Monday, February 18, 2019

Disney-ing: Part 1

The name Walt Disney World is kind of a misnomer-with all that a trip to WDW entails, it may be more accurate to say Disney galaxy...or Disney universeIt's just all consuming ( mostly a fantastic way.) We took our first family trip to Disney last month, and while I thought the planning and anticipation of it was a lot, I'm finding that documenting it afterwards is just as big a task. How do I answer "How was your trip?" without lulling people into a coma with a 45 minute monologue? How do I record every single detail so that I don't forget a minute of the non-stop magic

I have a phone full of pictures and videos, a bag full of trinkets and souvenir mementos, and a brain full of stories. I could go on and on (and on and on) about what we did, what I learned, what we loved, what I'd recommend... But I know people may not have infinite capacity for All Things Disney and Adorable Stories About The Bowden Children so I wanted to try to cull my experience down into something manageable...(Spoiler alert- I've totally failed at that, accidentally writing a War & Peace length recap about the land of the magical mouse...So I'm splitting it up between multiple posts, to disguise how complete excessive this all is. 

I thought it'd be fun to borrow from our Life Lately format, and document all the "ings" of our recent trip. It was a once in a lifetime experience (that I may try to repeat a few more times in my lifetime), and I want to remember every single 'ing.  

Making: plans and plans and reservations and more plans. Disney is not a spontaneous game. It's a planner's paradise. You're rewarded...nay...required to think ahead. We booked our January 26-31 trip back in October, and that was basically last minute by Disney standards. (People book dining reservations SIX months in advance!) But as much as I love to plan (which is a lot) I was actually really happy that we only had two months to agonize over prepare for everything. It was a great time to go "all in" on getting ready for the trip, without dragging things out and consuming the better part of my year. We told the kids we were going right after Christmas, so they had about a month of waiting. I know some people love the last minute surprise approach, but I think part of the joy of a trip this big is with the anticipation so I didn't want to miss out on that. It was so fun to have a few weeks of countdown with them, checking off the days, getting familiar with movies and characters, and talking to them about all the fun stuff that awaited them.

Obsessing: over every last detail, wanting to make the most of everything, which is so. much. pressure! In a lot of ways this was a once in a lifetime trip. Sure, we might (read: probably will) go back again someday (read: soon) but regardless of how many times we return we'll never have this trip again. The kids will never be these ages again. We'll never approach it exactly the same way. When we started to plan this trip we agreed this would be our chance to do it right and "go big". That doesn't mean we were crazy extravagant, but even the most modest Disney trip is still a pretty hefty chunk of change, so this trip was an investment, to say the least. We wanted to get our money's worth, of course, but mostly we wanted to make the most of this opportunity that we knew wouldn't come around again. Good intentions, for sure, but for an Enneagram 3, it meant many sleepless nights worrying if I was doing everything "good enough" or "right". Yes, I know there is no such thing, but in another more real sense I don't know that at all...all I'm familiar with in life is the need to do things WELL, which translates to completely overthinking the most minor of details to "ensure" my success. I am aware this is crazy, and also powerless to stop it. So while I acknowledged there is no such thing as a perfect trip, and that no matter how well I prepped, there were still going to be things out of my control, I still wanted to give us the best trip possible, and poured myself into the prep work to make allllllll the magic happen.

Bookmarking: posts in a "Smart Moms Planning Disney" Facebook group. Also known as: the rabbit hole that stole weeks of my life (while simultaneously providing me with piles and piles of  valuable info). We had a travel agent (and good friend) help us with our trip, so honestly I didn't have to do much of anything. She booked our room, our dining reservations, our fast passes....everything! But...again, I'm a bit extra so I happily dove into the message boards searching any and everything that came to mind in the wee hours of the night. Some of the questions and comments in there made me feel better about my place on the over-prepared spectrum (these planners are next level even by my standards) and some gave me anxiety that the bar for planning this trip is unattainably high. At best, it gave me lots of insider tips and experienced recommendations that helped me get organized and know what to expect. (I have since compared planning this trip to planning a become a member of an exclusive community of like-minded crazies, learn a million things that have an extremely limited shelf-life for applicationspend far too much time and money, all in pursuit of the best day/week of your life. It's insane, nearly kills you and is also totally worth it.)

Visiting: all the parks except Animal Kingdom. We planned four days at Disney (plus a travel day on each end of the trip), so we technically could have had a day in each of the four parks, but I just didn't feel passionate about Animal Kingdom. I'm sure I'm shortchanging it, but I kept thinking: We already have a great zoo in Columbus! Plus a couple of the best rides there have a taller height restriction, so I just didn't think it was going to end up being the best park for us this time around. Piper emphatically disagreed with me once she found out we weren't going to visit ALL of them, but managed to get over it. Instead, we started and ended our trip with a day at Magic Kingdom, which I was really happy about. It was nice to know we didn't have to jam everything into one day (that park has so much to do! Especially for little kids.)

Looking: for fun stuff to do at Epcot. I know people adore that place, but it just wasn't our favorite park this time around. Dustin and I came to Disney for a quick day trip about a decade ago, and I remember loving it then, but for our kids it was a bit hit or miss. There were a few things we absolutely loved (Soarin', Turtle Talk with Crush, Frozen Ever After...) but then there was a lot that was kind of complicated or boring for them (they didn't really understand all the space and futuristic stuff...and didn't fully appreciate the history and culture of the world showcase). Epcot was our second day in the parks, and the slower pace (compared to all the stimuli in Magic Kingdom) felt a little strange too...I could have probably spent about a half day in Epcot and still felt like we got to see everything we wanted...maybe coming back for dinner and the show at night. If we were to do it over again we might try a park hopper pass, which would give us a bit more flexibility and allow us to split days up between multiple parks. But in the winter the park hours are shorter, so it's a bit harder to pack as much in.

Wishing: there was an easier form of transportation to get around Disney propertyOur resort had buses to all the parks, which honestly wasn't terribly inconvenient, but they were often pretty crowded (which is sort of shocking, knowing we visited at one of the "slow" times...what would it be like during busy season?), sometimes had a long wait for one to arrive, and then was about 20 minutes in travel time (not counting time to get to, and go through security). I know lots of people go to the parks in the morning and come back for a break mid-day, but that would have easily taken uan hour-and-a-half of our day just in travel time, so we just pushed through. Someday, maybe we'll be rich enough to stay at a resort on the monorail, but for now we made the most of the bus rideschatting with fellow travelers and trying to spot "Minnie Vans" (the customized Lyft rides, covered in red dots!)

Suffering: through a cold and rainy day. We knew going in January meant it likely wouldn't be super warm, but Florida weather is notoriously unpredictable, so we didn't know exactly know what to expect. We ended up getting a pretty chilly week (not freakishly cold, but certainly much colder than typical), with 100% chance of rain predicted for our first day. Fortunately, I planned for that, making sure we had coats, gloves, rain jackets, ponchos, spare shoes etc. etc. etc. And we used it all. Our first day in Magic Kingdom it never stopped raining. Not for a minute. Just constant- raining from a light drizzle, to full on drops, while temperatures hovered in the 50's. Rain at Disney is pretty much par for the course (throw on some flip flops, don a poncho, and hope it clears!) but it being so cold meant it was pretty much miserable. The rain cover on our stroller was a Godsend, but us big-kids (including Piper) didn't have much reprieve. But we didn't have much of a choice, so we made the most of it, sopping wet feet and all. We went on all the inside/covered rides we could find, hid out in restaurants when we could, and eventually called it quits when our shivers started to outshine our smiles. We made it until about 4pm, (after arriving at 8am) which I thought was a pretty solid showing, all things considered. I tried not to be too disappointed- choosing to be thankful for anything we did get to do. All in all, one day of rain isn't a bad deal- it certainly made us much more thankful for the sunshine on the other days. Plus it kept the crowd size down- the silver lining to a very grey day.

Listening: to Disney lullabies. After a long, wet day at Magic Kingdom, we were exhausted. After returning to our hotel for dinner, we called it an early night. The kids were begging for a show, so I compromised and told them we could listen to music while we fell asleep. Dustin had to scoot out to supervise our laundry (we were drying all of our soaking wet clothes, and our tennis shoes kept knocking the dryer door open!) so the remaining four of us fell asleep to the sounds of acoustic Disney Classics. It's one of those simple, unplanned memories that doesn't sound like much, but while stay with me for its sweetness. After a super tiring day, it was really nice to relax with my kiddos, and remember how special this trip is. 

Enjoying: the rides! And the characters! And basically every single thing! I really didn't know what to expect before we went...would they love the rides? (I thought so...after all, we've basically been training them on carnie life since they were born). Would they love the characters? (Not sure, as the girls aren't really princess-y, and Miller is a little oblivious to entertainment outside of Netflix). Our travel agenkept asking what types of things they liked, in order to customize our trip a bit more, but I wasn't sure what to tell her. We decided to take this trip now because of the kids ages...I hoped that they'd be big enough to handle the stress of the trip and take advantage of a lot of the fun, but also little enough to still really believe in all of the magic, but I really didn't know how it would play out. We've had friends who have gone in the past whose kids were too scared for any "big" rides, and other friends whose kids were terrified by (or uninterested in) the characters, so I didn't know what to expect. It turns out though...they loved it all! Now I keep saying that this was the best/worst part of our tripObviously being in a stage where they loved everything is the best but it also means it was hard to prioritize some things over others. If they hadn't liked big rides, we could have crossed a bunch of stuff on the list and focused on parades or characters...or if they found characters scary or boring, we could have spent more time on rides and shows (or eating waffles! I would have also been fine with that!) As it stood, we just embrace the idea that it was all good, and tried to hit up as much of it as we could!

Following: a plan...loosely. I poured a ton into the planning of it all (I may have mentioned that...) but I promised Dustin that even though I couldn't stop spazzing about things in advance, when we got there I would let it go, and just have fun. And I'm super proud to report, that for the most part, I was able to follow through on that. I really wanted to have a plan in place so that we could maximize our time there, but I also know that things with kids never actually go according to plan, so we'd need to be flexible. Every night after we got everyone to bed, I spent some time planning out our day- figuring out what time we'd need to leave, shifting meal reservations, mapping out what areas of each park we should start in- and we'd more or less go with that as our guide, but then once we were there, we more or less did what we wanted, swapping Fastpasses around, skipping attractions that were too crowded and bailing on things the kids weren't feeling. I had a couple things each day that I really wanted to make happen but I tried not to get my heart set on too much, so that I could just go with the flow a bit more and not get disappointed when my family had a different vision (or their attitudes took a nose dive).  

Missing: out on the late night fun. Listen, our kids just can't hang. They're early birds, not night owls, and I'm working on coming to terms with that. (Typically I'm super thankful for the me-time it affords me in the evening, but in cases like this, it would be helpful if they didn't turn into werewolves at 8:30pm) I had big dreams of seeing the night shows, and the fireworks, but we found that by the time it started to get dark (and guess what- even colder!) we were usually on borrowed time. It didn't make sense to push them past their breaking point, only to have to follow the masses out to the bus, ultimately getting home a few hours after their bedtime. They don't even like fireworks that much! So I tried to embrace the "you can't do everything" mindset, and remember that there will be other years when they are able to party a bit harder (and also don't wake me up at 6:18 every day).

(see you tomorrow for another round of 'ings!)
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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Love Anyway

"Enjoy every minute!"
"Soak it all up!" 
"It goes so fast!"
"Treasure this time!"
"You'll miss this someday!"

These are all things I've heard, thought, felt, (but thankfully have never said) in regards to motherhood.

I can't stand these statements...but...I also understand the heart behind them. The moms (ok, probably the grandmas) who share this advice intend to encourage us younger mamas. They are trying to share their hard-earned wisdom and perspective, and remind us that life- the wild, crazy, sticky, stinky life we've found ourselves in- is all just a wisp. In the trenches of parenthood (or the thick of a meltdown) things can feel hopelessly bleak, and gut-wrenchingly hard. Bedtime sagas appear never ending, power struggles seem insurmountable. The trials of now seem like they may just go on forever. But these well-meaning women looking at the chaos of those behind them in life (and also the grocery store line) with a disarming mix of a sideways glance, and a twinkle in their eye...they don't mean to guilt, or pressure, or judge. (Well, at least I don't think they do. Most of them...) They mean to lift us out of our myopic reality, refreshing us on the bigger picture, beyond what we can currently see.

But it doesn't always feel like that, does it?

Not to me, that's for sure. When I am having a day with my threenager, or the baby kept me up all night, or my big-kid is serving up some sass I didn't know she had in her, I don't want to be told to ENJOY EVERY MINUTE. That feels impossible, and honestly, downright disrespectful. Enjoy those minutes? Not likely. Enjoy EVERY minute? HA, no.

We all know...we know deep down that our kids are going to grow up faster than we ever thought possible. And as much as we hate to admit it, we'll soon find ourselves standing solo in a checkout line enamored with the unruly cart-climbing brood behind us, and we'll pine for those days. Those days when our clothes were covered in a near proprietary mix of milk stains, stickers, and goldfish cracker dust. Those days when chubby little "rubber band wrists" reached out for us for their every earthly need. Those days when we heard Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, MAHHHHHMMMM! so often and so loud it made our ears ring.

But when we're in those days? We're not pining for much more than the clock to strike bedtime o'clock. We're not interested in soaking up anything other than a bathtime for one (with the door locked, thank you). The idea of enjoying every single blessed minute...of...all of this? It's just. too. much.

So then what do we do?
Do we roll our eyes at these cliches? Begrudgingly accept the platitudes with an insincere nod? Silently seethe from the pain of feeling misunderstood? Internally promise we'll never be that lady doling out unsolicited advice and whitewashing the trials of our own past?

Well...maybe a little bit. Sometimes.
(Eye-rolling is a natural trait- bordering on gift- of mine so that tendency is hard to squash.)

But what I want to challenge myself to do (and mayyyyybe you too, because bossing is also one of my gifts) is to embrace the kind intentions and the spirit of the sentiments. To see the value in what they're saying, even if it's dang hard to actually do.

Because truly, I don't think we're supposed to enjoy every minute. Of motherhood, or grocery shop small talk or...anything. That's unrealistic. But I also don't think we're supposed to wallow in the struggle, excusing ourselves of the call to do more than just survive these (sometimes tough, often monotonous) days.

What I think we're supposed to do is: Love... anyway.

Love it. Love them. Love ourselves...anyway.

When it's hard. When they're annoying. When I'm tired...
When it's hopeless. When they're wrong. When I'm undeserving...
When this, when that. Even if, even though...
Love anyway.

Love despite all the reasons I don't want to. Love people who haven't earned it. Love in situations I don't understand. Love even before I think I actually can. Love long after I think I can continue.

I don't know why this version of the same bigger truth is easier for me to swallow. Am I any more capable of loving (all things and all people at all times) than I am of enjoying every moment? No way! I'm an imperfect mess whose ability to judge comes much more swiftly than my capacity to care. I'm critical of things, impatient with others and unforgiving of myself.

But for some reason, the idea of "love anyway" doesn't feel guilt-ridden. It doesn't seem like an unrealistic hurdle to (repeatedly) clear, or a utopian mindset that I have to will myself into feeling (or faking).
Love anyway is a statement with tension.

Love is the very best of the best. It's pure and transcendent and wonderful. Love is everything I want to be and feel, but beyond that it's a verb. To love is our calling.

Anyway is acknowledgement of context. It's recognition that love doesn't always feel possible. It's honesty that some stuff is really and truly, awfully hard. It's the "yes and" that pairs "I don't wanna" with "just do it". It's real-talk that hears and sees reality, but doesn't enable excuses.


This loving anyway stuff can get really heavy. It means we are to give grace to the least of these (and accept grace when we are the least of these). But it's also an invitation to lightness; an opportunity to smile not because we're ignoring or unaware of the pain but because we think it's worth it to smile anyway.

It's big love in big anyways (Supporting a friend even when I have no clue if I'm doing it right...and actually I am pretty sure I'm not doing it right, but I LOVE her enough to keep showing up imperfectly ANYWAY)

And it's small love in small anyways (Oh, Miller-buddy, you thought it would be fun to dot-stamp-marker your face? I'm going to laugh while we unsuccessfully wipe you down, because I LOVE your silly, disobedient self ANYWAY!)

I'm looking for all of the chances to love, in all of the anyways life throws at me, and I'm surprised that I don't feel pressured...I'm actually finding freedom as I shift my perspective.

I can't enjoy my kids running each other over with the library cart, shrieking and colliding through the supposed-to-be-silent halls. (Just a typical Tuesday!) But I can love them in it. I can love that they are fierce, determined spirits who want to try things for themselves. I can love the chance to bring them to a land where books are plentiful and free. I can love that most of the other daytime patrons are either dealing with similar rowdy mini-companions or are nearly deaf and don't seem to mind.

I can't enjoy squeezing my thighs into jeans whose "super skinny" label feels less like a style and more like an ironic taunt. But I can love my body...anyway. (Oooooh, this one is hard. Maybe right now I can try to love my body anyway...) I can love that my legs enable me to (usually) keep up with my kids' boundless energy. I can love that my belly kept them safe and sound for a collective 36 months, even if it's all a little worse for wear now. I can love that (worth every penny) blonde highlights keep the possibility that my hair is going grey a mystery to even me.

There is a lot in this life that isn't enjoyable. There are times we'd rather speed through than soak up. There are moments we will look back on and emphatically not miss. We're not capable of, or required to treasure it all. But loving anyway? Well that just might the very hardest, and simultaneously most marvelous thing to practice.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Ta-Da! It's Christmas!

Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!

I know it's officially January now, so most of the world has moved from Christmas to restrictive eating...but, technically it's not Epiphany yet, so if the Wise Men are still on the road to baby Jesus, I figure I'm still well within bounds for some Christmas reflection.

We had just the best holiday season this year....Maybe I say that every year, but regardless of comparison, it was just so lovely. You might even say it's the most wonderful time of the year! :)

I always love Christmas, but this felt like one of the calmest holiday seasons I can remember. That might be because we had fewer kids than last year...or maybe because this is our first year with all "big" kids...but in any case I just felt much...lighter this year. I was less pressured, less overwhelmed, less frantic. It was certainly a full season, with a packed calendar, and a ton of a fun activities and events, but it didn't come with the stress level that I felt in previous years. I'd love to pinpoint why, so I could share my wisdom (and replicate this again and again), but I'm sure it's a complicated combination of factors. One of the main things that shifted for me, was refusing to do things out of obligation. I know lots of people struggle with this, especially around the holidays- all of the things you "have to" do. turns out, when you get down to it, there really aren't that many mandatories in life. I'm fortunate in this area, because I'm not naturally a people-pleaser, but I struggle with my own expectations and need for achievement, saddling myself with a lot of "shoulds". I feel (/create) pressure to do and be all the provide a magical season for my kids-  to see the sights, to plan the outings, to savor every second of the season... And while that makes for a lot of festive memories it also makes me a wee bit nutty.

I didn't consciously set out to do things different this year...(I kinda wish I did...then at least I could brag about how well it turned out!)- I think maybe as I get older my standards (and energy) are just naturally getting lower. Somehow I just settled into a perspective/approach that I can only describe as: "Let's do it!...if we want to." Truly it's that simple. If it sounded fun- we did it. If it didn't...skip! Now, it may sound incredibly self-centered and entitled to just do whatever you want all the time, and I agree if it's not a great life strategy in general. But for the holidays? A time that's supposed to filled with love and fun and wonder? Well why bring guilt, shame and obligation into that? It's a season designed for love and keep it as simple as it should be, and do things you love and that make you happy.

I saw a lot of "seasonal bucket list" type ideas on Instagram this season, and while I'm no stranger to a to-do list (oooh I love me some check boxes) this time around the idea of setting up a bunch of must-do's made Christmas fun feel like more of a challenge than a pleasure. So I entered the season without major goals, real plans, or formalized itinerary. There were a few events I knew we'd get to, and some traditions I'd never want to miss, but for the most part, I approached things as they came, and went with the flow. Not my signature style, but it suited me just fine this month.

So in lieu of a Christmas To-Do list, I've retroactively summarized our season into a list of Ta-Da's! All the things we actually did...which turns out was quite a lot! Funny how with LESS striving, MORE can feel JUST RIGHT.

The details:
  • Get a tree: We got our tree earlier than we ever have (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) which is fine with me- more time to enjoy it! The place we went the last two years has closed now, so we tried out a new spot- Cackler Family Farms which we really liked! We saw a donkey, rode in the sled, enjoyed the 50+ degree weather and got a good fir (Douglas? Fraiser? Who knows?) Piper complained that we were too pick and that the whole process took too long (she's not wrong) but everyone was in mostly good spirits (the "sandbox" full of corn, and the free candy canes didn't hurt). Despite all the hassle and mishaps that come with cutting down your own tree, it is still one of my absolute favorite traditions and I'm glad we made it happen.
  • Send out Christmas cards: Another love of mine this season. We took a break from mailing these last year but are now back in the game. I managed to get this down super early as well, using photos pulled from our recent family video session- I ordered from Chatbooks and got them before Thanksgiving (which gave me extra time to address and send the before things got too busy) I got 100, not knowing exactly how many we needed, which worked out to be just about right. I think we received more cards than ever this year...which I attribute mostly to people reciprocating our mailing- which I'm fine with! It makes me so happy to see all the fun art and smiling faces displayed around our home.
  • Drive to look at lights:  Ok...guess what...this is ANOTHER one of my favorite things to do each year! It doesn't rank too high on Dustin's list, but he's become much more tolerant over the years, and barely even muttered a bah humbug. We did it up right this year, making popcorn and hot chocolate for our outing (with fancy Christmas tree marshmallows!), and pulling out a bunch of blankets to snuggle over everyone's carseats. We hit up all the houses we know that typically do a big show (though several seem to have gone into full or semi-retirement from the lighting game) and checked out a new house which ended up being a big hit (their lights coordinated with music, and they had Santa on a big screen through the window!) We did an encore night with friends after hearing about a neighborhood near us where all the houses sync up to a custom radio station. We also went to Franklin Park to see their lights and gingerbread house tour. Dustin was out of town for that (conveniently, as he didn't really want to participate in another light-related outing), so my mom and I took the kids, and loved it. Light up flamingo topiaries AND a rainbow light tunnel? YES! And for the first time, we attended the Westerville Tree Lighting Ceremony...which left me, in a word: underwhelmed. (What we didn't do? Wildlights at the Zoo, or the Fantasy of Lights...maybe next year!)
  • See Santa: twice! Much to Dustin's chagrin (are you sensing a theme? He's not a total curmudgeon, but I will say our Ta-Da list would be a wee bit shorter if he were leading the charge) we trekked downtown for a Santa sighting which ended up being a super fun day (Crafts, face paint, a band...!) It wasn't the most convenient location (downtown parking + rain) but the Santa was legit, and it was such a lovely kickoff to the holidays.
  • Set up a train: I picked up a train on super clearance after the holidays last year, so we surprised the kids with it after we set up our tree. It's nothing elaborate, but it's a fun little addition to the set up this time around.

  • Craft, craft, craft: oh DID WE EVER. I became the unofficial art teacher of our unofficial home school, as the girls requested endless crafty activities. (Every time Miller went down for a nap, Fin was immediately by my side raising her eyebrows and asking what I had planned). We tried salt painting, (so easy!) mirror decorating (so borderline dangerous!), Gingerbread ornaments (fun process, terrible results), melted beads in cookie cutters (it probably goes without saying that was a disaster), shrinky-dinks (total fail- maybe I'm not qualified for oven related crafting?), and wood+marker ornaments. Between all the supplies and resulting "masterpieces" I didn't see the my countertops for a month straight, and it was equal parts awesome and stressful. We had a blast making it all, but then I was almost as happy to sweep most of those treasures into the trash.
  • Read books: oodles of books! Stacks of books! A different Christmas book every night! Some favs: Mooseltoe, Santa Mouse, and Gingerbread Mouse (apparently my kids have a thing for animals). I've never met anyone who complained their parents read to them too much when they were little, so I give myself permission to go all kinds of crazy on bedtime stories, especially at Christmas.
  • Make Christmas lists and send them to Santa: Another double check! When we visited Santa downtown there was a special craft station to make letters, and a big mailbox to send them to his workshop. Piper mailed hers then, Fin insisted on bringing it home for later, and Miller jumped back into the line to show Santa right then. Our town also has a fancy Santa mailbox that we've visited the last two years, so we headed there early on Christmas Eve to drop off some drawings (I didn't want to do lists that late in the game...can't have them springing new things on Santa last minute- even if he is magic!)

  • Snowflake Castle: This is a big event put on by our town, but I've never been, or really even known much about it. All I knew is people go crazy for it, and tickets sell out in minutes. So...naturally I figured we needed to go! I set an alarm on my phone and logged on as soon as sales opened up...and still only weekday mornings were available. So- Thursday at 9AM it was! (We let Piper go to school late that day...hopefully she won't suffer too much academically from her mom's misplaced educational values). Turns out it was totally worth the hype...we got to meet Santa (and Mrs. Claus!), sit in his sleigh, and build+paint wooden toys in his workshop.The kids were so proud of their creations...Piper even wrapped hers up to give to G'mi (the other two were displayed through the holidays but might have gotten swept up in the post-Christmas purge). Everyone there was so nice, and really went all out to make it special, and it was a really fun little memory to share together. 
  • Candy Cane Lane: Fin's school runs a market for the kids to shop for gifts for their families and it's the CUTEST. I got to volunteer for the first time this year, walking kids around helping them pick out gifts for everyone on their lists. Fin wanted to shop for Miller and Piper, so she chose a PJ Masks stuffed animal (Catboy!) and some American Girl Doll clothes. She was so excited to wrap them up, and could barely wait to give them to her siblings. We had to put them in the basement so she would stop asking every ten minutes if they could open them now! She managed to wait until Christmas, and both gifts were a big hit. 

  • Kids' program at church: When our church called for volunteers for the elementary school Christmas program my girls were pretty emphatic about what they wanted to be: Piper wanted to be Mary (and nothing else) and Fin wanted to be a King (because they wear crowns and don't have to talk). Apparently the competition for Mary was fierce, but Piper's name was drawn out of a hat, so she won the coveted honor. Fin's role came with a stuffed camel to hold, so she was equally thrilled. They both performed their walking, smiling and not-speaking flawlessly, and even learned sign language to one of the songs. But Miller pretty much stole the whole show by wearing a bow tie and looking all around adorable in the preschool performance of Oh What a Glorious Night. (Dustin gets a shout out for helping to run sound, and we had an extra bit of fun leading worship together before and after the program.)
  • Watched (terribly) good movies: I fully embraced the cheese this year with a bunch of "Hallmark-esque" Christmas movies on Netflix. "The Princess Switch" was exceptionally good, "Merry Kissmas" was nearly unbearable and there were a few sappy/fluffy gems somewhere in between. 
  • Wear festive jammies: I'm a sucker for spirit wear, and had stocked up on a few new sets after Christmas last year, so the kids were all decked out. They love having special pj's, and might have worn them just as much in the day as the did at night. 

  • Decorate (and undecorate) the church: because you can take the girl out of visual merchandising, but.... I've volunteered with the decor team each year since we moved here and it's always way too much work and a ton of fun. We all agreed to keep things simple this year, and very nearly kept our promise. I roped Dustin into tying strings on 300 custom paper ornaments, got my kids to help bake four dozen cookies, and helped manage the set up team for a frenzied weekend of manger staging, tree fluffing, garland lighting, and photobooth building. It ended up looking beautiful...if not for the smell of the gym lockers, you'd barely know our sanctuary is actually a middle school! 
  • Advent calendars: This had to be the easiest win all season- reusing jokes from last year's advent calendar! The kids even actually understand them sometimes! I also had Frozen themed advent calendar stashed away from last year's clearance sales (another theme to our holidays- stockpiling discounted merch!) which the kids tore into every day at breakfast. 
  • Read the Bible: My absolute favorite new tradition. I printed out the Jesus Storybook Bible advent plan and clipped it to a garland above our dining table so we could read an entry each day while we ate. We weren't perfect, so some nights had us catching up on an extra story or two, but the kids really got into it. It was such a sweet time to spend reading about the different stories and events leading up to Jesus's birth, and talking about it all together. Miller still asks me to read the bible during dinner, so it might become a more regular event. 

  • Hot chocolate: We embraced hot chocolate in all of its forms- with marshmallows, an ice cream float, frozen yogurt, special flavored m&m's and limited-edition cookies. Plus the kids' Christmas Eve gift was a wooden hot cocoa set that has already gotten about 12 million hours of playtime. 
  • Give gifts: What's Christmas without the presents?! I gave some cat-related gifts to my coworkers (gotta celebrate working on a pet brand!), made teacher gifts at midnight because sometimes that's just the best you can do, and did another year of Secret Santa gifts with the kid cousins. (Fin and Hailey got each other...Fin was over the moon with her unicorn mask and fuzzy socks. She's barely taken it off since). 
  • Snuggle: We did our fair share of this each evening, but the most noteworthy snuggle-sesh had to be meeting my brand new baby niece. Nothing like that new Christmas baby smell. 
  • Class parties: I read a book to Fin's jammie-clad class at their "Cozy Christmas Eve" day (Dustin supplied the cut out sugar cookies for the kindergarteners to decorate), and played games with Piper's class (I picked up Holiday Spot It for the occasion because I just didn't have a homemade Pinterest-level idea in ended up beloved by all!)

  • Catch up with old friends: bonus- I didn't even have to travel- they came to ME! I partied with a friend I've had since my preschool days, and stayed up WAY too late with high school buddies. (I also had outings with moms from Piper's kindergarten class, and my monthly Supper club. Make new friends, but keep the ollllddd!)
  • Go to Christmas Eve church: This night always has a very special place in my heart
  • Listen to Christmas music: all day er'y day. The kids particularly enjoyed "I" (even though they can't never say it correctly enough for Alexa to play it), "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" (that Kacey Musgraves version is actually tolerable) and "I Have a Little Dreidel" by Bare Naked Ladies (because spinning and "naked" are endlessly funny). Piper also learned a few Christmas songs on the piano: Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells (with TWO hands!) and Good King Wenceslas. She's working on Go Tell it On The Mountain (might get there by Valentine's day). 

  • Enjoy new toys: Santa brought the must-haves of the year: a "cry baby" (yes, her face actually leaks), American Girl doll Jeep, and a PJ Masks car. But there were lots of other favs, like messy crafts: bath bombs, hair chalk, slime necklaces, and paint your own squishies. Classics like playdoh, magnetic tiles, and their first set of LEGOs (With a storage bag, because I'm silly enough to think I'm not still going to continue to find pieces to these underfoot for the next 15 years). We tried to rein in the gifts but still probably ended up spoiling them (it's so hard to resist!). Each kid got around 6 things- but a few of those were necessities like pajamas, jeans or socks. There were a few gifts for them all to share, and of course they were extra spoiled by extended family. All in all though, they were thrilled with everything, and were as grateful and non-greedy as you can expect youngin's to be. (Funny side note: I scored 4 sets of Lego Friends on Facebook Marketplace- because I refuse to pay 97 billion dollars for teeny tiny puppy shaped pieces- but when we were missing a couple pieces, I had to confess to Piper that they had been "Pre-played with". She totally saw the value, and happily announced, "Mom, when I'm a grown up, I'm going to get all my kids used toys!" Atta girl!) 
  • Eat yummy treats: There was NO shortage of eating this season but the highlight may have been a triple bread bowl. YOU. HEARD. THAT. RIGHT. It's not technically Christmas-related in the traditional sense, but it does teach that dreams really do come true. 
  • Giggle: Non-stop. Well...unless we were arguing. The Bowden sibs pretty much have two speeds. 

  • Get fancy: It doesn't get much better than a Christmastime wedding. We were honored to be a part of Jennie and Mark's big day. 
  • Deck our halls: Kept things REAL simple (yeah, right). I bailed on garland, and embraced (ok, went nuts over) ornament collecting. 
  • Cheers: We shared a flaming cocktail for a bestie's bday, enjoyed a beer or two (or maybe more) together while we wrapped/quilted/worked/vegged out, and toasted in the New Year with beloved friends. 
  • LOVE: so so so so much. 
And just to round it out- we also....Set up a giant gingerbread house, watched Fancy Nancy Christmas in the bathtub, celebrated a bunch of birthdays, put too many sprinkles on cookies, ate out for too many meals, weathered some tough times with some great friends, forgot we left food on our porch for the reindeer, and watched the Netflix fireplace (birch log edition) on a near endless loop, and stayed home together for 12 straight days and lived to tell. A Very Merry Christmas indeed!

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