On December 20, we woke up in the pitch black wee hours of the winter morning to drive to the airport and catch a plane to Tucson. After a looooooong security line, and a comparatively quick flight, we arrived in Tucson.
It took no time at all for the children to make themselves at home. Grandpa broke the ice with a bunch of wild little toy cars that flipped themselves over when they hit an obstacle.
B was soon reunited with his cousin, Ryan. These boys get very little supervision together. After a couple of days in Tucson, we were driving home from the Campbells' house and B announced, "Me and Ryan say potty words." This was news to no one, but after some intervention they improved their language.
Sammy was reunited with "Bappa and Bappa." In a few days he was identifying "Ramma" as a separate person from Bampa.
Todd was reunited with the hammock, and Eloise got back into her beloved flip flops.
We were happy to get to spend lots of time with cousins. We went to Winterhaven to look at the lights. Uncle Fred was able to meet us there, which was fantastic. He lives in Tucson now, and was anticipating being alone for Christmas, so we had him join us for some of our activities. Sammy immediately attached himself to his great uncle. He called him "Bred," and summoned him with a hand motion and a, " 'mon, Bred!" (as in "come on, Fred!").
We enjoyed the lovely weather with some hikes through the desert. This hike along Julian Wash was notable for its proximity to the train tracks.
At first Sammy was frightened by the volume of the train horns as they crossed Rita Road, but he asked to see more trains every time there was no train passing.
The kids ended up in the wash, where the damp sand from all of Tucson's recent rain storms made a great plaything. The cousins could have stayed there all day, but we were a mile from the nearest bathroom, and nine kids under ten years old can't hold it forever. (Megan stayed back with Colette for nap time).
And then it was Christmas Eve. Justin found his missing hair!
Then Todd stole it.
Arizona: The land of the ugly Christmas t-shirt. What's a sweater?
After hours of fun, food, games, and chaos, we had our annual cousin nativity performance. This was the most organized nativity they have ever done. Maybe there is some benefit in children getting older.
We were so happy to have Uncle Fred with us for Christmas Eve. He is tireless with repetitive preschool games. Sammy looks a lot like a baby Todd in this picture.
Eventually we got everyone bathed, in pajamas, and laying out their stockings for Santa Clause. What seemed like hours later (I was tired) they finally went to sleep, anticipating Christmas surprises in the morning. Anticipation is half of the fun of Christmas.
As soon as Thanksgiving was over, Christmas preparations were in full swing. The favorite toy of the season was this "melting" clay snowman, which would start to collapse as soon as it was built, so it could be built over and over and over. Eloise loved all of this building.
We went to the pediatric dentist for cleanings, and then we stopped at the mall to see all of the Christmas decorations. Since it was still November, there wasn't anyone stopping to see Santa, so he chased us down and gave each kid a sucker. This was completely acceptable as a Santa visit for these kids, since they never ask Santa for anything anyway.
Seth and I attempted sushi making. This was my first attempt. It was pretty good.
Eloise decided one morning that she had had enough of having her hair brushed. She cried and cried, and then I took her to a salon to get her hair chopped. This is her hair before the cut.
She was nervous about a stranger cutting her hair, but we were happy with how it went. Our hairdresser had a daughter Eloise's age, so he knew how to talk to little girls.
On November 30 we got out our advent calendar to prepare for December. We participated in our church's Light the World initiative to celebrate advent with an act of service every day of the month. It was a great, meaningful way to celebrate the Christmas season.
We had a field trip to the water treatment plant and learned about water conservation.
On Saturday, December 3, we drove up Snoqualmie Pass in search of a good snow hike. We eventually found one near the summit. Sammy couldn't figure out how to walk in snow. Here he is offering his glove and saying, "Hand. Hand," until someone takes his hand.
Sammy wouldn't keep his gloves on. After this experience, I started pinning his gloves to his coat so that he can't pull them off. We hiked, played in the snow, made snow angels, had a constant snow battle, and built a snowman, which was unfortunately decapitated before we got a picture. Here is another snowman that we found along the trail.
On December 6, Annie Carver and I hosted a baby shower for our friend Amy, who moved to New York a week after the shower. Amy's family lived two blocks from us, and were our closest neighbors who are members of our church. We miss having them so close.
Another family from church was getting ready to move, so we had their two older boys, Nico and Alex, over for a play date while their parents packed. They hadn't gotten to do many Christmas things, since they were busy moving, so we decorated gingerbread cookies. We had some other friends come over, too, so that it could be a party.
Ten kids, dozens of gingerbread cookies, millions of sprinkles, lots and lots of frosting, and a few sugar cookies leftover from another baking project filled our house with sticky smiles. It was fun to watch the kids load up their cookies with toppings, lick off all of the toppings, and then frost again. Alex had so many toppings that we couldn't discern the shape of his cookie underneath. It was a lot of fun.
Less than a week after we drove up Snoqualmie Pass looking for snow, snow came to us. We woke up to a winter wonderland. Schools were canceled in Kirkland, since the city only owns one plow. We at Santa pancakes for breakfast, and then we rushed outside to play before the snow melted away.
All of the neighbor kids came outside, too. A few cars were still going in and out of the neighborhood, but they were rare enough that we could use the street as a gentle sledding hill.
The snowball fight picked up where we left off the previous week, and all of the kids worked together to build a snowman on the Flynns' patio across the street.
Sammy loved sledding, but he never wanted to sit in a sled alone, so the older kids took turns holding him on their laps while they went down the hill. By about 10:00 everyone was getting cold, and the snow was getting soggy, so we went inside to warm up and do some school work.
By afternoon the roads were clear enough for me to take the kids to the Bellevue festival of the Nativity. This event is AWESOME. I think it gets better every year. This whole church building next the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bellevue gets transformed. The halls and cultural hall are decorated with nativities from all over the world. Rooms are devoted to children's nativities, Bible videos, walking through the life of Jesus Christ, children's activities (coloring, puppet shows), and dressing up to act out your own nativity.
When we walked in, a volunteer gave us a scavenger hunt paper. We actually managed to find everything on the paper, which was very important to Jared. They had something like 89 Christmas trees set up.
All of the kids wanted to be wise men. Sammy immediately ran over to the baby doll representing Jesus and put his own crown on the baby's head, which I thought was sweet and appropriate. Eloise thought it was hilarious.
On our way out there was a candy prize for finding everything on the scavenger hunt, which was a fun surprise. This is such a well planned free Christmas event. We will definitely be back next year.
Our ward had a Christmas party. Santa didn't come this year, possibly because he just had shoulder surgery, and Sister Philips wouldn't let him put on the red suit and pick up children. I love sweet Brother Philips as Santa, but the Santa part of the ward party is always one thing too many for these kids. This year the activity was a breakfast, and there were lots of crafts for the kids to do.
Of course we had to do a few more crafts to get ready for Christmas. B drew his cousin McKenzie's name for the Knight cousin gift exchange, so he made her these spoon puppets, with a little help from his siblings.
Eloise spent her evenings for several weeks working on a surprise for Jared and B. She stayed up half an hour past her bedtime working on a book of her favorite bedtime story that I made up. It is about a cat named Julie who is teased by other cats because she likes to swim. Eloise worked very hard on this book, writing every page out by hand. It was quite laborious for a kindergartner, but she was determined, and it turned out really good.
Jared helped me tie this blanket from Sammy to Annie. Annie loves soft, fuzzy things.
My activity day girls went to sing at a local nursing home. Our four girls who were able to make it to the activity were nervous about performing Christmas carols with such a small group, but the nursing home accidentally booked us with a group of girl scouts, which worked out wonderfully. I brought Jared along to help boost our numbers. It was a great activity.
Big Finn Hill Park (the park nearest to our house) had one of its playgrounds taken out and replaced. We couldn't wait to try out the new playground before we left for Arizona.
Lots of laundry, wrapping, and packing later, we were off to Arizona, cousins, grandparents, sunshine, and Christmas!
Thanksgiving this year was on November 24. Our festivities began on the 21st when B went to the doctor for his annual checkup, shots, and frozen yogurt to celebrate his bravery. B was very worked up for his shots, but in a positive way. He babbled all of the way to the doctor's office about what kind of band aid he would get. Four year olds always get shots at their well child checkup, so I knew to prepare him. As soon as he got his shots, he yelled, "I was BRAVE!" And he was.
Have I mentioned before how infatuated B is with reindeer?
We ended up with a crowd of 19 for Thanksgiving dinner, so food prep had to start a day before Thanksgiving. Sammy helped me make lots of pies. Pumpkin pies with crust and without (for our gluten free friend), pecan pie, and apple pie (for our dairy free friend). Sammy loves to stir.
My kitchen counter, covered in pies, was very festive.
On Thanksgiving morning I woke up very early to start a turkey in the oven. Our ovens are too small to fit a bird bigger than about 18 lbs., so we had to do two turkeys in shifts. Then I drove over to my friend Jenny's house to carpool with her to the Mukilteo Turkey Trot 10K race.
It was pouring rain and 34 degrees outside, so we were freezing.
Because I was gone at the race all morning, we ate a little late. The Carvers and Housdens came over, so we had kid chaos. Actually, there were enough kids to entertain each other, so we had a lot of time to hang out with our grown up friends. Annie brought some materials to make explosions in some volcanoes the kids had built out of clay earlier in the week. This was a very messy hit.
We used our down time after Thanksgiving to set up our Christmas tree. In Benjamin's mind, the Christmas season never really ended last year (we have been singing Christmas carols every single day since last Christmas), so it wasn't possible to be too early setting up the tree.
Todd is happy to have Seth around because Seth is usually willing to play games with him.