Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning

We spent Christmas morning at my Dad's house in North Carolina. It was fun to have one more kid around for the excitement.

Leland - the year of princess and barbies

Lucy - KA POW! this girl loves Spider Man

Charly - the impatient eater
Check out the chunks of skin missing from the orange she just couldn't wait for me to peel. I finally captured real smile not the usual crazy picture face.
Dad and Layni

It was fun to talk to Grammy and Papa on Skype.

My southern boy's t-shirt and opening his NASCAR gift

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cutting down the tree

Cutting down our own Christmas tree is a tradition that both Chuck and I want to do with our family. This year, we found a great tree farm not too far from home called LaRon Tree Farm. Unfortunately, the owner said he is retiring and will not be open the next few years to let let the rest of his trees grow.

The picture on the top left was just moments before the tree fell, and notice the proximity of Charly there... I had to grab Charly and yank her quickly out of the way before the tree crashed on top of her. 
It was an awesome place to get our tree. They even had these great tree sleds invented by the owner to transport our tree and children.While our tree was being wrapped and tied to the van, we roasted marshmallows, made s'mores, and drank hot chocolate. 
The girls loved decorating the Christmas tree and made me sing my favorite Christmas song, The Happiest Christmas Tree by Nat King Cole, while we decorated.
Chuck also put some Christmas lights up on our house after Lucy's sweet, yet persistent, request. It started raining when he was about half-way done, but he kept going and finally finished in the dark and soaking wet. We had a remote to turn the lights on and off and I was able to convince the girls that the Christmas lights turned on only by them yelling "Merry Christmas!" as loud as they could.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Richmond Christmas Festivities (Part 2 of 2)

The Miracle Of Christmas is a free, live Nativity presented by the Richmond Metro Zoo. It is a wonderful way to feel the true meaning of Christmas by watching a reenactment of the events leading up to the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We love to take our girls every year. This year, my mother joined us again along with her friend who presents Back to Bethlehem in Bath, NC.
After the show, picture op with some of the cast and animals.
We took a long way home in order to drive past a few of the homes on the Tacky lights Tour. Here are a few of our favorites.

Richmond Christmas Festivities (Part 1 of 2)

At the beginning of December we went to a few Christmas festivities that are Richmond traditions to help get us into the Christmas spirit.

First up was the Grand Illumination in downtown Richmond, where they turn on the lights to the Christmas tree, other trees, deer, and all the buildings downtown at one time. We went last year and had a lot of fun. This year we didn't get great pictures, so you can check out last year's pictures.

The girls were able to meet some of the stars of the Nutcracker.
We saw Santa a few times throughout the night and he was of course willing to listen to all the wishes from 2 little girls.
We also went to the Main Street Station open house. I love that building so much. None of our pictures turned out there, either. We were really frustrated with our camera that night. It was recently repaired from when I dropped it in the sand over the summer and it's never been the same. Luckily, I got a fabulous new camera for Christmas, so my frustrations are over.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I recently looked at my blog and realized that I only posted 2 times in November. I have a lot to catch up on. I started working for a company called Dominion Harvest back in the fall and I love it. It has kept me very busy but, we are in the off season right now, so hopefully I can catch up. I like to date my blog posts according to when they happened, so they may be a little out of order.

A note from Leland with instructions on how to get to her hideout.
Chuck has sleep apnea and he finally got a c-pap machine. He no longer snores like a freight train, which means I don't have to elbow him in the side or kick him in the middle of the night to roll over, so we all sleep so much better. The first night he slept with the machine I seriously thought he was dead in the middle of the night. He usually is such a loud and fitful sleeper and he was so still and silent while he slept. It was a little creepy.
Lucy is in such a fun stage. She is adamant about dressing herself most days, which leads to great ensembles. She still loves everything about Spiderman and hyperventilates at the sight of anything remotely resembling Spiderman.

We recently switched the big girls from toddler beds to twin beds. Poor Lucy was complaining about her "small" bed and we would hear her banging against the frame at night. The picture on the bottom right is how we found her the first night in the twin bed. That bigger bed and she still was hanging off the edge. I think she will soon be taller than Leland.
Charly has a ridiculous smile when the camera comes out. She really is a cute girl, but I may not have many pictures to prove it.
Charly has recently discovered climbing. These two pictures were taken literally minutes from each other. I think she will be my first child to break a bone or get stitches.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Traditions Start Now

Lots of people around Christmastime like to know what others' traditions are, as they develop their own traditions. Last year, being in a new city for Christmas, we decided to dive into the long lasting Richmond Christmas traditions. Tonight, we kick off our month long 2nd annual Gates Family Christmas celebration.

James Center Illumination – Tonight 6pm (Last year’s blog post)
Christmas Parade – Saturday 10am
Lowes Build and Grow train set – each Saturday in December
Miracle of Christmas – Richmond Zoo (Last years’ blog post)

Check your local paper and find out what's traditions your community has for Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wedding in NY

The weekend after Thanksgiving we all headed north to New York for my cousin, Cody's wedding. It's been a long time since all of my cousins have been together at one time.

My grandmother was an only child and she had 3 daughters (3 son-in-laws) and now has 7 grandchildren (plus 4 spouses) and 9 great-grandcildren. She was so cute and excited about all of us having our picture taken.
The whole family
Leland was a flower girl in the wedding with her cousin Nick as the ring bearer. They were so adorable. She was so excited about it but, looked so nervous when she actually came down the isle.
My cute uncle wore that same cowboy hat on the day that he and my aunt were married. When I was a teenager, I spent the summer in New York with my uncle and cousins while my aunt was helping with a sick family member. That was one of my most memorable summers. One of the friends I made 15 years ago were at the wedding. It was fun to see her.
We hired a babysitter to watch all the kids, so it was a fun date night with my sisters and their husbands at the reception.
Poor Chuck got a little teary listening to my uncle talk about his only daughter getting married. He says "and I have to do this at least 3 times in my life, geez!"
Cross Women
Taking family pictures in freezing cold temperatures.
All the kids had so much fun together. We rented a large lake house so we could all stay together. It was a blast.
enjoying chocolate cake and yummy root beer
Nana was in heaven with all the grandkids in one house.
play-doh creations and playing in the light snow flurries
We miss our cousins!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Singing

We traveled to Maryland to my sister's house for Thanksgiving. It was great being with family and just relaxing. The kids and the boys played Rock Band literally all day while Thanksgiving dinner was cooking.

We had a wonderful dinner, but just before bed Chuck started to feel sick and he spent the night leaning over the toilet. Not fun. He was luckily the only one that got sick, so we have no idea what made him so sick. Lucky for everyone else, not so lucky for poor Chuck.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend in NC

We took a quick trip down to NC. Some girlfriends from here in Richmond went down to visit another friend who recently moved to Raleigh. It was nice to go to the temple with friends and have my mom and sister join us. We then went to dinner and chatted away. It was a fabulous day.
Chuck loves a good revitalization project or low impact development ares that he will go out of his way to see and get pictures. So, on our way back home we stopped in Durham, NC to walk around an area that his boss here in Richmond told him about. It was an old Tobacco factory close to the Durham Bulls baseball stadium that has been revitalized. I have to admit that it was pretty fun to walk around.
We actually got a good picture of the girls too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Enjoy and Enrich

[FYI - Chuck recently edited this post and added more.}

There have been a few things on my mind a lot lately - 1) Enjoying my children and 2) enriching my children.

I want to help them grow and develop into strong, confident, kind, loving, intelligent girls. But I want all of us to enjoy the process.

I have been reading a parenting book called 1..2..3..Magic. I'm about half way into it and agree with the concept. Like any "self-help" book, I implement the parts that I agree with and adjust any other parts I don't 100% agree with. I have been completely impressed with how well the 1, 2, 3...Magic concept works. I have noticed a change in the girl's behavior and especially my behavior. One of the big ideas is to not let personal emotion get in the way of disciplining your child. I get less frustrated and irritated, thus enjoy my children more.

As I think about my kids, I have thought a lot about public school lately. We are about 3 months into the world of public school and in one word it's just... interesting. You want your child to learn, be enriched, make friends, learn social skills, and have fun. I keep asking myself, "How do I make sure my child is getting the guidance and instruction she needs without somebody accusing me of not letting my kid just be a kid?"

In Leland's class, there are 18 kids for the teacher to be concerned with. We love her teacher and have always had positive experiences with the school, the PTA, the principal, the specialist teachers (librarian, reading specialist, and music teacher). But ever since our parent-teacher conference earlier this month, Chuck has been in my ear about something.

At the parent-teacher conference, Leland's teacher raved about her. She explained how Leland got 100 out of 102 on the PALS test. The target score for kindergartners is 28.

Now, if you have heard Chuck's view on making progress through life, you can guess that we like to make sure that we properly appreciate the positive, but be aware of the things that we should be working on. He is constantly balancing those two sides - pride in the girls' successes, while seeking opportunities for further growth and learning opportunities. So in that mode, he said, "That's great she did so well... can you show us what were the 2 things she missed so we can be sure to work on them in the future?"

Of course, we were very pleased with our sweet little girl. We are not the kind of people who push the girls too hard without recognizing their successes. But we also talked with her teacher about some of our concerns that Leland may be getting bored with school.

Chuck keeps saying that she needs to be challenged in life. He says, he wants his kids to be smart, but not so much so that they are the smartest in their class and don't have to work for their achievements. Some day, the girls will come up against academic challenges and we want them to be used to overcoming them through study and diligence.

He says that as we teach Leland, he keeps thinking back to a few times in his life when he came up against academic challenges and didn't handle them as well as he should have because he wasn't used to having to work hard to get good grades. He talks about his first year at Stanford being a real eye opener for him. So, you can see why he is so concerned that Leland is starting her educational "career" by getting into the habit of things being easy at school.

After the parent-teacher conference, the teacher worked with us to have Leland tested for her reading and phonetic skills. For a few days, she spent a short time doing a reading test with Leland. She tested at a 2nd grade, 8th month level for reading.

(By the way, Lucy is on the same path. Her preschool teacher says she's the only one in her class that knows all the sounds letters make and knows her numbers. She is on track to be reading consistently before turning 4, just like Leland was. Yesterday, Lucy actually read the little books that Leland brought home from school.)

Can you see why we love Leland's teacher? She cares about Leland and really tries to stimulate her, but she is constrained by the needs of the other 17 kids, not to mention the budget cuts which did away with teacher's aides.

Our school is a great school, but we are concerned that the teacher is having to teach at an extremely low level simply due to the makeup of the class. 10 of the 18 students in Leland's class are ESL. Very few of the kids entered kindergarten at the basic level of preparedness. Because of this, the teacher is having to focus on unbelievable remedial lessons that Leland was learning over the past two years in preschool and are more applicable for our 3-year old Lucy.

The teacher and the reading specialist were hoping to find other kids at or near Leland's level to form a reading group at her level. Sadly, they came back and said that after asking all 5 kindergarten teachers, they realized that there is not a single other child even close to Leland's level. So what happens when your child is above the learning level that everyone else in her grade at her school is? How do you make sure she is still enriched?

I want her to be challenged. I do not want her to develop the habit that school is easy and not want to take on challenges. Her teacher is doing well at trying to give Leland instruction to take her work to the next level, but I know she is capable of so much more than the simple worksheets she is bringing home. Let's face it, if a teacher has a child preforming above grade level and a child performing below grade level that needs extra one-on-one time, the below grade level child is going to get the attention.

I'm not really an advocate of skipping grades, but Chuck has spent the last 3 months wondering if we should move Leland up to 1st grade. It might be fine now, but on a social level I just don't think it's best as teenagers. I do not want my 15 year old in class with 16-17 year old kids who are driving and dating.

I only have 3 hours with Leland each day between the time she gets home from school and the time to get ready for bed. I try my best to make that time with her enriching, but I 'm making dinner and she is just worn out. Do we move to a school where there might be other kids her age at a similar level? The gifted program in our district doesn't start until the 3rd grade. It is an immersion program, so not every school has a gifted program. Do we make sure we buy a house in a district that has a gifted program, so she does not have a 45 minute bus ride to and from school?

Let's just put it out there - I do not want to home school. I believe in the public school system. (Both of parents were school teachers and Chuck says he pays tuition for school every April 15.) I just need to figure out how to make it work for my child and our family. I can do all I can with her during those 3 hours in the evening, but realistically, she is at school for 6 hours, that's where it needs to happen.

I need to be an advocate for my child. I am trying to find that balance between enriching my girls and letting them enjoy being a kid. Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is us

School pictures
Since I have no professional pictures to share of Charly, I'll share a video of her most recent accomplishment. Don't you just the love the tongue poking out just like her Daddy does when he concentrates?
Chuck and I loved watching the Country Music Awards last night. I love all the performnaces, but this Brad Paisley one is the best. Chuck loved the "Wanna get scrappy?" bit between Jeff Gordon and Brad Paisley.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


For Halloween, we had an M&M, a super girl (or Spiderman's wife), a bride, Chuck Bartowski AKA Agent Charles Carmichael, and General Beckman (both from the TV show Chuck).
We had fun at our church trunk or treat on Friday night. We also went trick or treating on our street on Sunday night. Chuck and I also went to an adult Halloween party the weekend before. We all had fun and got way too much candy. I love our Mr. Potato Head style jack-o-lanterns. They are so cute and so easy.
My favorite part of Halloween is the after Halloween sales to get more dress-ups. Lucy's choices were Spider man and Buzz light year. Leland chose two fairy dresses. We also picked up a few wigs and tutu skirts. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friends Forever

It has been about 2 years since we have seen the Cumberworth Family. Between our two families, there have been 3 babies born, 2 law degrees obtained, and 3 moves since we saw each other last. We were so excited when Adam had an Air Force JAG training at UVa so we could get together.

I picked up Shana and the kids and brought them to Richmond for a few days. Her kids are so stinkin' cute.We had fun just hanging out at the house, going downtown, and walking around Maymont.

Eli loves to give kisses. Charly and Eli were so cute all week just hugging and kissing on each other. For the bottom right picture, I balanced a cookie on top of the camera to get them to look at the camera. It was pretty funny and kind of worked. One of the last times we saw them our girls wore the same t-shirts, but it was Leland and Lucy. (Those t-shirts were actually my 9 and 11 year old nieces' shirts. Those hand-me-downs have definitely gotten their use.)
We only got to see Adam one night. We all went to Charlottesville, walked around the gorgeous UVa campus and the historic downtown mall. No late night game playing like the old days, but still lots of fun just hanging out chasing after all the kids. Having 5 kids in tow instead of just the one (Leland) like we had years ago was quite different. It was so fun to see Adam and Shana as parents. Thanks for coming to VA. We can't wait to come visit you in FL.
As we walked around the lawn at UVa, Chuck and I kept telling the girls that this is where they were going to go to college. The fall colors were amazing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

10 Apples up on Top

We went apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville. It was gorgeous weather - sunny and warm., not exactly fall feeling, apple picking weather - but great nonetheless. I kept reminding Chuck that this was for the experience, not necessarily to get a ton of apples, but the girls just loved it so much we ended up with 40lbs of apples!
We were very excited that Aunt Zebra was able to join us.
I love the bottom right picture below with the girls in their "ta-da" poses and Chuck - our pack mule - with our 40lbs of apples.
Zebra took the big girls on a hay ride. I tried to get some pictures of the girls on the pumpkins, but everyone was just worn out. Isn't the view just amazing in the picture of Lucy. We were literally on the top of a mountain. Breathtaking views.
After the apple picking, we met up with our friends' the Crofts and headed to Downtown Charlottesville for dinner (Eppie's and Marco and Luca's) and dessert (Splendora's and Sweet Frog). The downtown open air mall is fabulous because you can stroll around and all get food from different places, then all sit together outside. We love it. Charly wanted to be just like dad and lick the gelato sampler plate clean. Then Charly also got frozen yogurt from Zebra. She's quite the mooch.
Wondering what I did with 40lbs of apples? Applesauce, canned apples, dipped them in caramel and nutella, pork chops with baked apples, apple caramel sauce on crepes, apple turnovers, and waffles with apples on top.

Almost 3 weeks later I still have some in my fruit bowl and they are still delicious. That's what happens when you buy fresh and buy local!