Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Wrap Up

I've probably mentioned this before, but Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love the spirit and excitement of it... and even more so now that I get to experience it with Riley. I can't believe it's over already, and yet I am sort of ready to pack up all the decorations and move on to spring. If only, spring was right around the corner.

We spend Christmas Eve at my brother's house each year. I was glad that my dad joined us as he has been skipping out in the past few years. It's just not Christmas without him there. We still can't stay as long as I like since the activities last way past Riley's bedtime, but regardless we had a lot of fun. I am hoping to push it next year and stay longer. Hopefully, she's ready by then.

Hanging with Papa Frank.

A few years back we switched from having a huge Italian meal to having a bunch of appetizers. I was bummed about this at first because I loved having my choice of multiple lasagnas, but my in laws make a fantastic lasagna on Christmas day so I still get my fill. Now I look forward to pickle rolls, taco dip, deviled eggs, veggies and a whole bunch of other random appetizers.

James and Alex watching the 'big boys' play ping pong.

Not sure whats happening here, but this is so my brother to be teasing someone. Thanks Ben.

My family does a gift exchange that involves a complicated version of the dice game that my brother, Chuck, came up with. This happens after we have to leave, but I look forward to joining in on the fun in the future again. We might have missed those gifts, but I did want to make sure that my dad opened our gift before we left. My dad really has everything he needs so I often give him food (meatloaf, chili, and cookies this year), some high quality socks (because he said he loved them once so now he gets them every year), and a calendar with every one's birthday on it (we're a big family so it's hard to remember the dates for everyone). But this year I also got him a t-shirt and turned one of the many canning jars I acquired from him into a soap dispenser. 

Apparently thrilled.

Riley was thrilled to get a gift from papa and one from my sister, Judy. And most importantly, she was thrilled that Santa did not show up at this party like the last party we were at. It's all fine and dandy for Santa to give her gifts, but she does not want to see him.

As usual, Riley was shy when we arrived, but my mid-party she was dancing for everyone and then gave multiple hugs to others as we left. Also, this kid has quite the memory. When we walked in the door she noted that the last time we were here we brought out cat, Lucy, with. It took me a moment and then realized she was talking about my brother's cat, CC, who looks a lot like our Lucy. 

Judy and Riley in their 'matching' outfits

Dancing queen.

Little Rocky will soon be a big brother to a sister. Excited to have new babies in the family.

We then headed home in the snow, missed our exit and ended up taking the long way home. Once home I found a strange, small dog without a collar in our yard. It was cold so I knew I couldn't leave the dog outside. I kept trying to catch him, but was unsuccessful. After trudging through the snow (and getting snow in my shoes) a guy who was clearing his car off across the street finally noticed me running around after his dog. I was relieved that the dog was accounted for and would be safe and warm for the night as I wasn't sure what I would do with the dog even if I did catch him. Once that was taken care of I headed inside where we set out cookies for Santa headed up to bed with Riley. We had to assure here that Santa would make a very quick stop to drop off her gifts and eat the cookies, and then would leave right away... and would NOT come upstairs to her room. She usually wants her bedroom door closed, but asked that we leave it cracked open... I suppose so she could hear if he was coming up the stairs. Oh, that kid.

After getting Riley to sleep, I  realized that I left my purse and water bottle at my brother's house. I made plans via Facebook email (since I knew my niece would be checking it) to have my purse sent home with someone who lives in the general vicinity of where we would be the next day, but then discovered it was sent in the completely opposite direction to another brother's house. Sigh. It was a pretty darn good night up until the purse incident. I was irritated with myself more than I really needed to be for leaving it behind. It's not that I really needed to have it, but I felt lost without it. And no one ever calls me, but I hate being without my phone.

Usually, when Riley gets to bed late it means that she's up super early the next morning and crabby, but she actually slept in and was in a great mood. Thank you, child. The first words out of her mouth were "is Santa gone?" - not because she wanted to see him, of course, but because she wanted to make sure he was out of the house.

This year we had a big debate about how many gifts we would get Riley. I wanted to stick to the 'want, need, wear, read' concept, but Jesse wanted more. The compromise ended up being 8 gifts (yeah, this fell in Jesse's favor). Four were from us, three from Santa (one of which she got a couple weeks ago), and one from the cats.  And of course, gifts from the grandparents and a couple aunts... and OMG, so many gifts.

Just recently Riley has been on a princess kick. It felt like this came out of the blue, and I kinda hate it, but also know that I was all about the color pink... pink... pink!!! when I was her age and I turned out relatively ok (and certainly not overly girly - or more to my worry - I haven't fallen into all the female stereotypes). So, when it came to gifts I wanted to honor her interests, but make sure it wasn't all Ariel Princess. Yes, Ariel is her favorite (except for that moment a couple days before Christmas when she declared she wasn't anymore and Jesse and I just kinda looked at each other and thought "hope she's not disappointed with her gifts"). We decided to get her something to 'dress up' in since she doesn't have a lot of that sort of thing. I wanted a doctor's coat, but the store we went to was out. When we saw the Ariel dress and realized that it lit up and played music we were like "OMG, she's going to think we are the most awesome parents ever". Let's just say the dress was a big hit and was worn all day.

Jesse and I don't buy each other Christmas Gifts. That's the rule. And he always wants to break it. He shared with me that he wanted to get me a new camera for my birthday and Christmas and only divulged it to me because he felt it was important to have my input on what I wanted. At some point I told him to put a hold on this because it's a lot of money and I don't really need it so I wasn't sure what to expect when I found this very un-Christmassy bag under the tree. Turns out it was Lightroom 5 and a book to explain it... because it is complicated.

Most of you can read over this next part, but for those camera peeps that may be interested -  I usually shoot in raw and until recently I mostly fell to shooting in program mode, but now have been shooting in manual. Most of my editing is done in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) followed by very little in Photoshop CS3. I love ACR and like Photoshop, but would probably like them even more if I knew how to use them better. I know that many edit in Lightroom so I have been exploring this, but didn't really consider getting it until I got better at actually taking pictures. I am excited to get to know this program, but am sort of scared to change my process from what I know even though it will likely improve my process flow (which needs attention, stat!) and hopefully, improve my editing. Now I just have to work on taking better pictures in camera. Ok, done with that little rant.

I technically did not get Jesse a gift. He's always wanting t-shirts so I was going to order a couple for Riley to give to him, but decided to have Santa give him this one in particular. He doesn't seem extremely thrilled by it in the picture, but he said something about wearing it to the gym all the time. He sounded like he was kidding, but I know he thinks this is the greatest shirt of all time.

After our gifts at home we headed over to my in-laws house for more Christmas Shenanigans.

Got a quick picture before she put her princess dress back on.

First thing we did (after putting Riley's Ariel dress back on her) was to Skype with Jesse's brother and his family in Luxembourg. It's so cool that we can do stuff like this and that Riley can still 'see' her family from afar. 

Next up was stockings (always some fun goodies here) and then gift opening before food.

With her new Ariel baby doll in her Ariel dress. She was in heaven.

The quietest and most engrossed I saw Riley all day was when she opened up this Sophia snow globe gift. She was beyond mesmerized. 

The adults in the family picked names and I got Jesse's mom. Jesse always struggles with what to buy her for gifts and I had no idea what to get her either. I asked her several times for a list and eventually bought her a scarf and a gift certificate to Macy's (and then she emailed me and said a gift card to Macy's would be great). I decided to play a little joke on her for not getting me her list earlier by getting her a gag gift. I was going to try and find an ugly Christmas sweater at Goodwill, but they didn't have anything horrific enough. BUT, they did have something even better. 

I gave Suzie the gag gift first and said something along the line of "I hope you like this. I had to special order this...". Jesse contributed with "this is so cool" or something like that. 

The look on her face when she pulled out this castle with a wizard and a dragon.... that lit up, played music, and created a tornado was priceless. She was trying to be so gracious because that's just the way she is, but eventually I put her out of her misery and broke it to her that I got her a 'real' gift.

You can't see it too well here, but the clouds that the dragon is sitting on flashed lights. The music was pretty horrible and didn't seem to fit with this scene at all. When I found it at the store I thought this was bad and that was without getting to see it in all it's glory once I put new batteries in at home. Jesse's response to this? He thought it was awesome and was excited that his mom let him have it in the end. Lucky me to have this in my house. I feel like I'm married to a 14 year old nerd who plays D and D in his spare time.

After a wonderful lasagna dinner we had to work it off by playing Just Dance on the Wii. Well, I sat in a chair and laughed my butt off, but Riley danced her little heart out. In fact, I now want a Wii just for her to be able to play this game. She loved it and was even singing the Monster Mash from it the next day.

When we got home Jesse hooked up his Play Station camera thingy that he got for Christmas and started looking for an interactive game that Riley might enjoy. He found a demo called Playroom where you could fling these little robots out of the controller on to the floor (or so it looked like that on the screen). When you ran around they ran from you and made all sorts of noise and when you danced or waved they waved back. I heard massive giggles coming from the basement and discovered Riley dancing around the floor with these 'robots'. Not much to this game, but Riley loved it.

The next day we headed over to my dad's for an afternoon visit with my aunt and uncle who were in town for a short time. Riley was such a good girl while we were there - in fact she was great for the entire week. It was so great for her to be on her best behavior over all these holiday gatherings.

And, even though Riley went gaga over all her princess gifts, her favorite gifts appear to be her characters from Monsters, Inc, and the DVD on sight words. She wants to play it over and over and is so excited to be able to recognize words from the DVD in her books.

Christmas done... now on to a quiet New Years at home. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 23, 2013

More Christmas activities

We had a number of Christmas activities planned for this holiday season that we ended up skipping. First up was the Holidazzle parade. Riley loved this last year, but between scheduling conflicts and cold weather we decided to skip it eve though it's the last year it will run. The last thing I wanted to do was to get downtown, pay for parking, squeeze into a spot with the crowds, and then have Riley freak out about the weather. She hasn't been very tolerant of the cold so it's just easier to find indoor activities.

That leads us to the Macy's Santaland Display. We initially thought about skipping this because it's the same display it's been for the last couple years we've gone and Riley never wants to see Santa anyway, but Jesse and I had a Monday off and thought we could beat the crowds and go in the afternoon after picking Riley up from preschool. Unfortunately, it snowed that day which made the roads just crappy enough that we decided to skip it.

We still wanted to do something that day so we hopped in the car and drove a few blocks to Oak Hill park. The trees in the park are lit up with Christmas lights from November through March and it just feels so magical to walk around under them. Turns out it was a little too cold for Riley and about 2 minutes out of the car she started whining to go home. We got her to walk a loop around the ice rink, but she was crying by the time we got to the car. Ok, so much for that.

Meh, so the Christmas activities weren't quite working out as we wanted. I decided to find activities we could do in the warmth of our own home. First up, was making chocolate dipped pretzels with peppermint. I'm not a big candy cane fan so half the batch were minus the peppermint. I also couldn't decide on the kind of chocolate so I made several different flavors: semi-sweet, white, and dark. I brought some of these into work and plan to bring the rest to other family gatherings.

Someone is loving her new Christmas hair bows.

I also bought a gingerbread house kit for us to tackle together. The day after I bought it Riley got to make a miniature version at preschool which she loved. We planned to make ours the next weekend, but once Riley got a taste of making one at school she asked to make ours every time she saw the box.

We eventually found the time to put together the gingerbread house this weekend and it ended up being a lot easier than I thought it would after reading a number of experiences on other blogs. Riley really enjoyed this so this will likely go on our list next year too.


Insisted on wearing two new hair bows.

Next up was cookies for Santa. I had left over chocolate from the pretzel treats so I decided that we'd make chocolate chip cookies instead of decorating sugar cookies like we did last year. Why be wasteful? Plus, I love me a chocolate chip cookie.

"Hey mom, look at me". The only time I can get her to stay still for a picture is apparently when she is doing something unsafe and wants it captured on camera.

In the end, Riley preferred the pretzel treats which was a-ok by me. More cookies for me! Er, I mean Santa. Yes, I must save some for Santa.

Getting a little Riley love for making Christmas treats together.

Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday! Merry Christmas!