Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Visit from St. Nick

What a fun treat at our neighborhood friends Christmas party!

Santa at Neighborhood Party

Making Chocolates

While I am still trying to figure out how to make a decent cookie, my husband's family tradition has been much perfected... making chocolates. Chocolate covered pretzels, cherries and coconut (which we call haystacks).

Making Chocolates

Anna making pretzel rods...

Making Chocolates

Maddie enjoying her chocolate pretzel covered in sprinkles...

Making Chocolates

... and her fork!
Making Chocolates

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making Traditions

Every year, about this time, as Christmas cards flow in I become a little nostalgic. I miss those that are no longer here on this earth and I fondly remember traditions that were held. I tend to scramble to "find" new family traditions for our own family in hopes that one would stick. I am slowly learning that a tradition isn't just about what you do, for sometimes doing becomes an obligation instead of a joy, it isn't just about who, for as loved ones pass their memory can still hold strong in traditions such as these, but it is also about being.

Being present, being engaged and being a part of a memory in the making.

I received a wonderful gift from my godmother from whom I "inherited" the love for organization and planning. To some the gift may have looked like a bag full of 'cooking stuff' for inside were muffin pans and sprinkles and a cookie press (gasp, she knows me so well!) but to me it was so much more. Tucked inside was a recipe from her family and accompanying the bag was a letter about family traditions and memories.

Our first attempt at cookie making was far from perfect and many cookies hit the trash that day. But I love that tradition isn't instant perfection but a refinement through the years - and that no matter how it turns out, the joy is in the making.

And, of course we got some really cute pics of Anna :) (Maddie decided to take a nap on this day).

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Opa and Snow!

Opa, Erik's dad, came to visit this weekend and we celebrated an early Christmas together. We had a nice family dinner, the girls opened presents and it even snowed!!

The girls dressed in their snowgear
(at least what we wear down here in the south :))

Snow Flurries

Anna was determined to catch the snow in her mouth.

Snow Flurries

Daddy and his girls. This picture was within an hour of the snow falling so nothing was staying on the ground; eventually the grass did get covered.

Snow Flurries

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Disney: Animal Kingdom

For Thanksgiving we decided to go to Animal Kingdom after hearing rumors of Thanksgiving being the busiest day of the year at most of the parks. The hotel staff predicted Magic Kingdom would close by 11am due to hitting maximum capacity. Thankfully we had made dinner reservations at Animal Kingdom's Tusker House a few months in advance for when we inquired about changing our dinner reservation, there was a not a reservation in all of Disney available!!

This was the first time I had ever been to Animal Kingdom and I must admit my expectations were a little low after hearing from some friends but it ended up being a highlight of the trip! We arrived shortly after the park opened (8am) and one of our family members rushed to the Safari to get a FastPass (a great addition to Disney parks that tells you a time to come back that cuts your wait time). The girls spotted some characters near the entrance so that was our first stop: Meeko (Pocahontas), Thumper (Bambi) and Flik (Bug's Life)

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Then we went over to theKilimanjaro Safari which was so good we rode it twice. Big jeeps take people through a path where you get an upfront view of African animals including elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, lions, and much much more.

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A few other highlights of Animal Kingdom included

TriceratopSpin: A newer version of Dumbo at Magic Kingdom and a much smaller line :).

Festival of the Lion King: A indoor musical number which was fantastic. I'm partial to the music of the Lion King anyway, but it was colorful and well done.

Greeting Trail: At last we got to see Mickey and Goofy!! Minnie and Donald were there as well but the girls were done waiting in line.

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Rafiki Planet Watch : We took a train ride out to Rafiki Planet Watch which was well worth it. They had an 'Affection Section' where the girls got to brush goats and sheep. There were other conservation related things to do but the girls were distracted by the characters of course. Rafiki (Lion King), Pocahontas, and Jimitny Cricket (Pinocchio)

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Parade: Disney sure knows how to organize people for a parade with the use of tape. We found a nice spot behind the tape to sit and watch the Christmas Parade, he girls loved it!!

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We probably could have spent another whole day at Animal Kingdom for there was much more to see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting Ready for Christmas

Yesterday Anna and I were hanging out in the family room where the stockings are hung and the tree is fully decorated and she exclaimed - "Mommy I can't wait for Christmas"! "Why is that", I asked already knowing the answer. Anna responded "We get to open our presents!"

I love that Anna is excited about presents, what little 4 year old isn't? But it was also a reminder of how much the world pushes that Christmas is about shopping and presents and how much harder I need to make sure that Anna knows that true meaning of Christmas. So here are a few resources I found online that I plan to incorporate into our December days.

Symbols of Christmas Minibook: A cute one-page printable that shows pictures of different things we see at Christmas time such as a wreath and tree and how we can relate them to God.

Christmas Wordwall Cards: These are similar to what I did last Christmas where everyday we will talk about a different word that relates to Christmas.

We also pulled out our Christmas books last night including God Gave Us Christmas, A is for Angel, Christmas in the Manger and Baby Jesus is Born

We will also be doing a Tub of Love through Raleigh Rescue Mission where we will be collecting items to be donated to the mission.

Disney: Magic Kingdom

Day 2 we headed to Magic Kingdom where we arrived prior to the park opening and waited with the crowd. The park opening ceremony was great with Mickey and friends arriving by train. Upon entering we immediately raced for the Dumbo ride (we were following on of those tourist books with park plans some of which were titled 'Dumbo or Die' :). There was a line but the girls did awesome waiting to get on and after about 45 minutes we were aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant.

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Then we rode the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

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followed by Mickey's PhilharMagic which proved tragic for Maddie. The PhilharMagic was a 4D movie with scenes from many of the older famous Disney movies but Maddie and Anna were both frightened of the things flying at them, water squirting and air blowing. Anna made it through in Oma's lap but Maddie cuddled as close as she could to me and whimpered, it was so sad. We then marked any 3D/4D movies off of our list.

Next we tried Peter Pan's Flight but Maddie was still a little skiddish and so she cried to get out of line and so she and Oma waited while the rest of us rode it. We then got Maddie to ride the Mad Tea Party and It's a Small World - she loved them both.

Later we went in Monsters Inc Laugh Lab which Maddie also had to exit - I think she had a fear of any dark place we took her after the PhilharMagic.

Next we found a spot to eat our packed lunch, explored Frontierland and Toontown but were soon worn out by all of the people. I must say at this point I was a little disappointed - it was hard to enjoy many of the sights because there were so many people EVERYWHERE and all of the rides had at least an hour wait. We headed back toward the front of the park to get some ice cream and discovered there was a castle show going on. The girls loved watched the show and got their first glance at Cinderella. In typical Disney fashion there was a scary witch (I think from Sleeping Beauty) that came out during the show which frightened the girls.

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We then found a spot to watch the parade which the girls loved. All of the princesses were on floats and there was lots of music and dancing. I am glad we stayed to watch it.

We did return to Magic Kingdom one afternoon and decided to take it at a slower pace to take in our surroundings a little more.

This was our attempt at getting a family picture amongst all the craziness.

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The lines were still long but we rode Dumbo one more time, the Prince Charmings Carousel, BuzzLight Year's Space Ranger Spin and I got to go on Space Mountain. We later heard from a lifeguard that Thanksgiving is the busies time of the year!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disney: Epcot

On Day 1 we headed to Epcot while waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. It quickly became apparent to us that the girls LOVED the characters which was a surprise to me - I thought Maddie would be a little frightened just as she is with the Chikfila cow, but that was no so. The countries in Epcot were the perfect place to see the princesses and other characters. The park provides times that each character will be out to take pictures with and so we never had to wait long in line.

Sleeping Beauty and Belle in France

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Alice, Pooh and Tigger, Mary Poppins in England (along with great Fish & Chips for lunch). Alice is Anna's favorite so she had to wear her own Alice shirt and bow :).

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Jasmine in Morocco

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Mulan in China

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Snow White in Germany (we also ate at the Biergarden here which was a buffet of German foods along with a performance of German songs and instruments)

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A few other favorites were Chip and Dale, which Maddie insisted on called squirrels, and Duffy the Disney bear, who is apparently Mickey's bear.

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Rides/sites we enjoyed were:

The Seas with Nemo & Friends - in this ride you are sitting in a clam shell and go on a search for Nemo. Maddie was a little scared when a giant scorpion type thing started thrashing about in the dark. Because it is a continuously moving ride there was never a wait. We did it twice, the second time Maddie's body was trembling :(.

Journey into Imagination with Figment - Figment was one of my husbands favorite things as a kid and so that ride was a must. It was another inside continuously moving ride and Maddie was absolutely terrified when a puff of air blew at her (it was so powerful my glasses fell off my head!). There was a play area after the ride that the girls loved.

Living with the Land - this was a boat ride that explained some of the things scientists at Epcot are doing to help improve man's relationship with the land through food growing techniques.

Gran Fiesta Tour - another boat ride with the 3 Caballeros in Mexico.

Innoventions - there were 2 Innoventions areas which are a great balance of learning and play for the kids. We did a family game by Waste Management teaching about recycling, made a video game sponsored by IBM, made cute froggies out of Velcro, learned about saving money with a piggy bank game, and practiced making a family survival kit in case of a fire, flood, etc.

We had such a great time at Epcot that we decided to go back and spend another half day later in the week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Disney: The Overview

We spent this Thanksgiving at Disney with family and had a blast! Thanks to Oma, we were able to stay at the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort. The place was inspired by the national park lodges of the northwest and every attention to detail was made just as expected from Disney. There was even a geyser fashioned after Old Faithful that went off every hour.

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For our week's stay we purchased a 5-day Park Hopper Pass which allowed us to visit multiple parks in a day including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Being under 3, Maddie was still free.

When visiting the parks we would take the park buses or boat (to Magic Kingdom only) and the girls found this to be part of the fun as well. It was wonderful not having to drive home from the parks in traffic after a long day and also not to have to pay parking each day.

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One piece of advice we had read before going was not to bring big strollers since they are hard to maneuver on park transportation and so we originally planned to rent a stroller there. A few days before the trip we decided to borrow a second single umbrella from a friend (thanks friends!!) which was a great decision. Having 2 singles made maneuvering through the park much easier than if we had a double, they were easy to handle on the park transportation and we didn't have to stand in line as the parks opened to get a rented stroller - PLUS renting a double stroller is $27-31 per day. Here are the girls in their cool strollers waiting for Magic Kingdom to open.

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Pics and info from the parks to come...