Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Traditions

I think this is officially my longest post. Ever.  Trying to make up for not blogging all month.  Once again we managed to stay busy this Christmas season with our advent calendar activities.  Each morning one of the kids opened the door on the advent calendar to find out what activity was planned for that day.  Some days were more exciting than others and we had to be flexible around Hadley’s performances and the boys’ basketball schedule but we did it and that’s what counts (at least that’s what I tell myself).

Day 1--Festival of Trees
We started the festivities with one of my favorite activities.  The Festival of Trees.  I could spend the entire day there, reading the story behind each tree, and I tried to look at every tree but then realized that wasn’t going to happen with the whole family in tow.

We got the bonus of watching Hadley perform with Clayton Productions at the festival.  She is such a little performer.  Her whole face lights up when she comes out on stage.  It’s so fun to watch her!  She wanted a picture in front of the “Minnie Mouse Tree” since her costume matched the tree.

And the first experience of sitting on Santa’s lap.  Griffin asked for a Ds game, Morgan asked for ‘nothing’, Mia asked for ‘dress ups and Polly Pockets’ and Hadley was just trying to get their pictures but Santa convinced her to come over and sit on his lap.  She asked that her dog, Zeus, could stay in our family for Christmas.

Day 2 -- Chocolate Advent Calendars
The kids love getting their calendars to countdown the days.  Morgan always struggles with eating just one piece so luckily we had Hershey’s Kisses on hand when one piece of chocolate just wasn’t enough.  Mia keeps asking for her piece of chocolate in the mornings.  Not quite getting that Christmas is over and so is the chocolate.

Day 3 -- Church Dinner

Gavin was asked to be the emcee for the night and, as usual, did a great job.

The Primary kids sang a few songs.  Morgan was in heaven.  She loves to perform, doesn’t matter if she knows the words or not, girl’s gonna shout out the song.

On the other hand,  the youth also sang a few songs.  Couldn’t hear any of them singing though.  Just the 3 adult leaders on the stage with them were singing.

And we enjoyed having my niece, Kennedy, with us for a few of the events before she headed back home for Christmas break.

Day 4 -- Gingerbread Cookies
Every year my mom has the grandkids all come up to her house to help make and decorate gingerbread cookies.  My kids love this activity, especially the decorating portion.

Sprinkles anyone?

Ryan helped ini the making and not decorating of the gingerbread men with his cousin, Maddie.

And the final result . . . gingerbread cookies with peppermint ice cream!

Day 5 -- VF Factory Mall.  
Christmas shopping and watching Hadley’s performance.

Day 6 -- UDSF (Utah Down Syndrome Foundation) Christmas Party  
We had such a fun night.  Dancing.  Eating.  Chatting.  Fishing for gifts.  Meeting new friends.  Sitting on Santa’s lap and hearing all about his reindeer.

How lucky are these two boys?  Best friends in school and they both have a sister with Down syndrome.  Makes the Ds activities even that much better for Griffin, knowing Easton will be there and everyone loves baby Jayne!

Morgan danced all night long.  All of the kids with Ds did, actually.  Danced and danced and danced.

Then it was finally our time to see Santa. Morgan was so excited!  Santa was so cute with the kids.  It took awhile to get our turn because he took time to talk to everyone and even shared stories from the North Pole.

This may be our only family picture from the Christmas season --  All of us with Santa sitting on Jack’s lap.

Day 7 -- Jack’s Guitar Concert
Jack chose to take guitar as one of his electives this year.  He has really enjoyed it and wants to continue playing once his class is over in January.  His teacher was surprised that he was able to learn it so quickly and asked if he had any background in another instrument.  Guess all of those years in piano lessons and playing the trumpet in band paid off.  He spent more time laughing with his friends during the concert than playing the guitar.  He said they couldn’t stop laughing at how loud the background music was while they were playing, like his teacher didn’t want the audience to hear the actual guitar and all of the mistakes.

Day 8 -- The Dicken’s Festival

We got to watch Hadley perform again at the festival. 

We walked around and checked out all of the shopping and booths.  I think we spent the most time at this foot/back massage booth.  Morgan’s getting the full spa experience with the foot massage and back massage.  Not sure she’s enjoying it though.

We went to the barn to find ‘Father Christmas’.  Unfortunately there was a sign saying he had to go feed his reindeer and would be gone for the next hour.  Morgan watched as the kids already in line finished up their turn and listened to the lady taking their picture.  She didn’t understand why she couldn’t have a turn.  She kept saying, “No.  I say cheese with Santa!”  She was so mad she didn’t want to sit in his sleigh or stand next to “Queen Victoria”.

We enjoyed having my mom come along with us on some of our activities.  She was a huge help at this activity.  There were booths everywhere and Morgan liked to walk close enough to the displays to hit their stuff off of the tables.  We needed as many extra hands and arms that we could get!

Day 9 -- Read Christmas Stories
Our go to activity when everyone was tired or it was a busy night.  The kids all chose their favorite Christmas book that they wanted to read before going to bed.  We tried to read Christmas books with the 3 little ones every night before going to bed.  They loved reading the dedications and seeing whose book we were reading that night.

Day 10 -- Christmas Shopping
This is probably the craziest activity of the month.  Taking the whole family shopping in the toy section during the Christmas season.  We had 3 carts weaving in and out of people.  Most of the time they were just left in the middle of an aisle, blocking everyone trying to get by.  Two were to caravan Morgan and Mia and the other one was full of cousin gifts.  We spent about an hour choosing all of our gifts and made it to checkout with 2 carts.  No one knew what had happened to the other cart.  The one full of toys.  We all searched the store and Gavin finally found it back in the toy section.  We checked out and didn’t realize until the day of our party that one of the cousin’s gift had been swiped out of our cart.

Day 11 -- Seal Christmas Exchange
The kids look forward to this all month!  Who doesn’t love to open Christmas presents two weeks before Christmas?  We did all of our shopping the day before and were ready for the big party.  Uncle Jeff and Aunt Rae hosted the event and did a great job.  It was such a fun night with great food and company. All of the cousins get along so well and love to be together.  They were sad that their cousins in St. George couldn’t make it this year.

Annie was willing to share her birthday with the christmas party.  So lucky to have her in our family!

Mia loves her baby cousin, Oliver

Gavin with his brothers and parents.  Brendan and Laurie were out of town.  These boys are crazy.  They try to come up with some creative thing to wear to the party.  This year Jeff decided to wear his ‘Seal Pride’ shirt which he claimed it stood for “I heart Seal Family”.  Gavin wore his blue/purple dickie.  And Trevor broke out the ‘Mr. T’ necklace.

The cousins all draw names and the kids get to open their cousin and grandparent gifts on this night.  Morgan was just excited with the gift.  “I love presents!"

And then the adults do a White Elephant Gift Exchange.  I lucked out and got #1 which meant no switching for me.  I chose Scotty’s gift . . . a broken halloween planter, a few movies and a horse shoe, which I think means I’m going to have good luck all year.

Day 12 -- Ryan’s Basketball Game

Day 13 -- The Mall
We went to the mall and got dinner in the courtyard, watched Hadley perform, sat on Santa’s lap and bought a few surprises for Christmas.

Day 14 -- Stomach Flu
Hadley got the stomach flu on day 14 and missed the last few days of school and Christmas festivities.  She also missed a few performances and activities.  We had a fun work dinner with the Wares and let the kids fend for themselves this night.

Day 15 -- LDS Christmas concert with Jane Seymour and Nathan Gunn 

Hot chocolate at Ryan’s favorite hot chocolate spot.   Seven Eleven.

Day 16 -- Morgan’s school party
Morgan’s schooling and inclusion has been a battle this year.  But the one positive among all of the negatives was Morgan’s morning aide, Brittany.  She has been amazing for Morgan.  She is a certified 1st grade teacher who wanted a part time job after having a baby last year.  We were so sad to find out that she was no longer going to be Morgan’s aide after the Christmas break.  Her sister moved and she didn’t have childcare for her baby anymore.  I cried and cried.  For me but mostly for Morgan.  One of the most difficult things about inclusion is the aide situation.  I never realized how attached I would become with her aides and how attached Morgan would become.  She has loved her aides and loves them all so much.  She really bonded with Brittany and responded well to her.  Her behavior has been the best it has been in the mornings with Brittany.   I got off the phone with the principal and couldn’t stop crying.  Ryan asked me if I knew who her new aide would be.  I said, “no”.   He then asked why I was sad when I didn’t know anything about the new aide and she could be great for Morgan too.  He’s right but it’s still hard.  We are really going to miss Brittany!

Brittany and Morgan

Day 17 -- Morgan’s Cheer/ Hadley’s Performance
Almost two weeks later and I’m still smiling from this day.  Morgan had her first performance on a big stage (that wasn’t something school related).  It was finally her time to shine and she knew it!  She started cheer last summer at Elite Academy.  EA noticed other cheer company’s special needs squads at last year’s competition and knew they wanted to add a special needs squad to their company.  All of the girls have Down syndrome and vary in age from 9 - 20’s.  I think Morgan is actually the youngest one on the squad.  She has been going every Friday and sometimes she participates and other times she just lays on the floor and tries to take a nap.  I wasn’t sure how she would do at the performance with the big crowd, loud music and not knowing where we were sitting in the audience.  But she loved. every. minute.  She was smiling the entire time and so was I.  I was overwhelmed with pride.  Seeing my little girl up on the big stage, smiling and having the time of her life.  But I think my favorite part was the acceptance and love I felt from the crowd.  Most of the audience was there to watch their child perform in their own group, trying to qualify for national competitions.  The focus was on perfection and timing.  But none of that matter when The Angels took the stage.  They cheered and celebrated in the perfection of Morgan’s group.  It was better than I could’ve ever imagined!
 Morgan, Abbie and Jazzy

Hadley also had a performance a few hours after Morgan.  She was supposed to be at rehearsals all day but was determined to not miss Morgan’s first concert.  She was able to watch Morgan.  She was so proud of her!  Then it was her turn, she had her big Christmas concert with Clayton Productions and once again did an amazing job.

Day 18 -- Stewart Family Christmas
We’ve been doing this as long as I can remember.  Getting together with all of my aunts and uncles and cousins on Christmas Eve.  It’s now grown to second cousins, at my parents’ home and usually earlier in the month.  We used to have the real Santa come every year and all of the younger kids got to sit on his lap.  I miss the Santa tradition.  We get together for a yummy dinner (sorry about my cold potato casserole) and read a Christmas program from Luke 2 and sing Christmas songs.  Morgan wanted to read every part but there were only so many parts and many more kids.  I finally just had her stand up to read her part because she wanted to do it and no one was excited to read the next part.  The cute thing was she decided to add a little to her part.  When talking about Joseph, Jesus’ father, she added ’Smith’ to his last name.

My mom spent the last few months typing up her dad’s letters from his mission to Germany in the early 1930’s.  She had the letters and pictures made into a digital book.  It is a book we will all treasure!

Day 19 -- Movie Night.  Arthur Christmas.
We drove across the valley to see this movie.  We needed earlier than 9 pm and no 3D.  Morgan refuses to wear the 3D glasses and ends up watching a blurry movie.  Morgan loved it.  She’s at the perfect age for movies.  She has the attention span to sit and understand what is going on and she’s no longer overwhelmed and scared by the volume of the previews and movie.  Mia was just worried the entire movie about the reindeer that were being left behind.

Thanks Wares for joining us for our movie night!

Day 20 -- Desert Star Playhouse 
“It’s a Wonderful Life”
We had a great night out with my extended family at the theatre.  I set up our seating and was excited when the lady called me back and told me an extra show had been added on our night and she could get us all together and better seats.  I had no idea that meant FRONT ROW seats with my family of 8.  I was already nervous about buying tickets for my two youngest since they suggested no children under 5.  I was a little panicked as the usher walked us to our seats but in the end, it was perfect.  The action was so close that my kids had no choice but watch the show.  Morgan even used her straw at the end of the show to be the choir conductor as the cast sang a few Christmas songs.  And Ryan and Gavin got to be part of the show.  It was such a fun night!  I think we have a new Christmas tradition!

Day 21 and 22 -- Friends and Neighbor Gifts
I had this great idea of taking the kids to a few stores to pick out something they would like to give their friends for Christmas.  After two stops, TJ Maxx and the grocery store, with all 6 kids by myself, wrapping up a million gifts and loading up everyone in the car to drive around and deliver the gifts, The kids started fighting before we had even backed out of driveway.  Griffin even broke one of his m-n-m candy cane gifts when he decided to hit Morgan with it.  M-n-m’s flying all around the car.  Morgan tried to eat them quicker than Griffin could pick them up and put them back into the candy cane.   I lost it and started yelling.  Something about them walking to the store next year and using their own money to buy their friends’ gifts and then walking to their friends house to deliver the gifts because I couldn’t stand to be in the car with them.  And I may or may not have used the “h” word during my rant.

Day 23 -- The Nutcracker
Hadley and I spent the afternoon downtown with her cousins.  Eating lunch at Gateway.  Walking to Capitol Theatre.  Watching “The Nutcracker” and going backstage to meet the cast.  It was such a fun afternoon.  I loved spending time with my girl.  She even explained the story of The Nutcracker to me.  This will definitely be an annual tradition!

Ice Skating
We rode Trax downtown with the Wares to go ice skating at the Gallivan Center.  It was a great idea but a cold night to be waiting outside for a train.  We had never taken the younger kids ice skating and decided to brave it and give it a try.  Ryan has been ice skating in PE this year and loves it so he was very excited for this activity.  Morgan went around one time, basically being carried, and let us know she was done.  Not her sport.  Mia and Griffin went around a few times.  The first time around was shaky (for me and for them) but they picked up on it to where they could actually move their feet a little bit and not just slide back and forth and knock me over.

Morgan was NOT excited about the train.  We told the kids we were driving to the train station to take the train downtown.  Morgan kept saying over and over, “Not me.  Not me.  Okay Daddy?  No train for me!”  You can tell how much she hated that train ride!  Once she sat down, she was so excited and kept saying, “I love this train!"

Griffin wanted to make sure he got a picture of his ice skates.  “Everyone can look at the picture and know what my ice skates looked like.”

 If you look through the blurred mess, you can see Hadley skating with Mia and Gavin trying to pry Morgan’s hands off of the railing skating  with Morgan.

I managed to skate around the rink a few times.  Each time getting a little braver and venturing further away from the wall.  I didn’t fall, at least not ice skating.  I fell walking back to Trax.  Down some stairs when I was looking at the tents set up for “Occupy Utah” and not the approaching stairs.

It was fun to be downtown, ice skating outside with all of the Christmas lights and music but not so fun to do it all in the cold December weather.

Up next:  Christmas Eve