the park with our Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party ticket.
The Christmas Party was technically scheduled for 7 pm-midnight, but they allow ticket holders admission into the park as early as 4:00.   The tickets for the Christmas Party were $62 (as opposed to the $95 ticket for a one day admission to Magic Kingdom), and that gave us eight hours in the Magic Kingdom.  If you are planning a multi day trip to Disney World, then paying extra for the Christmas Party is probably not worth it.  But for us, it was a great deal to get admission to the park at a discounted rate and enjoy all the extras that come with the Christmas Party.

In addition to most of the rides being open, the Christmas Party also features free hot cocoa and cookies, snow on Main Street, multiple Christmas shows, a Christmas parade, and a Christmas fireworks show.  Plus they only sell a limited number of tickets to the Christmas Party, so the lines for rides are very short or non-existent!  On some rides, people were able to just continually ride without getting off because there was no line at all! 

On the Buzz Lightyear ride...we were seriously concentrating!

Ready for Mickey's Philharmagic in our lovely 3D glasses.

I should also add that I did ride a roller coaster with Daniel.  I should have taken a picture for proof!  I do not like roller coasters, as mentioned above.  But I felt bad making Daniel go on just the lame rides, when he would prefer something a little more fun.  So I went on Big Thunder Mountain with him.  When it comes to roller coasters, I'm pretty sure that Big Thunder Mountain is pretty tame (there was a little girl riding behind us who was only 3 or 4 years old).  But it was enough for me.   I rode it without trouble, but I don't have much desire to ride it again anytime soon.  =)

Enjoying my free hot chocolate and cookies!

One of our favorite parts of the night was the projection show on the castle right before the fireworks.  This is what the castle looked like at the beginning:

Then they projected images all over it to transform it into all kinds of different things.  It was seriously impressive.  And I was sitting with my tech loving husband, who immediately started searching the park trying to figure out how they were doing it.

This was during the Lion King part of the show.

This was during the Tangled part.

I'm not sure about this one.  Maybe during Frozen?

There were even cooler images on the castle, and I would have taken pictures of all of them.  But my phone was dying and I was trying to preserve my battery for the fireworks and parade.  The fireworks were pretty impressive too, but I think both Daniel and I would agree that the projection show (I can't remember it's real name) was our favorite part of the day.

After the fireworks, we scoped out a spot on Main Street to enjoy the "snow" and wait for the parade to start.  The parade was fun (though not as impressive as the fireworks and show we had just seen), and we spotted one of Daniel's high school friends in it!  He is the Mad Hatter in the picture below.

 Snow and 80 degree temps... now that's my kind of snow!

Daniel and I were wild and crazy and stayed until the place closed down at midnight!  For what we paid and for what we wanted, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party was a perfect way to spend the day.  Fun times!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 11: 10 Year Anniversary Trip

Daniel and I will celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary next week.  Ten years!  How can we possibly be that old???
 In honor of our anniversary, we took a little trip to Orlando last weekend, leaving the girls with my mom.  I had bigger plans for this trip at first.  I wanted to go somewhere warm and somewhere that I had never been.  It would have been fun to stay 5-7 days, in my dreams at least.  But in reality, we didn't have much money to work with, so we picked the cheapest flight we could find for a weekend trip...which took us to Orlando!  Considering what the weather looked like last weekend, I am so glad that we chose Orlando.  Florida was the only warm state in the entire country, so we were in the right place!  It was lovely and warm and sunny, with temps in the mid to upper 80s each day.

I also really wanted to stay in a fancy hotel.  But I had this darn budget to deal with, so I ended up using Priceline.  We were able to get a four star hotel in the Downtown Disney area for $70 a night, which seemed like a decent deal.  However, once I started reading reviews about the hotel, I got really upset.  It had lots of bad reviews, and it did not sound like the nice fancy place I had envisioned.

In reality, the hotel was pretty nice.  I had prepared myself for the worst, but I was very pleasantly surprised.  We stayed at the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort.  It is an older hotel, and I did see some of the things that were complained about in some of the bad reviews (the air conditioner was loud, one of the elevators was in rough shape, etc).  But the lobby and the rooms had all been recently remodeled.  Our room was clean, the bed was comfortable, everything worked perfectly, the staff was helpful, the flat screen TV in our room was big, the pool area was nice...I couldn't really find anything to complain about.  It wasn't super fancy, but it was comfortable and clean and nice.  I would stay there again.
Our Room

When we checked in, Daniel told them we were celebrating our 10 year anniversary and asked if they had any upgrades available.  They couldn't upgrade us to a nicer room, but they do move us to a pool view room (which is a  little better than a parking lot view room).  They also waved the resort fee ($18 per day) and gave us two free breakfast buffets (a $28 value).  I didn't feel like they needed to do anything for us, especially since we paid at a discounted rate through Priceline, so I was very happy with this customer service!!
 The view from our room

Most of our trip (all 2 1/2 days of it!) we just spent our time enjoying the warm weather.  I could have sat in the sun all day every day, I think.  We did a little shopping, we ate some good food, and we enjoyed sleeping in until 9 or 10 every morning!  I found a couple of Groupons for some local restaurants, and we used those to help out the budget as well. 

Saturday night we went to Downtown Disney, along with everyone else in the city!  It was crazy busy.  We decided to eat at Raglan Road, an Irish pub with live Irish music and dancers.  We waited for an hour and a half to get seated.  The food was pretty good and the entertainment was fun, but I'm not sure it was worth that long of a wait?

Daniel's Shepherd Pie at Raglan Road

We also spent a day at Disney, but since this post is getting long, I think I will save that for my next post.

Friday, December 6, 2013

December 6: Oh Christmas Tree

One of our traditions is getting a real Christmas tree.  I grew up every year going to the tree farm and picking out the biggest and fattest tree that would fit into our house.  It is a fond memory that I want to pass on to our girls. 

This year, we decided to get the tree on a Tuesday morning because our weekends are fairly busy in December.  The Christmas tree farms aren't open during the week, so we had to settle for the market down the street that sells trees.  We have gone there in the past and they usually have a great selection.  I was excited because the weather was in the 40s, which is relatively warm for this time of year.

The selection wasn't the greatest, and we ended up with a pretty tree but it wasn't quite as tall as what I wanted.  I made them all pose for a picture with the tree before we left...don't they all look so excited??  It is possible that getting a real Christmas tree every year is much more fun for me than it is for everyone else.

We got the tree home.  And I got the lights on the tree and started to decorate the tree and made good progress, but it is not quite done yet.  So I'll wait and post a picture once it is all finished.  The same goes for the lights outside our house.  One of these days it will all be done.  Maybe it will even get done before Christmas!
So we got the tree on Tuesday, then for yesterday's advent activity, we had a picnic dinner by the Christmas tree.  This was the day before we were leaving for vacation, so I was trying to use up whatever food we had in the fridge.  I got creative and made a Christmas tree themed meal for our Christmas tree picnic!  I don't think it will win any prizes on Pinterest for the most beautiful plating, but the girls thought it was fun.

We had a green bean Christmas tree, a PBJ Christmas tree, and cheese Christmas trees!

I also made a candy cane out of apple slices.

And for dessert...Christmas tree ice cream!  I saw this in the store and thought it would be a fun addition to our meal.

The girls thought it was so much fun!!!