Sunday, December 30, 2007

Park #3 - San Diego Zoo

On December 29, we went to the San Diego Zoo with Lani & Mike Hock, Tiffany & Ryan Conley, and Darcy Dittbrenner(Chuck's two youngest sisters & husbands and Amy's oldest daughter).

We had a very complete day and saw EVERYTHING in the zoo, which is quite an accomplishment and a TON of walking. We saw the pandas, gorillas, tigers, hippos, polar bears, lemurs, lions, foosa, jaguars, snake house, turtles and frogs. The funniest part of the day was being the first to see the 'happy' zebras and then turning to watch the faces of each member of the family as they saw the zebras (click on zebra pic for more). It made me wish Todd or Wayne was there.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Park #2 - San Diego Wild Animal Park

On December 28, most of the Gates family went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park because Charise's performing group, Kids Are Music, was performing. It was tons of fun to be together and see all of the animals.

The first thing we did was the Journey into Africa Tour. The entire Kids Are Music group boarded a tram for the 2 1/2 mile ride where we were able to see tons of animals in a wide open setting, with most of the animals together just like in the wild. We saw cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, water buffalos, zebras, elephants, and various types of exotic animals that somewhat look like deers of all shapes, color patterns and different horns. The coolest thing was how we saw them all up close.

After that we spent the day walking around the different exhibits of the park including the lions, tigers, and elephants.

The W.A. Park is very hilly and the different areas are extremely spread out. The pictures somewhat show that; the three rhino pics are each in completely different areas of the park. (Of course, I have no idea why I was so infatuated with the rhinos and failed to get good pics of the lions or baby elephants.) Naturally, the kids got very tired and worn out. By the time of the elephant show, Leland was too tired to really care about watching her favorite animals (see video at bottom).

The KAM show was great fun for Leland to see the performers. Afterwards, we spent the night in a San Diego Marriott Residence Inn with the Conleys, Hocks, and Johnsons (3 of Chuck's sisters) because we were heading to the SD Zoo the next day. That was especially fun to spend more time with the family.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Park #1 - Disneyland

Disneyland - Club 33

As a Christmas present to each other Chuck and I went to Club 33 in Disneyland on December 26th. Three of Chuck's sisters and their spouses also went with us. Club 33 is an exclusive members only restaurant hidden in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. There is just this random door that you knock on and state your name to be allowed in. Mike (our brother-in-law) works for GE and through him were able to get us dinner reservations at Club 33.

Dinner was fabulous! Our dinner lasted 3 1/2 hours from 9pm-12:30am. We didn't mind one bit though. It was great to be out to dinner with no children and enjoying each others company. Our waiter was awesome. He gave Chuck and I so many things "on the house" because we couldn't make up our minds on what to have because it all sounded so wonderful. Crab cake, shrimp prawn, pumpkin risotto, filet Mignon, an assortment of cheeses, and of course dessert - chocolate "bomb", key lime pie, and banana split cheesecake. And to finish our meal - hot chocolate. The view from the balcony of the restaurant was so pretty with the lights in New Orleans square.

When we finally finished our dinner the park had been closed for a half hour, so we had an escort walk us out to Main Street. It was crazy walking through an empty Disneyland. The craziest was out at the Entrance Gates which was completely deserted.

With our dinner reservations we were able to enjoy the park all day. Since our kids are still free into the park we had a blast all day as a family. Our #1 goal for the day was for Leland to meet as many princesses. There is an area called Princess Fantasy Fair and we could have stayed there all day and been satisfied. Leland met Mulan (she doesn't really know her), Jasmine, and Belle at the meet & greet section. Poor girl as we were walking into the park tripped and hit her face on the sidewalk. She had a fat lip and Chuck had a bloody shirt even before we entered the park. You may notice that Leland is not smiling in most the picture probably because of her fat lip.

They have what's called a Coronation Ceremony were you "learn" to be a prince or princess. They dance and bow, then Cinderlla, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty come out to dance with the kids around a May Pole. I of course stalked Sleeping Beauty as any mother of an obsessive 2 year old would. (this is definitley something I never thought I would do and be excited about). I of course "positioned" Leland perfectly so that she was right next to where Sleeping Beauty would come dance. Leland got to talk to her and tell her how she was on her hair clip, then held her hand as they walked around the pole. As you watch the video you can see my eyes following her to make sure I was in the right place.

We had such a great time all day. It was a wonderful Christmas present for the whole family. I think from now on I would much rather have fun family memories as presents rather than stuff. Check out our Snapfish photo group for more pictures from our whole trip.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Visit in MD with the Benners

We had a nice visit in MD with the Benner's, my mom and Larry before heading out to CA. We had a nice dinner, opened presents and of course a few shows from the kids.

The video is Afton, Leah, and Nicholas (my sister's kids) singing "Must be Santa" Leland was too interested in playing the piano and watching everyone to really sing. They really only know the chorus, but keep your eye on Nicholas - he's a riot!

They also performed "Away in a Manager" in costume. Leland had so much fun playing with her cousins. She is at more of an interactive stage, so they all played nicely together.

We also got to visit with Adam and Shana (thanks guys for coming to see us) and get a few games in.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ward Christmas Party

Note: We are trying to journal everything about our holiday so there may be excessive details.

We finally had our Ward Christmas party after being postponed for a week. I was pleasantly surprised with the turn out (about 120) considering the date was changed and it was on a Friday night. The decorations were simple but very nice. Greenery with candles on the tables, icicle lights on the walls and along the stage, snowflakes on the walls, and bare Christmas trees on the stage.

The dinner was yummy and we had plenty. I could not keep the punch bowl or water pitchers full. Next time I think I will put pitchers of water on each table and assign one person to keep the punch bowl full. We also had plenty of desserts.

The picture taking spot was a hit. I think lots of people took advantage of it. The Kid's craft area should have been more supervised and it got pretty trashed. I hope kids made things but I really have no idea.

The program was wonderful. O Holy Night (Danielle S. - flute, Ayisha M - violin, Margo E - piano) O Come Emmanuel (Leslie M - guitar/sing, Margo E - sing) What Child is This? (Spencer K - sing, Derrick E - guitar, Margo E - piano) Picture a Christmas (Primary children in Nativity costume) Away in a Manger (Primary, joined by crowd for 2nd and 3rd). They all did such a great job especially the primary children.

The Bishop sat with the children at the end of the evening and told them a Christmas story and gave them each a gift bag (Nativity stickers, pencil, candy cane, and PlayDo)

I felt like I was running myself ragged the whole time and didn't get to enjoy it or sit and visit as much as would have liked, but I think it was a success because those that were there enjoyed themselves. My neighbor came which was such a blessing. She helped with my girls while Chuck and I were running around and she took Lucy home with her while we stayed to clean up.

Clean up was quick. The YW wanted the decorations for their New Year's dance so we didn't have to take any of those down. The YW also helped a lot with clearing the tables. Not as many helped with the tables and chairs as Chuck would have liked. The extra food was taken to some families in the Ward.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Picture Time

At our Christmas party that was postponed to next Friday we were having a picture taking spot so families could have a photo taken with a nice festive backdrop taken by a girl who is very good at photography. I was planning on that picture for our Christmas cards (I know, it will be more like a Happy New Year card) Anyway, since I have no photo from last night I decided to try to take some of pics of just the girls after church today. Here are the results. Lucy didn't really want to smile for her mother since I was the reason she got knocked in the head by the car door less than an hour earlier (see previous post). Luckily the swelling went down.
I love Leland's smile. Still no smile from Lucy
Leland kept wanting to see the pictures. This is her coming to get a closer look.
Leland had enough. I have about 3 shots of her like this, then I decided to call it quits.

No Ice, Just Rain and Wind

As for the ice storm that postponed our Christmas party, there was no ice (at least not at our house) just rain. I kept going on my front porch, seeing nothing, and getting a little bugged. It finally started to pour down raining at about 9pm and it was really windy, but no ice.

At church today we found out that some people in our ward boundaries did get ice and Chuck got an unexpected extra full day of studying done for his exams, so I guess it's alright it was cancelled.

As for the wind - it is harsh. Sort of like the Santa Ana winds but freezing cold! After church I was trying to get Lucy in the car and the wind slammed the door shut with the edge catching Lucy's forehead. I ran back into the church to get out of the cold (Chuck had no idea why) for sure that I was going to see blood on my baby's head, but it was just a big goose egg forming. I felt horrible and burst into tears. Chuck got some ice out of the kitchen to help the swelling. I am grateful that it actually doesn't look that bad now so it must not have hit as hard as I thought.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


As many of you may know, Chuck and I are the Activities chair for our ward. Well tonight was our big Christmas Party that has consumed my life for the last few weeks. It was postponed (to Friday 21st) due to the forecast of a major ice storm. Many of the members of our ward travel 30-40 mins to church. When you live in the rural mountains there are many windy roads and deer that can be dangerous. And for any of you that may not know - an ice storm is way worse than a snow storm. 4 wheel drive means nothing if you're driving on ice.

Chuck was relieved because he is right in the middle of finals and now he can spend the day studying instead of getting everything set up and organized for the party. Although next Friday he has his last exam from 2pm-5pm and the party starts at 6pm, so he won't be much help setting up then but will be able to enjoy the party more. Some wanted to have the party on next Sat night, but we will be gone by then and I told them it would be without us, so Friday it is.

As for me it's pretty anti-climatic. My whole week was spent preparing for this party now I have to wait another week for it to be carried out. I kept telling myself "When the party's done then I can ...send our Christmas cards, finish my shopping, prepare for our CA vacation...the list goes on and on. Now we leave for our vacation the morning after the party. Every thing's done for the party obviously except the decorating so not too much for me to worry about this week.

It better be a major storm tonight or I'll be a little bugged. My prayers have changed from "please let the weather hold off" to "bring it on!"

Friday, December 14, 2007


So here are the Recipes of the treats I made. See Holiday Treats Time

Peanut Butter Balls
2 1/2 C Graham cracker crumbs
1 bx powdered sugar
2 sticks butter, melted
12 oz jar crunchy peanut butter

Mix all ingredients. Roll into balls
Dip balls into melted Almond Bark Chocolate (or any candy making chocolate)
Set on parchment paper and let chocolate harden.

Cracker Toffee (Hampstead Ward '05 p. 142)
1 sleeve Saltine crackers
1 C butter
1 C brown sugar
2 C semi-sweet Chocolate chips

Preheat oven 400 degrees
Line crackers on a foil lined cookie sheet
In a sauce pan bring butter and sugar just to a boil. Pour over crackers.
Bake for 5-6 min
Sprinkle chocolate chips immediately over crackers and let sit. The chips will soften and you can them spread the chocolate over the top
Options - Add sprinkles or nuts
When hard, break into pieces

Homemade Oreo's (Bodell Bistro p.262 or Hampstead Ward '05 p.142)
1 bx Devil's Food cake mix
2 eggs
3/4 C shortening
1 t vanilla

Mix all ingredients. Roll into balls.
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 min. (balls will flatten into perfect circle cookies while they cook)
Let cool on cookie sheet. When cool spread frosting between 2 cooled cookies.

I just used a container of Cream cheese frosting for the filling. I guess you could make your own if you want. I added green food coloring to the frosting to make them festive. Next year Chuck wants me to try to make the frosting mint flavored.

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lucy's New Trick

It's really funny to watch her do this except with I'm trying to feed her baby food.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Treats Time

I decided to make an assortment of treats this year to give as gifts to neighbors and friends. Leland has had a lot of fun helping make the treats and taking the plates to others houses. She keeps asking to go to the neighbor's houses again. It's been really fun and I think we will make it a December tradition.

I think Leland enjoyed helping "clean" the bowls and spoons the most. She was put on sprinkle duty for the pretzels. She got a little over zealous on some, but did a great job.

There are a few food blogs I look at and I always get a kick out of people taking pictures of their dinner. I felt my treats deserved a little blog love.

Homemade Oreo's, Cracker Toffee, and Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls

Sisterly Love

I love watching my daughters being such cute sisters. I hope they grow up to be best friends like I am with all my sisters. I am blessed with two wonderful sisters (also 5 sister-in-laws and 1 half sister).

Friday, December 7, 2007

CKW #4 - Decorating the tree

This is post #4 in our Christmas Kickoff Week. See below for posts about buying a Christmas tree, our first snow, and the Christmas parade.

Last Sunday we decorated the Christmas tree that we had bought on Saturday. When we got out the ornaments, Leland decided to try on the stocking. She was a great helper putting all the ornaments on the tree. See the video below to watch her put the star on the top.

Here is the family in front of the finished product and also the tree by itself.

Below are two videos of Leland's excitement. In the first, she made up a song about Christmas trees on the spot. Ashley was trying to get her to sing Jingle Bells (see the second video), but instead she made up this song and actions on the spot.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CKW #3 - Lexington Christmas Parade

This is post #3 in our Christmas Kickoff Week. See below for posts about buying a Christmas tree and our first snow.

On Saturday night we went to see the Lexington Christmas Parade. Now before I get into my feelings about the parade, let me say that the Christmas decorations in our cute little historic town are awesome! All of the historic streetlamps have wreaths and lights on them. The town square is fully decorated, too. Pictures don't do it justice, but here is a taste of it (these were taken a few days before the parade).

We expected the parade to be rather small and quick, ending with Santa Clause on a fire engine. Boy were we WRONG! For some reason, the good leaders of Lexington thought it would be a good idea to have a 2-hour long parade starting at 5:30 PM (which means it was dark) on the coldest night we have had thus far.

Evidently the qualifications to be in the parade are merely desire. If you were a company from anywhere within our county or the neighboring 4 counties, you were invited to be in the parade. It didn't matter if nobody in the world had any interest in seeing your group in a parade. If you were any group affiliated with children or animals you were invited to be there. And best of all, anybody that owns a vehicle with more than 4 wheels is required to enter such vehicle in the parade.

The parade started with more than 20 fire trucks going by, which was cool at first, but they were driving very slow with their sirens blaring, so it was a bit of overkill. Then, came the city maintenance vehicles, dumptrucks, earthmovers, electric company trucks, cable company trucks, local construction company duellies, the Lexington quarry's trucks, and waste management trucks. After nearly thirty minutes of nearly asphyxiating from the exhaust, we sat and waited for 10 minutes for the rest of the parade.

Now why was there such a large gap? Because every group that was not a firetruck/dumptruck/electric company truck/etc stopped in front of the dignitaries who were sitting in their warm seats on the hotel. So, if you sat after them (like us) there was a HUGE gap between each group.

This means the parade lasted nearly as long as any of the half dozen Rose Parades I have attended... over 2 hours. There were at least 4 Boy Scout troops, 3 girl scout troops, 5 elementary school, two Jingle for Jesus groups, and more than a dozen queens and princesses from the county fair, the local beauty pageants, 4-H clubs, and even the high school queen. (I had no idea there were so many pageants in our little town.) On top of that were all the performing groups... and don't flatter these groups by picturing anything near the quality of Kids Are Music. Let's just say that the most memorable were the Roanoke (40 miles away) Cloggers... who were all at least 40 years old.

Pretty much there was nothing memorable in the parade. But we had told Leland we were going to see Santa and she was loving every single minute in anticipation. So we stayed through it all. The only problem was that after over an hour Leland says, "I need to go potty Mom." So we raced through the crowd to the open coffee shop.

The one cool thing was the boys from Virginia Military Institute (the other university in Lexington) marched in formation. Check out the video below and you will see that was pretty cool.

Anyway, now we can say we have done it. But it is not something we will do next year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CKW #2 - Let it Snow!

This is post #2 in our Christmas Kickoff Week. Even though this event occurred last, it is timely to post today.

Today was the first snow of the season! Leland was excited for her first time to really play in the snow. (She was less than a year old her last winter in Maryland.) Before I went to school, I took her out to play for a few minutes. Later, as part of her preschool (which Ashley hosted today), she played outside with Lucy and their friend Lauren. Then when I came back home, we played some more. She loved catching it, touching it, and making "paw prints" in the snow (footprints). Alas, it won't last long as it is supposed to warm up overnight and by the weekend temps in the 60s are forecast.

Christmas Kickoff Week #1 - Getting the tree

This has been our unofficial Christmas Kickoff Week. Here is post #1 in a series of events.

On Saturday morning, we decided to go get our Christmas tree. Since we live in the mountains (well, East Coast mountains at least - totally different than mountains in the west), I figured there would be tons of places to go cut down our own tree. I was wrong. As we drove to run some errands we passed one place in front of the Tractor Supply store (one of our town's larger shopping venues) that looked really cute, but I wasn't satisfied.

After dropping off Ashley to do some shopping at Dollar General and Wal-Mart (two of the other finest shopping venues in LexVegas), we headed next door to the Lowe's, but I didn't want to buy a tree from some mega-company even if they are the sponsor of Jimmy Johnson and the #48 Chevy (our favorite Nascar team). So, the girls and I drove along the highway to see what we could find.

I decided to stop in at the truck stop which is off the beaten path but well known to only locals and the die-hard professional truckers. The ladies there know Lexington better than most, so I asked where I could get a tree that was fresh cut and sold by a local group/company. She told me the one across from the Tractor Supply was the place to go.

So we returned and were pleasantly surprised by how fresh the trees were. The family running the tree spot were from western No Carolina (not too far away) and had great southern accents. They were very friendly and the trees were super cheap (ours was $33). Leland loved helping to choose the tree and load it up. After we got the tree in the stand, we rested before heading out to the Lexington Christmas Parade! (I'll post about that tomorrow. Also stay tuned for decorating the tree.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gma and Gpa do the charleston

This great JibJab was done by my cousin Johnny.
The stars of the show are my cute grandparents.
Star in Your Own JibJab! It's Free!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lucy - 6 months

Ode to Lucy - 6 months old
15 lbs, 27 1/2 in - long and skinny
  • sits up and can roll across the room
  • eating rice cereal, she will smack her lips when she wants more
  • loves watching Baby Einstein
  • will yelp for attention. If someone walks in a room and doesn't say "hello' to her she will start fussing until you give her a little attention.
  • She's a cuddle bug. Loves to cuddle and lay her head on your shoulder.
  • she'll light up with a huge smile for pretty much anyone.