The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it an endless to-do list of gift buying and wrapping, decorating, baking, and more. One of those to-do’s is sending holiday cards.
I am always looking for great ways to show off photos of my kids on our cards. That’s why I was excited to find Minted’s new collection of photo holiday cards. It includes some of the most fun and unique designs around, whether you’re going for elegant, funny, quirky, or anything in between. Just look at this luggage tag-shaped card:
And though it’s not part of the new collection, this Minted comic-book card is simply awesome for comic book fans or families with little superheroes in training:
Seriously, there are so many cool holiday-card options at various price points on Minted, but I don’t have time to show all of my favorites here on the blog. If you haven’t yet chosen and sent your holiday cards, check out Minted’s new Christmas card collection. Many of the designs have express service available, so you still have time to get them out before the new year.
The holidays are over, we’re about two weeks into the new year, and hopefully I’ll be back in action with the blog now! We had an extremely busy holiday season full of family, friends, and lots of great memories. Life continues at our usual crazy pace, but we wouldn’t be us if we weren’t busy 24/7.
This year, we changed things up a bit and went to New York for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. We were there November 23 to December 3 and got right into Christmas when we got back. It was really nice—and different—for us to spend Christmas in our own home. It was my first time hosting Christmas Day at my house and I have to say, I rocked the lasagna and mini meatballs.
And, wow—did the boys enjoy the Christmas season! They were really into it this year now that they understood what was going on. They picked out a tree (a nearly 9-footer) and actually didn’t touch it—or the presents under it—for the few weeks that it was up! We experienced the magic of Disneyland at Christmastime, watched all the classic and new holiday TV specials, listened to “Frosty the Snowman” about 37 times per day (and frequently acted it out by marching around our kitchen island while holding broomsticks and singing), baked a ton of cookies, and enjoyed seeing the boys light up with excitement when they met Santa.
The best part about the holidays, though, was getting to spend it with so much of our family! Keith’s sister, Pat, stayed with us December 20-26. My Aunt Terry and Uncle Andy and cousins Greg and Kim flew out for Christmas Day, and my parents arrived the day after Christmas and stayed through January 4. We even got a couple of surprise visitors, my brother and his girlfriend, for a few days around New Year’s. The twins, who are now of the age at which they frequently ask for relatives, enjoyed spending so much time with family and reveled in all the extra attention and love.
Christmastime was unconventional for us in another way as well—it was 75 to 85 degrees here in LA starting from a few days before Christmas through New Year’s Day! It was definitely a strange feeling to sit on the beach while listening to Christmas music, to string Christmas lights in our palm tree, and to open presents in our backyard on Christmas day. Just another thing I never would have experienced if not for the military!
So now here we are, in 2014. I’m really excited for what the new year will bring now that the boys understand so much and are so verbal. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I resolved to stop being such a night owl. I plan to go to bed earlier and wake up before the boys do so that I can shower, have a cup of coffee, and get the day going more quickly. I find that I am much more organized, much more patient with the boys, and that the day runs more smoothly when I do that. So far I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the resolution!
Holidays sure are different when you have little ones, and the same holds true when you’re a military family. This past Halloween was Matt and Nate’s third, and they’ve spent all three in different places!
For their first Halloween, when they were only 4 months old, we were at my parents’ house in Brooklyn, New York. Keith had gotten wounded in Afghanistan three weeks earlier and was recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so my dad, my aunt, and I took the boys trick-or-treating to a few neighbors’ houses in my old neighborhood. The twins had no idea what was going on, of course, but they sure looked cute!
For their second Halloween, we were in Colorado Springs. We trick-or-treated with some close friends and their kids, but the boys were only 16 months old and still not very into it.
This year, though, the boys knew exactly what was going on, and they were way into it! They chose to be firemen, and I went a little overboard buying them their gear—full costumes complete with jackets and pants with suspenders, helmets, boots, and even little oxygen-tank backpacks with axes. They looked adorable! Keith also took it a step further and built a fire engine out of cardboard boxes to fit around their double stroller. He spray-painted it and drew on details to make it look like the Station 51 fire truck from the TV show “Emergency!” It turned out great!
Keith and I even wore costumes to coordinate with the boys’ outfits. I made a dalmatian costume by cutting spots out of black felt and gluing them onto a white shirt. Then I bought some dalmatian ears and a tail, a red choker, and some black face paint for my nose, and I was good to go. Keith dressed as fire. He cut out flames from orange and red poster board and pinned them onto a red baseball cap, and wore it with an orange shirt. Easy peasy!
I have to say that Halloween in Southern California rocks. A few weeks ago we went to a real farm in Irvine, called Tanaka Farms, to pick our pumpkins. We got to pick the pumpkins right off the vine, and the views were killer.
Then, on October 21, we went to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. The boys got to practice trick-or-treating at Mickey’s house, Minnie’s house, and various stations around the park. There was a fun Halloween parade and an amazing fireworks show at Sleeping Beauty’s castle. What a great event!
So by the time actual Halloween rolled around, Matt and Nate were ready! We met some great friends here, another RAND Army fellow and his wife and four kids. We went to their house for dinner and then trick-or-treated from there. Going door to door on Halloween with warm weather and palm trees was pretty surreal. I also felt like we were in a movie because we chose a popular street, so there were droves of people out, all dressed up, and many of the houses were really done up with lights and figures and sound effects. It was just what I always imagined Halloween should be like.
And here is my tale of two firefighters!
Next year, we’ll be at yet another new place on Halloween—our new home in the Washington, D.C. area! So Matt and Nate can one day look back at their first four Halloweens and know they spent each of them in a different place. Pretty cool, huh?
Another cool thing about being in a military family is that we get to celebrate an extra holiday in November/December—Veteran’s Day. This year Keith will have the opportunity to hit baseballs at Dodger Stadium at a special event honoring veterans, so he’s pretty excited for that.
Then we head to New York for Thanksgiving for the first time in several years. Christmas will be here in California. It is the first Christmas EVER that I won’t be spending in New York, and while that makes me a bit sad, I’m excited to see what Christmas was like for Keith growing up in LA. Also, we have a lot of family coming to visit. And Matt and Nate will get to wake up in their own home on Christmas morning, which is not always a given for military kids. Bring on the holidays!
Holidays are becoming more and more fun as the twins get older, and we had a really great Easter! Our Easter celebration actually began the weekend before the holiday, when we had professional Easter photos taken of the boys.
What made the photos so exciting was the fact that our amazing photographer, Julie Pearson of Julie Pearson Photography, had the coolest prop ever—a real, fluffy, totally adorablebunny! While Nate was mildly interested in the bunny, Matt was totally enamored with it. He studied it, pet it, “pat-patted” it, and even kissed it! He then began to test his limits with the bunny by tugging on its ears, poking it, and pushing it. But don’t worry—the adults in the room rescued the little guy!
Matthew was significantly less keen on the Easter Bunny, who made a special appearance at the Gymboree Play & Music Spring Party we attended the day before Easter. Matt tried his best to have fun, but he kept staring at the bunny with trepidation. Then, when I tried to get him to sit on the Easter Bunny’s lap for a photo, he flipped out and refused to do so. So I had to sit next to the Easter Bunny with Matt on my lap—and I have to say, I could see why the kid was petrified! It was like one of those fake Elmos or Cookie Monsters you see in Times Square or at Rockefeller Center. Why do they make those things so scary-looking?
Nate, however, was a huge Easter Bunny fan. During the egg hunt he kept following the bunny around and proudly handing him plastic eggs he had found. Speaking of the egg hunt, Nate got the hang of it very quickly and had a blast. After he’d found his allotted number of eggs, he continued to search for eggs and place them in other kids’ baskets!
On Easter morning, we set up a little egg hunt in our living room and let the boys open up their Easter baskets, all from the Easter Bunny. Then, after eating the hard-boiled eggs we’d dyed the day before for breakfast, we headed over to our close friends Jeff and Lenore’s house. They and their daughters set up a huge Easter egg hunt for the boys in their backyard. Nate, who by then was quite the seasoned pro, immediately grabbed his basket and zoomed around the yard, quickly collecting eggs. Matt took a bit longer to get going, but once he got the hang of it, he had a full basket as well. The boys had a blast, and we are so grateful to Jeff and Lenore and the girls for doing that for them!
Later that afternoon, Jeff and Lenore and the kids came to our house for Easter dinner. It was our second year in a row spending Easter with their family, but this year was even more special because Jeff was with us. (Last year, he’d been deployed to Afghanistan.) We are truly going to miss these dear friends, who have become like family to us, when we all move in a few months.
That’s the thing about military life—you meet so many great friends in so many places, but then you have to leave them. Luckily, we live in the age of social networking, which makes it easier to stay in touch. We know the good friends we’ve made through the Army will always be a big part of our lives!
Right after Easter, the rental management company we are working with listed our house for rent. Only a few days later, another military family came to look at it. Matt and Nate had a play date going on and the house pretty much looked like a bomb had hit it, so we thought for sure the family would not be interested. But the very next day, the family signed a lease for July! So just like that, we have a family moving into our home in less than three months, making the upcoming move all the more real.
It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Part of me wants to protest and say, “No! You can’t move in! This is Matt and Nate’s house!” But I know the boys’ home is wherever we and their things are, and I am totally excited to get to Los Angeles and make memories in a new home.
We’ll take a trip to California next month to find that home. It will be smaller than the house we have now, but it will have a backyard—a huge deal for us because we don’t have one now! Matt and Nate absolutely love to be outside, but it’s nerve-racking for me to have them play on our front lawn because it’s not fenced in. And, for the time being, I cannot take them to the park alone because they are fearless adventurers who tend to run in two different directions. So it will be nice to give the boys an enclosed outdoor area they can play in and explore to their heart’s content. I can’t wait to find our new place and share pictures with all of you!
Every year for as long as I can remember, my Aunt Terry and Uncle Andy have hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve at their house and my parents have done Christmas Day. (And I say “parents” loosely, as my mom always does 99.9% of the work. Sorry, Dad—I just call it like it is.) And every year, Mom and Aunt Terry spend the weeks leading up to their respective holidays running around in a frenzy trying to get everything done. Sure, I help Mom make the Christmas lasagna and bake some cookies to bring to Aunt Terry’s house. But for the most part, the rest of us get to eat lots of delicious food and revel in holiday cheer relatively stress-free.
A couple of years ago on Thanksgiving, as my aunt and uncle debated about whether the turkey was done and my cousin Kim and I stood at the kitchen counter stuffing our faces with chips, I looked at Kim in mock horror and said, “Oh, my gosh! One day we are going to have to do this!”
“Can you imagine me trying to cook a turkey?” Kim asked. “I’d probably burn down my house!”
Fast forward only two years, and suddenly, I found myself in charge of Thanksgiving. We decided to stay here in Colorado Springs this year since we’ll be heading to New York for Christmas. Much to our delight, Keith’s siblings, Pat and Ken, and Ken’s wife Beth and youngest daughter Ashley decided to fly out to spend the holiday with us.
Keith and I had absolutely no idea how to prepare a turkey. We didn’t even know what kind or size to buy. We envisioned a scene out of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”: We’d all be sitting cozily around the Thanksgiving table. Keith would make some kind of cheesy speech before cutting into the turkey, when it would promptly burst open with a sizzle. Everyone would give us fake smiles and tell us it was delicious as they proceeded to crack their teeth on the dry, overdone meat.
In an effort to avoid that horror, I began to prepare for the holiday a month ago. I asked my mom 800 questions about turkey prep, got her potato pie recipe, and began a shopping list. I called Aunt Terry and peppered her with questions about how to make stuffing. And I went online to find a few recipes of my own.
I’ll admit, I went a little crazy: This was my first holiday, and I wanted it to be perfect. I bought a roasting pan, a pretty turkey platter, a gravy boat, turkey lifters, a baster … you name it, I bought it, even if I had no clue how to use it.
About 10 days before the holiday, I began to drag Keith around town, gathering ingredients. We made several trips to the commissary, Safeway, and Costco. I dug out the china, fancy silverware and table linens a week before and insisted we set the table right then.
At one point in the middle of all the madness, I called my mom and shouted, “Holidays suck when you’re the one hosting them!” I didn’t really mean it, of course. It was my way of telling her I finally understood all of the hard work she and my aunt put into giving our family such memorable, fantastic holidays. And yes, I was a bit stressed out. But in reality, I was having a great time. After all, this is what the holidays are all about—shopping and cooking and decorating, all in preparation of bringing family into your home to make memories. I finally felt like a grown-up. I felt like a mom!
Even with all of my crazy preparations, things still did go wrong. Our microwave decided to stop working the evening before Thanksgiving. (Thank you, Wendi, for lending me yours!) The cheese slicer cracked while Keith was preparing the cheese and crackers. Mom’s potato pie didn’t cook long enough in the middle. (It was still delicious, though.)
But for the most part, everything was absolutely perfect. Our 16-pound Butterball was moist and cooked just right. The stuffing and other side dishes were sooooo yummy. And, because I got all of the hard work and stress out of the way ahead of time, I was able to relax and enjoy time with my family on Thanksgiving Day. Keith and I slept until 7 am and watched some of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with the twins before starting on the food. Once the appetizers and side dishes were all prepared and the turkey was in the oven, we went out for a 45-minute walk with the family. We watched football, played with the boys, and drank my homemade sangria. And everyone had such a great time. All of that hard work and running around was absolutely worth it.
I am super proud of myself and of Keith for successfully pulling off our first holiday! Even though the boys won’t remember it, I hope it was the first of what will be many happy holidays for them. And I hope you all had an equally fantastic Thanksgiving!
Now, Keith and I are ready to give the boys a Christmas they won’t forget. We have lots of fun things planned here in Colorado before we head to New York, where we’ll spend Christmas Eve and Christmas at Aunt Terry’s house and Mom’s house, like always. We can’t wait!
I have always loved Christmas, and now that I have children, my holiday cheer has skyrocketed. Keith and I can’t wait to share all of the wonderful things about the holiday season with our boys.
In fact, Christmas is already in full swing in our house. We are already playing holiday tunes—the twins especially love “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”—and I’m nearly finished with my Christmas shopping. Last weekend, Keith took advantage of his four-day weekend and hung the lights on our house. (Don’t worry, they’re not lit yet.) And we just can’t wait to pick out and decorate our Christmas tree, put up our indoor decorations, watch all of our favorite holiday cartoons with Matt and Nate, and have all sorts of other holiday fun.
As we are planning all of that, though, we’re realizing just how challenging the holidays can be when you have little ones. For one, we are worried about the fate of our soon-to-be-purchased Christmas tree. Keith and I always get a real tree (you can’t beat that smell) and load it up with ornaments we’ve amassed together through the years—several of them rather delicate. And we plop it right in the middle of our living room.
But, like all kids their age, Matt and Nate are quite curious little fellows. Even with their 9 million toys in every corner of the house, they want to touch what they’re not allowed to touch. They open every drawer and door they’re not supposed to. If I leave my purse within arm’s reach, they dig my wallet out and dump its contents on the floor.
So, what exactly will they do when there’s a big tree full of shiny, sparkling ornaments right in the middle of their house? (I am having flashbacks to when my brother and I were little and we’d manage to knock over our Christmas tree at least twice every holiday season.)
Telling them not to touch the tree will only make them want to touch it more. I suppose we can hang all the non-breakable ornaments on the lowest branches. But even then, the thought of constantly having to re-hang them is exhausting. We are considering putting the tree in a corner of the living room where it would be blocked by the sofa and love seat. But that would cover half the tree and make us unable to put presents under it, which would take away a good deal of the fun.
In an attempt to preempt some of the problems, I bought the boys this toy Christmas tree. It has 24 ornaments they can take on and off and reposition to their hearts’ content. It even has two different tree toppers and a tree skirt. I plan to leave this tree right on our coffee table ottoman in the hopes that it might deter them from touching the real tree.
Another challenge is the fact that we spend Christmas in New York. Traveling with two feisty toddlers in tow is quite a hassle, to say the least, and never a fun thing for us or our fellow passengers. But what we’re even more worried about is how we will handle the whole Santa Claus thing on future Christmases. Right now, the boys are still too young to really know what’s going on. So, we’re having Christmas morning at our house before we leave for New York, and then they’ll open Grandma and Grandpa’s presents on the real Christmas morning at my parents’ house.
But starting next year, when the boys understand the concept of Santa Claus, how will we handle Christmas morning? Christmas mornings are something they will remember forever, like I do. Growing up, nothing beat the excitement of waking up in my own bed on Christmas morning, rushing to wake up my parents, and running downstairs to find all of my presents under the tree. So I would like the boys to sometimes experience Christmas morning in their own home. That’s a challenge as a military family, though, when you typically live far from loved ones and the place you grew up in. Once we get to DC in the summer of 2014, we’re hoping some of our relatives will spend some Christmases at our house.
But what about the years we do travel to New York? Will we just tell the boys that Santa Claus knows they’ll be at Grandma and Grandpa’s and will bring their presents there? If so, how will we then get their presents home? (This year, for instance, Santa is bringing them a train table—not exactly something you can check on a plane or stash in the car.) Or, should we tell them that Santa Claus comes early to visit the kids he knows will be away on Christmas Day? That seems like it will really take away the anticipation and excitement leading up to Christmas morning.
I know these are somewhat frivolous things to worry about when there are so many far worse things happening in the world. However, some of my most cherished memories are the holiday traditions my family has created for me since I was little. They are so important to me. I want Matt and Nate to grow up with their own traditions to pass down to their kids. I want them to one day feel the same warmth I feel when they think about their own childhood Christmases.
I know that many of my military friends with older kids travel for the holidays, so I’d love to hear from you: How do you handle being away from home on Christmas morning? Where and when does Santa Claus leave presents for your children? And to all my mommy and daddy friends: How do you keep your little ones from destroying your Christmas tree?
To get you all in the holiday spirit, here are a couple of outtakes from the boys’ Christmas photo shoot. The photos were taken by Julie Pearson of Julie Pearson Photography. She is wonderful, and we highly recommend her. Enjoy!
My parents came on October 24 for what we thought would be a four-day visit, as my mom had to get back to work. Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and their flight was cancelled—twice. They ended up staying with us a full 10 days. It was hard for them to be away from home when such a horrific event was going on, but the silver lining was that they got to spend an entire extra week with Matt and Nate. As someone who constantly struggles with the boys being so far from their Grandma and Grandpa, I took comfort in that—even as I worried greatly about my family and friends back in New York and New Jersey.
Before I continue, let me say that thankfully, none of my loved ones was injured in the storm. One of my good friends lost her home, and others lost their cars or parts of their homes. Many of my relatives and friends lost power for several days, and some still don’t have power. Everyone back home has been enduring grueling commutes, waiting hours in line for gas, and seeing local institutions destroyed. I am still in disbelief over it all, and I’m feeling a little helpless and guilty being all the way over here in Colorado. Part of my heart is always in New York, and I wish I could be there to help both the people I love and strangers alike. But still, I feel so lucky that everyone I know is OK.
With that said, Matt and Nate really enjoyed their extra time with Grandma and Grandpa. In between talking to loved ones back home, watching storm coverage on TV, and dealing with the airlines, we managed to have a really great visit. What I loved was that it wasn’t a typical visit, in which we would do lots of tourist activities. Instead, my parents got to spend a lot of time with the boys in their usual environment and do their regular activities with them—Gymboree, Toddler Time at the library, running around at the park, going on walks, and just playing at home with their toys. They also got to spend Halloween with the boys, seeing them in their costumes and going trick-or-treating.
The greatest part of the visit for me was seeing how much the twins adore Grandma and Grandpa. Some of my relatives tell me they worry that the boys don’t know them because they don’t get to see them too often. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My parents arrived here very late at night, when the boys were already asleep. The next morning, when Matt and Nate began to stir, my mom and dad went into their room to greet them. The twins’ reactions were priceless. Their little faces lit up and they both began to squeal in excitement. Nate reached for my dad and Matt for my mom. You would never know it had been over two months since they’d seen them.
Nate really latched on to my dad throughout the 10 days. Whenever we would ask him, “Where’s Grandpa?” he would scream, “Da-da!” and point at my dad gleefully with a huge smile on his face. My father would sing, “Here I come to save the day!”—the Mighty Mouse theme song—in a loud voice, and Nate would laugh and laugh. Consequently, Matt was especially drawn to my mom. He constantly wanted her to read to him, and he let her know in such a cute way—he’d head over to the shelf and grab a book, walk over to her, then turn around and scoot backwards with his butt sticking out and plop into her lap. (Sometimes he would miss her lap completely, which was hilarious.) He also wanted her to hold him all the time, and he’d put his head on her shoulder when she picked him up. But truly, both boys really love both of my parents, and they expressed it often—blowing lots of kisses, patting their heads, cuddling, etc.
We did manage to fit in a few special outings during the trip. On October 27, we went to the famous Emma Crawford Coffin Races & Parade in Manitou Springs. The boys loved seeing all the people in costume, and my dad got a kick out of all of the hearses and decorated coffins. The next day, we dressed the boys in their Tortoise and the Hare costumes (no explanation necessary for these costumes) and went to a Trunk or Treat at Fort Carson. The boys didn’t really know what was going on, but they sure did enjoy collecting treats in their buckets—and we enjoyed eating them. Hehe.
My mom and I also took the boys to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo one afternoon. This is a regular spot for the boys and me because we have a zoo membership. The problem, though, is that I typically take them during the week with friends and their children. Because it’s only me in charge of Matt and Nate, I usually have to keep them in their stroller to stop them from running amok. But since my mom was there this time, we got to hold them and let them really experience the zoo. They were so excited to feed and pet the giraffes and to get an up-close look at all of the animals. It was such a wonderful thing for my mom and me to watch.
Mom and Dad finally caught a flight home two days ago, and we really miss them. But we are settling back into our regular routine. Unfortunately, Aunt Terry had to cancel her visit here, and we were so disappointed—but at least we’ll get to see her when we travel to New York for two weeks for Christmas and New Year’s. And in about two weeks from now, Matt and Nat’s Aunt Pat, Uncle Ken, and Aunt Beth (my sisters-in-law and brother-in-law) and their big cousin Ashley will come here for Thanksgiving. It will be the first Thanksgiving I will host (more on that later)! Keith and I are so glad that despite the distance, the boys get to spend so much time with their family. There is nothing we value more!