Countdown to Christmas

 We packed up our van once again and drove to Iowa for our Christmas break.  Travis had some nice vacation to use up that allowed us to really unwind and linger with my family.  That is such a gift that we don't take for granted.  It is always so exciting to go home for Christmas with all the traditions and fun ahead of us.  The drive home is never quite as good  :) We are thankful for the opportunity to have family close in proximity.  It's been a blessing over the years, and as we've had kids, to be able to make these memories with their grandparents and aunts and uncles.  Not to mention, us!  

We left on Monday morning with big plans to all head South to Iowa City for an Iowa Basketball game that night.  We'd been planning it for awhile, but wouldn't you know that morning Ava woke up with a fever out of nowhere!! She was pretty lethargic all day and it was pretty clear someone would have to stay home with her.  I volunteered to stay back with Ava and Walker but everyone else decided it wasn't as fun if we all couldn't go  :)  
SO, we scrapped that plan and hung out at home instead.  The Hawks still won, so not a bad plan B! With Stacie and Jesse home from South Carolina we were all very happy to be reunited and had lots of catching up to do! 
 Carter wasted no time the next morning, getting Uncle Jesse to help him with one of his lego presents we brought from home.  Gotta love a morning that is only as stressful as the lego set in front of you!
 My parent's house is always so cozy and beautiful at Christmas.  I get my love for decorating for the holidays from my Mom.  She's always decked our house out for as long as I can remember, with lots of meaningful (to us) things, and now my kids are enchanted with it as well.  Carter in particular loves her Christmas village.  He loves to look at all the pieces while up on my Dad's shoulders! I love that village too.  It's so beautiful when it's lit at night in the darkness.  I remember choosing so many of those pieces for my Mom's birthday and for Christmas, many years ago.  My Dad and I would often go to this store that sold them and pick a few out that we thought she'd like. It's been fun to see her collection grow and that spot has always been a perfect place for all of them.  
 We had a really fun surprise with some family friends of ours.  They invited us to join them on a horse drawn trolley ride through a park.  It was absurd that we had no snow, we always have snow in December, but unfortunately we didn't this year.  It didn't matter though because it was still super fun and all of the grandkids were enthralled with the whole thing! 
 We had to get all bundled up because it was still cold and drizzly out, I think Sawyer is somewhere under those layers! 
 We've been dear family friends with the Neys our whole lives.  Our parents all go back to their high school days!  Now with marriages and grandkids between us, we are a big crowd! 
 The horses were so big and beautiful.  It's always awe inspiring to be around horses and to comprehend their size and strength.  I grew up riding at a summer camp in junior high and on a few trips to the mountains in high school.  It's been years since I've ridden a horse but I'd love to do that again.  I'd love to take our kids for that experience someday too!  With helmets on :) 
 The kids couldn't wait to get closer and check them out! 
 Grandkids, minus 2 babies and 2 more on the way! Love those sleigh bells on the horses, aren't those cool??  SOOOO wish we would have had a snowy backdrop though, but at least we weren't freezing.  
 Cute shot of the Ney family!
 And I love this shot of our family.  We're all looking AND smiling, amazing!! 
 My little brood was excited! 
Except maybe Walker.  I'm going to say he was thoroughly confused! 
 I bought that coat months ago, thinking 9 mo would be safe for a baby who was 6 mo, but perhaps I should have considered the 12 mo size! Walker looks like a marshmallow, ha ha! Thankfully we had a roof and that helped with the wind, but the windows were still cracked and I was thankful we were all warm and toasty! 
 I was way up in the front corner, so it was hard for me to get a pic of everyone, but it was fun to all be crammed in there together! 
 We heard all about the horses and the trolley, sang some Christmas carols and just laughed a lot.  Who knew, but apparently my kids are Christmas Carol machines!  They sang along to every one and started us off a few times too!  
 Cute pic of the Knapps!
 Generally it was chaos, but lots of fun :) 
 Each one of the kids got to come up front and hold the reigns for awhile, which they all loved.  Ava even got to hold the reigns while the horses trotted for a little bit!  Such a sweet memory for all of us this year.  After we finished our ride we all hung out together at Kirk and Joan's for an amazing meal my Mom and Joan put together.  It was fun to catch up, let the kids play and enjoy a night with our families.  Kirk and my Dad became friends in high school when they became neighbors and it's really amazing to see all that the Lord has done because of that friendship.  New relationships with the Lord were started, 2 marriages that established 2 families, 5 kids between them and then 5 more marriages, resulting in 9 grandkids with at least 2 more on the way.  The Lord has graciously blessed both of our families and our friendship for all these years.  Such a fun way to kick our time at home off! 
 On Christmas Eve we fielded a thousand requests from the kids to open presents, did some last minute shopping and cooking and got the house ready to host some family.  There's just nothing like the excitement before Christmas!!  We also watched the movie, The Nativity, with the kids this year.  I love that movie and of all the Hollywood takes on Biblical accounts, this is one they did so well.  It was also one that the kids could handle and enjoy because they knew what was happening and so many of the details of the Nativity were fresh in their minds after all these weeks of doing the Jesse tree together.  It is sweet to watch the Lord open their hearts and minds to His greater plan and for them to begin understanding the significance of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  We always tell them that Christmas is such a fun time and we can enjoy all the magic and play the Santa game too, but the biggest reason we celebrate is because of the gift of Jesus!  
The tree was starting to overflow with presents...
 The table was set...
 It was almost time to sit down and eat!
 Every place setting was festive and fun! 
 And it was our first Christmas together as a family of 5! 
 We held them off all day, but after dinner we promised them they could each open 2 presents.  The babies had no idea what the big deal was, but Ava and Carter could barely contain themselves!
 Everybody got a book...
 And some matching Christmas jammies!  I love Sawyer's face and his hand on Ava's leg here!  

 Ava opened Walker's book for him...
 ...while Daddy helped him with the jammies.  Next year I don't believe he'll be wanting much help!
Someone was starting to feel the excitement!  Ha ha!
Gotta love everything about a baby's first Christmas!
 They also got to open some sweet gifts from Jim and Kay!
And then if was time for the annual christmas jammies pic before bed!
 Sawyer was not thrilled at first and Walker was a little shell shocked!
 But then the paci's came to our rescue and these 4 cousins pulled off the cutest pic!  So darling!  
Can't wait to see how the Lord adds to our number, year after year.  
 After the babies went to bed, we attempted the first of several failed "sister and mom" pics.  These crack me up because with 4 females involved, there is never a shortage of opinions, instructions, and general bossiness going on! 
 Am I right??
 Also a healthy dose of laughter and attempts to get our "good side" captured, whatever that means!
 Stacie in particular, was struggling to hold it together, which was making all of us laugh!
 And these three, who have dutifully endured these photo sessions for years, were graciously playing along and following MANY instructions.  Which they just *love* doing! ha ha! 
 In the end, we couldn't settle one that all four of us liked, for a variety of reasons!  Of course! 
 So we closed with a "we'll just try again tomorrow!" which our husbands love to hear after all that we've just put them through.  Notice my Dad is nowhere to be seen in those pics!  He gave up trying to please us all in taking a photo years ago.  He loves to be IN a picture with us but he scatters when it's time to take the pics! He knows what all our husbands are in for, he'd been doing it for years before them  :) 
 As usual, I had all my wrapping to do that night!  This was the stack from all of us, awaiting all 4 of the kids when they woke up the next morning.  They didn't do too badly, did they??  

 This was the point when I realized I was getting tired!  Typically we encourage our children to call us Mom and Dad, not our first names!  
Aunt Stacie got some snuggles in with the babies before they hit the sack on the eve of their first Christmas morning.  We giggled because Sawyer is 4 months older than Walker but they are both wearing the same size jammies!   

And with all the presents wrapped, put together and the stockings filled, Trav and I went to bed soon after.  We were exhausted, but looking forward to all the fun to come! I love doing Christmas together and now experiencing it through the eyes of our kiddos.  These are such precious years! 

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