Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the forty-seventh day of Christmas...

Okay, so it didn't feel like the forty-seventh day, but I felt like I've written about that many posts so far. :-P

We got home way too late on Christmas Eve to open our last presents, so on Christmas morning, we...

celebrated Advent (the Christmas Day readings from our K Family Advent Service),

raided our stockings,

had breakfast from them (sorry, no pictures, but everyone picks a cereal box or breakfast bar [no Pop Tarts to be found this year :-(], and we scramble eggs),

and then opened presents.

From our name-drawing on ML's side of the family, we got...

an Aquadoodle mat from Cousin Liselle,

a new Hermie DVD and a Webkinz ballet costume from Cousin Noelle,

a Webkinz monkey figurine and two very cool Wall-E t-shirts from Cousin Luke,

and a Webkinz camo outfit and extremely cool book, Art Fraud Detective from Cousin Charis (in spite of the fact that he looks rather non-plussed in the picture, he took his fully camo-decked-out koala and his book with us to our big Christmas party :-).

ML got two very nice shirts from his brother-in-law, Aaron, and I got an awesome knitting book (Mason-Dixon Knitting, supposed to be very funny and helpful/practical) and a great DVD (Ever After) from ML's sister, Mindy.

Thank you so much, everyone!

After present opening, we did some mad wrapping and last-minute preparations for our big Christmas celebration with our ex-pat friends here (fortunately, I'd already cooked my main contributions, refried beans and el charro beans, ahead of time in the crockpot). We had such a wonderful time eating Mexican food, opening presents, swapping white elephant gifts and playing Worst Case Scenario that we forgot to take any pictures. I'm going to try to round some up so that I can post them. That and a picture of the largest Christmas tree in-country that we visited on Christmas Eve. Our camera was out of battery, so we're going to need to get that from a friend.

So, I haven't completely blogged Christmas, but I think I get some prize for number of posts today, don't you? Maybe I can finish tomorrow. Right now, though, I've got to exercise, shower and get the kids ready to head to our friends' house for a Numb3rs watching session. ML will join us after his guest leaves.

Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good night! (Or afternoon! Or whatever time of the day it is when you read this!)

On the fifth day of Christmas...

There. I decided to forego the table for now. We'll be eating on it between now and when the guest comes, anyway. So, I ordered children around and washed some dishes. Not that you can tell. There's still a mound on the counter. That's what happens when you do Christmas baking, leave the house for the majority of the time for 48 hours, have no water for the following 24 hours, and still have pesky family members who actually want to eat in the midst of it all.

I realized as I went to tell about this day that I'd forgotten to mention one family present we'd opened the first day: a family membership to the children's museum in the capital from Nanny (my dad's mom). I went looking for a post to link to, thinking that I'd blogged about the museum, but apparently I haven't. I'll try to do that soon (in the meantime, I've included a few pictures). It's an amazing place. When the museum opened, we asked about memberships, but they weren't available. Now they are, so we're going to join. Only we're going to wait until we get back from the States in June so we don't waste three months of our membership while we're gone. We're very grateful to have Christmas money to spend on a treat we might not be able to afford otherwise right now. And we look forward to many, many hours of fun enjoying it. :-) Thank you, Nanny!

Now, for our presents from DeeDah and GranJack (my parents)...

ML had the brilliant idea of getting an easel for ZL this year. You see, he apparently enjoys drawing while standing up over drawing with paper on a flat surface like the dining table. Consequently, the walls of our house have suffered a tad (which is a huge understatement :-/). Fortunately, he's finally submitted to the "gentle persuasion" of his parents and has stopped drawing on the walls, but we still thought an easel would be an excellent gift for him. And he has thoroughly enjoyed it already.

For "The Bigs," DeeDah and GranJack gave magazine subscriptions. We have had success paying a little extra for shipping and actually having children's magazines delivered to our P.O. Box here, so we're hoping it will work with this company, as well. The kids love receiving things in the mail, so this will be a special treat. MA is pictured here with a certificate for Ladybug Magazine. Upon further inspection, we realized that Ladybug was a little too juvenile for her, so we're getting her Spider Magazine, instead.

JW was originally slated to get Spider, but we decided that he would more greatly appreciate Ask Magazine, which is science-related.

And the magazine that started it all: Cricket Magazine for MS. ML and I both enjoyed this magazine as older children, and I'm trying to confirm this, but I'm remembering it's one of the few venues where I've ever actually published writing. Anyway, we showed him several pages of a sample copy on-line, and he's very excited.

Before we opened presents this particular evening, we did have a brief discussion of and vocabulary lesson pertaining to the meaning of "non-immediate gratification." They did well. :-)

Thank you, DeeDah and GranJack!!!

On the fourth day of Christmas...

Okay. I'm back.

The fourth day this year was the toy/game from Daddy and Mommy. We had a hard time coming up with what we wanted to give JW and MS. Two years out from visiting the States, I had nothing left stashed, and nothing available locally was wowing us. After several brainstorming sessions, though, we were pleased with what we came up with. And so were they, fortunately.

What I did have stashed was this Noah's ark set of lacing cards. ZL is getting the hang of them, although, I have to admit, they wowed MA more, and we had to fend her off of them so that he had our traditional three-day-exclusivity possession of his new gift (each child gets three days to play with a new toy without having to share; this is enforced more strictly with some things than others, depending on the nature of the gift and the child).

Another gift I pulled from the stash was a Melissa and Doug wooden food set complete with cutting board and (wooden) knife. The pieces of the food are velcro'd together, so that you can "cut" them with the knife. I wasn't totally sure that MA hadn't passed this stage yet. I mean, she's been wanting a more elaborate play kitchen, but this was "just" wooden food with a knife. Boy, was I wrong. This was the feel-good hit of the winter. She absolutely loved it. And has played with it consistently each day since she got it.

We stretched the definition of toy/game on this one, but we knew JW would be totally blessed by a season of Fetch With Ruff Ruffman, a show all three older kids enjoy (and, shhh, learn from). He was. And Mommy is blessed by all they're learning in the process.

A last-minute inspiration, I remembered that MS has been drooling over some of the downloadable games available on the Wii Shop Channel. Unfortunately, you can't buy printable gift certificates on-line. Fortunately, Daddy could easily make one. He was extremely please (even though he'd peaked and seen the certificate several days earlier in Daddy's satchel :-/) and has already bought one of the original Zelda games. (And, yes, I know that this is not the best picture of him. The other one was worse. :-P It was late, and we needed to get the kids in bed, so I don't think we were being very discerning about picture quality at this point.)

Now, I'm going to go sweep and wipe down the dining table. Any other moms out there ever get discouraged by the never-ending battle to keep the table clean?

On the third day of Christmas...

I'm going to try to blow through the rest of our Christmas by making several posts today so that you're not still reading about our Christmas traditions on Groundhogs Day. We'll see if I have time to, though, because it's also straighten-the-house-because-we-have-guests-over-the-next-couple-of-days-visiting-us-for-our-holiday day at the K house. While the kids can do a decent amount on their own, I don't think it would be completely fair to direct them from behind the computer (at least not the whole day).

The third day, this year, was "sibling presents." When MS turned seven, we instituted the tradition that your seven-year-old Christmas was the year you started buying presents for your brothers and sisters. He had a great time shopping for them, and has selected some special gifts over the past couple of Christmases and birthdays. JW was a little more problematic, as he does not like to spend money, and he has trouble making decisions for himself, much less others (he's much more of a slow, internal processor; he comes by it naturally). We managed to work around that, though, and they were all appreciative of what they got.

ZL received two new Dr. Seuss books, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and There's a Wocket in My Pocket from his brothers. He's been very into Seuss and similar rhyming books, and I've wanted us to have the full versions of these two for a while (as opposed to the board book versions, which are abridged), so he really cleaned up.

While at an ex-pat rummage sale a few weeks ago, MS found this purple dragon for MA. She loves it and has named it Gabriela after my cousin's daughter whom she had a wonderful time playing with...2-3 years ago. MA has her mother's memory for detail. She also received a gift certificate from JW to purchase a book at one of the bookstores in the capital and bought two new Berenstain Bears books when we were there yesterday.

Knowing JW well, MS chose a book for him. We eventually managed to tear him away from it to put him to bed.

Sticking with the gift certificate theme, JW got MS a certificate to the same bookstore, and he, too, picked out a book yesterday.

Think I'll go sweep under the dining table now...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On the second day of Christmas...

Our second day of present opening, which has traditionally been the DVD.

This year...

ZL got a season of Super Why! on iTunes. He loved the one episode we'd bought previously to check it out (after MA learned about it playing the game on And it's where he is in the learning-to-read process. He knows his letter sounds but needs to sit on how letters go together to make words. The show teaches phonics and word families in a really fun way through familiar stories (Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel, etc.) with a twist.

We weren't sure how Z was going to do with the whole "gift certificate" concept, and I actually meant to have a couple of the episodes already downloaded so that he could go watch one immediately, but I forgot. Fortunately, he was *super* excited! He loved the picture of Alpha Pig and his buddies. He went to sleep with the paper that night and still carries it around the house when he finds it. :-P (Oh, and he's enjoyed a couple of new episodes so far, too. :-)

And while we're on the topic of ZL and Christmas, this kid has really gotten into present opening. He digs the whole open-it-up-get-something-new thing. We have to be careful when he's around other people's presents, or he'll tear into them, too. And the boy who normally does not like being torn away from whatever it is he's doing to do anything else (we're working on that) will come running when we announce it's time to open presents. We all love to call him and watching him speed in.

MA got a Jungle Book DVD. It has both English and Arabic soundtracks, so after the kids (and ML and I) watch it a couple of times, we'll watch it in Arabic occasionally for help with language. Disney is one of the few companies that consistently does quality dubbing into Arabic (most just have subtitles), so we try to get the best of their movies with the dual track option as a fun way to increase our learning.

Honestly, I was hoping for Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella or another of the classic princess movies. MA would have been thrilled. But we only know of one store in-country that consistently sells the original DVD's (there's not much market when they're all available pirated), and they didn't have any of those options. She was slightly non-plussed, but I think once we watch it, she'll be pleased.

The Muppets have long been a family favorite dating back to when my own mom was in grad school and my dad and I would watch the Muppets together on her "class night" each week. My kids love them, and I had to stop myself from going broke buying the horribly expensive three-episode-per-DVD editions they were putting out a few years ago. The seasons are much more affordable. We bought Season 1 as soon as it came out and have fully enjoyed it as a family. So, JW, who chuckles and guffaws almost the whole time we're watching each time, got Season 2 as his DVD gift this year (and they already know that Season 3 is waiting for them to watch at DeeDah's house when we go to visit, so they feel pretty blessed).

And MS got...silly. What you get for asking a 9-year-old boy to smile for the camera.

Actually, he got an Incredibles DVD, which also has Arabic and English soundtracks. We watched it (in English) the other night as a family. I don't think we'd seen it since we went to see it in the theater, and ML and I had forgotten how much we liked it. I look forward to watching it again, both in English and in Arabic. But first, we have to watch the Pixar shorts that ML wouldn't let us watch without him when he had to go to work the other day. :-)

Monday, December 22, 2008


GfG asked if we all opened presents each day or just one person. It's actually just the kids, and they all open each day. But explaining that made me realize that I left out a tradition: ML and just get each other stocking stuffers. Then, we spend the money we would have spent on each other on something for the home. Preferably something that we will both enjoy/get use out of.

This year, we got new curtains in our bedroom (which actually blesses ML, for those wondering; he has a true appreciation for decor and ambiance), and we're getting a new stereo for the van (which actually blesses me, since I'll be able to plug my iPod directly into it and play stuff on family trips and as I drive around). So he and I only have presents to open on Christmas Eve, usually (from the gift-exchange from dh's family; we draw names). From my family, we usually have gifts that arrive via e-mail (iTunes certificates from my brother) or bank account (my parents). And we tend to save/combine the bank account ones to spend, so they don't go under the tree, either.

For example, we're using our money from my parents to go out to eat as a family on Christmas Eve with some ex-pat friends in a Christian village that has a large Christmas tree and lots of lighted homes. So, we'll eat dinner (at a Lebanese restaurant), and then drive around and see the tree and lights. Finances being what they are this year, we are extremely blessed to be able to have Christmas money that allows us to do this.

On the first day of Christmas

We usually start with the "book" present of our three gifts from Mommy and Daddy. As much as books are treasured, we wanted to make sure they didn't get overlooked among the more flashy gifts. As our children have grown, I have come to realize we needn't worry about that. Books *are* flashy to them. But we've stuck with the tradition.

ZL's book is actually one ML's mom bought for him several years ago when his older cousin was going through a phase of loving this particular type of book. I put it back, because I just didn't think he'd be interested yet. Well, this was the *perfect* year to give it to him. He has loved it. It has removable figures that depict the story (not that he's sat still for the story yet :-) and can be played with in the bathtub, too, since it's foam rubber. He opened it with gusto, and then played with it with gusto. We even have a cute video. If I ever figure out how to convert and post the videos from our camera, I'll do so.

I saw MA looking at this book at one of the bookstores here and thought it fit her well. Pink. Glittery. Large vocabulary words. That's my girl to a "T." She didn't even remember looking at it previously but has enjoyed it.

JW marches to the beat of his own drummer. And he has definite opinions and preferences. He thinks it's a waste to use wrapping paper just once. I mean, we save gift sacks and tissue paper (as dictated by the genes from the maternal segment of my family), why waste wrapping paper after only one use? This first night, he meticulously removed each piece of tape (you can see the pile on the chair next to him, if you look closely at the second picture). After *all* tape was extracted, he unwrapped the paper and took a look at the book. It was a bit excruciating for some of the members of the family. Others of us found it amusing. Either way, he was very pleased with the present, an Astrix book.

MS also received an Astrix book. Daddy's childhood love for yet another series is being passed on. They finished their own books and promptly exchanged.

Traditioooon. Tradition. Tra-di-tion.

Thought I'd share a couple of our family Christmas traditions with you all and include a few pictures of the first night of one of our traditions (sorry, Tressa, haven't gotten the decorations photographed yet; I'll try to do that today).

I think I've mentioned here that we have developed a tradition of giving each kid three Christmas presents from Daddy & Mommy: a book, a DVD (or TV show season), and a toy/game. This keeps Christmas to a relative minimum and gives us some structure to our shopping. Plus, it helps us plan ahead when we're buying Christmas presents in June or July when we're in the US or someone is coming to visit.

This tradition is related to another of ours: we open one present per day each day until Chrismas Eve (Christmas morning is stockings).*

The above two traditions are related in that they stem from what we affectionately refer to as The Christmas That Was Way Out of Control (which is better than ML's family's Worst Christmas Ever, but that's a whole 'nother post). MS was two, about to turn three. JW was a baby. It took MS hours, truly hours, to open all of his presents. We were constantly forcing him to abandon playing with one new toy in order to move on to opening the next (all while JW was happily rocking in his Fisher Price rocking chair, laughing at the ripping paper). These were toys from ML and I, toys from my parents, toys from ML's parents, and toys from all three of our siblings (later that day, we celebrated with the other ex-pat family and exchanged more presents :-). Oh yeah, and we had purchase presents on behalf of three great-grandmothers. I think, partly, we were all trying to make up for a crudy couple of years, which had included WM's death and an emergency evacuation. I think, too, that it had something to do with the fact that, at this point, there were only two other grandchildren on one side and none on the other. And MS was still the only grandchild past a babyhood. Even in the midst of the present opening, I remember thinking, "This is way out of control." And I know ML had similar thoughts.

While we didn't whittle down to our three gifts for several years (partially because it doesn't completely work with toddlers), the very next year we started backing up present opening based on the number we had to open to work out to one per day. If I remember correctly, we miscalculated and had a couple to open Christmas Eve, but it was still a vast improvement. Presents, even "less desirable" ones like "just a book" (practically a heretical phrase in our house, but you get the idea) were fully appreciated and fawned over. For a whole day. There was even a year where we were very busy around Christmas time due to it coinciding with a Muslim holiday during which we had many visits to make (the Muslim calendar is lunar, so the holidays move in relation to ours; therefore, this isn't always the case). That year, we were still opening presents through the end of December.

This year, we're on track to get finish opening our presents Christmas Eve. Then, Christmas morning, there will be Advent, stockings, breakfast from our stockings (with scrambled eggs), and preparations for our ex-pat Christmas dinner gathering (which will be Mexican food this year!). I'll write more about those things as they come to pass.

I think I'll close this post and put up a separate one with the pictures. It'll be less cluttered.

*The finishing up of present opening on Christmas Eve was a minor relational bump early on in our marriage as ML's family opened all presents Christmas Eve and did only stockings Christmas morning, whereas my family opened one present on Christmas Eve (a tradition my brother and I conveniently made up one Christmas Eve) and then did stockings and presents on Christmas morning. And when I say minor bump, I mean minor bump. I decided that A) Christmas Eve was as good a day as any to open presents (or finish up opening, as it's developed) and B) ML is *super* easy-going, so if he had a preference on this, I should take advantage of the fact that he was expressing it and go with it.