Thursday, December 31, 2009

Celebrating the New Year

Radio Disney and the Children's Museum of Richmond had a 'countdown to noon' New Year celebration. The girls had a blast playing at the museum, then at noon they had an apple juice toast for the kids. It was a fun day together as a family. I love watching them explore and use their imaginations while playing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

more Christmas

I was going through all our pictures and found some that I never wrote about.
Maymont Park is a huge area of Richmond with a Nature Center, Children's Farm, Botanical Gardens, lots of open park space, and a mansion. Our family went on a tour of the mansion while it was still decorated for Christmas. It was fun to learn the Richmond history behind Maymont, but it was very difficult keeping little fingers away from all the delicate things we saw on our tour.

After our tour, Chuck took these great pictures with just a point and shoot camera. He is so patient when trying to get a great shot. I think he did a great job. One day when we have a nice fancy camera, I'm sure his pictures will be even more amazing.

More tacky lights tour. There were 2 homes next to each other a mother and son. People were coming by the bus load to these houses. They were amazing.


Christmas Morning

Christmas morning is so much fun with little ones around. I had told Leland that on Christmas morning she had to wait until everyone was awake to open presents. Little did she know that Lucy would sleep an hour longer than her. Leland was so patient. We waited for Lucy, cuddled in bed reading all about the Gates' Christmas Service. The girls really were excited about Christmas despite their not-so-excited looks on their face while waiting for the time to go checkout the Christmas tree.
I made blankets for Leland, Lucy, and Chuck for their Christmas gifts. I let Leland and Lucy pick out their own fabric a few weeks before Christmas. While we were at the store, Leland caught a glimpse of the John Deere fabric and was very excited about a new blanket for her daddy. She was so excited about it, I couldn't resist. You can't tell in the picture, but Chuck, unknowing of the blanket I made, put on his John Deere t-shirt when he woke up. Very fitting. (Now a week later, Lucy still refuses to sleep with or use the blanket I made her. I'm trying not to take it personally.)

We had a delicious breakfast of breakfast casserole and monkey bread. We stayed in our pjs all day long, watched movies, and talked to family on the phone and Skype. It was a wonderful day. My day was complete joy when I found my girls on the bed in the playroom just hanging out talking to each other. It was so adorable. They really do love being with each other, even if they don't get along all the time. And I now have a picture to prove it.

Christmas Eve

The morning of Christmas Eve, we decided to take the girls to see Santa. We had realized that we had not talked about Santa at all with Lucy, so we started to prep her. Chuck did a little research on which place to go while I got the girls all dressed up. We went to a mall that had a Polar Express theme area where you walk through life size snow globes while waiting in line. Even though our wait was under 15 minutes, the girls loved playing in the snow globes. One was the inside of a train engine and the other actually "snowed" on you. There also was a guy making complimentary balloon figures. Both girls chose fishing poles.
When it was time to see Santa, the girls were a little apprehensive, hence the odd looking "smiles". Luckily, no one cried and they were willing to talk to Santa. We also chose this Santa because the picture package included your pictures on a jump drive.
Chuck LOVES full turkey dinners, so as a present to him, I cooked a delicious turkey dinner for our family on Christmas Eve. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, cranberry chutney, and cranberry ginger ale (now dubbed "Christmas soda" by our girls).
This was my first turkey that I have cooked and it was AMAZING! I somewhat followed Alton Brown's roasted turkey recipe, but also took my dad's suggestions. Two keys - overnight brine and digital meat thermometer. One thing I would add to the recipe, a spice rub for the outside.

The girls decorated a few cookies for Santa and left carrots for the reindeer. We set up their tent in their room and let them sleep in it Christmas Eve. They looked so cute all cuddled up together.

As much as we missed being with extended family this year, it sure was nice creating memories with just our little family. Now feeling somewhat planted in Richmond long term, I'm excited about creating traditions of things we will do with the girls every Christmas season.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Miracle of Christmas

The Richmond Zoo every year puts on a production of the Miracle of Christmas, complete with live animals. We had such a wonderful time. We were the last ones in the gate for one of the shows, so we watched from the back on ice cold bleachers. After meeting up with Chuck's boss and his family, we waited for the next show and had front row seats. It was an amazing portrayal of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Between shows the actors walked through the crowd greeting the people, taking pictures and allowing you to pet some of the animals.

During the show, Mary comes in riding on a donkey's back. They walked right in front of where we were seated for the second show. The donkey decided to take a potty break right in front of us. Nice. The rest of the night Lucy kept saying "Dat donkey went potty!"


Nana came for a few days before Christmas. She had many different activities planned for her visit. She took the girls shopping so they could choose a present for each other. It turned out that each of the girls favorite gift was what they had chosen for each other. Leland gave Lucy a train. Lucy gave Leland a jump rope.

She helped the girls make gingerbread houses. They of course loved having all the candy and icing at their fingertips and took full advantage.

We made a Nativity set (like this one) and acted out the Christmas story with dress ups over and over again.
It is always so much fun to have Nana visit. Good thing she is coming back in a few days to play with us some more.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The year that changed it all...

This has been the best Christmas EVER. We stayed at home with our little family. It's almost 2pm and we are all still in our pjs, no plans to go anywhere, just to be together. Most of our material gifts were from the Dollar Store or homemade. We had delicious food. But what made it the most special was reading about all the service that was done this month by my parents- and sibling-in-laws. We spent our morning reading and laughing through our tears of joy. This was the best tradition and I am sure we will continue it for many years.

Read about the new tradition below and about the gifts here.

Traditionally, the six Gates children and their spouses exchanged gifts every Christmas. In 2009, with families spread across five states throughout the country, we decided our tradition was too costly and difficult. Amy, the second Gates child, suggested that instead of the commercialized practice of buying small gifts only to pay high shipping costs, we each perform acts of service in the name of the sibling whose name we were assigned at random.

Our good friend Carrie Collins drew the names and notified each of us privately to keep secret who was doing good in your name. On Christmas Day, we will all reveal who we had and how we chose to celebrate the new tradition of the Gates Family Season of Service.

This tradition has helped us focus on serving our communities and one another during the annual celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let it Snow!

We have had so much fun playing in all the snow.
Leland's favorite thing - sledding, Lucy's favorite thing - snowballs

The ruts from tires made a perfect sledding track. Our street has the perfect degree decline for the girls to go down, but not too fast. It also made it easy to come back to the top.

The masterpiece of a snowman. Leland's version with a flower ribbon on top for a "snow girl". Chuck's version with a top hat.

Preschool Pageant

Last week Leland had her Christmas Pageant at her preschool. Her role was the star carrier and she did a fabulous job. She had 2 lines, one telling Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus and the other telling the shepherds that she brought news of great joy. She also had to walk around "leading" the shepherds and the wise men to the baby Jesus. I loved that it was only her class, so it was a small group and the program was short and sweet.

Aunt Zebra came over for the day so she could see the pageant. Chuck was also able to run over from work to see it too. Bottom left pic - Leland and her BFF Noelle.

I adore Leland's teacher. Leland had a hard time with school when we first moved here. She was missing old friends and not really feeling excited about going to school. I really appreciated the way her teacher responded to our concerns. At the pageant, Leland had the most active role. Afterwards, her teacher came up to me and said what a great job she did. She said that she chose Leland for that role to give her a challenge since Leland is reading so much already, she felt like she should do something to reward and challenge her. I know she is only in preschool, but I hope that she will continue to have teachers that care for her and want her to succeed, it makes such a difference.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pushing cars in the snow

This was what we experienced coming home from our date last night. We didn't think the snow was going to be that bad so early in the evening. We also did not expect that so few roads would have been plowed or even salted, not even I-64! This is what happens when you live in a place that does not get much snow at all. We luckily made it home safely with no incidents. I was impressed with Chuck's knowledge of how to control a car in snowy weather.

We saw a woman in a car alone, struggling to get her little Mercedes sports car up a hill. My wonderful husband all of sudden stops and jumps out to push her car up the hill. This pic is my view from our van waiting. The pickup truck to the side came around our van, stopped and 2 guys jumped out to help Chuck push the car. I think those guys were purely out on the roads to help push cars out of the snow. I watched them go from one stuck car to another - yes there were that many. It was nuts. Chuck pushed her up the hill and to the next exit, probably about 1/4 mile. I then had to drive our van up the hill to the exit. I was so nervous, said a prayer, and made it.

There also was a large hill that a few cars could not get up. Traffic was backing up quite far. Chuck was able to use his phone map to go through a neighborhood to get around the cars and to the top of the hill. Taking a shortcut through less traveled roads was a bit nerve-racking, but it was a great idea. Otherwise, we would have been stuck in the line waiting, probably for hours, for our "turn" to try to go up the snowy hill.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Charly was screaming in the backseat half the time? I'm glad to be stuck in the house for a few days. I don't need to get in a car on slick roads for a long time. My nerves couldn't handle it.

LuLu the Cookoo

LuLu the Cookoo is how Chuck refers to Lucy sometimes. Her personality is just on fire lately. She just cracks me up with her little sayings and attitude. She is starting to talk more and more, but sometimes Leland is the only one who understands her and serves as her translator.

She still has no desire to potty train. When asked if she needs a diaper change her usual response is, "I'm all good." If I call her sweetie or crazy or anything other than Lucy, she will say, "I'm not crazy, I'm Lucy!" She knows most of her colors and almost all of her ABCs. She loves to sing songs, especially ones with motions. Her favorite song right now is "Once there was a Snowman". Her newest phrase is "Oh dear!"

She is often mistaken to be older than she is because she is so tall. In Primary a few weeks ago they brought in all the upcoming Moonbeams (3 year olds) for music time with the older children. Lucy came in and was so excited to be in there with the big kids. I reminded the teacher that Lucy was only 2 years old, and was in the wrong class. They had no idea and had just assumed she was 3. The next week, I found Lucy wandering the halls of church by herself. She had snuck out of Nursery and according to her was "going to the big class with Leland"

Her hair is just out of control sometimes. I love her natural curls, but her cowlicks are out of control. She refuses to keep ponies or clips in her hair and I have determined it's not worth the fight. So she ends up with these wings with soft curls, I'm actually a little jealous of her hair. She loves to twirl hair - her own and others. The hair twirling started as an infant when she would twirl my hair as she nursed. In the picture above, she has twirled her hair so tightly that it has cut off the circulation. The tip of her finger was turning purple, I thought I was going to have to cut her finger out of her hair it was so twisted. She also likes to pick her nose and twirl her "treasures" into her hair. It's quite gross when I go to brush her hair.

It's not always easy doing anything with a full of energy 2 year old. The other morning at the grocery store with her and Charly was...interesting. She had a mini shopping cart that she rammed into the back of my legs and knocked things off the shelf. She refused to let me guide her cart. When we were done she held so tightly onto the handle that I had to pry her little fingers off and carry her out of the store screaming. Not fun for any of us.

She is very physical and strong. She loves to climb and jump. She loves her baby dolls, but also has a love for trains, trucks, and cars.

When she closes her eyes for prayers or anything, she usually also has this adorable grin too. I love it. She gives the best hugs and kisses. She chases Leland around at night to make sure she gets a kiss goodnight from her. I love this little girl so much and she is so much fun to have in our home.

Happiest Christmas Tree

Get ready for a bunch of posts. We are stuck in the house with almost 12 inches of snow outside and ice/snow still coming down. Church has already been canceled for tomorrow. Fun movie watching, blogging, snow playing days with the family coming up. I'm glad my Christmas prep is already done.

Chuck and I both love the song "Happiest Christmas Tree", by Nat King Cole. It just makes me smile ear to ear. I love it! We listened to it all day when we finally got our Christmas tree last weekend. Last year, we cut our own tree for free. We weren't that lucky this year, so we opted to not to do a cut your own tree farm and just got one from Lowe's since we always go to their free Build and Grow clinics.
For a while we just let the girls put on the ornaments, which led to them all being right in the middle of the tree. Chuck and I really enjoyed going through the ornaments and remembering all the fun places we have been. We collect ornaments as a memory of a trip, event, or place we have lived. We told Leland the stories/trips that went along with the ornaments. Ever since we got the tree, Lucy was talking about putting the star on top, so this year was her turn.

Leland got a hold of the camera and took it upon herself to take some pictures of our decorations and more. It's interesting what she found worthy to take a picture of. She actually took some good pictures.
I know there are 6 stocking hanging, but I had an extra hook so I just put it up. I love having a piano to put my nativity on top of.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tacky Lights Tour

A BIG Richmond tradition is the Tacky Lights Tour. 50+ homes have been decorated with 40,000+ lights, multiple inflatables, homemade displays, and some even set to music. The whole thing is very well coordinated through the newspaper, tourism industry, and businesses - you can even pay to take a guided tour by bus or limo. It's a big deal. We ventured out last night on our first self-guided tour. I chose an area of town and created a map to go from one home to another. If you want our map, let me know. If you come visit, we'll take you on a tour to the best ones we have found.

It was unbelievable!! Last night, we only made it to 12 houses. I'm working on our next area to cover. I have about 20 still on my list from our side of town that I want to go to. Here are a few of our favorites.
Do you notice what is in the upper right window (bottom left pic)? Awesome! If you don't know what that is go watch A Christmas Story (It's like the 4th of July!!). Their next door neighbor had the little "Ditto" sign. One of my other favorites was the house with a lake in the backyard. Great reflection.

We have a video of one house's lights, which were set to music being broadcast from their own FM transmitter. I can't get my video to load, but here is a video from the tacky tour list (our video was better, oh well). I'm amazed at how much these people put into their displays.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grand Illumination

On Friday night, we kicked off our Christmas season by going downtown to the 25th Annual Grand Illumination of the James Center. This awesome event is when they flip the switch to turn on the Christmas lights for all of downtown Richmond. Not only is every building in the downtown area trimmed with lights, the grounds have tons of decorations with hundreds of lit up deer, snowflakes in every tree, and a huge Christmas Tree.
When we arrived, we were able to find space right up front near Santa and the Christmas Tree to see the official lighting. As you can see from the videos below, it is really amazing.

video from our vantage point:

video from the local news:

The girls were very well behaved even though we stayed out late and there were tons of people. After the lighting, we worked our way around to see the large model train set in the McGuire Woods building, the Nutcracker characters inside the Omni Hotel, and Radio Disney's booth. We also ran into 2 families from law school. It was great to visit with them.

Then we jumped in the car to go to the Main Street Station Christmas Open House. Main Street Station is the historic train station downtown that was recently restored to its former glory. When we lived in MD and would drive down I-95 to visit family in NC, Ashley always commented on how much she loved this building but never knew what it was. The freeway runs right up next to the top of the clock tower.From there, we walked over to the Farmer's Market Christmas Night. It was getting late, but this was the most fun of the night. The crowd was not the regular family-oriented group we are used to, but it was some groovy, kitschy, hippy fun that made me glad to be living near a diverse city. The girls loved dancing to live jazz music with the multi-racial Santa and Mrs. Claus. They were amazed by the hula hooper that um... had great moves for uh... hula hooping, among other potential activities. The girls never even noticed the two homeless men who had enjoyed too much of their own special holiday "spirits."

It was a great evening together as a family and helping us jump start our holiday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Quick Visit

On our way home from the beach we stopped at Mitzi's house for a night to pick up Grammy and Papa. We went to church in Raleigh which is always a treat since it is next to a temple. It was so cute to watch Connor just in love with Charly. He hugged on her like he is in the picture for most of church too. Lucy was not in a happy mood, that's why she is not in the group picture, but pouting on the bench. She does not handle being out of her normal routine that well.

We took Grammy and Papa for a quick driving tour of Richmond. We stopped downtown near Brown's Island and walked out over top of the James River. It was a gorgeous evening.

Grammy and Papa read the girls some stories and they all loved every minute of it.

Chuck took them to the airport at 4am Monday morning to catch a flight home. Their visit was short and sweet. We really appreciate them making an effort to visit us, even it is for only a day or two.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Fun in NC

On our way to the beach house the first day, we noticed signs for a town called Leland. We had no idea it existed and in NC. It was dark then so, we stopped to take a picture on our way out of town. Our Leland was so excited. Who knew that we really started the trend of naming our kids after a town/city (cousins Houston, Brooklyn, Charlotte, and Savannah all were born this year!)

Before heading home from the beach, we decided to take the girls to Wilmington Children's Museum. It was awesome! We took my lil' sis Layni with us too.

They were pirates, dentists, scientists, chefs, and artists. They played dress up, worked in a grocery store and played music. We were able to do a lot in the short time that we were there. We had so much fun and wore the girls out for our trip.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mentally incapicitated?

Here is a lesson learned: Always pay attention and be careful when checking boxes on government forms.

We were wondering why my voter's card came in the mail, but Ashley's did not. Apparently, the state feels that she is ineligible to vote because she is mentally incapacitated. Whoops! In her haste to fill out the form, Ashley marked the wrong box, saying that a judge had declared her mentally incapacitated.

Don't worry, the state says that if she can simply re-register with the correct boxes filled in and she will be back on the voter rolls soon.

BTW, forgive my paranoia with blackening out personal info, but you never know.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Beach

Disclaimer: There are a ton of pictures on this post. Chuck took so many and I had too many favorites. Enjoy.

We had a wonderful relaxing Thanksgiving at Holden Beach in NC with my dad and his family. Thanksgiving day was beautiful outside and the girls enjoyed playing in the ocean and the sand. I love going to the beach during the off season, you feel like you have the whole beach to yourselves.

Me and my Daddy.

I love each of these pictures of the girls.

The beach is a great place to see nature in progress. If you notice the walkway from a beach house ends down in the sand dune that has developed. Also, the "No Anchoring" buoy in the middle of the sand dune.

Charly's first dip in the ocean. She did NOT like it at all.

Friday was really windy, a great day for flying kites at the beach.

We then took a walk down a pier. Notice my hair. It was really windy.

There were quite a few people fishing off the pier. One man caught a tiny shark. Layni was first in line to pet the shark. Leland followed suit, but Lucy never would touch it.

That evening, we watched the sunset on the beach.

Leland and Layni had so much fun together.

Being at the beach with family was a perfect way to spend Thanksgiving.