I LOVE hosting Christmas.  And I am so thankful that my extended family allows me that privilege.  I am thankful that they all have been willing and able to come year after year so we could share the day together. I don’t take it for granted.  I know my parents won’t always be able to travel.  I know my BIL and SIL can get stationed so far away that it just doesn’t make a trip to MD possible.  I know life situations can change in the blink of an eye. IMG_2494

And so I am thankful for what we have.  I am thankful that my SIL, BIL, and two nephews came and spent 4 days and 3 nights with us.  I am thankful for the sounds of cousins chasing each other round the house, for cookie decorating, for legos and video games and trampoline time, for Apples to Apples and a giant puzzle.  I am thankful for the mess and the giggles and the time together.






I am thankful for our Christmas Eve candlelight service and the reminder that even though this world is dark and broken, Jesus is the Light of the World and He came to save us and give us hope.  I LOVE Christmas.  I love the entire season from the day after Thanksgiving till New Years, but my favorite part by far is worshipping on Christmas Eve. Here is my crew before heading out the door on Christmas Eve.  Gosh, they are growing up before my eyes.




I am thankful that Christmas morning we started at 7 am with both sets of grandparents here to enjoy the festivities. 

I am also thankful that this year Christmas was on a Sunday and we were able to take some time away from the glorious mess on Christmas morning and spend time to worship our Lord.  Part of me left church wishing Christmas always fell on a Sunday.  A HUGE thank you to the pastors and worship leaders who gave up even more of their family time to prepare to lead their congregations in worship.  It was a gift to us all.

This year we were also treated with a Steelers/Ravens game for Christmas.  Since my love for Steelers football was a gift passed down from my dad, I truly LOVE when we can all watch the game together.  This Christmas found the entire extended family in our basement, cheering and crying and screaming and towel waving and in the end CELEBRATING an intense game of Steelers football.  What a treat! 

I took very little pictures this Christmas… like seriously hardly any. In fact I have zero from Christmas day. Sad smile  But, I did want to stop as I am packing up my Christmas decor today and at least record some of my favorites memories from this year.  Because I am so very thankful for the family God has given me and for the time we got to spend together.

About a month ago my youngest asked when we would see the Statue of Liberty again.  We visited it a few years ago on our way to our Boston Vacation, and it has been a highlight memory of our youngest child ever since.  He loves when we spot it on tv or in a picture somewhere.  I replied, “Probably the next time we go to New York City.”  To which he of course replied, “When can we go to New York City again?”  followed by, “Can we go tomorrow?”    The other kids all laughed and said no way, besides Daddy is away on business travel, we can’t go without him.   He then wanted to know if we could go the day after Daddy got back.  I said, “Let’s ask Dad.”    So, we did on our next phone call with Scott.  Scott paused a minute and said, “20161220_095758Welll…. maybe let me check my schedule.”  He was getting back the week before Thanksgiving and already planning to take a light week of work, maybe we could pull of his request and have a family fun day in the Big Apple.    The kids eyes got huge.  They really didn’t think we’d say yes. 

I started looking into things we could do for an afternoon in New York.  And as I did I realized we were right on the brink of Christmas in New York.  While some of the lights would be on display, the big tree in Rockerfeller Center wouldn’t be up until after Thanksgiving.  Soooo I strongly suggested we put of our spontaneous day of fun in New York City for a few weeks so we could see the tree as well.    The kids obliged and a date was set.

Yesterday was the day!  We set off around 9 am… breakfast and lunch packed to eat in the van… we also  brought a childrens book about Christmas in New York for my youngest to read on the ride, as well as the movie Elf to watch on the ride up.

Since seeing the Statue of Liberty was the catalyst for the whole adventure, that was high on our list.  But, since we had already been to Ellis Island and climbed into Lady Liberty, we weren’t going to pay to do all that again. 



Enter the free Staten Island Ferry.


I was surprised at what a great view we got of The Statue of Liberty.


He was so excited!


We also got a beautiful view of the approaching skyline.






After riding the ferry over to Manhattan, we took the subway to enter downtown.   


















The subway and ferry were highlights for the kids.




Our first stop was Macy’s to see Santa Claus! 




The kids have all seen the movie Miracle on 34th Street and so even those with little interest in Santa didn’t mind making this stop. 




Once we had our moment with the Big Guy, we decided to let our youngest go first and have his moment with him. I LOVE, L-O-V-E this picture!




Then the other kids joined for a photo opp.







When Santa asked my oldest what he wanted for Christmas, he replied, “For the Steelers to beat the Ravens.” 

This brought a hearty chuckle from Santa Claus, who then replied, “I too am a fan of the Steel Curtain.  I shall see what I can do for you.”

This brought a smile to all of our faces as well as a fist bump from our 12 year old.  When we were done with our visit, Santa said, “I will do my best for the game.” 





Outside of Macy’s you get a great view of the Empire State Building.




Next we set off by foot for Rockefeller Center.


We all enjoyed the light show at Sak’s 5th Avenue.



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The lights and displays were beautiful.





It’s always fun to torture the kids with a pic of their parents smooching.



Next we set off for Times Square!



We got to see where the ball will drop in just about two weeks.  The kids were surprised to see it wasn’t as high as it looked like on tv.




The day was drawing to an end, with everything crossed of our wish list.  Last stop was NY style Pizza for dinner.  This involved a full subway experience as we had to hop on a subway to a certain stop and change lines to reach our destination on Greenwich Village.  Our 10 year old daughter spotted a rat crossing the tracks and was so excited to see a real rat on the NY Subway!  I think it is possible her face lit up with more enthusiasm for that than for the tree in Rockefeller Center.


I was hoping that the somewhat out of the way journey to Joe’s Pizza was worth the extra effort.


I had read several reviews and it sounded like exactly what we were looking for.  But, you never know when researching on the internet. 

However, it was amazing.  Delicious pizza with an authentic vibe!! 


Our afternoon in NYC was winding down.  Everyone was excited for one more ride on the subway and another ride on the ferry. It was fun to see city skyline at night as well as the Statue of Liberty all lit up.




We set off for home, with the kids watching Home Alone 2 Lost in New York.  It was fun to hear them recognize places we had just visited.    I went to bed grateful that night… grateful for the blessing of a hassle free drive to and from New York City.  Grateful for safety on our travels.  And grateful for a husband that is willing to take a day off in the middle of the week and spend it driving 7 hours to spend 6 hours in traipsing around the city.  It was a perfect day of family fun!

A quick search through old posts and you will discover that I am a complete sap about gap toothed smiles.  In my humble opinion, they are beyond precious and absolutely adorable.  So, when our youngest lost his first tooth this week, I was completely smitten. 

It’s been loose for awhile, but unlike my other children he wasn’t eager to pull it.  No light saber pulling, or tying the tooth the the door knob.  He just waited patiently for it to fall out.


And it did.



During worship at our church last Sunday evening, he whispered over to me with an excited smile, “I Lost my tooth!”  Thankfully I had some napkins in my purse.   It was so cute to hear him tell people about it.  He’d exclaim, “It’s my first tooth I lost in my entire life!”   The next day when he was telling his tutor about it at our tutorial, I realized he had somehow gotten the idea that the tooth fairy works for the dentist.  As he was telling her, he said something to the effect of, “I was just at the dentist last week and they knew it was coming really soon… so last night they came (apparently the tooth fairy is a they) and they left me a silver dollar AND my tooth, since it was the first one I ever lost in my life, they let me keep it.” 


I adore this age.  And this smile. IMG_0104

We’ve been home two and a half weeks and I am finally taking time to record the moments of our last day of vacation…. this is proof positive that I am glad I took the time to record our memories while on vacation b/c there is no way I could have gone back and done it once home. 

We woke up QUITE cold on our last full day of vacation at Great Basin National Park.  Since the elevation of our campsite was 9000+ feet we found ourselves snuggling in our sleeping bags with our sweats on.  We even took time to build one last fire in the fire ring to stand around during breakfast.


Before departing for our hike, we were treated by a visitor at our campsite… This mule deer didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence as he strolled along the stream bed right outside our tent.



We set off for the alpine lake trail.  It covered similar ground to the hike we did the day before but instead of going up towards the glacier and ancient trees, it veered to the right and went to two alpine lakes.  We found ourselves going at a steady clip, I think we were getting more adjusted to the elevation.


The water level of the first lake was significantly lower than it has been in past years.  You could see where the water level used to be.  But, thankfully there was still a lake to see.









The snow melt streams were beautiful as were the wildflowers beside them.


Check out this root!




Climbing more hills…



Till we reached the next lake. (haha…. some had more energy left than others it appears).



Here the youngest three learned how to skip rocks.

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I love when hikes take you to a spot you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.  (unlike hikes that take you to overlooks you could have driven to in your car).


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Aspen!  I thought these trees were so beautiful.




After our hike, we quickly tore down our campsite and made our way to the visitors center to get the kids junior rangers badges. 

Then it was off to Vegas baby!  After a 5 hour drive we checked into our hotel and showered.  Then it was off to show the kids a few spots on the strip and grab some dinner.  It was around 7 or so by the time we took off.

First stop, Paris!




Then the fountains at the Bellagio! 




Followed by a late night pizza dinner in New York City



and a fight at the MGM Grand



Then it was back to our hotel to catch some sleep and get ready to head home in the morning.  It was a LONG day…not sure what else we could have packed into that day.  But, a fun one!  And everyone got to do/see what they had wanted.  Our flight home was uneventful.  Thankfully we had a direct flight which simplified things.  By the time we landed, got our bags, got our van, made a quick stop at the grocery store for dinner/breakfast supplies… we arrived home at 10pm.  Of course, to us it felt like only 6pm, but we knew we all needed to quickly adjust to east coast time, as Scott had work in the morning and the girls had practice.  No smooth transition back into normal life, for us.  But, we are so very grateful for the time we had away, to enjoy each other and the beauty of God’s creation.  We find ourselves still marveling at all the green back home, after spending 2 and a half weeks in a mostly desert climate.