Touring Memphis before Christmas

The week before Christmas was a busy one as Mom and Dad came for Christmas.  For some reason I thought we’d have all kinds of time to go out and shop and look around in the days before Christmas.  It’s fun shopping with other adults, but we never really had the desire to drag the kids out with us.  They wouldn’t even go out to lunch at Five Guys with us one day!  They just wanted to go home and play.  We did get around the area a bit though.

My mom has loved Elvis forever so she and I and Dad went on a tour of Graceland.  I had heard that some people were disappointed with it because you just look at his house and that’s it.  But there was so much more and it was all so interesting.  The house is really neat.  It’s like stepping back in time, only people usually think of going back centuries when you do that.  Because it was only decades, it didn’t feel so far removed.  You could easily imagine the people that moved in and out of the house and it felt like Elvis could have walked through the door at any moment.

From shag carpet on the ceiling to a room that was covered in thousands of yards of fabric, there were so many details that were fascinating.  On top of his house, we toured a trophy building with a chronological history of his hits and his movies and his charitable works.  We went to a lot of extra little exhibits on our tickets as well and I have to say that I would definitely take anyone else who came into town to visit Graceland again.

We also spent an afternoon in Memphis.  We went on our annual Christmas ice skating adventure.  There is a rink set up at the zoo so went to that one.  Casey was on skates for the first time this year.  She was very excited but she has a little work to do on her balance.  Jack has been playing hockey since November and he was a little show-off.  He zoomed around the ice faster than any kid out there (and he knew it.)  We had a great time until Casey had enough of the falling and Jack took a couple of rough spills too.

We wandered through the zoo on our way out and I’ve never seen the animals so active.  It was like going to the zoo for the first time.  The pandas were out and were even moving around and eating.  All the cats were pacing and moving around.  It’s one of my favorite trips to the zoo and we weren’t even looking at animals for all that long.  

A quick tour of downtown Memphis one evening took us to the Peabody Hotel.  The hotel is known for its ducks.  In the morning, the ducks come down the elevator and hop into the fountain in the middle of the lobby.  They spend the day there, enjoying the people while getting shooed back into the water as soon as they make a move to escape.  (I think someone is payed to be on duck watch every day.)  In the evenings, there’s another big ceremony as the ducks march back to the elevator and back to their evening residence.

On this trip, we did not watch the march of the ducks.  I’ve seen it twice and it is very misleading.  The ducks do not in any way march.  They get out of the pond and waddle to the elevator.  There is really no where else for them to go because people are lined up on either side of them from the fountain to the elevator.  But there is a bit of pomp and circumstance and a fun little story behind it and the kids like it, even though they have to sit and wait for 45 minutes if they want to get anywhere near where the red carpet.

So we saw no duck marching but we just enjoyed the gorgeous Christmas decorations in the lobby and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.  There was a huge gingerbread village with a train that travels around it that entertains the kids.  There was live piano music.  And it was gorgeous!

Finally, we went to get some traditional Memphis BBQ.  I’ve been to a place in downtown Memphis which is renowned for it’s bar-b-que and it’s atmosphere but I was not impressed.  Pat took us to another place this time and it was just right – great bar-b-que and a great atmosphere.  We’ll definitely go there again too!

Christmas with Kiss

I joined my first book club when I moved here to Memphis and I’ve really been enjoying it.  I’ve read some great books and met some great people.

For our November/December book club (for which no one read the book but me and the host), the big part of the night was really a white elephant gift swap.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that kind of swap but I was told to bring anything – a new gift, a gag gift or a re-gift…anything you might find around your house and want to pass on to some unsuspecting soul.

The first gift I ended up opening was a cute apron and book to go with it.  But as we went down the line, someone snagged that and I chose another gift.  It turned out to be a very interesting Christmas ornament.

The friend, H, that brought this gift felt bad because she claims I’m the quiet, sweet girl and I think she thought I deserved something better.  Or maybe, she didn’t think I would be able to appreciate the beauty and value.  (She’d be mortified if I didn’t also mention that she included a Starbucks gift card with it.)

The gift that I brought was an infinity scarf that I made.  When H found out that I brought a homemade gift, this made her feel even worse.  But it shouldn’t have…to me the scarf was the easiest thing I could bring.  I had already made it and it was sitting around my house.  I had looked at some gag gifts in the store and honestly didn’t feel like wasting my money.  I’m just not a gag gift type of girl and being fairly new to the group, I didn’t have much background in which to work in a funny gift.

When I first opened the ornament, I thought it was Star Wars related.  In that fraction of a second I thought that my kids would be excited about it.  Upon further inspection, I discovered it was this…

I didn’t manage to capture my own picture of the box so I found this one on the internet.  While searching for it, I learned his name is Gene Simmons.  (Yes, I’ve probably heard that before but if you’d asked me his name, I couldn’t have told you.)  And I also learned that there are several more Kiss themed ornaments.

So we laughed about it.  I promised to take pictures of it on my tree and I think she promised to come to my house to verify that it was actually on my tree.

It sat around the house for a few days because it took many days for the tree to “fall” and be ready for decorating.  And then the kids found it and it turns out they were excited about it…

They thought it was hilarious and wanted to do their impressions.  I think they did a pretty good job.  Jack is actually holding the ornament in his hand but it’s a little blurry there.

And when we finally decorated our tree, they fought over who would put it on the tree.  I would have shoved them out of the way to have the honor but then I wouldn’t have gotten any pictures.  And we did not hide him!  He’s not up there with the angel obviously but he wasn’t tucked in the back either.

This was serious business…
Behold the beauty…
This ornament will stick around.  (I really hope he doesn’t lose any of the spikes over the years.)  It will always make me smile and remind me of my first book club and a fun night with new friends.  I might even have to add to the collection.  Or at least replace my red bead garland with something a little more chain-like.   

The Nutcracker

I got to take Casey to her friend Nutcracker ballet this year.  We had pretty good seats at the Orpheum in Memphis and I was excited to take her.  I think I was probably in high school the last time I went to see it.  

We got all dressed up in our finest and met with a friend and her little girl and headed downtown.  
Casey took a short nap just in the car before we arrived…
Even though we had good seats, it was hard for little people to see over the heads in front of them.  Casey spent the first half bouncing between her seat and my lap trying to find the best view.  Then of course she had to use the bathroom just when the Mouse King was about to come out.  For the second half she sat on the aisle seat and seemed to enjoy it a little better.  I sat on the other side of our friends because she didn’t want to sit on my lap any more.
I thought Casey behaved very well during the show.  There were parts where even I was a little less enthusiastic about the length of the dances.  There were also men in really tight white tights and that was a little distracting at times.
After the show some of the dancers came out for pictures and autographs.
Overall, it was a very nice first ballet experience!

Elfing Around

Our Elf on the Shelf, Bob, returned for a third year this Christmas season.  He comes out the day after Thanksgiving and hangs around in various places until Christmas Eve when he heads back to his North Pole home.

The kids were even more excited about Bob than they have been in the past.  Every morning they couldn’t wait to find out where he was.  Although he didn’t do anything too crazy or elaborate, he found some fun places to keep an eye on the kids.

One day Bob was found dangling from the overhead light…

This was the day we brought our tree home and since they couldn’t do any decorating until the tree settled, Jack and Casey entertained themselves.  The took the tree skirt and some Santa hats and did their best impressions of Bob’s mischievous smirk and eyes.

2012 Christmas Tree

After several years of an artificial tree, we went with a real one this year.  We got rid of our fake tree after last Christmas.  The lights weren’t all lighting and the branches were flopping all over the place and not staying level.  I felt like I spent way too much time “fluffing” it and trying to make it look real.  And I think our Yankee candle that smelled like a fir tree reached the end of its wick as well.

Our tree buying experience turned out easier that I could imagine.  We decided to go with Costco because several friends mentioned they got their tree there and it was a good price.  The only potential problem was that you couldn’t pick the tree.  You get what you get!  But it was so easy to get the tree that I liked the idea of just working with whatever it turned out looking like.  No searching the lot in the cold for the perfect tree.  Although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anywhere near cold here in early December.

After breakfast with Santa, we crossed the street to Costco, pulled the van up to the trailer, and the tree man put the tree on the roof and tied it down while I paid.  So easy!  

We pulled the tree stand out of the attic and brought the tree in.  I think we only adjusted it about 3 times.  Then we had to explain about letting the tree settle to the kids who were a little anxious to decorate!

Pat looks very proud of his tree!

Jack is helping out…
Then the kids decided they should take some pictures.  And I think you can tell that we had just about squeezed all the joy out of the tree buying experience and it was time to move on to something else!
It ended up being another week or some before we finally got to decorating it although Jack was still placing new ornaments on up until Christmas Eve.  
About halfway through decorating, I realized we should have had some sort of Tree Decorating 101 discussion with Jack.  Some topics we could have covered – 
– Heavy ornaments require a heavy branch
– Not all ornaments of the same type need to be right by each other
– Some ornaments need to go at the top of the tree
– Some ornaments need to be on the sides of the tree
But with a little redirection and some discreet repositioning, the tree got decorated.  
We put a couple strands of LED lights on this year.  I really wanted to like them because I like the idea of more energy efficient light bulbs, but they just didn’t have that glow that I wanted.  
Our theme is simply what we have collected over the years.  We have ornaments from all the places we have lived and places we have visited.  This year we got ornaments when we were at Disney World.  When we got them out (of a bag I have yet to unpack from the trip!) Casey promptly dropped her castle and a few turrets broke off.  It now goes well with her Cinderella carriage ornament of which all the wheels are broken.
It was Casey’s year to put the angel on top.
After she was decorated, the kids once again wanted to take pictures with my camera.  They each spent forever trying to get a good shot without people in it.  But I couldn’t resist jumping in a few pictures while someone else was behind the lens.

Breakfast with Santa

I didn’t mean to take another long break from blogging.  I reached the space limit for storing photos though Picasa and I’ve spent forever trying to figure out how to best put pictures on the blog without paying.  Right now I’ve settled on Photobucket, even though I have upload them individually (as far as I can figure out).  
And so, I’m going back to the beginning of the Christmas season!  I think I struck a good balance between Christmas fun and getting things done this year.  It felt like we had an extra week or two this year because we are celebrating Christmas with Pat’s family in a couple days instead of the weekend before Christmas.  
Way back at the beginning of December we had Breakfast with Santa at the country club.  It was decorated beautifully, the food was good and the kids got to craft and visit with Santa.  Although I wasn’t totally impressed with the realism of Santa, I liked the fact that the kids got to spend as much time with them as they needed and he “knew” their names.  We weren’t hurried by a long line behind us and we didn’t have to pay for overpriced picture packages. 

Casey hopped right onto Santa’s lap without a bit of hesitation.  She asked for baby dolls, Barbie dolls and a toy puppy.
Jack didn’t have a problem going up to Santa but looked a little nervous the whole time he was sitting there.  This is only the second year he has spent time on Santa’s lap!  He asked for a Disney monorail, a video game and some Hotwheels.  I can’t believe he remembered about the monorail!  I was hoping he’d forget after not talking about it for 3 months.  (And since I’m posting this after Christmas, he did not get a monorail and thankfully hasn’t asked about it.  He came up with another different list of things at school!) 

Christmas Day 2011

Once again, I woke first on Christmas morning.  I was pretty thankful that Jack and Casey weren’t up at the crazy hour of 4:45am like they were the weekend before in Ocean City.  They woke up around 6:45.  After that it was pure torture for Jack to wait for Daddy to check and see if Santa came and for Auntie and Wally to show up even though it was only a few minutes.  In the days preceding Christmas he kept asking if Daddy really needed to make sure Santa came…couldn’t he just go downstairs and see everything himself?

Jack’s big present from Santa was a rod hockey game and Casey’s was a princess castle.  They both loved these gifts and if you ask them what their favorite present is, they’ll say hockey game and castle.  These gifts were both Daddy Santa’s ideas and then there were several other gifts that Mommy Santa procured.  I probably put a little too much thought into all these gifts, but I like to get something that they want, something they’ve never even thought about but that I’m sure they’ll like and a game.

Casey spent the morning playing with her princess castle, dressing her paper dolls from Auntie Mary, playing the flute, pushing her babies around in her new double stroller from Auntie Jenn and watching me build her Lego bus and pizza place from Grampie & Grammie.  She dressed in her new grey polka dot tutu skirt and a pretty princess shirt.

Jack challenged anyone and everyone to a game of rod hockey while wearing his prison-suit-orange Flyers sweatsuit and his Flyers jersey.  He set Pat to work building his Lego jet plane and later his Lego Space Shuttle Launching Station from Grampie & Grammie.  He also spent a lot of time with his Action Agent Spy Train and Battleship.  Auntie got him some Legos from Cars 2 and Jack intently put all those together himself.  (Yes, the house is being taken over by Legos.)

I kind of just wanted to sit and play with the toys, or at least just sit, all afternoon, but Jenn and I got to work preparing our Christmas feast – pancetta wrapped beef tenderloin, delmonico potatoes, green beans and honey glazed carrots.  It was all delicious but whatever I make next year is going to be super simple so I can just sit and relax on Christmas day.  Oh and I tried a cranberry cream pie that was a big failure…most likely due to my attempt to substitute some flavored jello for a packet of plain gelatin.  It tasted all right but it never set and was more of a cranberry cream soup.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas shopping was helping the kids pick out gifts for each other.  Casey got Jack a Boba Fett helmet (Star Wars character) and a Lightning McQueen color changer.  Jack got Casey her very own nerf gun and some Hello Kitty Legos.  Just before bedtime, there was an intense Star Wars battle throughout the house.  Casey was Princess Leia which she mentioned YELLED a few dozen times.  Jack was Boba Fett and Daddy and Auntie were taking aim at anyone that moved with their nerf guns.  It was a good way to work off the pie (and the dinner)!

It was really a great Christmas.  The kids were both really excited and they still like and play with everything they received.  Plus, it was awesome to have both my parents and my sister and her fiancee here to watch it all unfold.

We also got this great family picture and somehow even Tugger is looking at the camera and smiling!


The Christmas Play

Everyone else in blog land is talking about their new year’s goals and resolutions but since I’m a slacker and haven’t written much here since before Christmas, I’m going to back up a little bit and write about Christmas.  Maybe I’ll get to writing down some of my goals for 2012 on another post.

One of my favorite parts about Christmas and what I was most excited about was the Christmas play in which Jack and Casey sang.  Practice started for this play during the last few weeks of summer vacation.  It was called drama camp and a couple mornings a week, I dropped the kids off at church for 2 hours.  I didn’t realize at first that I could just drop them off so it was an unexpected, very pleasant surprise when I realized I had a couple hours to myself.  I think I spent them all at Walmart though, preparing for the hurricane.

Starting in November there were practices between the masses on Sunday mornings and practices on Wednesday nights and then some big ones on a couple of Saturday mornings.  At first I didn’t understand the play.  It wasn’t the traditional Christmas story that I expected.  It was about a group of kids practicing for their Christmas play and they were a little rebellious and didn’t want to play the traditional roles of shepherds, sheep and snowflakes.  (Although I didn’t realize there were a lot of snowflakes in the Christmas story.)  They all wanted to be Christmas presents.  Eventually it gets sorted out and the true gift of Christmas is all the children and people.

As I watched all these practices and saw the play coming together, I really started to like it.  It was a very cute play and all the kids worked so hard.  Even when Jack and Casey were sick for the beginning of December, they still practiced singing their song.  By the end of all these practices, they knew all of the parts of the play.  They can sing (and still do even weeks after) all of the other parts.  There were days when the songs were stuck in my head all day.

So, the play was at 3:30pm on Christmas Eve before the 4pm mass.  My main goal was to get there early enough to get a good seat to see the kids perform.  Last year, we got to church at 3:15 for the 4pm mass and were seated in the lobby so I knew it had to be earlier than that.  I talked to the music director and she suggested being there by 2:45 to get parking even though the kids didn’t need to get there until 3 for practice.  So we got there at 2:40…the parking lot was pretty empty and we got second row seats.

And then I endured wise-cracks, jokes, and sarcastic comments galore about how early we were at church, mostly from my husband.  I expected it, especially after we were early for a light show the previous weekend, and I didn’t care because I just wanted a  good seat to see my kids sing their hearts out in the Christmas show!

The play was really great and the kids were so good and I was so proud of them.  Jack sang and did all his choreography and didn’t even look too afraid.  And Casey was a ham every time she saw us watching her or taking pictures.  Hearing the whole church full of people clapping for them was really nice.  They all got a great round of applause for delivering a beautiful Christmas play.

Walking around bit before the show

Watching the other group sing and getting ready for their part

Jack in the show

Snowflake Casey

Not a great picture but I love the expression I captured on Casey as she was being a ham!

Casey’s Christmas hair bling

Casey pretending to be asleep while they placed a bow on her to turn her into a present.


The Pre-Christmas Plague

Unfortunately, the first three weeks of the Christmas season were a haze of changing sheets and scrubbing carpets in the middle of the night and tending to sick kids all day.  I was going to write a post with the stats of this illness the kids had but I didn’t have the energy to figure that out.  I washed the sheets so many times that I ran out of laundry detergent (which never happens here).  I ran out of carpet cleaner and but they still look like they need some professional help.  My hands were raw from washing them and scrubbing things.  I didn’t make dinner for two weeks unless it was pasta or a frozen pizza and I didn’t go to the grocery store unless it was for Vitamin Water or popsicles or bananas.

I’m so glad it’s over.  It was a little bit of a roller coaster.  At first I didn’t think Casey was going to get it or at least she got a milder version.  Then she’s throwing up all night.  As soon as I thought Jack was better and sent him to school, he was throwing up again and soiling his sheets in the middle of the night.  I still cringe when he tells me his belly feels funny even though I’m sure it’s from the massive amounts of food I’m feeding him.  He lost a little weight but I think he’s more than making up for it this week.  He’s finally eating like I heard boys eat!

We missed a lot of things in the last few weeks – school field trips and birthday parties and holiday parties and church practice.  But now everyone is doing well and we’re getting really excited for Christmas!  I’m so glad I got most of my shopping done early or was able to buy online.  We’re counting down the days (we have 4 countdown calendars) and I think I might get through this without being too frantic about the things I have left to do.  The silver lining of spending so much time at home is that I got to sit down and watch a lot of Christmas shows with the kids and that was kind of fun and brought back good memories.  The kids are really into Christmas specials now!

Despite being pretty sick kids, the highlight of each morning was coming downstairs to open their Lego Advent calendar.  Each day they pull open a box and there is a Lego figure or car or spaceship they can build.  Jack has a Lego Star Wars calendar and Casey’s is a Lego City calendar.  Jack is already excited about next year.

Here are a few pictures of the first day…

My Favorite Christmas Present

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we went out to dinner with Pat’s parents before they left town.  We went to Pat and the kids’ favorite restaurant which attached to the mall.  We go there quite often and then we usually stop by the pet store after dinne to look at all the animals.  This time, Nana took the kids into the dollar store as well.  Casey desperately needed some pencils I think.  And then I guess they decided to do a little Christmas shopping.  Both Jack and Casey came out of the store with a bag and a Christmas present they picked out for me.
The first thing Jack wanted to do on Sunday as we were starting our Christmas decorating was to wrap his present.  I got all the wrapping paper out for him, tape and scissors and told him to have at it.  After a little bit of time he asked if he could use some tissue paper instead because he decided it would be easier to put it in a bag.  
After it was in there, I asked if he had labeled it.  He got a piece of paper and wrote out his from and to lines.  Then he asked me if that was a sentence.  I told him it was just a label and he wanted to know what a label was.  There was a wine bottle nearby so I tried to explain it with a wine label.  I think he was satisfied because he was quiet for a little longer.
Then he showed me his bag and he was very proud of it, even if he isn’t smiling in the picture:

He wanted to make sure it had a sentence, so he wrote “You wil like it.”  And I believe I shall because that is the cutest tag on a present ever and I already like it!  Although I’m pretty curious about what’s in the bag but that will have to wait a few more days.  21 actually, according to our 4 countdown calendars.