Family Christmas Activity Advent Calendar

For family gifts this year we decided to give the gift of celebrating the Christmas season and came up with an activity style advent calendar.  Every morning they would have a small gift to celebrate and enjoy Christmas.
 Each gift was wrapped and then had a little note inside about ideas for enjoying Christmas time with your family.  A Christmas puzzle to work on as a family over the month.  It took us until Christmas Eve to finish ours.  It was so hard!  
Mistletoe to hang to get lots of kisses from your Santa babies.  We made Christmas Crack.  This stuff is so addicting.  Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD to listen to while driving around looking at Christmas lights.
 We read the story of The Baker's Dozen by the Christmas tree.  It is a story about generosity and giving more than you have to.  The next day we made a baker's dozen and gave one batch to our friends and one to Mrs. Rose.
I wanted to include some fun trivia about Christmas symbols.  The candy cane is a symbol of Christ.  The J is for Jesus or the Shepard's staff, the white represents the purity of Jesus, the red represents the blood he shed when he died on the cross for us, and the peppermint flavor for the hyssop plant that was used for purifying the Bible.  
Have you ever wondered why the colors of red and green are the colors of Christmas?  
Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of year to decorate and brighten up buildings and homes during the long and dark winter.  It also is a reminder that spring is near.  It is the color of life.  Christmas trees are evergreens, which represent everlasting life.  The everlasting life in Christ.
Holly berries represent Christ's drops of blood.  The Roman used crowns of Holly wraths to represent the crown of thorns that Christ wore.  Red symbolizes the blood Jesus spilled to redeem us from our sins.  Red is also the color of the Bishops robes and the robe of St. Nicholas and Santa's uniform.
 We used cards and stickers to write a special handwritten notes to people who are gifts in our lives,  like friends, teachers and neighbors.  One night we colored Christmas pictures by the light of the Christmas tree.  We sent the supplies for making an ornament.  We did handprint snowmen on ours. and added a finger to make an MKHKKH family of snowmen.  :)    Taking time to watch as many Christmas movies as possible adds to the magic of Christmas time.  The Polar Express captures so many wonderful parts of the Christmas spirit.
 Decorating Gingerbread houses and men is a hallmark activity of the season.  Lindor chocolate are a special treat on a school morning.  My kids often play the games on the cereal boxes so one morning they did Christmas word searches instead.  We thought it would be fun to make a treat for the birds and make pinecone bird feeders.
 A special cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows one December morning.  We always like to have a slumber party under the Christmas Tree.  The soft glow of the lights and the pretty ornaments make it seem special.
We sent candles for a candle light dinner.  We couldn't forget about our furry family member so they got a treat one morning too.  For my family that doesn't have any pets, they got a Christmas tea party.
We made popcorn garland for the first time this year!  I didn't know if it would work, but it did!  The kids had fun listening to Christmas music and making the garland.  On the winter solstice everyone had supplies to make giant paper snowflakes.
Christmas pancakes on Christmas Eve was a special treat that Kaitlin whipped up for us.  The final gift was 7 olive wood ornaments representing the true Christmas story of Jesus' birth.  After Max read the Christmas story we hung up the ornaments.  It was the perfect bedtime story on Christmas Eve.  We really enjoyed celebrating Christmas all month long and hope our extended family did too!

Christmas Card 2015

Getting everyone coordinated and smiling at the camera is such a chore.  We must shoot over 100 pictures each time to to get just one picture where everyone is looking at the camera and doesn't look possessed by the devil. 
  I am especially guilty of ruining the the shot as I seem to have an uncanny ability to blink at just the wrong time.  What is it about getting older that you are always squinting or have drooping eyes??  I am thinking since I look drunk in 75% of the pictures maybe I should just have two glasses of wine before the pictures and it would be a happier experience for everyone!
The front is how my mind imagines us all merry and happy at the best time of the year, however the back is the reality...  Hope it was a Merry Christmas, pictures and all.  :)

East End!

With 5 days to spare Max and I completed our New Years 2015 goal to climb 12 peaks in the Phoenix metro area.  Nothing like a deadline to get you to accomplish something!
Our final peak was East End which is the highest point in the McDowell Mountain range.
We found the summit register box and added our name to the log book.  :)
It seems we have had unusually cold temperatures this winter.  The day we decided to hike East End was particularly foul.  Winds were over 22 mph with a high of only 55, we felt like we might as well be trying to summit Mount Everest!  Our thin, desert skin has made us such babies.  Combine that with not having much winter clothing, we were freezing!  We were slightly validated when Max found a layer of ice at the top!
The peak is 4,069 ft, far below the elevation of Denver.  But when you are climbing up 1,693 ft in 1.5 miles, it is quite strenuous.
I wish it hadn't been so cold and windy.  The views were fantastic and we had the place to ourselves.  Only one person had logged their name that morning and one the day before.
   It amused us that the highest peak in Scottsdale is so rarely hiked.
It was a fitting final peak, our 12 of 12!  It was the type of hiking we like with few other hikers on the main trail to Tom's Thumb and none on the way up to East End.  It was strenuous with both trail and bouldering hiking required.  It had rewarding views and we were able to complete the whole hike in under two hours.  If it just had been warmer and no wind, it would have been a perfect hike.  I am so grateful to Max for always helping me climber higher and reach my goals.

Celebrating Christmas Time

I adore Christmas time.  Everything is a glow with excitement, anticipation and it gives me an entire month to celebrate!
This year I did a family focused advent calendar for the kids and found a German Beer Advent Calendar for Max.  The kids loved their daily treats and Max worked hard to try and drink a beer each day.  I figured he would be looking like Santa by Christmas.  :) 
One morning the kids got our State Ornaments.  The lobster for Maine, the train and boat for Connecticut, the Tennis Hall of Fame photo for Rhode Island, Niagara Falls for New York, Fenway Park for Massachusetts, Vermont symbols, and the flip flop for New Hampshire. 
Their yearly ornaments could be none other than Star Wars figures.  The Force is strong on our tree.
Max and I got to go to a Christmas concert with two of my favorite country singers.  They sang acoustic on the stage together.  It was a really fun night of celebrating good music, good friends and good times.
We watched many Christmas movies together with Polar Express being the family favorite.
So many cookies and cakes!
Decorating a gingerbread house or gingerbread men is a must.
Rudolf is a timeless classic.  It never quite feels like Christmas until we watch it. 
 One of the family Advent days was a Christmas coloring book.  We all colored together by the light of the Christmas tree.
Max had a couple evenings he had to take people to dinner for work so we had a girl crazy night.  Hank was the ladies man for sure.  He was my buddy for the night while the girls just wanted to have fun.
Our Elf on the Shelf Holly was mostly sweet but had a few naughty nights.
At least she didn't use permanent marker this year when she drew mustaches on our faces.
She had a ball TPing the house one night.
She can be so cute some nights. 
The night we played poker with Nana and Pops she got into the poker chips.
She was just as excited about Star Wars as we were!
The day we got back from Flagstaff we figured she wanted to play in the snow too.  She was probably getting home sick.
Until next year Holly! 
One morning Hank made himself a Holiday Hideaway.  He pretty much sums up the spirit of Christmas!  Jolly!  Merry!  Joy! 
Kaitlin made us Christmas pancakes on Christmas Eve. 
I think the littles started tracking Santa on NORAD first thing Christmas Eve and learned he was only 3 hours away by bedtime. 
Our final holiday celebration was at my Uncle Larry and Aunt Ann's house.  Every year they host a lovely Christmas party where we get to see my Great Aunt Eileen from Kansas, her niece's family and my Grandpa.  It is nice to be able to have some family close by to celebrate the season with.
I love making Christmas time magical and special.  I am so lucky to have a Santa that loves celebrating alongside me.  He is my cookie to milk, my marshmallow to hot chocolate, my snow to Christmas, my star to the Christmas Tree, my kiss to mistletoe, and my sparkle to Christmas time.

Flagstaff Fun

The morning after Polar Express we headed to the sled park in Flagstaff.
It was a perfect day for sledding.  Each of the kids took a ride down with Max a few times.  I completely wiped out my one and only time down.  I think each of the kids ended up getting banged up at least once.
 We warmed up by the fire pit with hot chocolate and a chocolate bar.
After everyone had their fill of sledding we went into the forrest to play in the snow.  A family snowball fight is a great way to burn off some holiday steam.
 Snow angels by my angels. 
It even lightly snowed as we frolicked around.
We packed our snowman kit and built the cutest Frosty! 
While Polar Express didn't live up to my expectations our snow day exceeded it.  It was better than any single snow day we had in Colorado.  We were able to do all the fun snow activities in one day, it wasn't too cold or windy, and we had Christmas music playing in the background.  It was an early white Christmas and winter wonderland for us.

Polar Express

Three years ago we took the kids up to Flagstaff to ride on the Polar Express.  It was a magical and special night they loved so much they have asked every year to go back.  We figured the magic of childhood Christmas is nearing the end and wanted to go one last time.
They knew we were going to Flagstaff to play in the snow but didn't know we would also be riding the Polar Express.  I had PJs wrapped up with the Golden Train Ticket I made.
 They were so excited!  We went to dinner at the family diner and then onto the train.  It was freezing cold.  We couldn't wait to board.  It was so cold that we kept our coats and hats on even in the train.
It was an animated evening with singing, dancing, cookies and hot chocolate.
The highlight of course being as Santa went through and headed out the magic bell.  We can all still hear its sweet ring.
I knew something wasn't right when Hank didn't finish his hot coco or eat his cookie.  He also fell asleep on the way back.  He had seemed a little off all day but didn't have any symptoms except a runny nose.  On our way home the next day he began to cry in pain that his ear hurt.  Sure enough Max looked at when we got home and he had a raging ear infection.  Poor guy.
While the Polar Express was a fun night it didn't live up to our first time.  A little of the magic has left the train station.