Aaaand… Scene!

Christmas is a wrap (pun intended). I stuck with my tradition of taking almost no photos on the day itself. But don’t fear, we have plenty of advent activities from the past week or so to catch up on and I took one photo of my prime rib masterpiece.

On to the photo dump.

Not family-related but worth noting that we did see a little snowfall the week before Christmas. This is the view from my office where I watched the flakes fall from the fourth floor before they melted as soon as they hit the ground. It’s important to note that my kids were at an outdoor wilderness-type camp during the “snowstorm”.

I took a couple of days off before Christmas weekend. The boys and I used this time to catch up on some advent calendar activities like roasting marshmallows over an open fire flame. When Samuel saw this photo he asked if I took one when he burned his hand. And, no, I did not. (note: he burned it on the skewer as he tried to get the marshmallow off. Not as bad as it sounds but we may go a different route with marshmallow roasting next year).

Then it was gingerbread cookie time! A festive mixture of snowmen, Christmas trees and ninjas. I found some good old fashioned Golden Syrup which made them taste delicious, even if they were as hard as a rock. I had to mix everything by hand because I don’t own a mixer and apparently that makes a difference. Still, fun was had by all and my biceps got a good workout.

On Friday I braved the indoor playground where the kids played for three whole hours and I read a book (!).

Saturday was kid’s choice so we went bowling at our local, low budget bowling alley.

I didn’t notice the stains on the ceiling until I downloaded the photos. Still, I’ll sacrifice fancy for $1 games.

And, when you bowl with a four year old, you definitely get your money’s worth. It took many minutes for his ball to reach the pins.

Sunday saw us gather with friends for the annual Christmas sing-a-long where my children refused to sing.

Through it all, Hapi the Elf hung around the house and kept an eye on things. I may have used him as a threat once or twice (Hapi will tell Santa!) and I may have even threatened to cancel christmas. What can I say? Being a shut-in parent in rainy Portland can sometimes make you resort to the unthinkable.

Christmas Eve brought a break from the rain and, with it, a chance to get out of the house. We decided on a stroll through a nature park.

That evening, we got things ready for Santa and the reindeer.

Some reindeer food which we left in the backyard.

And, of course, gingerbread cookies and a nice cold beer for Santa.

The boys woke up at 5:30 (!) on Christmas morning. Our rule was no getting up before 6am so they (im)patiently paced the floor of their bedrooms until the clock ticked over. And then the fun began. Every single present was opened before the first sign of daylight.

And then we spent the rest of the day playing, reading and napping (for Kei and Samuel) before I cooked the most magnificent prime rib you have ever seen (or tasted) in your life. Think I’m joking?

Yup.

 

After we put the kids to bed, I lay down on the couch to watch some TV and… fell asleep by 9:30pm, feeling incredibly happy and blessed. The perfect end to a pretty perfect day.

Today, I am officially back at work. Sure, it’s an anticlimax after the events of the past few weeks, but I do have a girl’s trip to see Les Miserables and an evening of Karaoke to look forward to before the New Year so it’s not all bad. I also have about 8 new photo books to read thanks to some very generous family members. That should keep me busy between the two work emails that I expect to receive all day.

Let the post-Christmas fun continue…

The Day We Earned Our Christmas Medal

The weather outside was frightful, but that didn’t deter the Ishidas from embarking on a Christmas Light viewing on Peacock Lane last week. And when I say frighful, I mean torrential downpours and winds that threatened to suck the lights away like a scene out of The Wizard of Oz.

The upside? Very few people to navigate, a quick visit and we crossed one more activity off the advent calendar. In fact, it was pretty perfect.

Photos limited to what I could manage while balancing an umbrella on my shoulder.

Carolling Pirates

Tonight we begin the countdown to Santa. I have two kids who are way more excited to go to bed than usual but first we need to mix the reindeer food and set out the home-made gingerbread cookies and the not-homemade beer. The beer is there to make sure Santa knows he’s in a part-Aussie house. Besides, I think I’d be looking forward to a nice cold beer after many, many glasses of Milk.

Christmas in Portland – 100 Santas, Chewbacca and the Church of Elvis

I love downtown Portland at Christmas time. It has a wonderfully festive feel, even on a rainy winter day so of course we had to make a special weekend trip if only to see the big Christmas tree. It was going to be tough to beat the 2012 best pre-christmas family day ever, but we were up for the challenge.

We originally planned to catch the train into the city but decided at the last minute that taking the car would be a better option in the (only slightly pouring) rain. Still, the boys got dressed for a potentially chilly walk around town.

First stop: Pioneer Place mall. We had hoped to catch the fake snow show but missed it by about 25 minutes, so we had to make do with a taking a few self-portraits with the help of some massive Christmas tree ornaments.

We then stepped outside where we were handed some free Ghiardelli Christmas chocolate samples and then looked up to see about of 50 Santa’s helpers walking down the street.

Some were a little more authentic than others…

..while some checked their cell phones while traveling behind robot santa-type creatures on a mobile fireplace. None of this is made up.

The kids gleefully accepted unexpected presents from the “Santas” – a couple of matchbox cars, a ball toy and some candy canes.

Then, as happens every day in our fair city, we walked a few more meters up the street and were greeted by Chewbacca and a few storm troopers.

It’s amazing how sworn enemies can set aside their differences at this time of the year.

 

Then it was on to the Christmas tree – an annual Ishida viewing tradition (although not the tree lighting. We did that once and it’s was insanely crowded).

And what’s a Christmas Tree without a little Nutcracker entertainment from some enthusiastic kids who are not afraid to dance in the freezing rain?

Next, we took a detour to Peet’s for some chrismassy beverages.

Thomas decided to crumble his Candy Cane into his hot chocolate with Samuel declared to be THE BEST IDEA EVER!

We then took a shortcut through an arcade/timewarp to visit Finnegan’s toystore. Thomas sneakily chose a gift for Samuel (Santa will have to take the very same gift out of his toy bag).

And then it was time to walk back to the car as the rainfall started to get heavier and heavier.

Even the umbrella man statue was finding it tough to stay dry.

And that was almost it – another fabulous pre-christmas Portland adventure…

…topped only by a last-minute decision to go out for sushi with friends where we, again, bumped into the Santas. Only by this time there were more of them and they had 6 hours of drinking under their belt. Thankfully the kids didn’t ask too many questions so I was able to avoid thinking about the potential loss of innocence.

Finally, we made a quick stop at the 24 hour Church of Elvis coin operated art gallery before heading home to watch Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

Not exactly a traditional end to a Christmas day in the city, but that’s why I love Portland. In the words of Forrest Gump – “It’s like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”

 

Pretending This Never Happened

I’m still aching after the events of last Friday. Although the tragedy occurred on the opposite side of the country, I could too easily put myself in the position of those parents. The fear, and then horror, that they must have experienced. That they’re still experiencing.

But I have to stop looking at the news stories for my own sanity and because I have to keep it from my children. Thankfully, they’re too young to know that anything is going on. I also hid them from the news of a shooting in the mall just a few miles from our home – and just a few days before when we thought it couldn’t get much worse.

Four year olds and seven year olds shouldn’t be afraid to go to the mall, and they most certainly should not be afraid to go to school. As parents, we are forced to carry that fear on their behalf but somehow hide it from them at the same time.

I’m not sure if my children noticed that my hugs were a little tighter and a little longer over the weekend or that I told them I loved them about about 30 times each day instead of the usual 10 or that I was perhaps a little more patient than usual. I suspect it was a regular weekend for them, which is just how it should be.

I was not born in America – I chose to live here. And, when I moved here, I knew that the gun issue was going to be a hurdle for me to overcome because, when you choose to live in another country you accept that the rules and customs of that country are part of the deal.

But things have changed.

My children and husband were born here and it’s my responsibility to fight for what I think is the best thing for my family and for the country that we have chosen as our home. I don’t have to accept the current gun laws as part of the deal anymore. As I posted on Facebook on Friday, a person’s right to own a gun does not override any child’s right to feel safe. It’s that simple. I’m going to see what part I can play, however small, to change things.

In the meantime I’m going to move forward, celebrate christmas, spend time with my family and pretend that nothing happened because, as far as my children are concerned, the only thing they need to fear right now is the naughty list.

 

 

Christmas Tree Hunting in Portland

Our first advent activity was to choose a Christmas Tree. In a new tradition for us, we decided to u-cut this year at Reichen Christmas Tree Farm – a small farm about 25 minutes away. The owners were sweet, the experience was quick and easy and all trees, regardless of size and species, were $35. We went for a 6 foot tall Noble Fir and watched as it was ceremoniously cut down with a chainsaw.

But the best part by far was having the chance to wander around in a little Christmas tree forest to choose the perfect one.

We thought this was the one… false alarm.

Success!

A fun family activity and we were very lucky with the weather. Later that afternoon the clouds and the rain rolled in while we decorated the tree. Of course I don’t have any photos of that part of our day – I was too busy trying to save the most delicate ornaments from the clutches of my children. Still, they were a lot more helpful this year than they have been in the past. Thomas even set up a pretend Hot Cocoa stand while we worked on getting the tree in position.

I’m pretty sure the family tree hunt is going to be a new annual tradition and, with views like this, a 25 minute drive out of the city is well worth the effort.

 

Turns out I DO have a crafty bone in my body

I’m sure it’s just one crafty bone and it’s not a major bone, like a femur, but it must be in there somewhere because I made this…

What’s that, you ask? Why it’s just a very pretty (and also practical) home-made advent calendar inspired by a few projects that I pinned a while ago.

For the last few years, we’ve purchased the lego advent calendar which a. costs money and b. doesn’t change much from year to year. I also find it difficult to make the connection between Darth Maul and Christmas, even if he is wearing a Santa hat. (and, by the way, that’s one very scary Santa coming down the chimney).

This year I wanted to make the advent calendar more about experiences than toys so, after looking at some very poorly constructed, yet costly, empty calendars at Target, I decided to make my own.

My list of supplies:

  • Wooden clothes pegs (or clothes pins for the Americans – I still can’t get used to calling them that)
  • Decorative tape
  • Mini envelopes
  • Glitter chipboard number stickers
  • Glitter cardstock – trimmed to fit inside the envelopes

Directions – warning, a monkey could do it.

  • Stick tape on front and back of clothes pegs. I mixed up the patterns and colors for interest. The tape was a little too wide so I trimmed it on the sides to fit.
  • Stick numbers 1 to 24 on envelopes
  • Make a calendar of activities for the month (this was the trickiest bit)
  • Write activities for each day on the white side of a piece of card and put it in the envelope
  • Peg envelopes to a piece of string.

See? I told you it was tricky.

As I mentioned, laying out the calendar was the hardest part. I tried to time activities so  that they aligned with our schedule – quick activities on weeknights, bigger family activities on weekends.

I also included a few days where the boys have to search for a small gift. We recently purchased a treasure hunt game called Ukloo which has a bunch of clue cards that you can place around the house (eg. look under your Dad’s pillow, look in the sink). The kids LOVE it so I used the clues to lead them to their first present (an ant farm).

Other activities in the calendar include:

  • Buy and decorate the Christmas Tree (this was day 1)
  • Go to Zoolights
  • Drink Hot Cocoa while listening to Christmas Music
  • Walk around the neighborhood to look at the lights
  • Watch a Christmas movie with popcorn
  • Choose a toy from the store to donate to the toy drive
  • Read two Christmas books
  • Roast marshmallows in the fireplace
  • Make gingerbread men
  • Make paper snowflakes
  • Put food out for Santa (Christmas eve)
  • See Peter Pan at the children’s theater (I purchased tickets a couple of months ago and decided to include it as an activity rather than add something else)

I also included two Kid’s choice cards. I’m curious to find out what they’ll want to do – it’s a little risky.

So far the kids love it. They haven’t mentioned the lego advent calendar at all and seem to love that we have special family activities to look forward to each day, even if it’s just reading a couple of christmas books. I’ve been traveling this week so, sadly, I missed the gift hunt and drinking hot cocoa but I hear they were both a huge hit.

The best part? The calendar is durable enough that I can pack it up with our decorations and use it again next year. I suppose I’ll have to find something else to make with my newly discovered crafty bone.

P.S. Please don’t judge the ugly fireplace. It’s one of the things on our very, very long list of home improvement projects.