Friday, December 30, 2011

Nonni & Papa’s Visit

My parents came to visit us for a few days after Christmas.   We mostly spent time together playing with our new Christmas goodies (building LEGOs, playing board games, watching new movies), but we also enjoyed a few outings together, too.  We had a fun time one night driving Nonni’s minivan on Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the Christmas lights show and we spent a day down in uptown Charlotte.  I only managed to get my camera out for our day in the city—we walked the streets in uptown, went to see the Leonard Bearstein Orchestra, explored the new Wells Fargo history museum, and then wandered through the Bechtler Museum of modern art.  I’ll have to be better with my camera because, while this was such a nice day together, the real fun was just spending time with Nonni and Papa hanging out at home.  That’s the good stuff.  We miss you guys and look forward to a visit soon! 

{on right: that’s jonathan and jack way ahead of us—they didn’t want to miss one minute of the 45-minute bear show that we’ve seen every year for the past 4…}

{bechtler museum of modern art.  the kids were awesome in here—it’s not like the mint museum with its kids room for some reprieve from the quite halls of artwork.  ella actually got a tour headset and listened to the history and commentary on a bunch of the art.  i love her interest in art, and this was definitely a good museum to show her that there is a vast range of what can be defined as art.  papa even pointed out that ella definitely could of done some of the pieces in the museum herself (not much for modern art, i guess…ha ha).}

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Christmas Morning Concert

After the mayhem of present opening on Christmas morning, we enjoyed some very nice family time—in our pajamas, trying out new toys together, calling loved ones, and then a sweet Christmas concert by our very own Ella.  After seeing a classmate’s YouTube video of him playing the piano, Ella wanted me to film her, too.  :)

{ella received the flamingo headband for christmas from her godmother, lauren.  and i think all of the head bobbing is to help keep her count…}

More Comfort and Joy

For the third year running we’ve been fortunate enough to share some holiday joy with our great friends Baden, Ilse, and their mom (last year and the year before).  This year we met at Gingerbread Lane to check out all of the gingerbread house contest entires and then had a very nice lunch together.  And, Baden brought Ella and I each a rose, a car for Jack, and a very sweet card for Ella.  This is still a very special friendship, between all of us, and I think these pictures really speak to that.  You can see the comfort, and the joy, these friends have when spending time together.

{and, just because we love this tree.}

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nana + PopPop Visit

Jonathan’s parents came to visit us for a few days leading up to Christmas.  We mostly just spent time hanging out, playing games, snuggling and watching movies, and talking and laughing.  We managed to fit in a few holiday activities while they were here—the highlight of which was going to see the lights at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens—but the kids really just wanted to make sure they were as close to Nana and PopPop as possible, no matter what we were doing.  We’re very glad they came to visit.

{nana and poppop helped ella and jack decorate their huge gingerbread men.  jack, in addition to all of the sprinkles that made it into his mouth, actually managed to eat about 3/4 of his man.  i think ella only got through one foot.  p.s. ella’s in her cheerleading outfit.  she’s on a cheerleading squad for basketball this winter—there will be more on that to come later, but, needless to say, ella was very excited that nana and poppop had the chance to go to a game to watch her cheer, as evidenced by the next two pictures taken during halftime of that day’s game.}

{at daniel stowe botanical garden.  it wasn’t very cold for nana and poppop’s visit so we were finally able to bring them (thin-blooded florida people that they are) to this outdoor holiday event.  we had a nice night walking around the gardens, beautifully decked with holiday lights.  i had to resort to the on-camera flash for most pictures it was so dark (forgot my off-camera), so there was no really doing the night justice in pictures.}

{ella and jack mostly wanted to run around the gardens and they especially, even though it was a cool night, loved all of the water features.}

{ella and jack met with santa at the gardens.}


{in front of a tree made of orchids. 

jack rode home with nana and jonathan (we took separate cars) and apparently spent the entire car ride planning out the next day’s activities.  his plans—everyone should be decked in our pajamas and armed with hot cocoa while we watch a holiday movie.  the next day we went to trader joe’s in the morning and, as soon as we got home, jack ran upstairs and put his pj’s back on.  and so it went—movies, cuddling, hot cocoa, more games, some puzzle building, and, definitely, some quality time with the grandparents.}

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


While I haven’t done a great job documenting our holiday season, I can pat myself on the back for enjoying all of the Christmas traditions and joys of the season with the kids over the past month.  Our halls were decked, Christmas cards mailed, and holiday cheer infused into our daily lives.  To spur this a bit, this year instead of putting LEGO kits or treats in our advent calendar house I put little notes behind each door with a holiday activity for the day.  A few of my favorites: Make a fire and read stories, Snowman craft [used for cards for teachers, coaches, and Uncle Ken’s birthday], Make cards for Grandparents, CANDY CANES!, Decorate Gingerbread Men, Take a ride to look at lights, Watch a Christmas show [the kids’ favorite this year was A Year Without a Santa Claus], Deliver gifts to friends/teachers, Make ornaments, Decorate cookies, Paper Snowflakes, Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows, and Open ONE gift [on Christmas Eve—we have our tradition of new pajamas and a Christmas book for each kid on Christmas Eve].  The kids loved opening the door to the advent calendar each morning to find out what the special task for the day was.  It may not be well photographed or recorded, but, nonetheless, I feel good that we embraced this busy Christmas season.

Just a photo collage of the few pictures I did manage to take.  From left to right, starting at the top:

  • Ella and Jack filled glass ball ornaments with paint and swirled it around for a marbling effect.
  • We made a few treats for us and to share.  These are our chocolate-covered marshmallow Reindeer Pops.
  • Ella, Jack, and I made some new orange pomanders—our house really smelled like the holidays!
  • We visited Gingerbread Lane, a yearly tradition.  Our favorites this year were an Angry Birds inspired gingerbread house (pictured), Panthers stadium, and Willy Wonka’s chocolate mansion.
  • We only made and decorated one batch of Christmas cookies, but, when the recipe for spritz cookies makes 6 dozen, that’s quite enough.
  • I think it’s been years since we managed this, but before Christmas this year Ella and Jack spent some time sitting on Santa’s lap.
  • Ella and Jack enjoyed opening the doors each morning of the aforementioned advent calendar house.  I also actually put some money behind each door, too, which added to the excitement.  Some days they would get five pennies or a dime and other days a dollar.  We overheard that the kids had peeked ahead a few days to see how much money was there, so we had to have a talk and decided they would have to donate all of the money they collected the rest of the week to church on Sunday.  Even they felt good about that.
  • Instead of houses, Ella and Jack each decorated a huge Gingerbread Man.  They had some special helpers, too, but more on that later.
  • We spent A LOT of time this holiday season, especially over the break from school, building puzzles (Ella’s staring at a 300-piece Buzz Lightyear puzzle we put together in this pic), snuggling up for movies, and playing board games, card games, and, well, iPad apps.  :)
  • Cookies, milk, and carrots were set out for Santa and his crew on Christmas Eve night.
  • And, the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
  • Also, although after Christmas day, we even made it to see the bear orchestra in uptown.

December was full of special times and traditions with friends and family and I definitely didn’t cover it all here—so there will actually be more to come on our Christmastime 2011!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!!

Santa delivered!  We hope you’re having a merry one, too!

{jack’s big santa request—reebok zigs.  he’s a happy boy.  :) }

{ella asked for legos, which she got.  but, the big surprise was that she finally got the barbie nail printer that she had asked for last year and the year before.  now, if we could just figure out how to work it…}

Saturday, December 24, 2011

WDW, Day 4: Epcot

Our fourth and last day at Walt Disney World was spent at Epcot—a first for Ella and Jack.  It was a nice way to wind down a very exciting trip.  The kids’ favorite rides were definitely the super-fast Test Track and cool Soarin’ ride, but we also enjoyed the Finding Nemo ride, Turtle Talk with Crush, the Three Caballeros ride (in Mexico), exploring the countries, trying the sodas from different countries at the Coca-Cola shop, and even some of the learning rides.  It was a beautiful, cool day and enjoyed the beautiful grounds of Epcot as we wrapped up our Disney trip.

{nonni and papa joined us for half the day—ella and jack were excited to see them, to say the least…nonni and papa look a little unsure…ha ha.}

{(on left) i actually loved the riverboat ride that took us through the greenhouses at epcot.  we saw a ‘jackfruit’ tree!  we figured its fruit must be pretty sweet.  :)  (on right) jack had talked about donald duck being his favorite character during our entire disney trip.  we’d decided not to wait around to meet any characters this go around, but we were lucky enough to happen upon donald with no line in mexico at epcot.  jack was very, very excited.} 

{thanks for meeting us, nonni and papa!  …jack still looks like he’s wearing eyeliner…}

{the kids starting getting a little crazy by late afternoon.  we walked around all of the countries, enjoyed a few shows, watched the candlelight processional, and then headed out.  definitely an awesome trip to disney, and a wonderful time of year to be there.} 

WDW, Day 3: Magic Kingdom

Another wonderful day at the Magic Kingdom—over 12 hours at the park and we had another stress-free but action-packed day.  We did all of the rides again, once or twice, all of the shows (Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, etc.), and stayed for the awesome night show and parade.  We even met up with some pretty special people at the park—Jonathan’s cousin Julia and her boyfriend joined us for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and Nonni and Papa spent most of the day with us.  The day started out with gorgeous blue skies but rained for the last half of the day.  The show goes on at Disney, even in the rain, though, so we still got to do and see everything we hoped for at the Magic Kingdom.  We left the park that night wet, cold, and smiling.

{we didn’t have any eye makeup remover packed with us on the trip, so you might notice that the kids both look like they’re wearing eyeliner on this day—we had trouble getting all of yesterday’s makeup off, especially for jack.  some goth teenage girls in line in front of us for thunder mountain actually took jack’s picture—i think the dark clothes and pirate medallion weren’t much help. ha ha.  we just told jack he looked like captain jack sparrow…}


{poor jonathan—the kids spin and spin and spin nonstop.  he looks a little ill in that second photo…}

{nonni and papa!}

{nonni and papa with ella and jack on aladdin’s magic carpet ride.  it was raining at this point.  thank goodness nonni was prepared and brought ponchos for all of us!}

{we stayed until the very end that night to watch disney’s electrical parade and then the castle light show.  the projection light show on the castle was am.a.zing.  i didn’t want to miss a second of it fiddling with my camera so i don’t have any footage, but we’ve watched it again on youtube.  the castle is literally transformed with lights (and i’m not talking about how the castle looks in these pictures).  it’s incredible—you just have to see it for yourself.}

Friday, December 23, 2011

WDW, Day 2: Magic Kingdom




On the second day of our trip we headed to the Magic Kingdom, bright and early.  Just as we did on our last trip, we had a sort of non-stop day, heading from one attraction to the next and strategically working the fastpasses, but we never felt rushed or stressed.  We took in all of the lovely Christmas decorations as we headed down Main Street towards the castle and then, to start the day off slow (and because this worked for us on our last trip), we headed to Fantasyland.  We hit all of our favorite big rides from our last trip (Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean) and added a few new faves (The Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain).  Yes, the kids were finally tall enough for all of the roller coasters and we definitely took advantage of that.  However, all of the shows, characters, and story rides were still a huge hit with the kids, too.  Once again, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom did not disappoint. 




Some highlights from this day at the Magic Kingdom:

  • We, of course had to ride all of the iconic Magic Kingdom rides, including the Dumbo ride.  A highlight for me, too, was that I rented a 17-55mm f/2.8 lens so I could get wide enough to take a picture of Ella sitting next to me on a ride or zoom in for a tighter shot of the kids farther away.  Regardless, we had a fun time in Fantasyland.

  • You’ll notice Ella and Jack are wearing some special shirts.  These are the t-shirts they carried around to each park last time to have signed by all of the characters we met.  They have signatures all over the fronts and backs of their shirts.  It’s like we couldn’t have planned it any better, because the shirts finally fit them!
  • After Fantasyland we decided to ride The Haunted Mansion for the first time with the kids.  This has always been one of my favorite rides and part of the fun is checking out all of the funny tombstones on the way through the line.  Waiting in line isn’t what it used to be at Disney (lines really aren’t long at all) so they now have a separate line to take the scenic route through the mansion’s grounds.  They even have interactive stuff and tombstones that come to life, etc., so we had a lot of fun with that.  The kids loved the spooky ride—Jack keeps talking about how they have “999 spirits” in the house and they just “need 1 more” and Ella liked the footprints walking upside down up the stairs.  I think we all agree, though, that our favorite part is at the end of the ride with the hitchhiking ghosts—one put a beard on Jonathan, another made Ella’s and my head disappear.  Another time through our heads were literally switched or juggled.  It was very cool.
  • Next, it was Frontierland for our first roller coasters of the day.  Needless to say, our thrill-seeking kids loved them.  Hands were in the air and screams of joy could be heard.  We rode Thunder and Splash Mountain each a few times and had a blast.  In Disney’s picture from one ride down Splash Mountain, coming down the big hill, we’re all holding on for dear life and Ella had one fist in the air, looking like she was yelling, “Yeah!”.  Can’t say I recommend trying to take your own pictures on roller coasters, though—somehow I changed just about every setting on my camera when taking this shot…metering, focusing, picture quality, you name it. 

  • Last trip our special character experience was lunch in Cinderella’s castle with all of the princesses—Ella was at that age and Jack was still young enough to love any characters.  We wanted to do a special experience on this trip, too, so after some research, we made a reservation for the kids to join The Pirates League.  Ella and Jack each got a pirate makeover (Jack chose to be a cursed pirate with a skeleton face and Ella was an “Empress” pirate with black fingernails and eye make-up) and then were sworn into Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirates League.  Ella and Jack loved every minute of it.

  {the before picture}

{taking his pirate oath—“yo ho, we have a new pirate!  william blaststriker!”  (they choose a pirate name for you according to your birth month and some other facts and figures.)}

{ella taking the pirate oath.  “yo ho, we have a new pirate!  lisa calicocash!”}

{they were also taken into a secret room of captain jack sparrow’s (no photographs allowed in there) and given swords, sheaths, and a special pirate medallion (if you ask them where they got it, they’re supposed to say “i forgot” or some other made-up story).}

  • We had the foresight today to stake out a front row spot for the afternoon parade.  The kids, all done up like pirates, got quite a lot of attention from the characters—especially Captain Hook!  Captain Hook interacted with them for several minutes, looking them over, showing his approval, and even checking out their pirate medallions. 

  • Apparently, everything’s more fun as a pirate.  We hit all the rides we hoped to get to this day and, all the while, Ella and Jack ate up the attention they were getting all done up like pirates.

  • In the late afternoon, all the new members of The Pirates League congregate by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride to be in a little pirate parade and also for front-row seats to the Captain Jack Sparrow show.  Another fun part about this was watching Ella and Jack make new friends with all of the other little pirates.  They’d see each other around the park and give each other a silent nod or “yo ho” of recognition.  It was like their own little community.

  • Before we headed out for the night, we fit in our favorite rides from Tomorrowland—the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger ride and Space Mountain (which is da-ark, but the kids loved it).

…until tomorrow!