Tag: family

Great Wolf Lodge Lives Up to Its Hype!

Since becoming parents, we’d been hearing SO much about Great Wolf Lodge, a family resort and indoor water park with 16 locations across the U.S. and Canada. While so many of our fellow parents hyped it up as the ideal vacation spot for families, I’ll admit that it sounded awful to Keith and me. Hundreds of screaming kids running around? Overpriced food? GERMS? No, thank you!

But when we saw a great deal pop up on Groupon recently, we decided to give the Williamsburg, Virginia location a shot. Our package included two nights in a KidKamp suite and a $50 daily food credit at a greatly reduced price. We were also able to go Sunday through Tuesday (our school district had a student holiday that Monday), so we knew crowds would be significantly smaller. So, off we went!

And let me tell you—our two days at Great Wolf Lodge were some of the most fun days we spent as a family all winter. All three of our children—5-year-old twins Matt and Nate and 2-year-old Lily—had a fabulous time. But here’s what surprised us—Keith and I had a blast, too! Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

WHAT WE LOVED!

The water parkThis place is seriously amazing, and that’s great because it’s the only attraction in the resort that doesn’t cost extra money. With 79,000 square feet of space, the water park has something for everyone. There are giant, winding water slides for big kids and adults and tiny slides for the little kids. There’s a wave pool, a lazy river, hot tubs, and a regular pool with basketball hoops. There’s a giant climbing structure with bridges, tunnels, and water features for kids to get lost in. There’s a kiddie pool with spray areas that Lily absolutely loved. And there’s the Wolf Rider Wipeout, an awesome surf simulator that the boys did two times each. (They were the smallest kids doing it—such brave boys!) Overall we spent three to four hours each day at the water park, and we had a blast.

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Here are my water park tips:

  • Get there early! There are a limited number of tables and chairs in the park that often get snatched up in minutes. So get down to the park about 15 minutes before it opens and be ready to stake out your spot. (Note: The resort website lists the water park hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, but that is subject to change based on the season. So, double check the hours when you arrive!)
  • Bring snacks. The signs posted say no outside food is allowed in the water park, but nearly everyone we saw had their own snacks with them. (They probably just don’t want you rolling in with bags of McDonald’s). So bring lots of food to munch on and plan to eat meals out or back at your room. There is a small food stand in the water park called Buckets Incredible Craveables, but it has a very limited selection of food and no kids’ meals.
  • Bring your own towels. The resort provides towels, but they are pretty tiny and flimsy. And even though the water is warm, it can feel really chilly in the water park when you get out. So we brought the kids their own hooded towels, and next time we’ll bring towels for ourselves as well.
  • Leave life jackets at home. The water park has free Coast Guard-approved life jackets and puddle jumpers, so there’s no need to bring your own!

MagiQuestWwere going to skip this game because we thought the boys were too young, but we are SO glad we didn’t. It’s expensive, but we played for hours, and Keith and I admittedly had as much fun as the boys did. It’s basically a live-action video game. First you go to a really cool wand shop and pick your own wand. Once your game is activated, you wave your wand at any of the “portals” located around the resort—mini touch screens—to start your quest. You then have to collect a certain number of runes before you can do fun things like battle a dragon, defeat a goblin king, etc. The screen tells you which objects you need to collect to get each rune and what area of the resort you can find them in. Then you walk around and wave your wand at treasure chests, boxes, wall hangings, and more to find the objects you need. When you’ve gotten them, you return to a portal, where a character from the game gives you your rune and instructions on how to get your next rune. Its lots of fun!

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The twins opened the treasure chest with a wave of their wands!
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They defeated the evil dragon Charlock!

Here are my MaqiQuest tips:

  • Be patient. The game is tough to figure out at first, but don’t give up. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very addicting! Try to play after the water park opens and before dinnertime—there seemed to be fewer people playing during those times, which meant we didn’t have to wait as long for our turn at the portals.
  • Save some money. As I mentioned, MagiQuest is not cheap: A wand costs $15.99 to $21.99 and the game costs $14.99, but you can play as much as you want throughout your stay! (Then you can bring your wand back on future stays to pick right up where you left off!) The wand itself is super cool, so there’s no need to purchase a wand topper for $17.99 to $19.99. Also, if you have a young child who wants in on the wand action but is too young to play the game, just buy the wand without the game. The wand will still work on all the cool objects around the resort. Lily had a blast waving her wand to open treasure chests, make animals move, light up stars, etc.
  • Be ready to exercise. You may think video games are for couch potatoes, but not MagiQuest. You’ll be going up and down stairs between the second and fourth floors of the resort nonstop to collect objects for the game (unless you feel like waiting forever for the elevators), so it’s a great way to keep your kids moving!

Bowling: The resort has a mini bowling alley that’s perfect for small children because it has shorter lanes, bumpers, and little five-pound balls. Plus, you don’t need to wear bowling shoes! We went bowling with friends who visited the resort the same weekend as us, and all of the kids had a blast. (We did have a problem with balls getting stuck on one of our lanes, but it was still a good time!) The cost was $5 per person per game.

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Even 2-year-old Lily got in on the bowling action!

 

Our suite: As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a KidKamp suite, which is a large room with a queen-size bed, a full-size sofa sleeper, and a tent-themed sleeping area with bunk beds. The twins loved sleeping on the bunk beds in their own separate space. We liked that the room had a mini fridge and a microwave. There are many other room options at the resort at various price points, ranging from standard rooms to themed suites (like ours) to premium suites with lofts, fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. Our friends stayed in one of the premium suites and loved it.

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Playing peek-a-boo in the KidKamp Suite

 

Free lobby activities: The lobby always has some sort of free activity or show going on for the kids. We found The Great Clock Tower Show to be a bit creepy, and the kids were bored by the nighttime Story Time. But, all three loved the little activity table that offered coloring pages and guided activities like Bingo and friendship bracelet-making.

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Coloring in the lobby while Daddy waited in line for Dunkin’ Donuts

 

The wolf ears: To our surprise, we all got a free pair of wolf ears at check-in! Lots of grown-ups got into the spirit and wore them around the resort.

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Modeling our wolf ears! Daddy wore them too, but he was behind the camera!

 

The wristbands: As someone who’s been known to lose hotel room keys and forget my wallet, this was huge for me: When you check in, you get a waterproof wristband that you use as your room key, your water park entry, and your payment for activities and food (it all just gets charged to your room). How convenient is that? Plus, the kids felt super cool and important sporting their wristbands ( though they couldn’t buy things with theirs).

 

Now, here are a few things we didn’t love (but didn’t totally hate):

WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE

Northern Lights ArcadeWith its wide variety of games, this place would be awesome for older kids and teenagers, but it was really overwhelming and chaotic for my three kids. Almost every game uses Paw Points, a reloadable gaming card that you swipe to play the game. That means that unless you have one adult to accompany each child around the arcade, your small kids are going to be swiping the card haphazardly without realizing whether it actually worked … and spend all of the Paw Points without playing a single game. Trust me, I know! So I’d say steer clear of the arcade if you have younger kids.

The food: The best food option at the Great Wolf Lodge was the Dunkin’ Donuts in the lobby. Keith went there every morning to get us breakfast and coffee and it was included in our $50 food credit—WIN! We got pizza and wings one evening from Hungry As A Wolf and ate it in the room. It was decent, quick, and convenient. But the buffet dinner we ate at the Loose Moose Bar & Grill was not very good. (Perhaps the breakfast would have been better, but who has time for that when you’ve got to get to the water park?) My advice? Eat dinners off site, or pick up food to bring back to your room. There are lots of casual or fast-food dining spots only a minute or two away, including Carrabba’s, Chick-fil-A, and Sonic.

 

Clearly, we loved a lot more things about Great Wolf Lodge than we didn’t love! And we only scratched the surface of the attractions that are available there. There are 4D movies, a miniature golf course,  a fitness center, a spa, and so much more. We definitely plan to visit again to try out some of these other activities.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge with your family, I have a few more tips:

  1. Go when there’s a deal. I frequently see Great Wolf Lodge deals on Groupon and similar sites, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re an active or retired military family, emergency medical service personnel, or a police or correctional officer, you can take advantage of the Howling Heroes promotion, which gives you up to 30 percent off a suite for stays through October 31. And, keep in mind that weeknights are cheaper than weekends!
  2. Maximize your time. Though check-in isn’t until 4 p.m. and checkout is at 11 a.m., you can access the water park starting at 1 p.m. on your arrival date and until closing on your departure date. And you can often get early check-in if your room is available—we did! There are showers in the water park you can use before you leave.
  3. Two nights is perfect. It’s enough time to take advantage of many of the resort activities without feeling rushed, but not so long that your family will burn out and have meltdowns.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge, let me know what you think. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did!

Has your family been to Great Wolf Lodge? Leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it! And if you have questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

A Big Week!

It is Friday afternoon and we are closing out a really busy week for our family! First off, it was Keith’s first week home after a long month in the field, and it’s been wonderful. I can’t believe it’s only been a week because it feels like he was never even gone.

The boys are really loving having Daddy home. As soon as he gets home from work, I no longer exist and they start climbing all over him like little monkeys. They just seem happier. I am thrilled to have Keith back too, off course!

This week, I also started a new work-at-home gig! I am now a senior editor for babygizmo.com. Baby Gizmo is a parenting resource site featuring in-depth reviews of baby and kid products, a baby product price compare engine, travel reviews, kid-friendly recipes, and parenting news and advice. In my new role, I will be writing two to three blog posts a week about a variety of parenting topics. I’ll also be reviewing products and sharing some family recipes. Look for my posts at blog.babygizmo.com!

Don’t worry, I’ll also still be writing about my own family here at doubledutywins.com. I do have some big changes in store for this site, though. I’ll be creating a section on which I will add links to all of my Baby Gizmo posts, as well as to the stories I write for Scholastic News Online, care.com, and more. Who knows—Double Duty may even get a complete makeover. Stay tuned!

Another big thing for us this week? On Thursday, the boys had their first dentist appointments! A couple of months ago, the twins’ pediatrician suggested we take Matt to a pediatric dentist because his incisors hadn’t grown in yet. So, we figured we’d bring both boys in for a checkup. But by the time the appointment came, Matt’s incisors had grown in, and the dentist said both boys have great teeth. Yay!

I wish the actual appointment had been a happier one. The twins were not happy to be at the dentist and to have people poking around in their mouths. I wasn’t surprised that Matt didn’t do well, because he doesn’t even like to have his teeth brushed. But I really thought Nate would do better because he loves when we brush his teeth. Unfortunately, both boys fussed and cried and caused a scene until the appointment was over.

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Matt didn’t mind brushing the stuffed dog’s teeth, but he refused to let the hygienist brush his teeth!

One thing Keith and I were surprised about? All of the patients were seen in one big, open room. The boys had chairs next to each other, and only a few feet in front of them was a teenager getting his teeth cleaned. Next to them was a little girl waiting to be seen, and there were two other boys getting procedures done across the room.

We’re wondering: Is this how all pediatric dentist offices are? Is it a new trend? Is there some kind of research that shows that kids are less afraid when they can see other kids being worked on, too? Because I think Matt and Nate were actually freaked out by all the people in the room. Their incessant wailing could not have made the other kids feel too good, either.

In any case, I am glad that traumatic experience is over. Matt and Nate got over it quickly, and we have a three-day weekend with Keith to look forward to. I am excited for all of the great stuff we have coming up in the next few months—the new work I’ll be doing, our upcoming move to California, the boys turning two. We’ll be super busy, but we’ll be having a great time! I’m glad to have you all along for the ride!

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Dentist appointment over + full belly = happy Nate!

A Long Way Home

Matt, Nate, and I just returned from another wonderful two-week trip to New York while Keith was in the field. Once again, the boys adjusted beautifully to being away from home, in a completely different environment and in a different time zone. I really love how adaptable they are—a quality that certainly comes with the military lifestyle. It gives me a great deal of hope that our upcoming move to LA will go smoothly and that Matt and Nate will adjust to their new home relatively quickly.

The boys got in lots of fun, quality time with their grandma and grandpa and the rest of the family. I also enjoyed many much-needed nights out without the kiddos. Heading into the city on the subway to hit the town with my friends and family, I felt like my old self again. I ate at great restaurants, hit up fun bars, went to the movies, and even took in a New York Rangers game. It was certainly a much-needed vacation for all of us.

The trip home? Not so wonderful. My Aunt Terry flew back with the boys and me because there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle them on my own. In fact, the two of us could barely handle them. I got to see firsthand how much “behind the scenes” stuff Keith takes care of when we travel to keep things running smoothly.

The fun started when my dad pulled up to the United Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport and none of us could get the car seats out of the car. My dad’s car has the latch system, and Keith had made sure to show me how to remove the seats. And I did know how to remove them. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like the latches were buried so deep in the seat I could barely get my hands on them, let alone unhook them.

After 20 minutes of the boys growing increasingly agitated as my dad and I fiddled with the seats, the curbside check-in guy took pity on us and removed them in three minutes flat.

But then we had another problem. I couldn’t seem to attach the seats tightly enough to our Go-Go Babyz Travelmates, which had been lifesavers for us in the past and are amazing items to have if you’re 99 percent of the population. But if you’re me and you’re a complete idiot when it comes to anything technical—yet you don’t bother to read the instruction manual—suddenly they became way less useful, and you end up dragging the kids through the airport without the wheels even spinning half the time because various straps are getting caught underneath them, and your kids are bouncing around in their car seats like they’re on a wooden roller coaster.

(This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work):

This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work. Oops...

Yet we made it onto our flight to Denver, and the boys were doing great. Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half because of some technical difficulty. That’s when the boys’patience wore thin and they began to get whiny and fidgety. They calmed down once we were airborne, but they demanded constant entertainment for the next three hours, and only when we began our descent into Denver did they fall asleep.

We made it to Denver with about 15 minutes to spare before our short connecting flight to Colorado Springs was set to board. Piece of cake, right? Not when you come out of gate B25 and your next flight leaves out of gate B95. That’s SEVENTY GATES! But along we went, each with two carryon bags on our shoulders. Nate was so upset about having been woken up, he refused to sit in his seat. So I had to run through the airport while struggling to carry all 26 pounds of him, and poor Aunt Terry had to drag both of the rickety car seats behind her, one of which contained Matt.

Yet we somehow managed to get to B95, sweating profusely—only to find that our connecting flight was delayed. At this point it was 7 PM Colorado time (which was 9 PM to us since we had come from the east coast) and the boys were starving, so I started shoving whatever I could find in my bag—frosted strawberry Pop Tarts—down their throats. Then we boarded the plane and sat on the tarmac again for an hour—triple the time of the actual flight. Both boys fell asleep once the plane took off, but when we had to wake them 20 minutes later to deplane, all hell broke loose.

Once we got our three huge suitcases and managed to lug them, along with everything else, out of the airport and find the boys’ babysitter (who had driven our own car to come pick us up), we thought we could finally relax. But, oh yeah—now we had to get the car seats back into our car. And Nate was screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs because all he wanted was to be asleep in his crib. And it was snowing.

We finally got home around 9:30 PM Colorado time—11:30 New York time—and the boys drank their milk and went to sleep fairly easily. Then Aunt Terry and I ate cereal and Nutella with crackers for dinner at midnight before we finally hit the sack.

It was a long way home. But two weeks later, here we are, and the whole crazy debacle is behind us. Now we can rest easy—until our big move in three months. Oh, brother…

 

*DISCLAIMER: I wholeheartedly recommend the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate. Just don’t be like me: Read the instructions!

NNNNNNNNNNNNO!

Well, folks, the time has come: My boys have discovered the word “no”—and they quite like it. In the past week, in fact, “no” has become the most-used word in Nate’s vocabulary. He will say it anytime and anywhere, even if he actually means “yes.” He responds to any question asked of him or of anyone else with “no.” The other day in the car, for instance, I asked Keith, “Should we give Matt a few more minutes to sleep before we go into Gymboree?” And before Keith could respond, we heard “no” from the backseat. Thanks for your input, Nate, but I was talking to Daddy!

Lately, Nate has been testing out different ways of saying “no”—different inflections, different voices. His latest is the ol’ toddler standby—holding the “N” for as long as humanly possible to really make his point. So if he is angry, or if you ask him to do something he really doesn’t want to do, he’ll tense up, put up his hands, and say, “Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnoooooo!!!” Lord, help us.

Why haven’t I mentioned Matt yet, you ask? Because sweet, agreeable little Matt doesn’t say “no” on his own. He only says it after Nate does, because he loves to mimic everything Nate says, like a little parrot. And it’s really cute, because he will repeat the word in the same tone Nate used, but he’ll exaggerate it so that it’s clear he is making fun of his brother. So Nate will say, “Nnnnnnooo!” and then Matt will say, “Nnnnnnoooo” in a mocking voice. It’s almost as if he’s thinking, “Get a grip, Nate! Quit being so disagreeable!”

One time when Nate wasn’t saying “no”? Last Sunday at the local Touch-A-Truck event, where the boys went absolutely bonkers. They didn’t know what vehicle to run to next, so they just zoomed around and around, climbing in and out of fire engines, police cars, delivery and moving trucks, and construction vehicles faster than we could take pictures. Really, if heaven is different for everyone, this event center was what Matt and Nate’s heaven would look like. Needless to say, the boys were pooped after an hour—so pooped, in fact, that Nate uttered not a single “no” when it was time to leave. Here’s a photo of my exhausted family standing in front of a fire engine before we left the event. Matt and Nate thought the fireman standing off to the side was totally cool!

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Lazy Mornings

I have always admired the moms who manage to get out of the house early with their kids. I’ve got friends who wake up at the crack of dawn and work out, shower, do laundry, and pretty much conquer the world before their kids even get out of bed. Then they show up at our 9:30 AM play dates looking gorgeous and put together with their hair and makeup done, their diaper bags well stocked. (You know who you are. Love you, ladies!)

I am not one of those moms. My kids are my alarm clock. I don’t stir until I hear them begin to babble and giggle through the baby monitor. Then I linger in bed as long as possible and check Facebook and email on my cell phone before I drag myself to their room to free them from their cribs. If they get up at 6:30, I get up at 6:30. If they get up at 7:30, I get up at 7:30.

It seems the twins’ wake-up time is on the later end whenever we have somewhere to be in the morning. This means I inevitably end up rushing to make it to the gym or to Gymboree or to the play date looking like the typically frazzled mom, bare-faced and in sweats. Then when I reach into the diaper bag to get a bib or a snack or something else important, I find that I left it home.

Still, there are many things I love about our laid-back morning schedule (or lack thereof). My absolute favorite? Our lazy breakfasts. Since the boys were born, they would sit with me (and Keith if he was home) and watch me eat breakfast, drink my coffee, and read the newspaper. They started out on the floor next to me in their Boppy Newborn Loungers, just staring at me or snoozing. Next, they graduated to their bouncers and drank their bottles while I ate. Then they moved into their high chairs and we started eating breakfast together. First they would eat their baby food, then whatever I was eating—pancakes, yogurt, cereal, etc.

Now, they’ve taken it a step further. Not only do Matt and Nate want to eat what I eat, but they want to read the newspaper with me, too! They’ll take any section, whether it’s the front page or the sports, and sift through it with pensive looks on their little faces. Sometimes they’ll fight over a section (especially a car dealership insert). They’ve even figured out how to look at the paper without knocking their food all over the floor. If Keith and I start reading headlines or articles aloud to each other, they’ll “read” theirs aloud, too. It is totally awesome.

Here is a photographic chronology of my boys during our lazy breakfasts:

I love the fact that Keith and I are instilling a love of reading—and of newspapers—in the twins. When they are adults and everyone is getting their news electronically on whatever new technology is out by then, my boys will probably be the last holdouts who refuse to get their news from anywhere but the good, old-fashioned newspaper. (Sometimes I already feel like one of the last holdouts!)

And while I do sometimes stress about the piles of dirty laundry, the errands I just haven’t gotten to, or the fact that we sometimes can’t manage to get out of our pajamas until noon, I really do cherish my lazy mornings with my family. I love not feeling rushed—playing with and reading to the boys, lingering over breakfast, and just spending quality time together.

That’s not to say I don’t wish I could suddenly become a morning person and start waking up early: That would allow me to get a jump on the day and still have that lazy family time. But the reality is, I am not a morning person. My numerous attempts to change that have been futile. So now, I just embrace it. If getting those extra, precious minutes of sleep in the morning means dealing with a bit of chaos later on—and sometimes leaving the house in mismatched clothes and no makeup—then so be it!

Remembering a Wonderful Woman

Well, I am finally getting a chance to blog after an incredibly busy holiday season. We had a wonderful trip to New York during which we got to spend a lot of quality time with my family. We also got a chance to take Matt and Nate into Manhattan to do all the great Christmas things the city has to offer. We saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, braved the madness of Toys R Us Times Square, rode the carousel and watched the ice skaters in Bryant Park, and just enjoyed walking around Midtown. We also took the twins to see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights in Brooklyn. It really meant a lot to me to finally have the boys experience the city, and I look forward to bringing them back often!

Unfortunately, our holiday trip also came with some sadness: My mom’s oldest sister—my Aunt Joanne—passed away December 18 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer. I don’t think it has really hit any of us yet. Aunt Joanne was an incredibly special woman with a gorgeous smile and a wonderful sense of humor. We will all miss her forever.

I’ll never forget when I was 15 years old and my parents went on a weeklong vacation with their friends. I had a new boyfriend and was just starting to partake in some rebellious teenage behavior, so they didn’t want to leave me home alone.

“You’re going to go stay with Aunt Joanne for the week,” my mom informed me.

Now, most 15-year-olds, when told their aunt is going to “babysit” them for a week, would protest and fight and basically make their parents’ lives miserable. But I was actually excited to go stay with Aunt Joanne! I remember having a great time that week, talking and laughing with her. She was just the right mix of motherly and cool: She cooked me delicious meals, set ground rules, and enforced my usual curfew, but she also let my boyfriend pick me up from her house without third-degreeing him, let me go out with friends without asking too many questions, and gave me my privacy during the marathon conversations I’d have on her home telephone.

Aunt Joanne had seven grandchildren (with an eighth on the way) with whom she was equally wonderful. That was just her way: She was everyone’s mom, taking care of and nurturing everyone. I was thrilled to have remained close with her as I got older.

When I met Keith and began this crazy Army life of frequent moves, it became harder to see and call people—including Aunt Joanne—as often as I used to. My career, two babies, and the time difference between here and New York have made it even more difficult. I often find myself feeling really isolated from family and friends. I miss being able to have long phone conversations with people. I miss seeing my family and friends back home on a regular basis. (Our long visits are great, but it sure would be nice to be able to drop in for a quick hello whenever I feel like it.) I absolutely hate missing birthdays and other happy occasions. But the worst part is being so far away during difficult times like this. That, to me, is the hardest thing about military life.

I didn’t get to see Aunt Joanne before she passed. We arrived in New York only two days later—a flight we’d booked three months prior. So, we at least got to be with our family for the services, and the boys got to cheer everyone up a bit. That made me feel better. But I would have given anything to have been able to see Aunt Joanne one last time. I know if I had lived near her, I would have visited her as often as possible. But I know she understands. That’s the thing about family—you can go weeks without talking, and when you do, it’s like no time passed at all.

Aunt Joanne was taken from us way too soon, but she still had a lot of blessings. She spent a lot of time with her sons, her stepchildren, her sons- and daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren. She was happily married to a wonderful man, my Uncle Jerry. They traveled often, to places like Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Monaco. She was close with her sisters and had lots of friends. She lived a full, happy life, and that is something to celebrate. So here’s to you, Aunt JoJo! I am so glad Matt and Nate got to know you!

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Me and Aunt Joanne at my 30th birthday party
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Aunt Joanne with a 2-month-old Nate

Thanksgiving = Success!

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.

Us on Thanksgiving — a little blurry, but I love the smiles!
Getting ready to carve our first turkey!
The whole clan about to dig in (minus Pat, who always seems to be the one to remember to take the picture). No cheesy speeches were given!

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!