Thursday, December 12, 2013

Almost ready

Having Christmas right after the birthdays, is, well,  a challenge. Besides all the energy I devote to making the birthday celebrations fun - they kids just got a slew of presents! We don't really do anything Christmas related until after the birthdays (except Advent Calenders. And this year we did the Lego and playmobile ones, which have been a huge hit). So I need to take a deep breath, regroup, and re energize to get Christmas up and running in our house.

Last week, we got our tree. Last night, we finally got the lights up outside. And today, after work, I'm driving the kids to my mom's town, where tomorrow, we'll get to see Santa! And again, this year, I'm in charge of the Christmas Eve Children's service. Christmas morning, we will wake up at our home, but we will then travel to Nantucket and see Aaron's family for another round of Christmas. And then I have the rest of the year off work to hang out, have fun with the gang, and hopefully relax.

As for gifts, the kids are not shy telling me (or the elf, who in turn tells Santa) what they want (Cam wants a Coast Guard Lego ship, and Maggie wants another big horse, and a small horse, and a ride on horse, lol).

In past years, I would feel like I needed to find other, fun things that the kids didn't ask for. I've pretty much learned that lesson. They want what they want. All the toys are ordered, I've gotten a bunch of new books, and a few cute clothes. All the other family gifts are purchased. We only have the stocking stuffers left - and we make that a fun trip together. I'm hoping to make a few hand print aprons for the grandmothers if we have time next week.

Feels good to be on top of things!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


  • Oh my goodness. I just spent the past 5 hours blogging all the birthday fun we had, and there are still things we did the in the 2 weeks that I didn't post! What a crazy couple of weeks!
  • We spent Thanksgiving with one of my friends, and it was absolutely perfect. They have older kids (in 8th and 10th grade). They invited another family, that also had kids in the same grades, and wow. Were my kids in heaven. While all of them played, the adults enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of food and fun. I think it was my best Thanksgiving in years.
  • The day after thanksgiving was Maggie's birthday - all the fun can be found here.
  • Saturday, we took the kids to see the Nutcracker with my mother. At first, I almost only bought tickets for Maggie, but decided that Cam should go too. It was a blast. Both kids loved it.
  • Then I shifted gears to get ready for Cam's party and our mini-vacation to legoland and NYC.
  • I took Wednesday - Friday off of work. Wednesday and Thursday were our trip, but Friday the kids and I slept in and played with new birthday toys in the morning. That afternoon we trekked out and cut down our Christmas tree! Maggie picked it out, and Cam (with help from me) cut it down. It's the best tree we've ever gotten. It's about as wide as it is tall!
  • Saturday was supposed to be Cam's Ninja party, so I had a bunch of things planned in the morning so the setup would be a surprise, and in the afternoon for Maggie (so she wouldn't be in the house trying to get involved in the party). That plan all got quickly switched around when Cam got a stomach bug. Maggie, my mother and I all went into Boston for the SWEA Christmas Festival. We then went out to lunch and took Maggie together to her horseback riding lesson. Aaron stayed home to let Cam rest. We hoped by splitting up, maybe Maggie would avoid getting the same bug (which , fingers crossed, seems to have worked!)
  • Saturday night, I set up for a second run of my church craft table. I sold another $500 worth of crafts on Sunday - I was pretty proud of myself!
  • I got home from church just in time for Cam's awesome Ninja party!
  •  After the party was over, and I cleaned up, I realized I had time to go to our Christmas Vespers service, which was as recital of Handel's Messiah Part One. A perfect way to end a pretty crazy two weeks.
  • Now, I'm back home, taking a bit of downtime before things ramp up again for Christmas!

Maggie's birthday

I planned Maggie's birthday party months ago. Once I realized her birthday was the day after Thanksgiving, I decided that we should have an awesome birthday party at our house. I called McDonny's farm, and we planned to have a Pony Princess party in the morning, and then as a special treat, tea at American Girl in the afternoon.

Not many people would plan an outdoor party at the end of November. But I figured it wouldn't be too cold. How bad could it be? Well, the forecast was threatening a foot of snow two days before the party.... thank god that didn't happen.

Oh, and obviously I'm not a shopper. Because yeah. That's Black Friday. And American Girl is in the mall.

But, it all worked out perfectly.

Maggie woke up in the morning to all her presents. Here she is wearing the sweater I knit her (that she won't wear. Because it's too scratchy. God. Damn. It.)

But look at her face! I love watching her open presents.
This is the birthday banner I made for her - this one I sewed the flags and then freezer paper stenciled her name. You can kind of see the setup we did in the garage. I made coffee in the big vacuum urns that we use for coffee hour at church, and put a table with donuts, hot water for cocoa, coffee cake and banana bread.
Aaron had a space heater going in the garage, and that is where we had the 'petting zoo' - we had ducks, chickens, bunnies and a goat. The kids loved it!

And then the true highlight for Maggie - a pony!
I think she must have had 3 rides, she was SO happy. And Cam was delighted to be next in line.
Aaron also setup a fire pit, and I got smore's fixings. After people left, I asked Maggie what her favorite part was, and she said "The PONY! And marshmallows!!!!"
Aaron also made some very cool pony cakes. We have friends who are allergic to chocolate, so the lucky girl got two cakes.
For Maggie's party, I didn't plan any activities or even gift bags. I let the guests stay as long as they wanted, and even ended up ordering Chinese food for lunch for the people who stayed longer.

But we needed to leave to house around 2 as we needed to brave the parking lot at the mall for the second half of Maggie's birthday party. Now, I had originally just planned to do tea. But of course, about a month earlier, Maggie attended her best friend's birthday party at American Girl, and she was expecting the fancy hat and cake. Which we could of course do, for a fee. As I'm a sucker, we did that.

Here she is blowing out the candles on cake #2!
Then we walked through the mall a bit, and I had to take this picture. She looks more like 14, not 4, right!?!?

Happy 4th Birthday to my Big Girl!

Cam's Birthday, Part 2

After 4 years of birthday parties and just knowing my kids in general, it's obvious to me that while Maggie loves to be the life of the party, Cam just likes to be with his core group of friends. So my original plan was to have a small, but special birthday party for him at our house.* And with his Lego/Ninja obsession, I started looking at Ninago Party ideas. I got a huge amount of help and inspiration from these two blog posts at the Isoms blog and Movie Muse.

We averted a crisis when Cam woke up at 2:30 AM the morning before his party throwing up. And then again at 4:30. But then he was done, and thankfully, as it was such a small party, almost everyone could still attend if we moved it to Sunday. One kid canceled (his parents were afraid he would catch the bug) and Cam was more worried that we wouldn't have the full 5 ninja contingent than to worry that his friend couldn't come. He asked Maggie if she would stand in. And she was delighted to get to be with the boys! And thank god - because I had planned for her to go somewhere else on Saturday (because if she was here she would have wanted to be involved in the party, and Cam was very specific that it should be only 5 ninjas). But I had no alternatives for Sunday. It all worked out!

The first thing was to make the dining room look 'Ninja cool'. I used the Won Ton font (size 200) to freezer paper stencil a birthday banner:

A friend made a sweet ninja cake:

The party was at 2, so I didn't have much food. I got cheap, primary color bowls from the dollar store for pretzels, Doritos and cheese balls. Movie Muse shared all her printables, to enable me to make these cool water bottles and Ninja Power Boost packets (Kool Aid with a fun label).
And the big deal. The long sleeve tee shirts. Because you can make them into a ninja mask! Each kid got to pick what color he was (and that was the color water bottle they got too). HUGE HIT!
Here is a close up of Cam as the Green Ninja:
And the rest of the team (Maggie is the red ninja, love how she strikes a pose)
After the masks were on, they started training. First was the 'lazer' obstacle course. This was SUCH a big hit (and a fun, easy rainy day activity). They wanted to go through a bunch of times, and after all the training was done, asked to make it harder (thank god I had more crepe paper!)
Then they went downstairs to the garage where the training continued. They had plastic swords, foam nun chucks, and rubber throwing stars - all marked with tape the same color at their masks, so it was easy to tell whose was whose). Sensai Dad took them through the paces, which included training and then practice (by knocking down solo cups)
Maggie was also an expert at this (Cam was too fast to get any non-blurry pictures!)
After this, the kids picked up the boxes, and underneath Aaron had taped helium balloons to the floor and let them just go at it. I couldn't believe that some of the kids managed to pop the balloons with the plastic swords!

To end the training, Aaron presented Cam with a Golden Mask (another long sleeve tee shirt) because his friends helped him reach his 'full potential'. He was overjoyed.

Then we let them just play around with the weapons in the garage for a while, but when they started to get crazy in the 'dojo' - I lead them back upstairs to play Fruit Ninja on the x-box while I got the cake ready.

All in all, the party was a HUGE success. Although it looks like a lot of work, since I planned it so ahead of time, I was able to space all the DIY stuff out (except the banner. The banner was a last minute decision of a crazed mother). And the setup was quick - and this age group was the perfect fit for it. They would help pick up the solo cups for the next person, and patiently wait for their turn (only Maggie would get upset that she wanted to go again.). It was awesome.

* I usually have a group of neighborhood friends over for dinner on the actual birthday night. But we've made new friends in the neighborhood, and now that means I would have had 13 kids plus parents in my house. Hell. No. Which is why we moved it to McDs. And then, I just invited his school buddies too. It was great.

Cam's birthday, Part 1

When we asked Cam what he wanted for his birthday, he said Lego. I asked what kind of Lego, and he said "ALL THE LEGO". Sigh. I then asked what special thing he wanted to do for his birthday, and he said - "Stay home and play with all my Lego." So, yeah. He is obsessed. I came up with the idea to take a trip to a Legoland indoor Discovery Center about 3 hours from here, and that is what we did. We all drove together (see this post for my adventure with Maggie!) and Aaron and Cam had a great time. They spent the night in a hotel, Cam got to swim in the indoor pool there, and just got to spend some nice, one on one time with Aaron.

That adventure was actually on the 4th (his real birthday is the 5th). So we drove home on the 5th together, and made it home by about 1 in the afternoon. We rested a little, Cam opened the presents from us (he loved the Lego quilt!) and then the McDonald's party!
And what a hit. They have a Play Place at that McD's, and we had about 24 kids! They ran around like crazy, ate junk food, and just had a blast.

Here is my new 5 year old, wrapped up in his new Lego quilt. A great day all around!


My plan for the anniversary of Nora's death couldn't have been a bigger success. Did I have moments of sadness? Yes. But I love my new plan of making it an awesome day - that Nora's short life should be celebrated. She changed our family in the 5 days she was with us - and a large part of the change is for the better. Do I wish I hadn't had to go through those dark days? Yes. Do I wish she was still here with us? 100% yes. But, we also have a strong focus on what is important in life, and how important enjoying and treasuring every moment is.

This trip was totally meant to be. Everything just worked out perfectly and we had a wonderful day. We left the house at 6 AM, knowing that we had a 3 hour drive to get to the Purdy train station. At that point, Aaron and Cam would drive to Legoland, and Maggie and I would catch the train to Grand Central. I had no idea what kind of traffic we would hit, but we sailed right through! And we were able to catch the perfect train - the 9:35 AM train that got us into NYC at 10:45. So we took a subway to my cousins apartment, got Maggie (and her doll) changed into her special dress - and we hit the streets of NYC!
She was so stinking cute that people actually stopped in their tracks to proclaim - Look! Isn't she cute!

Since we got into the city so early, we had time for lunch. I found out that American Girl Place was only a few blocks away from the Radio City Music Hall, and manged to get us into the 12:30 seating. This is where my cousin met us. She couldn't BELIEVE that place. Maggie was delighted.
We left lunch and on our way to Radio City Hall, I got this picture on my phone - Aaron and Cam had arrived at Legoland. He was so happy!
We walked to Radio City, and started noticing that the police were putting up barriers everywhere... turns out they were lighting the Christmas tree that night! My cousin was adamant that we got out of there ASAP after the show. I can't imagine what I zoo it would have been for the 9 PM lighting - people were already lining up at 4. We walked into the 2 PM show at 1:56.... again, perfect timing.

I took Cam to the Rockettes in Boston a few years ago, and it was great - but man. Nothing beats seeing it in NYC. They were amazing. And Maggie was transfixed. It helps that she is now taking dance lessons - so she was AMAZED at the tap dancing.

Afterwards, my cousin let us take a few pictures around Rockefeller Center before we jetted out - seriously. Could she be any cuter?!?
We walked across town to FAO Schwarz, because all little girls need to check that place out!
I was pretty sure we were going to have a meltdown (as she had been up at 5 AM, walked at least 3 miles, and it was now 5 PM) but she was delighted to get a super fancy face painting! And no toys! A true Christmas miracle.
From there, we walked to a huge candy store - Dylan's Candy Bar - can you see that face? I talked her out of the lollipop, but I did get her some candy buttons.
The rest of the evening was wonderful. We had a great dinner, then took a cab home. Maggie took a bath, played with my cousins and put herself to bed. And I got to spend a wonderful evening with my cousins and a few other friends playing cards and drinking.

The next day, we woke up just in time to make our way to Grand Central for the earlier train, and meet up with Aaron, so I could give my 5 year old boy a hug. As we pulled out of the train station, I asked Maggie if she had a good time. She told me, "Mama. It was a stupendous day! That is a fancy word for awesome!" (thanks to her new obsession with the Fancy Nancy books, she comes out with some awesome one-liners now).

When we met up with Aaron, the kids passed out quickly in the car. We both agreed that the day was a gift. We rarely get to spend one-on-one time with the kids, alone. Where they are our only focus. It was a perfect, wonderful day. Just like I had hoped it would be.