Beach Days are the Best Days!

We love hitting the beach the week before Memorial Day to beat the big crowds and, more importantly, the sweltering heat!  This is our last year not having kids in "real" school, so it might be the last time we get to take advantage of going that week.  Who knows, maybe we'll skip one of the last weeks of kindergarten next year...

For the third year in a row, we invited our friends, the Rikards, to join us.  Our kids play so well together and we've gotten in the groove of how to vacation together.  I think this year was probably our best one yet!

I know I've said it before, but it's so much easier when we leave on Friday and drive a little more than half way.  Plus, the kids think staying at a hotel is the best.  We stopped for dinner at Cracker Barrel and had to do some porch rockin'. 

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I bought the kids each a pair of headphones for the trip and they wouldn't take them off.  They carried around their "ipads" (Leap Frog Tablets) so they could listen to music.  Teenagers already, I tell ya.

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Our vacation is getting predictable.  When getting close to the beach house, we first stop in Seaside for pizza and our first beach sighting.  And then we always take a picture in this cutout board!

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Our biggest goal for the trip was just to really get into vacation mode.  So we tossed any kind of schedule out the window, ate ice cream or candy every night, didn't force naps, and generally said yes to most things.  It was fun!

One pineapple, four straws!

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Beach Bums

This year, Matt and Laura dug two really deep holes in the sand and then connected them with a tunnel.  It terrified this mama, but Katie Wynn and Levi loved crawling from one hole to the other!  We let them do it a few times before collapsing the hole so no one else could go in it.

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Pool Sharks

Coordinating Cuteness

If you know me at all, then you know it wouldn't be vacation without plenty of matching outfits!

I don't know where they get all of their "coolness" from.

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Here is our family picture from the evening we spent at The Hub.

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And this is the "goodbye" photo taken on the front steps of the beach house before we drove away after a super fun week.  Might be my favorite picture of all four kids...even if they don't all match!

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The only bad thing about vacationing the week before Memorial Day is that it's over too early in the summer!  We really have to figure out a way to spend another week at the beach at the end of the summer too.  Not too much to ask, right?

Weekend at the Lake

Just like last year, we were invited to spend the weekend at the lake with some of our friends.  We were the last to arrive Friday evening, making it there just in time for a pizza dinner.  We ordered in and played around the house that night so that we could be well rested for a full day on the water the next day.

We rose early on Saturday to eat breakfast, make sandwiches, pack coolers, slather on sunscreen, and load up for the lake.  Matt and I rode in the back of Justin's ranger down to where they keep their boats.

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We had the best weather for a day on the water.  The sun was out so it was warm enough to swim, but not so hot that it was miserable and unbearable.  

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The big kids could hardly wait to jump into the water!

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Not totally eager to jump off the boat?  This guy.  My little Alfalfa.  :)

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Thomas enjoys boat days a lot like I do.  We're just there for the snacks.

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Levi (and Mason, though I didn't get a picture of him) was so brave he jumped off the roof of the boat!

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Justin had a really cool inflatable slide to hang off the side of the boat, and Thomas warmed up to that.  He thought it was way better than just jumping in.

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After lunch, we split the two boats up so the bigger kids could do some tubing and the babies could nap.  Since Thomas is just a year behind the big kids but two years older than the babies, he got to go on the tubing boat too. 

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The girls went first while the boys watched.

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And then the boys took a turn.  Even Thomas gave it a try!

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We made a quick stop to fill up with gas, which was a good time to shoot water guns off the front of the boat.

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Jeff let each of the big kids take a turn driving the boat. 

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We were just be-bopping along, enjoying the ride when I looked over and saw this.  Poor T-man.  He tried so hard to hang but just couldn't stay awake!

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We made sure to recreate a couple pictures from last year for comparison.  And this year we added Chase to even the siblings out!

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Here is a year-to-year comparison of the big kids.

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This year we added in a picture of the younger siblings, and the mamas and the daddies too.

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What a fun day on the water we had!  Sadly, we had another commitment on Sunday so we had to hit the road early the next morning and missed out on day two.  We made sure to time our departure so we could stop at the Bulldog Cafe for lunch.

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We are incredibly grateful to our friends Justin and Laura for inviting us to their house and out on their boats.  Our kids are already begging to go back again sometime!  Maybe next year...

Jamaica, Party of Twelve

The first week of July, Matt and I were lucky enough to join five other couples for an adults-only vacation in Jamaica.  To say we had excitedly been counting down would be an understatement!

We booked this trip back in January and it has been so fun having something to look forward to.  The group emails started almost immediately and got more frequent as the trip got closer.  Of the 12 girls in my group of friends from college, it got whittled down to just 6 of us (and our spouses) that were able to commit to the trip.  (Maybe everyone will get to go in a few years when there aren't so many new babies!)  A lot went into our destination choice (that I won't bore you with) and we ended up staying at a freshly renovated, all-inclusive Hyatt resort in Montego Bay.  Most of us had been in Ocho Rios, Jamaica this same time of year just six years prior for a destination wedding.  The couple that got married then was on this trip too so we got to celebrate their anniversary with them.

The Hyatt used to be a Ritz Carlton property and just re-opened last December.   The bulk of the resort was pre-existing buildings that were completely renovated and a brand new building was added on.  There are two properties that sit side by side, the Zilara (where we stayed) is for adults-only and the Ziva is family friendly.  We were able to easily access the Ziva property which was good because they had a lot of good restaurants!  If you are looking to book a trip to Jamaica, I would recommend this property.  

I mean, when this is your first view after stepping off the hotel shuttle, you know it's going to be a good week, right? 

Three sets of couples arrived at the same time and since our rooms weren't quite ready yet, we enjoyed a late outdoor lunch.  It was a good kickoff to the relaxing days ahead.  When our rooms were finally ready and we had access to the wifi, I snapped this view from our balcony to send to our parents to let them know we'd safely arrived.  

I was thinking this post was going to be quick and easy to write because I didn't take my real camera and only have a few pictures from my phone.  Then I realized those "few" pictures from my phone total 233.  How in the world?!  I won't bore you to death by narrating the whole vacation, I promise.  

Here are the six couples that were in attendance.

 Sarah and Charlie

Sarah and Charlie

 Jenny and Darrin

Jenny and Darrin

 Emily and Andrew

Emily and Andrew

 Darbie and Kendall

Darbie and Kendall

 Chris and Roxy

Chris and Roxy

 Matt and Me

Matt and Me

This is the only picture from the whole trip that has all 12 of us in it.  (Thank you, selfie stick.)  Fun fact: I crammed a whole roll into my mouth right before smiling for this picture.  It's just hanging out in there while I try to look normal.

So the gist of the vacation went like this: get up whatever time you feel like it, do whatever it is you want to do during the day, and then we all meet up for dinner.  Matt got up early every morning and worked out.  (I know!  What in the world?!)  When he came back to the room, we'd suit up and head to the beach to claim our spots for the day before grabbing breakfast.  Then, for us, pretty much the rest of the day was spent at the beach.  There were actually three couples that seemed to prefer the beach and two that preferred the pool and one that flip-flopped back and forth.  We all met up for dinner every single night though so we still had lots of time together!

Our first morning on the beach, I thought it would be cool to walk out on these rocks for a picture.  Turns out that's not really allowed and I got in trouble.  Not really, they just told me not to come back off the rocks and not go out there.  I'm kinda glad because once the waves splashed up on my shoes, my feet started slipping around and it got a little scary.  I made it almost to the end before I realized they were trying to get my attention.  I was happy to turn back around!

You may be able to tell from the picture above that this beach was not like the white sandy beaches in Florida.  This was a rocky beach that they had poured sand over, so there were still plenty of rocks around.  The water was really rough and the sand stopped just a few feet into the water and it became rocks again.  You can see, too, that there was lots of dark seaweed at the edge of the shore.  I actually didn't touch the water at all except for when we were out on the boat.  (The weather was so perfect and there was so much wind that there was no need to get in the water to cool off!)

Ok, here are just a bunch of random beach and pool pictures.

 There were quite a few of these enormous bed cabanas and they got snatched up so early every day!  Matt and Andrew made it out to the beach at 6:30 one morning to claim two of them for us and we laid on them all day long.

There were quite a few of these enormous bed cabanas and they got snatched up so early every day!  Matt and Andrew made it out to the beach at 6:30 one morning to claim two of them for us and we laid on them all day long.

 View from the cabana bed.

View from the cabana bed.

There were catamaran sailboats that you could ride out on with a guide.  Matt and I went on a ride one morning with the Thompsons and our guide was awesome!  He kept us out on the water for far longer than any of the other rides and he told us all about Jamaica and pointed out houses and buildings to us, including the property where Queen Elizabeth stayed when she visited and the house Johnny Cash owned.  The terrifying part of it though was that he asked if I had a camera before we went out on the water - I told him I did thinking he was just going to take our picture before we left.  And then he tucked my phone into his life vest - not in a pocket or anything, just between his life vest and his chest, and carried it out on the boat with us.  I had only had my new phone for a little over a week and I was a nervous wreck he was going to drop it in the ocean!  He didn't, though, and I'm very thankful that we have these pictures from our boat ride.  

When we got out far from shore, our guide stopped the sailboat and made us stand up to take pictures.  There was NOTHING calm about the water or steady about the boat to make standing up easy.  I'm pretty sure I screamed a hundred times trying to stay upright.  And then he would tell us to "prove that we belong together" so that we'd kiss for the camera.

We had breakfast and lunch outside everyday.  It was so nice to be somewhere that wasn't unbearably hot and humid!

And for dinner each night, we showered and put on real clothes.  All of the food was really good!  We ate somewhere different each night - everything from Brazilian steak house to pizza and pasta to pub grub.  

We were there for the fourth of July so we hung out around a fire pit to watch the fireworks.  The Jamaicans put on a pretty good show!

And then we danced the night away under the watchful eye of Uncle Same.

I think when we were out on that dance floor is when I was the very hottest for the entire trip!

More evening photos.  One thing we noticed is that it got dark quick there!  It would still be light outside as we walked to dinner but as soon as we stepped inside the restaurant it seemed like someone would flip the light switch.

Our last night together, we hung out on a rooftop patio for after-dinner drinks.  They had these huge light-up eggs scattered around that changed colors.  I loved them and would love to have a bunch of themm for our backyard.  Wouldn't that be fun at parties?!

While we enjoyed being on our adults-only vacation, we really couldn't go the whole time without seeing our babies!  We are very, very thankful to Matt's parents for A) keeping our kids at our house so that we could go on this trip and B) face-timing with us while we were gone so that we could see them.  

We all departed at different times on our final day.  We left, though, having made the decision that these trips should happen every two years at least.  We've got start scoping out our next destination.  Anyone have any suggestions?

Friends on a Farm

Hey, long-time readers - remember back in 2010 when Matt and I visited a farm and had so much fun that I wrote EIGHT blog posts about it?  Well, this past weekend, we finally got to go back!  

We have been trying to plan an adults-only weekend with some of our friends for a while and finally picked a date and lined up childcare for the long MLK weekend.  After our initial plans fell through, and then our backup plans fell through too, my friend Allison suggested we just visit her folks' farm for the weekend.  A brilliant idea!  

Don't worry, I plan to wrap up the whole weekend in this one post instead of splitting it into eight.  :)

At the last minute, one couple had to back out of the weekend so we ended up with just four couples going.  It was about a 5-6 hour drive and, since most of us didn't get on the road until after lunch, we didn't arrive until dinner time Friday evening.  Chris and Allison had already been there for a few days and had grocery shopped for the weekend.  A delicious dinner of grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, and fancy rice was already prepared for us!  I didn't have my camera unpacked yet so the only pics I got that night were from my phone.  After eating the main course, we celebrated Darrin's new American citizenship (that he'd gotten just that morning!) with an AmeriCanadian cake.

After hearing about the questions he had to answer and the oath he had to take, Darrin just might be more American than the rest of us now.  I would've failed for sure.

Matt and I camped out in the same upstairs apartment that we stayed in last time.  You can see lots of pics of it and the rest of the farm in this post.  "Camped out" makes it sound like we may have been roughing it.  I assure you we were not.

Saturday morning started early for Matt, Chris, and Sarah as they headed out for a run.  They ran 5.5 miles on hilly gravel roads.  They can only be described as crazy.  I sat inside and stayed warm and cozy.  When they returned, Allison had baked oatmeal and bacon cooking.  (This is a recurring theme from the weekend - we played and lazed around and then Allison fed us delicious food.)  I'm still thinking about that bacon...it was so delicious!

After getting dressed, the boys headed out to a field to shoot skeet and us girls went to the barn to visit the alpacas and llamas.  At the farm, there are 8 female alpacas and 4 boys, and two llamas.  The llamas are the protector animals.  If a coyote or something tried to sneak in and attack the alpacas, the llamas would stomp all over them!  

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LLAMA

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ALPACA

The llamas are my favorite.  They love to nuzzle up close to you and put their nose on your cheek for some kisses.

We hung out with the female alpacas.  Because alpacas live for so long, Jack and Jan (Allison's folks and the farm owners) don't want anymore babies so there's no mingling between the two genders.  

I guess it gets lonely though.  We got to witness a little girl-on-girl alpaca action.  

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Pretty friends just hanging out in an alpaca pasture.  

After awhile, we hopped in the farm truck and met up with the guys down by the water.  The War Eagle Creek runs through the property and there are several flat spots where you can walk down and fish.  Or, in our case that morning, just take pictures.  Even with boots, boot warmers, and a pair of socks on, I could still tell that water was COLD!

 Allison, Sarah, Jenny, Me

Allison, Sarah, Jenny, Me

 Chris, Charlie, Darrin, Matt

Chris, Charlie, Darrin, Matt

Here are two comparison pics of me and Matt.  The one on the left is from our first trip in 2010, and the one on the right is from last weekend.  Do we look older and wiser now?  Or just heavier and more sleep deprived? 

We left the water to go back to where the boys had been shooting skeet.  Jack has what they call the "War Wagon" for skeet-shooting.  It's a big trailer that's fenced in and has cushioned benches for sitting when not shooting.  

The guys were kind (and patient) enough to show us girls how to hold the shotgun so we could all take a turn.  This was my first time ever doing something like this and it was a little harder than I thought!  I wasn't expected for such a kickback from the gun.  I think hitting just one clay is the only thing that could've made the weekend better.  I tried three times and missed every one!  I think I could've gotten it though with just a few more tries.

 Action shot!  See her shell casing flying?!

Action shot!  See her shell casing flying?!

 Check out the smoke from that barrel!

Check out the smoke from that barrel!

 Another shell flying!

Another shell flying!

 Allison's hair is flying from the kickback!

Allison's hair is flying from the kickback!

 Shell flying!  My timing was spot on!

Shell flying!  My timing was spot on!

Chris was the only one to hit his clay while us girls were out there.  He hit four in a row and then I climbed up in the wagon to push the trigger and messed him up.  Turns out I am not a skeet-shooting lucky charm.

Clays and beer.

We rigged up my camera with the timer for a group picture on the War Wagon.  Maybe I should frame this for Jack - I think this was the inaugural run for the wagon!

Did you ever ride in the back of a truck when you were little?  I feel like I did all the time, but I can't really remember why other than I wanted to.  Even on city streets.  Sometimes with my legs dangiling off the back.  We talked about how we all did that but our kids will probably never get to what with all the carseat and seatbelt regulations these days.  

Boys and their toys!  This ranger lives at the farm and is very handy for getting around the 300+ acres.

While Allison warmed up lunch (tacos and nachos!), a few of us stopped back by the barn to give the alpacas and llamas a snack.

Sometimes the alpacas get a little mad at each other and do some spitting.  Poor Darrin ended up in the middle of one of the crossfires and got a little spit on him  !He was a much better sport about it than I might've been; he just kept on feeding them.  

My camera and I went inside while the others went to visit the chickens.  They collected four pretty eggs that we had for breakfast the next morning.  

Is there anything better than boys in the kitchen cooking?  I don't think so.

After lunch, we grabbed some chairs and went down to a different part of the river to do some fishing.  Sadly, the fish weren't biting but we still had fun trying.  Matt and Chris built a fire since it was starting to get a little bit cooler.

My fisherman!  We were hopeful that he would be the one to reel in a fish, but alas, there wasn't even a nibble on his line.  

I think Sarah may have had enough with the three of us.  Or maybe she was about to sneeze?

This is much better!  Sure do love these girls.

Just when we got the fire really going, it was time to put it out.  We made sure every little piece of wood was soaked before leaving...no forest fires from us!

The boys piled into the truck and went to put the War Wagon back in the barn.  Us girls took the ranger and went to explore the cave on the property.  

At first glance, the cave my not look very big, but it has small tunnels in the corners that you could crawl through.  Jack and Jan had a spelunker come out and go through them and apparently they run the length of the whole crest above the cave.  You could not pay me enough money to go in one of those tunnels!  Sarah was the climber in the group and checked them out for us.  (I did climb up there on my first visit, though.)  

After leaving the cave, we went on a mission to find the cows.  Jenny was the designated gate opener every time we came up on one.  

We were just driving down the road when we came up on a bunch of white tailed deer!  I could barely grab my camera fast enough.  They ran across the road right in front of us and several of their friends were still hiding in the woods.  So cool!

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We passed the boys on our way to find the cows and had our picture taken.  

Finally, just past the house, we found the guys (actually, gals) we were looking for.  

We continued on to go see where the cows are weighed and the original well.  The cows didn't want us to go!  They ran after us for a little while.  

They evenutally stopped following us as we went on our way.  But we had to turn around and go back the same we came and...they were waiting for us.  A herd of big, black cows is not exactly what you want to see blocking your road!

Oh hey there, 140C.  Don't mind us, just passing through.  

As we approached the house, we could see that the boys were sitting outside enjoying a fire.  

For dinner that night, we had a great meal of steaks, baked potatoes, and salad.  The guys grilled the steaks outside and they were delicious! 

Matt made bananas foster for dessert and it was great, but would've been even better if we hadn't let our ice cream melt into a bowl of soup.  Oopsie.  

I didn't take any more pictures that night, but we had a fun evening of playing pool, watching sports, and working on the world's hardest puzzle.  

We reconvened the next morning for our last meal of the weekend together.  Allison made eggs and sausage and biscuits to go with the fruit and leftover baked oatmeal.  Once again, we stuffed ourselves silly.

We couldn't say goodbye and go our separate ways without one last group picture!

And since we were already in position and already had the timer and tripod set up, we took a few fun shots.  My camera was set up with a ten second timer to allow me to get into place, and then it would take four pictures in a row.  The pictures were quick, like 1-2-3-4, not like 1, pause, 2, pause, etc.  And the only way you could count them was to listen to the shutter since we weren't using the flash.  The instructions given for this first set of four was regular smiles for the first three, and then opened mouth smile on the last.  Click the picture below to see all four images in a row.

The last set was open mouth smiles for the first three and then a serious face for the last one.  Darrin and I failed miserably on the serious face!

And with that, we loaded up our cars and headed home.  Such a fun weekend!  Thank you to Jack and Jan for letting us stay on their awesome property, and to Chris and Allison for hosting us there!

December Fun

Before we get into all of our actual Christmas festivities, I want to document some of the other fun things we did during the month so I don't forget.  As hard as I tried to shop and wrap gifts early so that we could sit back and just enjoy the season, it still got really busy and crazy!  We had so much to do that there was little time for rest...maybe that's what we'll do in 2015.  

My aunt and cousin came to visit one Friday night so we joined them for dinner at my parents' house.  I didn't really take any pictures of us there, but earlier that day Katie Wynn and I went to the bakery to pick up some cupcakes and I snapped these of her in the car.  She requests "her" (my) sunglasses every time she's in her car seat so she can "see better."

That night was a big one for Thomas as it was the first time he got to sit in the real high chair!  This chair is the same one my brothers and I all used and Thomas makes grandchild number seven to sit in it.  We had to tie him in so he wouldn't slide down but he loved sitting at the table like a big boy.

We had friends over for dinner one night and Katie Wynn absolutely loved having friends over to play with her.  We brought out the big box of balls for them to play in which is always a big hit with our visitors.

What's more fun that three kiddos in the tub?  Three kiddos in the tub with GLOWSTICKS!

At one point in the night they got really quiet, so I went back to check on them.  I found all three kids in our master bedroom pulling out toys together.  And, the evening wasn't over without one more climb into the box of balls.

The only encounter we had with Santa Claus this year was at church.  There was a pizza lunch for the kids following the service one Sunday and Santa made a surprise appearance.  As we waited in line to have our picture taken, I really talked it up to Katie Wynn about getting to sit in his lap and tell him what kind of presents she wanted him to bring.  I also told her she'd have to be really brave so that Thomas wouldn't be scared.  She was all about it.  Until our turn finally came, that is...  Thomas went first and just laughed and laughed at Mr. Claus.

I had to peel a screaming Katie Wynn off of me to get her to sit in his lap.  Even with Thomas still laughing and having a good time, she cried and begged to be picked up.  We took a family picture to show her that Santa wasn't someone to be scared of.  (When KW recounted this experience in the car on the way home, she told us that she loved Santa Claus and that Thomas cried but that she did not.  If you say so, sister.)

Some friends invited us to join them on a trip to the zoo to see their Christmas lights.  Since it was cold out, we dropped Thomas off with my parents and just took Katie Wynn.  We took our wagon for the girls to ride in and they loved it.  It was perfect for the zoo!  

The picture below on the right is of lights hanging over the area of the zoo where we were married.  Had I known they could put lights up on these wires, I totally would've requested some twinkle lights up there on our big day!  Shucks!

After a ton of fun seeing the Zoo Lights, we went out for pizza.  The girls had fun admiring this little Christmas tree that was next to our table.

Katie Wynn had a Christmas party at daycare so we put together some gifts for all of her teachers.  I wanted to do something stress-free (no baking! no crafting!) and I think what we came up with was both easy and super cute.  We took Sonic cups, filled them with red tissue paper, added a Sonic gift card and some Christmas candy, topped them with a lid and straw, and added a cute tag that read, "Have a BLAST this holiday season!"

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For her classmates, I just added a quick tag to a bag of Teddy Grahams that said, "Have a BEARY Merry Christmas!"  Gotta love easy.  We also made a little happy for our neighbors' mailboxes.  They were a bag of Hershey's kisses and a chapstick with a notes that read, "Merry KISS-mas and CHAPPY New Year!"  We added dog bones too to the neighbors that we knew had dogs.

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You know, now that I think about it, I didn't hear from anyone that received any of these gifts.  I hope that doesn't mean they didn't like them!

For a few days in a row, Katie Wynn got on a kick of stealing Thomas's socks off his little feet and putting them on her hands.  She told her Daddy that they were keeping her hands "nice and cold."  She keeps us laughing!

I posted this picture on Instagram but it's worth re-sharing.  Thomas is officially crawling now but at the time this was taken, he was just scooting backwards.  He was busy scooting himself around the room when he scooted himself right into a little bit of a pickle...stuck under the bed! 

On the 23rd of December, we joined the Earls and Cooks for dinner.  My sweet Thomas is always a good poser for pictures.  

Things usually start to get a little hairy though when I add his sister in for the pics.  Is there some understood sibling rule about never smiling at the same time?

Baby Henry joined them on the couch for some pictures too!

And, you know, the photoshoot was going just fine until Katie Wynn tackled her little brother.  

Everett wasn't feeling up for pictures since he'd just opened up some fun new toys.  It didn't take KW long to join him down on the floor.  Toys are way more fun than pictures, I guess.

Here are a couple more random shots of Katie Wynn playing her version of dress up.  In one picture she's dressed as Santa Claus and the other she's dressed as Thomas...turns out putting his pj pants on instead of her own is kinda hard!

On the second to last day of December, I was lucky enough to get to sleep in with both my babies.  (No really, I'm not being sarcastic...they both slept til almost 8!)  We had fun lazing around in bed taking pictures.  By the time these were taken, Daddy had already gotten up, given Thomas a quick bottle and gotten him back asleep, gone for a run, and taken a shower!  (Showoff.)  My mom and I always joke about how KW looks like she's wearing a wig when her hair isn't pulled back with a bow.  I can't help but be jealous of her hair.

And on the very last day of December, my little munchkin pulled up to a standing position in his bed!!  This mama was not ready for this at all!  Especially when, while sitting on the floor taking pictures, I realized he was leaning over to see me and was about to fall out.  Woo - that would've been a major mom fail! Doesn't he just look so proud of himself in these pictures? He was able to pull up on his bumper because I sat him up in his crib.  Thankfully he can't get into a sitting up position from laying down yet, so we have a few more days before we really have to lower his crib for night time.  

Ok, I know I just made it through the whole month of December, but next I'll be back with four separate posts for each of our Christmas celebrations!