Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Vander Waal Christmas

We concluded the great Christmas extravaganza of 2011 in Pella when we joined Brad's family at his parent's house on Christmas Day.  We left home mid-morning, after opening our stockings from Santa and packing the van, and arrived at 2:00 that afternoon.  Everyone else slowly trickled in, and we soon were ready to open gifts and enjoy each other's company.

The whole clan.
Wow, what a good lookin' group of people. ;)


A hearty game of thumb wrestling with Uncle Brent to warm up our wrapping-paper-ripping fingers.

Oh yeah.  He loves Christmas.

From Grandma & Grandpa: Imaginext Toy Story 3 Tri-County Landfill for Reed.

Drew's soooo excited he stopped breathing!  Look at his red face!

... and TWO "Yellow Sonics" for Drew. {I know you can't hardly see Drew in this picture, but look at his can totally see how happy he was!}

And a Christmas gathering isn't the same without plenty of cookies to eat...

...and a friendly game of Spit.

We ended up spending the remainder of the week in Pella and Des Moines.  Brad's mom's family gathered on Tuesday evening (the 27th) for their annual Christmas potluck (to which I took absolutely no photos, so I'll need to get some from my mother-in-law ~ Brad's cousin, Jenny, already posted about it on her blog HERE) which officially rounded out our Christmas celebrations for the season.  We spent  the rest of our time enjoying the boys, Brad's family, and the beautiful weather!  It definitely didn't feel like Christmas, with 40 and 50 degree temps all week long!  Brad and I were even able to go on a date, which included post-Christmas clearance shopping, lunch, and a matinee.  Whooo-eee!  We traveled to Des Moines Thursday afternoon to spend a couple days with Brent, Esther, Lewis and Lauren before coming back home on Saturday.  For New Year's Eve, we tucked the boys in, donned the flannel jammies, and broke out the old board games to play with my parents while we watched football on TV.  Oh yeah.  We're a hearty bunch. 

We hope that your Christmas season was beautiful and magical, and that 2012 brings you joy and peace!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Clifton Christmas

After a day already filled with family, new gifts, and play, we welcomed the rest of the Clifton family Friday night (the 23rd) as we celebrated the holiday together.  Justin, Mindy and Perry arrived around 4:30, as did Ashley, Avery and Addy.  We chatted and snacked until Jeremy got off work at 6:00 to join us for dinner and presents.  Once everyone was together, we partied!

 Snuggles (or giggles???) with Uncle Justin.

 First, stockings. {Yep, my mother made them.  Because she's awesome.}

Puzzles, card games, coloring books, candy, Cars cars and new toothbrushes were all hiding inside.

 Then it was time for gifts!  The little guys helped pass them out, and then we tried opening gifts one at a time.  It actually went pretty well, as each child was somewhat patient for their turn as the others were opening.  It meant for a lot of movement around the room as all the boys followed from one gift to another to another, but it also meant that everyone was able to see what everyone else had received.

 Reed opening a new car rug from Perry.

 Drew received a Lightening McQueen Learn & Go handheld computer from Avery.

 For Reed: Woody from Grammy & Papa.

 For Drew: the World Grand Prix GeoTrax set.

 The boys got a few other gifts from Grammy & Papa as well, but the highlight for Reed was his new sleeping bag.  He and Addy had quite the time with it.

They took turns tucking each other in, rolling around it in, and giggling all the while.

And that Addy girl.  She's getting so big!

Fun, fun, fun with family...but the time together was much too short!  

Our Christmas

On the morning of Friday, December 23, Brad, the boys, and I celebrated our Christmas together.  If I was being honest, I'd say that it was good.  But it was odd.  We've been living with my parents for the past four months, and while I think we've "gotten used to it" at this point, how we function as a family is different.  And while many things were the same in regards to our Christmas traditions and how we celebrate, it was different.  Not bad.  Not normal.  Just different.  

One of the ways it was very different for us this year was that in order to accommodate all of the family gatherings and celebrations, we needed to spread out our own family Christmas throughout the weekend.  {As a plus, Brad did not have any church obligations this year, which allowed us to be more flexible, but it also took away a little from our "normal" Christmas plans.}  Santa comes on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day we would be traveling to Pella, and after last year, I vowed that we wouldn't have our Christmas on a travel day.  It doesn't allow the boys to play and enjoy their new gifts, and it puts an unnecessary rush on what we want to be a fun, relaxing, family day.  And because the Clifton Christmas was to be the night of the 23rd, the house would be entertaining guests that evening and the following morning. light of all of that mumbo jumbo, we opted to have the boys open their gifts from us on Friday, the 23rd.

Because it wasn't Christmas Eve, and the Santa hype wasn't in play, the boys didn't have the excitement that they have had the last couple years.  They knew when they went to bed the night before that we'd be opening gifts the next day, but when Drew woke up, there wasn't any mention of it.  This was fine, and I didn't encourage his excitement because Reed was still sleeping...and quite frankly, if/when Reed finally decides he doesn't need to wake up at 6:30 in the morning, I'm not going to do anything to change his mind!  Reed was up around 7:30, the boys woke up Brad shortly after, and then the excitement ensued!

 Of course, you wouldn't know it by this picture. :)
I promise, they were pretty stoked about the presents, just not-so-stoked about smiling for the camera.

They received clothes, books, puzzles, games, and a new racetrack.  They also received a new alarm clock/nightlight for their bedroom.

 And, of course, they each opened the gift the other had picked out for him at the Dollar Store.  Drew was so excited for Reed to open the Tigger he had picked out.  Reed was pretty excited about it, too.

 We had our traditional breakfast - monkey bread! - 

...before spending the rest of the morning enjoying our new things.

That evening, we had Christmas with the Cliftons, and spent all day Saturday (Christmas Eve) playing with each other and packing our suitcases to head to Pella on Christmas Day.

Before heading out of town on Sunday, we awoke to find that Santa had visited us during the night, leaving stockings full of goodies for the boys.  And much like Friday morning, neither of the boys woke up with much excitement or anticipation.  I don't think they remembered....and I don't think they remembered because the night before wasn't one of our better nights, and in the midst of the impatience and frustration and over-tiredness, I totally blanked on having the boys set out cookies for Santa Claus. Instead of happily anticipating Santa's arrival, I was threatening Drew with a stocking full of coal if his behavior didn't change.  Ugh.  Merry stinkin' Christmas, right?  

So anyway, while it wasn't our traditional routine, and our Christmas schedule felt a little out of whack, the boys found their stockings after having been awake for a little while.

 Santa gave the boys new movies, sunglasses, candy and socks.

 Then came the really good stuff! 

MP3 players for both boys.

And yes, yes we did give our two-year-old a MP3 player.  Here's how it came about: we were in need of another DVD player for the van.  We have one, and it can be strapped onto either one of the front seat headrests, which then situates it perfectly in front of one of the boys while the other one has to strain to see the screen.  I've been trying to convince Brad that we need to purchase the dual DVD players, but Brad, as technologically minded as he is, suggests MP3 players instead.  His argument: they are portable, they can watch what they want, and *headphones*!!!  Plus, he found a great deal on them, so I was sold.  The boys are too.  They aren't iPods or iPhones, like Drew asked for, but they'll do. :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Picture of the Day, Week 51

 Sunday {12.18.11}
Today's Advent activity was making gingerbread houses.  Just like last year, it was one of our best "family togetherness" activities of the season.  From left: Reed's, Mom's, Dad's, and Drew's.  

 Monday {12.19.11}
Mr. Independent. (And so handsome, too.)
When I prompted the boys to head upstairs to get dressed for the day, Drew raced up there on his own, declaring, "I'll get dressed all by myself!"  I waited downstairs to see if he'd call for help, when he appeared at the top of the steps, stripped down to his 'roos, asking me if he could wear the t-shirt he was holding in his hand.  I said sure, so long as he put a sweatshirt over it.  I went upstairs, then, to observe.  He proceeded to dress himself, picking out his pants (asking me first if they matched), pulling on his socks, and zipping up his sweatshirt.  If only I got this much cooperation every day of the week!

 Tuesday {12.20.11}
My dad celebrated his 62nd birthday today.  He needed a little extra oomph to get all those candles blown out!

 Wednesday {12.21.11}
I met up with a friend of mine and her two kids at the mall for a playdate.  There is a fun little activity/jungle gym area there that was pretty cool for the kids to play at.  At one point, Drew plopped himself down on the bear and said, "Mom take my picture."  I was happy to oblige.

 Thursday {12.22.11}
Reed is just itching to be able to play games like Drew does.  Brad has started giving him a few pointers on how to use the mouse.  Minus the whole incessant clicking, Reed's getting the hang of it!

 Friday {12.23.11}
We celebrated our family Christmas this morning.  Dontcha just love this picture?!?!  I guess forced smiles is as good as I'll ever get if I want a Christmas photo before we open gifts.  They were so excited to get their presents; don't let their lack of enthusiasm here fool you.
{We also celebrated Christmas tonight with my side of the family.  This is another reason while I'm going to be doing "Pictures of the Week" in 2012, instead of Picture of the Day.  Some days, there is just too much going on to choose one photo.}

Saturday {12.24.11}
Bingo's last day with us found him perched on the boys' dresser, complete with a good-bye note.  We've had a lot of fun this year with our Elf on the Shelf, although I think it's been more fun for me than for the boys. :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Until Next Year

This morning, the boys found Bingo by the tree in their room, and with him he had a little note. 

He told the boys that when he returned to the North Pole tonight, he would be staying there until next year.  Bingo said that Santa was happy to see them be nice boys, but that they needed to work on listening to Mommy and Daddy.  :)

Bingo loved being our Scout Elf, and we loved having him.

Oh, and where else did we find Bingo this week???

All wrapped up in the tree...

 "Rubber Ducky, you're the one"...

 Sneaking a peek...

And getting everyone else into trouble as there must have been some kind of marshmallow/snowball fight during the night!

Until next year, Bingo!

So long!

Advent Action {Week 3}

{You can find Week 1 Here, and Week 2 Here.}

We've completed our countdown to Christmas, taking part in daily activities that are intended to help us practice generosity and compassion, as well as promote family togetherness and fun.  I admit that I got worn out this last week.  With the Advent tree upstairs in the boys' room, it kind of fell into the "out of sight, out of mind" category, and I often didn't prepare for the next day until I was about ready to crawl in bed.  And logistically speaking, it was different trying to pull together activities when we don't live in our own home.  Obviously, giving and generosity don't require one to have their own house - but it was a bit more work to pull together some of our other activities when I had to either dig things out of a box or think outside of it to make it work.

Regardless, we finished.  We made it to Christmas, and my prayer is that something stuck with the boys, whether it be the importance of giving or the importance of red and green sprinkles.

10 Days til Christmas: Bake cookies

The boys were both way more hands-on than they were last year; Reed, obviously because he's older, and Drew was just way more into it.  We had a good time, although I rolled that dough out plenty of times as the boys don't quite have that spatial comprehension yet (read: placing the cookie cutters close enough together to make as many fit as possible).

9 Days til Christmas: Frost cookies

As I wrote for last week's POTD - I was not cool, or relaxed, enough for this.  If I thought the boys were more hands-on in making the cookies, they were even more so when it came to frosting and sprinkling!  Drew decided he wanted to attempt frosting some cookies, which was great, but led to frosting all over the counter, the chair, the floor and himself.  And Reed.  Well, let's just say that the bottom of my socks were red and green by the time we were finished!

8 Days til Christmas: Let Mommy get the Christmas shopping done with you stay home with Daddy and play!

Or, more accurately: Mom is running out of steam and needs to not think for a while.  BYE!

7 Days til Christmas: Make Gingerbread houses

Fun, fun, fun!  Still the best advent activity ever. :)

6 Days til Christmas: Donate clothes to the Salvation Army

After I had gathered four bags of the boys' old clothes, Drew and I headed up to the donation center.  As much as we've been talking about giving and helping other people, I think Drew is getting it, but I think he's also a little bit like, "ok, alright, I know!"  He wasn't at all enthusiastic to run this errand with me, so it was an exercise for me in setting a good example for my kids more than a hands-on experience for the boys.

5 Days til Christmas: Go see the Christmas lights

We spent about an hour in the van, circling through three or so neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights.  Grammy gave us the assignment to count how many Santas and Jesuses we saw.  We came back with a count of 12 Santas, 7 Baby Jesuses, a million snowmen, and maybe a million and one reindeer.  Or something like that.

4 Days til Christmas:  Buy a gift for your brother at the Dollar Store

I had seen this idea on my friend Missy's blog, and really loved it.  I love that it is a practical exercise to really think about someone else and what they might like, versus thinking of ourselves and what we like or what we want to give someone else.  Although not ideal, I ended up taking the boys by myself (we had already been in the area of the Dollar Store while out at a playdate, and it beat making a second trip back out there).  I had to do a little creative thinking in getting our items to the cashier without the boys seeing what the other had chosen - and without giving any of the employees the impression that I was shoplifting - but I was able to make it work.  Not gracefully, but I got it done.  Anyway, when we got inside the store, Drew found what he wanted to give Reed right away (a small Tigger toy), and he then proceeded to tell Reed, "I really like Lightening McQueen, Reed.  Be sure to get me something Lightening McQueen."  Reed did need a little help in choosing something, and Drew was relieved when he opened his present to find it was a Cars 2 puzzle.  :) 

3 Days til Christmas:  Forget all about it and do nothing

Yep.  It was that kind of week.

2 Days til Christmas: Open gifts from Mom and Dad

More on this soon.

1 Day til Christmas: Throw Jesus a birthday party 

We attended a Christmas Eve worship service, before returning home to read the Christmas story from Reed's new Bible, sing "Happy Birthday" to Baby Jesus, eat cupcakes, and give Jesus our gifts.  This year, Reed is giving Jesus the gift of learning more about Him.  Drew is giving Jesus the gift of "reading the Bible all the time."  Brad is giving the gift of his time, by way of sharing it more with others.  And I am also giving Jesus the gift of time, through more dedicated times of prayer and Bible reading.

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

Merry Christmas to you!