Over the River and Through the Woods...

To Grammy and Grampy's house we go!
After a delay due to the Midwest snowstorm last week, we picked up Aunt Stacie and Uncle Jesse at the airport and loaded them up in our (very) packed sleigh to make the short drive to my parents house.  The kids have been so excited to go to Iowa for weeks and Ava kept telling us, "I'm SO esscited Mama!  I can't wait!" 
We saved two open seats for Stace and Jesse, but that was literally the only open space we had. 
Thankfully we had each other and some Christmas movies to get us in the spirit and pass the time!
 I'm not sure who was more excited to arrive, the van full of the "out of towners" or the waiting Iowans??  It was a toss up.  The glow of Christmas lights never looked so good :)
 We went to Church on Sunday with my parents and Ava wore her new Christmas dress from Trav's Mom.  It was darling and she loved it. 
 Carter on the other hand, was equally as darling in his Christmas sweater, but pretty unhappy about having his picture taken.  You'd have thought we asked him to drink poison based on his reaction.  Just a little smile or at least sitting still for 10 seconds??  It's all we ask. 
Apparently it's still too much :)
I did manage to catch this before the shock of what we were doing set in.  It's close enough!
My parents got 10 inches of snow a few days before we arrived, but on Christmas Eve we were happy to get a few more inches, simply because it's incredibly charming when it snows around Christmas :) We had a quiet day at home and my Mom made our favorite meal, her BBQ brisket for dinner.  Afterwards, we surprised the kids and let them open 2 gifts, one from Trav and I and then the gift they picked out for each other. 
 When we were growing up, we talked my parents into letting us open one present on Christmas Eve, during the latter years of our childhood.  It was always a gamble based on which one you chose :) After awhile my Mom got wise and steered us to gifts that were strategic, like new pajamas.  
It's seems like yesterday that we were little again, dying for it to be Christmas morning.
 Ava and Carter were totally on board with the present thing, you don't have to tell kids twice to rip open a gift!
 I continued the new jammies tradition with them and they loved them!  They're both into footed pajamas right now and they call them "slipper jammies."
But the real excitement came from the gift they chose for each other!  Carter picked out a Beast/Prince doll for Ava (which was a HUGE hit) and she was totally surprised when she opened it.
And Ava picked out a Mr. Potato Head for Carter, which she recognized as a fun toy from "Toy Story" for Carter.  He loved it too! 
 Christmas Eve pic
 Poor Carter, again, not thrilled with the request for a picture.  It was a rough 24 hours for him :)
Thankfully he's easily distracted by his new toy from Nana and Papa!
Jesse and Stacie
 Dave and Jennie
And Ryley!  Our first baby :) It's been awhile since I've posted about Ryley, but here he is!  He's still as good as ever, just a little more mellow these days.  He'll be 9 in May, which is so hard to believe.  Travis and I got him as a puppy a few months before our 1st Anniversary and we miss him.  He's lovin life with Dave and Jennie though, and he's back in his coveted spot as King of the Castle in their house.  Our kids love Ryley too and it's so great that we get to see him a lot and that he's still loved and in the family.  What a sweet Christmas boy :)
I love this picture. 
Just hanging out with the boys!
After dinner we got the kids in their new jammies (SO CUTE!!) and told them we had another fun surprise for them...
Time for a Christmas light tour around town in their pjs, with Grampy and the aunts and uncles.
It's too bad these kids aren't loved.
Ava was ready to go, although I had a feeling after she got buckled in the warm car with her blankie, she might be asleep after a few minutes into the tour...and that's exactly what happened :)
Trav and I stayed home to breathe for a minute before we had to do bedtime and some major gift assembly, but when the troops returned we had two very tired kids, very ready for bed!
 As all parents know, the real work of Christmas morning begins the second the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve!
We saved the kids "big" gift for Christmas morning and brought it with us from Minnesota. 
Carter's was pretty low maintenance, until Trav discovered they forgot to give us 2 essential screws.  Of course, right?  It's like the murphy's law of Christmas Eve.  Missing parts.  So frustrating, but thankfully the guys came up with 2 that would work from my Dad's stash.
While the boys were searching for missing screws, the girls (in OUR matching jammies) were lost in the world of princesses and a million, tiny pieces of plastic.
 What Carter's gift lacked in parts and assembly, Ava's more than made up for it! 
We were totally into it though, I'm pretty sure we all took turns playing with it :) We grew up immersed in the original Disney princesses, so the magic of the dream castle was not lost on us.
I mean seriously, is this thing cute or what??  She's been receiving the dolls for the last few birthdays and Christmases and I had her bring them with us, knowing this gift was coming and she'd love playing with it after she opened it!
 Carter got the masculine counterpart to a dream castle, a hot rod :)
It's a glider bike we found for him and we knew he'd love it.  He also got a helmet, which I was informed by all the men, was lame!  Ha ha!  I at least chose the more masculine "Cars" version, as opposed to the Mickey Mouse one I almost chose.
 Not gonna lie, it was a late night :)
But oh so fun to think about all the joy ahead and the look on their sweet faces when they saw what we chose for them.  It's hard to not make Christmas all about gifts or to get caught up in the commercialism and materialism that often permeates our culture, but we tried to really hammer home the gift that Jesus is to us and the motivation we have to give gifts because of the Father's love for us and his generous heart for his children.  Do they understand that?  Probably not yet, but our hope is that they catch more of Jesus and less of everything else as we tackle each holiday every year.  There's really a great deal of thinking on your feet when you're a parent!  I'm realizing with every year and every stage how important it is to be walking in the Spirit and sensitive to how He leads us. 
Christmas eve was fun, it was great to be with my family again and we loved buying/wrapping the things we typically say "no" to all year long  :) 
We went to bed very tired, but very thankful for kids to buy gifts for and thankful for the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ, our Savior. 
It was a sweet Christmas Eve and we couldn't wait to wake up on Christmas morning!


Christmas in Minnesota

We always travel at Christmas, which means that we never get to have Christmas morning at our house so for the last few years, we've been having Christmas a little early and surprising the kids.  It's great to not have to take so many gifts to my parents house and it also gives us a chance to have some family time together.  This year we broke it up between two days.  We gave the kids a bath, then surprised them and told them we were going to let them open some presents from their Texie.
As you can see, they were excited!  Love those cheesy grins! 
It seems to be the only way these two know how to smile these days :) 
Miss Ava has been asking me for weeks, several times a day, "Is it Christmas yet?" and "Can we open some presents today?"  You can imagine her delight when I finally gave her the green light to indulge.  There were squeals of joy for sure!
Carter was a bit more stoic.  I'm pretty sure he had no idea what I was talking about until he saw Ava in action and caught on!
Christmas cuties! 
Their pile from the relatives had been growing and accumulating for weeks, we were shocked they managed to stay out of them.  
It took Carter all of 2 seconds to catch on and rip into his pile!
Pure joy :) Ava chose wisely and opened one of her coveted gifts first. This was the beginning of a theme for her.  It's been a Disney Princess Christmas for Ava! 
 And as is typical of a two year old boy, Carter's Christmas has been all about planes, trains and automobiles!  One of my favorite things about Carter is how he plays.  He immediately drops to his tummy and gets up close and personal with his toys, mostly his trucks and trains.  It's so cute and so fascinating to me, probably because I only had sisters.  I love having a little boy :)
A Thomas book and a little smile :)
Some princess books made Ava's night!
Seriously, isn't he cute??  So funny!
New books for Christmas, always a hit!  We told the kids that we were only opening gifts from Texie, but when they went to bed that night, we stayed up to wrap the rest of the gifts from Travis and I so that we could open them in the morning and they could play all day while we packed for Iowa. 

 Ava's pile
Carter's pile
There is something so fun about giving gifts to your kids.  I love that about being a parent!  We were giddy thinking about their reaction and knowing that they would be so happy to play with their new things.  I did lots of shopping in advance this year, faithfully hiding things away in our closet, so I was pretty happy to pull out things I'd forgotten about and to finally free up some closet space.
After breakfast, we finally let them come into the living and room and they spotted another stack of presents.  They were ready to go!
 Last year Carter didn't really understand the present thing so this year was pretty fun with him.  He was very excited and while he opened every gift he would say, "Dares somepin in dare!"  "What's in dare??" 
 Ava of course was totally on the ball and hilarious.  She gave us tons of running commentary on every gift she opened.  We have some priceless video from this year!

All was exciting and fun, but one look at this excavator from Aunt Shaye and Carter was won over!
He couldn't take his eyes off it  :)

While Ava was opening his gifts Carter got us a screwdriver, in case we needed help opening his excavator faster :)  He's a helper, ha ha!

Sassy boots that Ava helped me pick out, she loves them!
This was one of Ava's favorites, Prince Charming himself.  She was completely thrilled and we captured her shrieking on video when we unwrapped him and screamed, "It's Prince Charmin!!!!  From Cinderellllllllllaaaaaaa!!!"  It was totally hilarious! 
We had such a sweet morning with our kids, they are at such fun ages where they are thrilled with everything they open and so contented to just play all day with their toys.  I'm so glad we let them open gifts early and enjoy themselves.  It definitely made it easier for us to pack in peace.
We aquired a few new princes to add to the fairytale fleet.

There was some dancing going on...
Some heavy construction too  :) 

Curious George is always a guaranteed crowd pleaser, just like he was when I was a little girl. 
When I was cleaning up the kitchen I came back to check on the kids and found this funny sight.  It appears Ariel made it safely out of the sea and into a cozy boot with the man of her dreams! 
Sounds nice to me :)
Merry Christmas to our kids!