Saturday, December 19, 2015

Good Tidings Abound!!

We'd been home from Jamaica for less than 24 hours, both babies were back in our arms and we were headed to the nearby Christmas tree farm.  Before Scott and I were married, we unknowingly started the tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree.  The habit formed and now it is my favorite way to kick off the Christmas season.  
Our Christmas angels
The sweet smell of sap filled our nostrils as we searched for the perfect tree.  Quicker then Santa's reindeer can clammer to our roof, our tree appeared before us.  A perfectly shaped, perfectly scented, tall and thick Frasier fur shouted out "take me home!"  Ok, it may not have shouted but if firs could talk it would have.

The loose needles were shaken off, the tree was carefully bagged and home we drove with our Christmas tree in tow.  I can only imagine how bizarre the process is for our children....I constantly tell them not to bring leaves, sticks, etc. into our home....and here we are putting up an entire tree in the living room.

Our Christmas festivities were not over yet!!  Before any ornaments could be hung, we put the tree in water and were back on the road.  We headed to the town over for a visit with Santa Claus.  

Making small talk with the big guy
Paisley swallowed any nerves he had and quickly gave the man with the beard his Christmas list.  Lila was less sure of herself and blurted out "Hellwo kitty bicycle," before averting her eyes and faking interest in the flooring beneath her feet.

She looks a little stiff
Both kids agreed to gathering on his lap for a picture, however Lila looks like she might have been sitting on a pine comb.  After we said our good-byes we headed to the local coffee shop for caffeine for us parents and cookies for the kids.


A few days after our tree cutting and Santa visit we had our Christmas Kinder Musik class.  Last year Scott joined us but this year we were scheduled while he was at work.  Class began and both babies were snuggled up on my lap.  The door opened and what to my wondering eyes should appear....my sister dressed in scrubs and ready to enjoy some holiday cheer.

Our much loved Aunt Bunny
I had mentioned the class to my sister days before but knew it would take nothing short of a Christmas miracle for her to leave work and join us.  And there she was.  There are moments in life when you are overcome by the actions of someone....actions that are driven by the heart and nothing else.  Actions that don't require words but just simply being in a spot.  This was one of those moments.
Can you tell which one had too much candy?
By now the tree was decorated and presents were wrapped under the tree.  Our next festivity took place in our very own kitchen.  We crafted our first (and now annual) gingerbread house!  The kids loved covering the house in icing and sticking candy pieces all over it.  It's a good thing the house is not for consumption by the general public because I watched Lila lick each piece of candy prior to adorning the house with it.              
Cookie cutters
I attempted my first batch of fudge and I think this will become a yearly tradition!  The sugar cookies turned out good and are a little sweeter then normal as I caught a little girl licking the cookie cutters between cutting out trees.

On Paisley's last day of school before Christmas break, Lila and I were able to partake in his school Christmas party with him. I loved watching him interact with his friends and watch Lila get comfortable with the teachers whom she will be learning from next year.


Our stash of Christmas pajamas have made their way into the rotation and I swear I'm going to be dressing these kids in elf jammie as long as they will let me.
 
The newlywed couple
On the 18th of December my parents celebrated 39 years of marriage!!  My sister and I prepared food and we all gathered on the farm to celebrate.  After the kids were tucked snuggly in their bed, the adults played battleship and enjoyed simply being with the ones we love.


With Christmas Day just around the corner, we spent this morning eating breakfast with Nana and Pappaw and visiting with Santa.  I was hoping Lila would be a little more relaxed to see him a second time this season....but you can see for yourself that wasn't the case.  It made for a cute photo anyway!!
My mom and sister, 2 of the greatest things in my life
This week we will join Santa for cookies and milk at our local library, finish up some last minute Christmas shopping, and come Christmas Eve we will head to my parents house.  It's amazing how quickly the days pass this time of year and before I know it, we will be well on our way into 2016.  So for now I'm digging my heels into this most wonderful time of the year.  I'm exposing our little people to as much Christmas cheer as their little minds can handle.  And I'm meeting my husband under the mistletoe as often as I possible can.

May you each get everything you hope for this Christmas season!!!!  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!    

Monday, December 14, 2015

Jamaica in December

Scott said we needed a tropical vacation and I wasn't going to argue!  I began the process of searching the internet for resorts in Mexico, the Dominican, and even a couple cruises.  I had a few requirements as I looked at option after option.  So may resorts with different amenities to choose from....my mind began to spin.  I remembered seeing a girl I was friends with in high school had recently become a travel agent. Within minutes I had sent Tai a message and the conversation began. Within a week she had given us options, Scott and I discussed them and we all agreed that Secrets St. James in Jamaica was the place for us!!  The trip was booked!

Jamaica surpassed other destinations due to the short amount of travel time.  We flew out of Evansville at 6am and arrived in Jamaica for lunch.  Flights out of Evansville were the same if not cheaper then surrounding airports, so that was convenient.  An all-inclusive resort was a must because I didn't want to worry about how much we were spending once we were on vacation.  I also wanted to be shuttled from the airport to the resort, I don't like landing at an airport and being unsure of how to get from point A to point B.  And finally, I love water activities and wanted to try paddle boarding, so having that option at the resort was required.  Secrets St. James met each of my requirements.
Starting our day with Delta
After checking the expiration dates on our passports 214 times, it was departure day!  Our flights were on time and as we started to descend towards Jamaica, the blue waters caught out eyes as did how mountainous it is!  It looked very similar to Hawaii with the tree covered mountainous terrain.  It was absolutely beautiful.  We got through customs quickly and were greeted on the other side by a gentleman holding a sign with our travel company listed.  After brief introductions we were whisked away to a large tour bus with 1 other gentleman aboard.  The air was warm and there wasn't much of a breeze, but humidity was low, so it felt great.  The bus ride to the resort was entertaining as the bus driver was more confident in his driving abilities then I was.  He used his horn frequently and I'm not sure all road signage was obeyed.  Many vehicles had dents and dings and I was glad my car was safely home in the garage.

Home away from home
We drove through a few rough appearing areas, buildings surrounded by barbwire fences and litter was a bit of an eyesore.  Beyond the rubbish you couldn't help but stare into the sparkling ocean waters.  After a 10 minute drive, we pass through a gated area and it was like entering an oasis.  The buildings were covered in blooming flowering vines as though it was the middle of summer.  Water fountains dotted the driveway and bell hops is light colored pants and button ups scurried about. The bus pulled to a stop and we were quickly greeted by gentlemen helping us with our bags and offering us a beverage.  Scott hadn't slipped in to "all inclusive" mode yet, but I was ready and said "yes!"

Flowers in December
We were taken to the front desk area where my rum punch showed up while we checked in.  After Scott got a sip of my ice cold beverage and remembered everything was already paid for, he asked if it was too late to get a rum punch as well.  After check-in we were taken to the concierge desk to get information on activities.  Here we met 3 incredible girls that ended up being some of the coolest people we met on the trip.  They gave us information on the resort that we never would have known on our own.  They were funny and friendly and reassured that we had made the right choice in choosing a resort.
Flowers and towel animals 
We headed up to our room and loved the open air hallways.  Our views of the tropical landscape caused us to slow our pace and enjoy everything about the moment.  The light breeze blowing, the scent of the ocean, and this view.  We walked into our room and loved the spaciousness.  The bathroom had a private shower, private toilet, and a large jacuzzi tub right in the center.  The tub was separated from the bedroom by a sheer curtain.  The bed was a king four post  and the bedroom opened up into a sitting room with a table for 2 and a love seat.  The balcony was off the sitting room and gave us views of the property and ocean.  The grass and trees were as green as the Midwest in early May and the ocean was as blue and green as every image I imagined as we planned this trip.

Not an awful place to have lunch
By this point we were starving and headed to the pool area to the Seaside Grill for lunch.  Since this was our first all inclusive experience, we were curious to see how this works.  We were quickly seated and greeted by our waitress and instructed to help ourselves to the salad bar.  We were already impressed with this place, but here's where our expectations began getting surpassed.  Being at a resort that has food available 24 hours a day, we were not expecting the food to be outstanding.  We knew it would be good, but it was more than expected.  The salad bar was stocked with various fresh seafood salads and cheeses that I had never heard of before.  Everything we tasted was delicious.

Hello paradise!!
After we had finished our meal, we sampled dessert before heading back up to our room to freshen up.  I slipped into the bath and was more relaxed at that moment than I had been in the previous 4.5 years.  That's not even a slight exaggeration.  I did FaceTime the kids after I got out of the bath, but their happiness and excitement while on the phone confirmed this trip was good for ALL of us.

Working this tub into our upcoming bathroom remodel.  Seriously.
I won't give you a play-by-play on each moment that followed, but I'll reflect on the highlights of the trip and thoughts for our next adventure.  As I mentioned in my requirements, I wanted water activities on site.  Scott and I snorkeled with a guide 2 different times and paddle boarded 1 afternoon.  The snorkeling was just as good as snorkeling along the Ke'e beach in Hawaii.  The fish were brightly colored and the sea fans were beautiful.  The second day we snorkeled we ended up swimming with jellyfish which was as scary as it was beautiful.  They were clear with a purple tint and perfectly round.  Luckily we didn't come into contact with any.  Paddle boarding was as awesome as I had hoped and I can't wait to do it again.  We were going to take a Hobie wave out one afternoon, but with the lack of wind that day they recommended against it.

Paradise
We spent some time soaking up the sun and scenery laying underneath one of the many cabanas on the beach.  This is where I lived out my tropical fantasy of laying on the beach and having someone serve me frozen beverages.  It was spectacular.  An added bonus was the jerk chicken smoker guy.  At various times throughout the day, a guy with a smoker on wheels would walk along the sidewalks and give everyone plates of freshly smoked jerk chicken.  It was the best chicken we had ever eaten.  There was also a lady standing just off the beach with a stand full of fresh tropical fruit.  As you approached her, she began slicing fruit and before you knew it, you had your hands full of the most exotic delicious fruit you never knew existed.


The resort was larger than I expected, 7 restaurants, each with a different theme, various bars, and my favorite....a coffee bar that had an iced coffee waiting for me every time I turned around.  There was various activities scattered about from badminton, pool, ping pong, beach volleyball, horseshoes, bocci ball, and shuffle board.  There were at least 2 private beaches that we could lounge on, numerous hot tubs, and many pools, including one with a swim-up bar.  Scott and I enjoyed sitting on the underwater stools (they are harder to sit on then you would image....I floated off a couple times) and sipping fruity concoction in the water.


From fellow vacationers to the Jamaicans, every one we met was friendly.We tried to figure out if people come to Jamaica and become friendly...or is everyone that travels to Jamaica already friendly?  Either way, we loved speaking to people from all over.  We never left the resort once we arrived, mostly because we were only there for a handful of days and there was plenty to do and see at the resort that it never got boring.  The next time we go back there are a few excursions we plan on taking outside our gated resort.

Here is the critical part of my review on Secrets Resort.  While our room was clean, open, airy and the view was beautiful, it was not what I would consider a "luxury" room.  The love seat had been well worn as imagine it is hard to keep any upholstery clean looking when people sit on it in wet suits, etc.  The shower was incredible with a rain cloud head, but somehow when using the shower water would seep into the bathroom and create a wet floor.  The light surrounding the mirror in the bathroom worked, sometimes.  It was not a light bulb issue, more of a switch connection issue.  The refrigerator in our room didn't really cool items, it was more like room temperature minus 1 degree.  And finally, at the end of the day we would turn the news on to make sure nothing crazy was happening in the United States....however the remote would only occasionally work.  I did call for new batteries but that didn't help the issue.  I think the remote needed to be replaced.


With that information under our hats, Scott and I talked about the resort overall, the good and the bad.  Our decision was the GOOD far outweighed the bad.  Our room was only used for sleeping and getting clean and the rest of the time we were outside.  The amazing and plentiful food and beverages, the kindness of the staff, the views, and the water activities far surpassed a room that had a few quirks.

We will return to Jamaica....the only question is do we take our children with us to the family friendly sister resort of Secrets.....or do we leave them at home again and have adult time?  Time will tell!! :)

If you are interested in contacting our wonderful agent, she can found on Facebook under "Destinations by Tai."

 







      

Friday, December 11, 2015

Thankful

So often a normal moment in life stops me in my tracks and causes the familiar warm sting to form in the corner of my eyes.  I am reminded of how great this world we live in is, and how kind its people can be.  I am reminded daily to give thanks to items that may not necessarily be what we want, but a blessing nonetheless.  
This man has my heart
Every morning I hear my husbands alarm chime well before the sun greets the day.  He quietly moves about the house, careful not to disturb sleeping babies.  Standing at the door in his ironed khakis and Polo, he kisses me good-bye and slips out in the cold morning air knowing he won't be back home until well after the sun has set.  It's a long work day that leaves him tired.  This chapter in our lives is plagued with long work hours and work calls throughout the night, but I am thankful.  I am thankful for this man that works so hard for our little family.  I am thankful for this job, despite its long hours, for providing for our family.

Vacation!!
In September Scott mentioned we needed to go on vacation, somewhere tropical, and without kids.  That started the ball in motion to plan a trip to Jamaica and get away for 4 days while the kids stayed with their grandparents (Jamaica post coming soon!).  I am thankful that he sees the importance of getting away from it all.  The importance of reconnecting as husband and wife and not just daddy and mommy.  I am thankful that out of all the people in this world, he chose me to share this life with.  

While in Jamaica, I self-consciously slipped into my bikini and cover.  This body and I have had our ups and downs over the years and with that comes a love and hate relationship.  I wish my thighs were smaller and tummy tighter, but I am thankful for what I have.  This body has allowed me to ski in the Alps, hike the Tetons, waddle among penguins in Antarctica, snorkel in Hawaii and created children more perfect then I could have imagined.  I am thankful that it allows me to complete any activity I try and gives my children something soft and warm to cuddle.  

Our Christmasy angels
This week the kids had Christmas Kindermusik.  It's a fun Christmasy class that's full of Christmas music and wintry activities.  The kids and I were in class waiting to begin when the door opened and my sister walked in.  I was shocked and surprised and at first super confused why she was there. I had mentioned to her earlier in the week about the class but knew she was supposed to be performing a cataract surgery. Yet here she was, dressed in scrubs, ready to spend the next 45 minutes with the tiny people in her life.  I am thankful for family that loves my children the way I do.  I am thankful for her time, it was more important to me than any material object she could have given my children or I.   

Scott and I would not have been able to take a vacation if we didn't have the support of both sides of our family.  When we first mentioned going on a trip, Scott's mom asked "Who will keep the babies?"  Then quickly offered her home to watch them.  As my mom heard the news of our trip she asked, "When do I get them?"  Having parents that want to spend time with our children, who want to love on them and care for them is one of the greatest blessings next to having children.  It's something we are all 4 thankful for!

As we move about each day, I teach our children to be thankful for the little things; for the man that held the door open as we walked into Chick-fil-a, to the grocery clerk that carried my bags to the car because each of my hands held a little hand, to the mail lady that brought our mail to the door so I wouldn't have to walk down our long driveway in the rain, to our friends that share their lives with us.    We are so lucky.  We are so thankful.  

Houseful of Turkeys

Family
For the second year in a row we packed our suitcases on Thanksgiving Eve and headed to my sisters house to maximize our family time.  I'm starting to enjoy dinner the night before Thanksgiving as much as I enjoy the Thanksgiving meal!  My dad made clam chowder, my sister had warm sandwiches and dip, I brought a pumpkin roll and fruit salad and we all gobbled it up as we listened to stories and songs provided by our in-house entertainment, the 2 & 4 year old.

The best sister/auntie ever...
After the babies had been tucked into bed, the adults began an educational game of Trivial Pursuit.  I wasn't good at that game when I was younger, and some things never change.  Nonetheless we had a great time that resulted in plenty of laughs, mostly become mom would ask a question, then get mixed up on which answer was right (ex. How many planets are in the solar system. Answer: New Hampshire.)
Little nugget nibbling
Thanksgiving morning arrived with the sounds of laughter drifting up the stairs and waking Scott and I.  Walking into the brightly lit kitchen with the scent of coffee in the air and seeing my kids happily playing with their Nana and aunt was a fantastic way to start this day of thanks.
My beautiful loving mother
We nibbled on baked french toast and bacon while the main meal cooked in the oven.  Before our breakfast could settle, turkey was pulled from the oven and the rolls were ready to be buttered.  We all listened to my sister give the blessing, thanking God for the blessings we've received and those blessings that go unseen.
Toss the baby, a popular holiday game
Once bellies were stuffed and dishes were almost empty, we began the process of cleaning up.  Dishes were washed, bags were packed, and our nest destination awaited.  We bid farewell to the family and loaded up the littlest turkeys to head to our next festivity.

Little cousins
We arrived at Scott's parents house and despite having stuffed bellies, the kids immediately began running about, playing with their cousins.    Somehow enough room formed in our bellies to enjoy another delicious meal as we caught up with family.

My world
The night came to an end with Scott and I driving our tired crew home.  The holidays add magic to this time of year and today (and last night) was no exception.  It was an absolutely perfect Thanksgiving.  It was filled with family sharing memories of the past and hopes for the future.  It was sharing a meal with the ones we love.  It was a moment to slow down and look around, to be thankful for these scenes before our eyes.  They are scenes that I will carry in my heart forever.