Saturday, December 20, 2014

School Winter Parties

Jack’s and Ella’s classes both held winter parties before the holidays this year, with games, crafts and treats.  Jack’s teacher (who is THE most organized teacher we have ever come across, and a great, fun teacher to boot) had set up a photo booth outside the classroom for the kids.  It was such a fun idea, I helped set one up for Ella’s classroom party which was a few days later.  It’s probably my last year to spend time in Ella’s classroom with her headed to middle school next year, so I have to enjoy it while I can (although, it’s not too often even now).

{little stinker knew i was taking a picture of him…}

Friday, December 12, 2014

O Christmas Tree

We drove down I-81 through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia to I-77 on our way home the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  This being such a scenic route, right along the Appalachian Mountains, and us within days of December and now in the midst of Christmas season, I started thinking about all of the years I had wished we could make some time to head to the mountains for a tree farm to select our own Christmas tree to cut down.  I quickly got on the Google and started trying to find a Christmas tree farm along our route that wouldn’t add too much time or headache to our trip.  It was a tricky pursuit—most would close by sunset so we had to pass the farm before 5pm, but for how far did we really want to have a Christmas tree on our roof?—and I nearly gave up after several searches near towns we were passing that showed the farms would add an hour or more of driving to our trip…not to mention that quite a few “tree farms” did not have very sophisticated websites and therefore didn’t offer a ton of information on whether or not they were still operating.  Nevertheless, I persisted and luckily found Ridge Road Ranch Christmas Tree Farm just a few miles off of the highway just north of Blacksburg, Virginia.  Not only had I always thought selecting and cutting down our Christmas tree would be a fun and quaint experience, but, knowing that we were flying out on our big trip to Spain on Christmas day and, as such, were not planning on getting out a lot of our Christmas d├ęcor (or even any ornaments), I thought this would at least be a special experience related to our Christmas tree (and it made me feel less Grinch-y about not getting everything out of the attic).   

The snow on the ground definitely added to the experience and it was definitely fun to get out and stretch our legs for a bit to break up the drive.  Going in, we decided on a small tree so you’ll see that we stuck to mostly the areas of trees probably 6’ or less.  We all had a great time exploring the grounds, playing the snow, checking out the views, and, of course, picking out our little tree.  Fortunately, minus a few needles at the bottom, our little tree survived the nearly 300-mile drive we still had to make to get home. 

I did not take any pictures of our decorated tree this year, probably for two reasons: 1) I was in the thick of planning and squaring away our aforementioned big trip to Spain; and 2) Decorating our tree was a process this year—as we were not getting down our ornaments from the attic, I decided to make decorating the tree our Advent activity.  I trolled Pinterest for an idea a day for homemade ornaments.  We made and painted cinnamon dough ornaments (just applesauce, tons of cinnamon, and glue—I did post some of these to Instagram), painted pinecones, tied ribbons on sticks in the shape of Christmas trees, melted beads shaped in cookie cutters, did a science experiment with pipe cleaners and dissolved Borax to make snowflake ornaments, made Perler bead ornaments, and strung a garland of popcorn and freeze-dried cranberries.  We also read Christmas books, made hot chocolate, watched holiday movies, made reindeer food, had family game night, and made cookies as some of our Advent activities.  Ella and Jack actually really got into it and only missed not seeing a few of our ornaments.  We’ll bring them all back next year—and I’ll be sure to get some pictures of the decorated tree…can’t believe I missed my chance for holiday light bokeh!  I have to say, though, photographing our time at a quaint, scenic Christmas tree farm was definitely more fun.

{it’s all fun and games until you hit your sister in the face with a snowball…}

{here, let me get that snow off your face…}

{yeah, that went over well…}

{a little too pleased with himself…}

{but she recovered quickly.  and, yes, that is an orange mustache she has here.  she was drinking orange gatorade in the car before we got to the tree farm.}

{and we found the one.  time to saw!}

{we picked a concolor fir because they’re supposed to have good needle retention—something necessary to survive the long drive home on top of the jeep and also not leave a mess for us when we returned home after a week and a half in spain.}

Monday, December 8, 2014

Aunt Claire, Uncle Al, & Michael

Jonathan’s Aunt Claire and Uncle Al own a gorgeous home in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania—complete with a media viewing room from which we could hardly tear the kids away.  We’re so glad we were finally able to drop in for a visit and, as an added bonus, we got to see cousin Michael while there as he was home with his folks for Thanksgiving. 

{michael led the kids through instruction on how to build “the world’s best paper airplane”.  jack continued his efforts when we returned home because he thought this was such a fun idea.  ella seemed to always make the best one; however, i really think it’s her finesse in throwing them that makes the difference.}

{michael’s an artist and ella would ask for ideas from michael on what to draw, make her sketch, and then show it to him for his assessment of her work.  jack had to show some of his art skills off, too, so you can see in this picture his drawing of a ninja fight.}

{it was a little too snowy and wet outside, so we had to test them down the hallway.}

Sunday, December 7, 2014


The day after Thanksgiving we left Grandmom and Grandpop’s house and headed for Jonathan’s Uncle Al and Aunt Claire’s house in western Pennsylvania.  They live under 20 miles from Gettysburg so we took the chance to spend part of our day at the National Park taking in this historic site.  Although the historic battle took place in the summer, I really appreciated the spectacular views of this area under a blanket of snow.  Wherever you were, you could see for miles.  It was a chilly day, obviously, so we decided to do our tour of the park in our car (it is a HUGE park with more than 1,300 monuments, markers and statues scattered throughout the battlefield)—we purchased a guided audio car tour CD set from the visitors center and followed the signs to the various historical highlights and landmarks throughout the park.  The audio guide had some dramatized battle stories and also gave us insight into some of the people involved in the battles or living in the various houses on the land.  The stops along the journey which allowed us to get out of the car and explore a bit definitely helped to break up some of tedium of listening to war history.  The last time we as a family took a trip together to Pennsylvania we were spending the 4th of July in downtown Philadelphia so I had made a point on that car drive up to read some history and even the full Declaration of Independence to the kids.  Now that’s kind of a family joke and the kids were breathing a sigh of relief on this trip that I wasn’t inflicting history on them when they were trapped in the car—well, ha ha, the joke’s on them!  The audio CD read all the history and more to them for nearly 3 hours during our drive through Gettysburg National Military Park and even finished with the Gettysburg Address…which I may or may not have made them listen to twice, until they could tell me what they thought was meant by it.  Honestly, the kids were great sports listening to all that Civil War history and exploring Gettysburg—which definitely made me feel good (like they were ready) for the trip we had planned for Spain just a month after this. 

{ella’s not a huge selfie-taker, so at this point it’s still cute when she whips out her itouch and shoots away.}

{note to self: wear sunglasses in photos facing the sun. #squintcity}