Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas at the Westin Hotel

The Westin Hotel does a great thing every Christmas.   They host the Holiday Legends party with bells, cowboy poets, choirs, and snow!

It starts in a grassy area in back of the hotel where a local choir sings and the kids admire the view and freak their mothers out by leaning over the ledge.  This year we were lucky enough to go with cousins!  (Seriously, having Alec and Dixie nearby is beyond wonderful.  Henry loves his cousins so much and I love my sister-in-law.  And Alec is our dedicated BYU football buddy.  Games are so much more fun with him!)

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After the choir warms us up the cowboy Makin Dust comes out and starts telling us some Christmas legends.  Like what the first settlers used for Christmas trees and where the whole idea of decorating cookies came from.  And the kids all get a small bell.  Remember the bell.  It’s magic.

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From the grassy area we move to fire pit near the pool (no pictures of that since I was too busy trying to keep Henry out of the pool.)

Then we move to a rocky area behind the hotel where some more tales are told and songs are sang.

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And then the kids all close their eyes and ring their bells and…. IT SNOWS!!!

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Then when the hands get too cold from throwing snowballs we head into the warm lobby for hot cider, sugar cookies, and fine chocolates.  Yum!

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dingo

Okay it was really a coyote.

The other day on the way to take Henry to the bus we decided to drive instead of walk because it was cold and drizzly.  As we pulled out of the garage I saw a shape on our front door and wondered if we had a package I’d missed (glorious amazon.)  When I angled the car so the headlights were on the front door I saw two beady little eyes staring back at me.  Icky!!!! There was a coyote on my door mat!!!

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(and no that’s not a red bandana on him, that’s the wound that kept him on my doorstep.)

When Lizzy and I got home I quickly called wildlife rescue and they sent a sweet volunteer out to try and catch him.  He was skittish so it ended up being me, the volunteer, and two neighbors that got him into the kennel that would take him to the animal hospital.  I’m glad he got cared for, but I sure threw that mat away fast.  And cleaned the whole porch.  Coyotes are really mangy looking.

Santa Lucia Day

My family has some Swedish blood and so my mom usually tried to have us do some Swedish traditions.  The favorite is Santa Lucia day December 13th.  The oldest daughter dresses in white with a crown of candles on her head and brings her parents sweet rolls in bed.  All her siblings carry a candle too and sing.  It is to celebrate the return of light as the days start to get longer (technically that should be the 21st, but they’ve always done it on the 13th.  Guess things are different in Sweden.)

This year we managed to remember Santa Lucia day and made the traditional citrusy braided bread.  Then Henry donned a star hat and carried and candle while lizzy who was too young for a real candle wreath on her head wore a hat that had plush candles on it.  We then went caroling to a few of our friends to drop off the bread.  Henry loved getting to carry a real candle and blow it out at each house.

 

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Bethlehem

Took the family to Bethlehem to be taxed.  Okay, not really taxed but this wonderful church in a small small town north of here does the most amazing thing every December.  They turn the town square into Bethlehem.  The baptist church there turns the town square into Bethlehem.  Real bethlehem.  There are full sized buildings, a wall around the city, and hundreds of people-- adults and children-- dressed in biblical clothes.  And the people stay in character.  Bartering for persimmons in the marketplace.  Reporting to the romans to pay taxes, and sometimes being thrown in jail for not paying.  Making rope, putting kids to bed, having a simple family dinner, it's all fabulous and you feel like you've stepped back in time.  There are even camels!  And after walking through all the hustle and bustle you pass the over crowded inn, the roman soldier eyeing all the rabble with suspicion, turn the corner and amid the sheep (real ones) and the group of men haggling over something, is a cave where a man, a woman, and a baby sit among the hay, and a star hangs overhead, and people dressed in parkas and gortex stand quietly and reverently.  Then people walk silently (there's no rule about this, but it somehow just seems to happen) out of the city walls to where sweet baptists give hot chocolate and cookies to wake us back up.  It's amazing.  Temple square-like, only earthier.  (And with yummy bread to eat.  The bethlehem baker does some amazing stuff over a fire.  And I love that all the bethlehemites have Texas accents.)

The front gates of Bethlehem

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Dell and Lizzy bundled up because it was COLD (for us anyway, it was like 40!)

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Henry driving a roman chariot.  Look at that grin!

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My cute bundled up kids

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We’re still here

Sorry for the long hiatus.  We journeyed to Utah for Thanksgiving.  Dell presented a poster at the biggest radiology conference in Chicago (great job dear!) and got to spend time with his parents who were also there for the conference and our good friends Sarah and Amiel who live in Chicago.  Needless to say I was very jealous that Dell got to see all those wonderful people and I didn’t.  But Dell’s parents are coming in January and he’s going to send me to Chicago in the spring to see Sarah so it’s good.

Dell has pretty much been on call since he came back from Chicago so we’ve been in survival mode—do the bare necessities and let things like blogging fall merrily by the wayside, but Dell is actually not on call today and will not be tomorrow either so partying and blogging are back on.  So here’s what we’ve been up to.

I had a sewing day with a good friend Lucy who taught me how to make cute skirts for little girls.  Lizzy models hers here.  Oh and yes she stands now—even unassisted.

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Henry started Karate—here he is getting his white belt.  He actually was so excited and overwhelmed he started to cry and couldn’t start.  Poor tired tender kid.  In the car I asked him why he was crying.  He said “I don’t know” in such a sincere, confused voice.  I asked him if he would cry next karate he class to which he wailed “I hope not!”  He’s been dealing with emotions like this a lot lately.  I think Christmas is a little overwhelming when you’re 4.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

covered in love

I wish I had the camera so you could see a picture of what I'm about to explain, but alas, the camera is with Dell in Chicago where hopefully he is taking all sorts of great pictures.

Today Henry and I played the Curious George helper game which is a great kids game where occasionally you get a card that says "ask another player if there is anything you can get for them." That's Henry's favorite card and he will play it over and over again. I sometimes have a hard time thinking of things I need after the first 3 times. Well the fourth time he got the card I asked for a blanket because hey, it's like 45 degrees outside now. Brrrrr! So Henry opened the hope chest and got me a big blanket. But that wasn't enough to make me "warm and comfy"-- his words. And so he got every throw pillow in the room, 2 more blankets, stuffed animals, tissues, a ball, two toy reindeer, part of an amazon box, a bowl of apple slices (that I had gotten for him when I had the what can I get you card) and a pine branch that he's been treasuring since our trip to Home depot to get our tree. Then, as I sat buried and bundled and surround by love Henry fanned me with a little paper fan so I could smell the fabulous pine smell better. I am the luckiest mom ever to have such a sweet sweet sweet little boy.

(He also, while I was dropping a goodie off at a friends house, dumped an entire container of cereal puffs on his little sister. He says it was the only way to get her to stop crying. It sure worked, but she was buried in cereal puffs. Hmmmm, maybe he was just trying to make her warm and cozy.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Corn Maze

Halloween morning we took off to Hondo for the South Texas corn maze.  Despite being a longer drive than expected (Texas is BIG!) we had a great time.  Here’s some picture highlights of our time there.

Henry climbing to the irrigation pipe slide.  Nice use of everyday farm stuff.

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Pumping water for the rubber duck races

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Henry posing in the maze.  I have no idea where he learned to pose like this but I love it.  Such a little model.

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Climbing the bridge in the maze.  Fun way to see just how big the maze is.  another great pose by Henry.

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About to leave the maze.  We followed all the scripture based clues and never made a wrong turn.  Despite not having a clue what the answer to question 3 was.  “what animal was the first out of the ark?”  and no, dove was not one of the options.

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Listening to the cowboy story-teller.  Great animal sounds and fun stories.  I got to play the role of a skunk in one of the stories.  Lots of fun.  :)  He came and talked to us for 20 minutes after.  He and Dell had fun chats about bats.  I guess he leads a tour at a nearby state park known for its bats.

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Lizzy was doing this when an employee came up and asked us to enter her in the costume contest.  We knew we had to do it when they said she had a good chance of winning cause she was so cute.  And she did.  2nd prize.  Which got us a little pumpkin, a medium bag of kettle corn, and a drink.  Not bad work Lizzy.  Way to go.  Everywhere we went people stopped us to tell us how cute she is.  Does a mom like anything more?

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Jumping on the giant air “pillow”

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How tall is batman this year?

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Halloween

 

Sorry to the grandparents that we haven’t posted these pictures earlier.  Here’s the kids in their Halloween costumes.  Wish we’d been able to capture more shots of Henry.  We may have to recreate some moments just to get his great batman moves.

Henry as Batman

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(this is actually not the complete costume.  The complete costume calls for all black clothing, but this was at the corn maze and we didn’t want all black with that much hay around.  And at trick or treating time we were all too excited to remember to take pictures.  At least you can see a good batman pose.)

Lizzy as a flower child/princess/fairy/puff

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She actually took second place at the corn maze costume contest in this.  We just think she’s cute. 

More pictures of the Lizzy girl

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Hay is such a pain to get out of tulle.  But so worth it to get a fun picture of her.

Friday, October 9, 2009

football baby

For the first BYU game we decked the kids out in appropriate BYU attire.  Lizzy was a natural with our toy football.  Doesn’t she look fierce?

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(the wisconsin football is only because it was bought in Wisconsin.  We actually have no loyalties to the badgers and in fact usually cheer against them.  Sorry guys, but your offense is pretty boring.)

Heading back to the states

September 22, 2009

So I made a tactical error when setting up our flights.  Either I had got the time wrong that the nice (commercial contract jet that runs between Baltimore and Ramstein air force base) return flight was arriving or they changed it after I bought our Southwest tickets with the result that the trans-atlantic flight would arrive after the Southwest one left.  It wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have to be back at work (something that could be worked around) or Henry didn’t have to be back at school. Apparantly in Texas if your (pre) school child misses 8 days or more they send the Truancy Officer to your house to lop off the parents heads, fine them $350 and proudly display the piked heads on the playground fence to intimidate other parents from giving their children cultural experiences.  (sidenote, we did have a note from the truant officer but so far our heads our attached and we have solemnly sworn not to have him miss school for any reasons except being sick until Jan 15th when he can once again miss up to 8 random days.)

So as I type I am sitting on the top deck of a C-5 (huge cargo plane which can carry 8 tanks, yep tanks) headed to Dover, Delaware.  This is the real Space-A.  They have actual airplane seats (not webbing) but they face backwards. It’s pretty loud so we all have earplugs in.  (Lizzy’s are held in by the hat she is wearing) and the temperature isn’t really well controlled so we’re kind of bundled up, but Anna and both kids are sleeping so it’s not that bad. Kind of a fun adventure.  And it’s the first time in 6 years being attached to the Air Force that I’ve actually flown in an Air Force plane.  Now I just need to fire a gun and I may even feel like a soldier.  We were hoping to get spots on a Medevac flight to Andrews AFB in DC since Dover is actually in the middle of nowhere as far as the East Coast goes, but couldn’t get on…darn wounded soldiers taking seats from vacationers.  We still need to find a way to get to Baltimore for our flight tomorrow but I’m sure we’ll find a way.   

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(flying in a C-5.  We look pretty comfy huh?  There’s so much leg room that I think I prefer it to commercial.  We even got a box lunch with lots of food and drinks.  Henry liked being able to wander around and peek down into the cargo hold.  No tanks this time though.  Just boring pallets of stuff.)

update: we did find a way to Baltimore.  There ended up being a bunch of us needing to get to baltimore so we called around and found a taxi that brought a big van with a trailer for our luggage and drove all 12 of us (eight adults, 4 kids) to Baltimore.  It’s a long drive and it was the middle of the night with most of us having been up for the past 20 hours.  Our nice driver dropped us off at our airport hotel after dropping everyone off at the airport where they were meeting local rides.  We hung out at our cheap hotel until morning when we took the shuttle back to the airport and spent the 7 hours until our flight hanging out at the USO (oh bless their kids play room, internet, playstation, big screen tvs, free books, cribs with clean linens, and free ice cream and cookies hearts.) We also discovered a fun place at baltimore airport if any of you non military people are passing through with kids.  There’s an observation deck with comfy chairs and lots of airplane related things for kids to play on.  Henry had a wooden plane to fly- with room for 10 passengers, a wooden baggage truck to pretend to drive, and there were actual plane parts that you could look at.  It was fun for Henry to see a cross section of a 727-- “here’s where your bags go” – and the rest of us were a little worried when we saw just how small the tires on the landing gear are.  “We really land on those things!”  Henry especially liked being our tour guide and showing us around the airplane related exhibits.

the Rhine

September 21, 2009

Another late start, we tell ourselves that we’re trying to ease the adjustment back to US time zones, but the apartment is so comfortable with Henry in his own room and Lizzy in the living room that it’s too tempting to not take some time for ourselves.  An hour and a half drive got us to Bacharach, a wine-making town on the Rhine. We drove down the steep Rhine gorge walls covered with grapes into basically a long, charming one-street town to catch one of the Rhine cruise boats. We had a few hours to spare before the boat left and had lunch at a rather yummy Italian restaurant and of course some more ice cream.  German dairy products are just better. 

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(the streets of Bacharach.  Notice the all important sign Eis Cafe.  Eis is german for ice cream.)

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Bacharach

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(Throwing rocks in the Rhine while waiting for the boat.)

The Rhine cruise was awesome.  It was nice to be able to just sit one the deck in the sun (without which the cruise would not have been nearly so nice) and watch the villages, their churches and castles, and cargo barges go by.  Lizzy made friends with a friendly flight attendant from Singapore who stayed interested even after the little one spit up all over her shirt.

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(a view from the boat.  The castle in the river was key in the napoleonic wars.  General Blucher was very sneaky here and built the first pontoon bridge to victory.)

We got off in St Goar another lovely little village and hiked up to the Castle overlooking the river. As we went up through the castle garden and vineyard Henry brushed up against a sawtooth leafed weed with silvery things dangling from it…yup, stinging nettle. That took about 10 minutes to take care of and by the time we got up to the castle it was time to head back to the boat for the ride back. 

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(walking to the castle, or in Henry’s case riding.  Such a hard life.  Riding on your dad’s shoulders while eating a European pastry.  Dell has crumbs in his hair.  Such a good dad!)

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(Hey Henry what’s that plant?  Oh stinging nettle.  And how do you know that?  Yep, Henry found stinging nettle on the hike.  It even blistered.  Luckily we were kind of prepared and had water, alcohol wipes, neosporin, and bandaids.)

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(view from the hike.  Notice the vineyard in the foreground.  It was heavy with grapes.)

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(Lizzy slept most of the hike up)

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(the castle.  We had to turn around and hike back to catch our boat almost as soon as we arrived here.  There are some benefits to having a car when you’re traveling with kids.)

The return ship had a slide and playground toys on the sun-deck which allowed both of us to fully enjoy the scenery.  A 5 year old little Japanese boy named Takami kept calling for Ren-ri (took us a while to realize he was saying Henry) played together on the slide and were really cute despite the complete language barrier.  Turns out his family are our Japanese counterparts travelling Germany with 2 kids nearly the exact same age as ours, unfortunately the language barrier extended to the adults as well or I’m sure we would have had fun comparing kid traveling stories.

 

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Henry was very hesitant to play with Takami at first but as you can see from the picture by the end they were playing really well together.  They did this over and over, laughing each time, then racing each other up the ladder.

Etternach:Luxembourg

It was raining/drizzling while we were in Etternach.  But that didn’t deter Henry from heading straight to the river.

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We fed the ducks under this old bridge

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Hanging in the park.  I love European parks.  I always feel less like a tourist and more like I belong when at a park.

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The streets of Etternach.

Trier and Luxembourg

September 20, 2009

We got off to a slow start this morning. Anna and I stayed up too late watching USC lose to Washington in college football and hoping to catch a bit of the BYU game…soo sad, glad we couldn’t watch it.  Once we got moving we drove to Trier, a city on the Mosel (a tributary to the Rhine near Luxembourg) that had at one point actually been home to the Roman Emperor Constantine (yes, that Constantine that converted the empire to Christianity and all). I don’t think it was really a capitol for the empire though as there would have been more ruins left. What was left was impressive though—the black gate which was made without mortar and still stands several stories tall, Constantine’s palace/throne room which was converted into a church, and the ruins of gigantic baths.  After seeing so many ancient seeming castles and such from the medieval period going back another thousand years in history was really astounding…and I’d never realized that Northern Europe was that important to the empire.  We had lots of fun exploring the tunnels beneath the baths with Henry pretending to be the slaves that kept the water coming and warm.  Despite all the meltdowns, whining, feeding stops, traveling with kids leads to fun things you wouldn’t otherwise do.  (And to be fair to our kids, there weren’t as may meltdowns as you’d expect from jetlagged kids and the feeding stops just let you savor an area for a bit longer.)

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(the black gate)

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(The Dom.  My favorite of all the cathedrals we saw this trip.)

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(Inside the Dom.  The Dom is famous because of a relic it has.  Supposedly the Emperor Constantine’s wife, St. Helen, brought Christ’s robe back from Jerusalem sometime in 300 A.D. or so.  The robe is kept here in the Dom.  A beautiful alter holds it but it’s behind glass and I couldn’t get a good picture of it.  The ceiling over the alter is like the white one in the earlier picture only the background is a salmon/pink color.  Very pretty.)

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(addition but onto the roman basilica- red brick structure behind the pink-  Lizzy had a snack in this lovely garden.  Henry played I spy and Simon Says with me while she ate.)

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(the slaves in the tunnels)

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(Leaving the tunnels- the slaves escaping toward freedom!)

Besides the Roman ruins the old-but-not-Roman-old city was charming with interesting French influenced architecture and a long pedestrian market square with several ice cream shops that had to be sampled if we were to come to any conclusion as to which was the best. 

The cathedral was one of our favorites that we’ve ever been too (I think Anna said it was her favorite). Instead of a Prince or King, Trier was ruled by an Archbishop who was also one of the Electors (of the Holy Roman Emperor…aka German High King) which granted him considerable wealth and influence and the cathedral was largely a memorial to the Bishop Princes of the centuries.  What made it different was the back was done in a beautiful black and white marble design and the remained in green and red marbles. It was also unusual in the range of access tourists were allowed—usually the choir and nave areas are off limits. But you could go all the way forward to where there was a shrine containing a holy relic that was claimed to be the one of Christ’s robes.  I generally assume that all relics related to Christ or the original apostles are shams, but this one was brought back from Jerusalem around AD 320 by the Emperors wife so I give it a 1-3% chance of being real.

After Trier we drive a few miles to reach Luxembourg…unfortunately we had just filled up on gas, because the clever Luxembougois apparently realized that if their gas tax was only $3 a gallon instead of $4 all their border resident of their larger neighbors would buy their gas there and they’d end up with more tax revenue.  Anyway, we stopped in Etternach, one of the recommended small medieval towns and enjoyed a walk along the river, some rain, feeding ducks, an Abbey, and some baked goods.  We kept the day short and headed back through the Ardennes forest to the base.