Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tis the season

This year I was determined to get in as much Christmas stuff as possible and was so excited when I came across the Twin Cities Holiday Event Guide.  I started planning right away and even sent out a couple emails to friends to plan meeting up. I consulted with Jesse, started to map out my plan, and then didn't really follow through. I thought I would even try to do something Christmas themed each day, but that quickly petered out.

Even so, it's been a good holiday season so far and it's felt like we've had just the right amount of holiday stuff for this year. Christmas for me really starts the day after Thanksgiving, and as mentioned in an earlier post we went to cut down our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We decorated our tree on Sunday and I realized I took some pictures, but never shared them so here we are..

The day after decorating the tree (Monday), when I still thought we would do a Christmas thing each day, I presented Riley with some new Christmas Pajamas. She was especially smitten with them since they came with a tutu.

I have no idea if we did anything on Tuesday that was Christmas themed and didn't really care anymore. However, we did get to go to dinner with my in-laws including my brother in law who was in town. Again, just realized I didn't share this picture in my last post. Riley sure does love her uncle.

The day after our family Christmas Party we decided to tackle the gingerbread house. Riley really liked this activity last year so I was game at doing it again. We had some structural issues this year where I thought the house was set, but it was not and everything started to come apart... and then finally stopped. Even though there is a gaping hole in the roof I still think it turned out great.

Lucy, the cat really  wanted to help us so Riley had to hold her back a few times. Lucy doesn't look too pleased about this.

Roof separation and chimney slide. Meh.

Oh, somewhere along the line I put up the chain countdown that we've used the last couple years, but even with that we'd forget a day and then have to do two chains the next day.

When Friday came along I suggested that we go look at lights instead of having movie night. For the last couple years I've wanted to check out the Holiday Lights in the Park display, but was having a hard time getting motivated to drive 20 miles to see them. As the afternoon wore on I read a blog post that mentioned them and decided to scrap the idea (thanks Erin for the feedback!). Instead, we decided to take my dad out to dinner.  Jesse received an Applebee's gift card at his work holiday party and thought of my dad right away. At dinner, I mentioned the lights that we decided to skip and my dad said he could show us some impressive lights a few miles from his home. He took us to a neighborhood that was once gated (supposedly 5 million dollar homes), but is now open and all decked out. Apparently, tour buses drive through here. Each house was all decked out in a different style, and even though I'm sure Holiday Lights in the Park was probably much brighter, this was impressive enough for us. Riley loved it - so that's what mattered most. Plus, it was free, we were pretty much the only people driving around and we got to hang with my dad. Win.

Saturday was the day I wanted to check out the new Holidazzle Village and Minneapolis Holiday Market. I've heard mixed reviews about it - mostly how irritated people are that you have to pay to enter the market, but I was determined to go. The Village area definitely could have been built out some more. We went on the weekend that there was a dog sled exhibition and it was almost 50 degrees. I think it might have helped if we had snow as I think there was supposed to be some short rides down the street on dog sleds, but no such thing. We did see some reindeer and Riley insisted that we go on the Holidazzle sleigh to get our picture taken (the sleigh set up was simple, but nice. You handed your camera to some guy who took a picture of your family and you were on your way. It had a short line, but not too bad). Oh, and there was a drum band playing that was pretty impressive.

The market cost us $12 for two adults (Riley was free), plus food, plus the carousal ride, plus some other trinkets... let's just say it added up fast. If you go, bring cash or plan to use one of the ATM machines nearby.

Our first stop was to get food. I can't remember the place we got brats, but it was in the back corner. Jesse got the 10' Christmas Sausage and I got the Nurnberger brat and both were fantastic. Riley ate before we left, but decided she wanted a pretzel. I snuck a bite, but she loved it so much she wasn't really willing to share more than that. I wanted to get some hot apple cider, but since it was pretty warm out, there was quite a crowd, and I was trying to keep track of a 4 year old, I didn't really feel like walking around with a hot drink. Maybe next year.

It's been awhile since I've been to a Christmas market (or holiday market, in this case - um, 17 years ago in Prague, actually), but I would say that this could have been set up a little better. It was the first year so I am willing to let some things go, but I would love to go back next year to see what they learned from this first year. Jesse doesn't want to go back mostly because they make you pay to get in, but I'm sure he doesn't realized how persuasive Riley and I will be about it. 

Riley's favorite part of the whole night was seeing the people light bulbs above. Of course, these happen to be remnants of the parade that ended last year so that confirmed to Jesse that they should just have the parade again. As much as I loved the parade, I was also glad that it didn't take an insane amount of time to get out of downtown. I like that they shook things up and hope that next year is even better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This week

This week was a hard one, and yet a hopeful one. It was another reminder of how precious life is and how important it is to make sure your loved ones know how much they mean to you. The week started out like any other and then was turned upside down when we found out that my mother in law, Suzie, was in the hospital. She hadn't been feeling well the week before and finally went in to get it checked out and got some startling news. Turns out she has brain cancer.

Suzie had lung cancer a few years ago and beat it, but the doctors said it appears that one of those nasty, little cancer cells made it's way up to her brain and just hung out for awhile. They speculate that it recently started growing and put pressure on her brain which is why she felt numbness, had balance issues, and then had vision issues.

We were told surgery was not an option based on where the tumor was. It was just too dangerous, but they could do focal radiation. Sunday she went to the hospital; Monday she received an official diagnosis; and Wednesday she completed her radiation treatment. The medical field amazes me. She has to have ongoing MRI's to make sure all is ok, but the success rate is 85% so we are hopeful. And we are so grateful for her in our lives. (Also, lots of gratefulness goes out to my father in law who encouraged her to go to the hospital.)

Jesse's brother, Rich, flew in on Monday from Luxembourg. I'm glad he could come and be close with his mom and brother. We were able to spend a fair amount of time together during the week and Riley was delighted to see her uncle Richie and spend extra time with grandma and grandpa. She knew that grandma was sick and that it was more than a cold, but she didn't really know the scope of what was happening. She was just happy to see grandma. Jesse and I even got to go to his work Christmas party for a little get away while Riley hung out with the rest of the family. I got to see Jesse cut loose a little bit after a week that I know was difficult for him (he even was recognized as a great co-worker/employee by his peers and his boss at the party and got a nice gift card for it).

By the end of the week we were preparing to see Rich off and have one last family celebration while he was still in town. Every year Jesse's family has a large Christmas party in the weeks before the actual holiday. My mother in law is one of 11 kids, and by the time all the kids and grand kids gather together it makes sense to rent a place so we can all gather in one spot. This party was especially meaningful after all that had happened this week.

Jesse, Suzie, Michael and Richie

I love Suzie's smile here and her sister in the background grinning.

Jesse and his cousin, Tatum

More smiles!

Lots of family love

Where's Riley? The little kids love to play hide and seek in this wide open room.

Just a few of the many crockpots

Patsy's amazing veggie tree

Richie's flight was set for the afternoon so Jesse left before Santa showed up to bring his brother to the airport. Riley and I stayed behind to visit with family and, of course, to see Santa. Riley's always been hesitant of the bearded guy and has refused to sit on his lap in the past. A couple years ago she agreed to stand near him, but then regressed last year when Jesse had to hold her. I walked up with her this time and she slid right on his lap. Really? Not sure what happened, but later when I was telling her I was proud of her for sitting on Santa's lap she told me she was a little "shy" about it. Totally understandable kiddo.

Riley only asked for a few things for Christmas and one of them was little princesses and princes. It's actually quite hard to find little princes (and she totally asked where they were), but finding little princesses was pretty easy. Bonus that the princesses' dresses come off and can be put onto the other princesses. She's played with these every chance she's had since Santa gave them to her.

Riley and I decided to do a little 'silly face in the ornament' picture and Jesse's cousin, Ryan, photo bombed us. Ryan is also into photography and recently started doing family sessions. He took a lot of family pictures during this gathering (like I did last year), but I decided there was really only a couple photos I wanted and one of them is the picture below - Suzie with her siblings. All of them were there -  something that doesn't always happen - so it was a great opportunity to get everyone in one picture. (Thanks to Ryan for getting everyone posed and then making them look at me when I wanted to get some shots since there were multiple photographers in the bunch.)

So that was our crazy, upside down week that ended on a good note full of hope and love and family. I look forward to many more years with this wonderful family. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas tree tradition and play dates

The weekend after Thanksgiving is always when I get my Christmas tree even though Jesse often suggests a later date. For me, Thanksgiving is done so I want to get the Christmas show on the road. It's my favorite holiday and want to embrace every moment of it before we head into the long, cold doldrums of winter.

We decided to head to Hansen's Tree farm again this year partly because of the trees and the entire experience (food, gift shop, hay ride, bonfire, etc), but also because of the syrup they sell there. The syrup itself is good, but it's really the bottle it comes in that is genius. It never ends up with sticky syrup drip so we've just been refilling the bottle we got last year with syrup from the grocery store throughout the year. We're a little fearful the cap on our current one will break with so much usage so we really wanted to get a new one. We talked about going to a tree farm that isn't quite so expensive, but that silly syrup bottle swayed us to go to this place again. 

Riley got up a little early so by the time we got to the tree farm around 10 am she was in a mood. In fact she put herself down for a nap (where she didn't actually sleep) at 8:30 so I knew she might not be feeling the greatest. Once at the tree farm she complained of being hungry so we tried to quickly cut a tree and head to the gift shop where they provide free hot dogs and Christmas sausage. Riley ended up eating two hot dogs so that explains part of her mood.

My dad was known for posing me with a saw in front of any tree he cut down (see examples below) so I thought I would carry on that tradition with my kid, but she wasn't really feeling it. Notice the sleepy eye rubbing happening here.

Ever since that year we bought a 'too fat tree for our space' we've been overly cautious about the since of the tree we get. I think this tree was even smaller than last year's tree, but overall it's the perfect little tree for us.

We have a thing about taking pictures of our feet when on vacation so it seemed appropriate to do so here. Plus, I know I can always get Jesse on board for this type of picture. Almost makes me want to send out Christmas cards with this on it.

Last year Riley refused to go on the hay ride, but that was because it was pulled by horses (The horse pulled ride started later in the day), but this year she was totally open to going on the tractor hay ride. It was super bumpy so no pictures from the actual ride, but it was still fun. 

Working on her second hot dog.

Then we went home and put Riley down for an early nap which she initially resisted because she claims she wasn't tired, but she totally fell asleep. One of her friends had invited her to go to the circus that day, but they changed it to Sunday so we suggested her friend and her friend's sister come over for a play date.

The girls had a lot of fun and did all go to the circus together the next day where Riley even went on a pony ride - something we have never been able to convince her to do. This was seriously amazing and makes me want to try to recruit other parents to get my kid to try new food, or go swimming. It's worth a try, right? There was a pre-party before the circus which is where the picture below were taken from.

Riley reports it was a really fun time. I feel like I was close to the same age the only time I went to the circus. I don't remember too much about the circus itself, but more about how my mom (who was going blind and had mental health issues) struggled to get us on the right bus to get out of there. Ah, memories. Glad Riley's experience was totally different... and so grateful for this family to invite Riley with.