Cherishing Christmas Memories with Family

We made our annual trip to Baton Rouge for Christmas to spend time with both families.  It is a blessing that Stuart and I have families in the same town so we only have to travel to one place and not trade off which year we go to which family.  It makes it easier for the kids to see both sets of grandparents a couple of times a year.  It's a long drive though that takes a full day on the road.  We are always delighted to cross the Mississippi River bridge though because that is the landmark that lets us know that we have finally arrived.  I'm pretty sure I take a picture from the bridge every time we go to Baton Rouge.

It was nice to spend a lot of one-on-one time with mom.  

And of course Uncle Steve!

Before we left Texas, we bought a tiny little Christmas tree and a few ornaments so we could have a tree set up in the hotel room for Christmas morning.  Even though we are away from home, we still like to have Christmas morning just for our family.  Stuart and I usually have a gift to exchange with each other and we give the children their gifts from us.  And Santa always leaves a few unwrapped gifts under the tree as well.  Yes, he even finds us in the hotel.

Then we head over to my brother's house for Christmas lunch and a gift exchange.  Steve and Nicholas played guitar together while we waited for my parents to arrive.  I love watching these two on guitar!

You can just see Stuart shaking his head as Rachel opened a slime making kit!  

But she did get some new figure skates as well.  She still loves hockey and figure skating.  I hope that she will soon choose a favorite to pursue 100% because buying gear for both sports gets expensive!

Nicholas was excited about several upgrades he got for his drone.  I was most excited for the laptop he got because he will use that a lot for school.

I don't get pictures of my family nearly enough so I'm excited to have this picture of us all together on Christmas day.

After lunch we eventually waddle our full bellies out the door and head over the Stuart's family where the kids get to spend time with their cousin Jessica.  Jessica pulled out her ukulele for Rachel and taught her a few tips.

Then there were more presents to open!  Lots of excitement!

After dinner, we all gathered in the living room to play the Saran Wrap Ball party game.  It's easy to prepare and surprisingly fun.  I bought trinket toys, playing cards, candy, lottery scratch off tickets, etc plus a roll of Saran Wrap.  I started wrapping each thing up in the Saran Wrap, one at a time.  You start with just one thing then wrap Saran Wrap all around it.  Then you add one more item to the ball and wrap it all up while making sure it is all stuck together in the Saran Wrap.   Just keep going and watch the ball grow!

To play the game:  The youngest player goes first and starts unwrapping the ball.  They get to keep anything that falls out.  In the mean time, the person to the left of them starts rolling a pair of dice as quickly as they can.  As soon as they roll doubles, the ball gets passed to them and they can start unwrapping.  To make an easy version, wrap everything without ever tearing the Saran Wrap so it is one long strip.  This makes it easier for the players to just shake it and unroll it all.  To make it more challenging and make the game take longer (which I did), tear the Saran Wrap every now and then and start a new strip.  Players now have to spend a little extra time finding the beginning of the Saran Wrap.  It seems like a silly idea but you watch the video below and see how much fun we had.  

The kids had fun on their day trip to New Orleans to go to the Insectarium!  They found a giant earthworm!

This is a picture of Rachel sticking her hand into a blind box to see what she feels inside.  I love how Nicholas looks like he is going to jump up and protect her if she gets scared but look at the excitement on her face!

A tour of the Insectarium can leave a kid hungry so they stopped by for a bite at the Bug Buffet!  Salsa with mealworms, anyone?

How about a Chocolate Chirp cookie made with crickets?  Yes, both of my kids ate bugs!

And they posed as beetles as they learned about their hard exoskeletons.

The Insectarium has a wonderful room where the butterflies will just fly over and land on you.  There are beautiful exhibits of moths and butterflies but also plenty of creepy crawly exhibits that aren't so beautiful.  There are also some non-insect exhibits like this tarantula!

The kids also spent some time together at the roller rink.  It is one of the usual activities we do when we come to town.

Look at this picture.  I love these three!

More good food and fun times with family....

This cute couple is tying the knot in a matter of months.  I'm so excited that I'm going to have a sister!

Of course, the trip wouldn't be complete without a few games of One Night Ultimate Werewolf.  It is a bit hard to explain but essentially you have to try to guess who at the table has the werewolf card and lying is encouraged.  It is a sneaky fun game and some people have figured out how to hide their "tells" by simply covering their entire face!
We had a wonderful visit in Baton Rouge and made some sweet memories with our families whom we love and miss so much.

Christmas Traditions: Gingerbread Houses

We have a few Christmas traditions in our home.  One of them is decorating gingerbread houses.  I usually buy the pre-made houses and some extra candies to go on them.  Sometimes the kids have decorated their houses at their grandparents' house in Louisiana.  This year they decorated them with friends.  I think this is their favorite way to hold the tradition.

I bought houses that were not only pre-made but also pre-assembled.  Easiest thing ever!  Just take off the cellophane wrapper and start decorating.  Several other kids had pre-made pieces but they were supposed to assemble them with icing.  Well, if you've ever done that then you know it is time consuming and tries your patience.  And then it all collapses in a mound of disappointment.  But my friends are so creative.  They took the kids' pieces and stuck them together with hot glue.  Not as edible as the traditional way but much more efficient!  You go, girls!

And these days, you don't have to just buy a gingerbread house.  No.  Now they have gingerbread barns, movie-themed gingerbread houses, gingerbread, Christmas trees, and even gingerbread trains!

They also had graham crackers and other cookies and candies in case friends wanted to just make their own crazy creations.

Nicholas assessed his house and the candy options and then decided on the best way to proceed.  He often takes his time with decorating gingerbread houses.  Last year, he enjoyed some crazy decorating for his house to make it look like a monster!

But this year he said he wasn't going to make a monster or anything crazy.  He just wanted to decorate it like a house.

While the boys were outside decorating their houses, the girls were inside decorating theirs.  

Gingerbread house decorating is serious business for these girls!

After decorating, everyone enjoyed pizza and fellowship with friends.

Finally, the kids had fun with an ornament exchange.  Everyone brings a wrapped Christmas ornament and they play a white elephant game to see which one each child gets to keep.

Nicholas ended up with a silly dog with a bow.  

Rachel was even less excited than Nicholas because her ornament was Superman.  And no, Nicholas did not want to trade with her.  He is a Batman fan all the way so he didn't want anything to do with Superman.  Silly kids!

What are some Christmas traditions in your family?

Painting with a Twist {Mom's Night Out}

Moms need time to refresh and renew.  My dear group of friends understand that so we try to schedule Mom's Night Out about once a month.  I dream of painting like Bob Ross so I always love it when we go on painting outings.  

For December we went to Painting with a Twist to paint a cute Christmas truck. Painting with a Twist is a cool place to spend a few hours with friends.  We had a private party so our group chose the picture we wanted to paint and scheduled the day and time that worked best for us.  You can bring your own snacks and drinks (yes, wine is fine!).  The instructor is at the front of the room and he walks you through step-by-step as he teaches you how to paint the selected picture.

It was so much fun painting with all of my sweet friends!  We talked as we painted and may have even cut up a little, perhaps encouraged by the wine.

And we all went home with a cute Christmas painting to hang on the wall.

This was my second class at Painting with a Twist and I just love it.  It is perfect for a Mom's Night Out or even a birthday party.

Register to Ring for the Salvation Army

It just wouldn't be Christmas without hearing that iconic jingle of the Salvation Army bell ringer outside of your neighborhood store.  Did you know that just a one day of bell ringing at one location can generate enough donations for your local Salvation Army to provide a homeless person with one night of shelter and hot meals for an entire day?  

Rachel and I volunteered last year as Salvation Army bell ringers.  It was a lot of fun and it was a blessing in so many ways.  It was wonderful to help raise donations for such a great organization but it also warmed our hearts to see the smiles on people's faces as they donated and to hear their stories of how the Salvation Army has personally touched their lives during difficult times.  

This year, I mentioned to some of the other moms in Rachel's American Heritage Girls troop that we could get a group of girls to volunteer together as bell ringers.  One of the moms seemed surprised that just anyone could volunteer for this.  She thought the bell ringers were all employees of the Salvation Army.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Bell ringers are regular people from your community, just like you and me!  And the Salvation Army NEEDS volunteers right now.  If bell ringers aren't out there then all of those potential donations are missed.  

I hope you are asking yourself now, "How can I sign up?"

Just go to the Register to Ring website!  When I go to the site, we have several store locations right around our home to choose from.  We personally always like to go to Hobby Lobby because Rachel and I just love that store.  There are shifts available throughout the day to choose from.  You can sign up for hourly shifts but the Salvation Army requests that you at least sign up for a minimum of a 2 hour shift.  Shifts are available to serve from now until Christmas Eve.

What does a Salvation Army bell ringer have to do?

You arrive at your designated location and time about 10 minutes early.  You might be relieving another volunteer who already has the red kettle and sign set up or you may have to do a little set up on your own.  I imagine each store has different policies and different Salvation Army locations might each do things a little differently.  For our location, if the kettle and sign isn't already in place we have specific instructions on where to find the sign and tripod to hold the sign inside our Hobby Lobby store.  Rachel and I simply carried that out of the store and set it up and the designated side of the store.  If the red kettle isn't already out from a previous volunteer's shift then a Salvation Army person will show up at the start of your shift to deliver the kettle to you.  They also provide a bag with two bells and two red aprons.  At the end of the shift, if another volunteer is signed up after you, they will just show up and take over your spot.  If no one else is signed up after you then a Salvation Army person will arrive to pick up the red kettle, bells, and aprons and you will return the sign and tripod to the designated place inside the store.

We usually try to wear something a little Christmas-y like red and green clothes, a Santa hat, etc.  The Salvation Army encourages bell ringers to greet the store customers with a smile or by saying, "Merry Christmas!".  You can even sing Christmas carols or play an instrument to bring some extra holiday cheer.  You don't ask for donations.  Just let the customers know that you are there and they will come.

I signed Rachel's AHG Explorer troop up for two shifts of two hours each and we had a total of six ringers.  It was so much fun watching the girls greet customers and sing Christmas carols together.  I know they attracted more donations because of their cuteness.  But it was also a great experience for them and taught them how they can do even small things to serve those in their community.

Christmas at the Dallas Arboretum

Christmas is a magical time of year!  There are so many wonderful events in the Dallas area to help families celebrate this joyous holiday season but one of our favorite Christmas traditions is to visit Dallas Arboretum, especially their 12 Days of Christmas exhibit!  There are lights, Christmas carols, hot chocolate, beautiful gardens, plus lots of fun activities for the whole family!

The 12 Days of Christmas exhibit features twelve beautiful Victorian-style gazebos throughout the gardens.  Each gazebo is numbered and represents one of the 12 Days of Christmas complete with charming people and whimsical animals that move and spin around the gazebo as if dancing to the Christmas carols that are playing outside. We have visited the 12 Days of Christmas exhibit for several years now but we have never attended it at night.  Wow!  It is even prettier at night!

One of my favorites is Gazebo 7: Seven Swans A-Swimming.  Look how beautiful it is!

But pictures just can't capture the beauty of the swans swimming around the frozen fountain.  You will have to see it to believe it.

Here is a snippet of video of the Gazebo 12: Twelve Drummers Drumming...

Reliant is a major sponsor for the 12 Days of Christmas event and you can get a cool light-up Reliant Santa hat just like we did.  They are available November 29, December 5, 13, 14, 23 from 6-9 p.m. at the main ticket booth.

I think the guys enjoyed Gazebo 10: Ten Lords A-Leaping the most because all of the Lords were all on ice skates!  And yes, even my teen wore a light-up hat!

There is a map to show you where each of the gazebos are located but you can just wander along the paths and find each one of them. 

While you are strolling the gardens, make sure you stop by the 30-foot spruce Christmas tree in the center of the garden.  It is so beautiful.

Near the Christmas tree you will find the Café on the Green which offers special holiday drinks like pumpkin lattes, mulled wine, and Mexican hot chocolate as well as treats like pumpkin bars, holiday paninis, and even a bowl of soup in a Sourdough bread bowl. We didn't have time to stop in at the Café but we did find several stations along the main path for warm beverages and even a station for snacks.

I was such a happy momma spending the evening with my family among the gardens filled with all of the sparkle of the Christmas season!

Of course, even without all of the extra dazzle of Christmas, the Arboretum is still an amazing garden full of the wonders of nature so take your time as you are walking through to be sure you don't miss a thing!

There are so many exciting things to see at do during Christmas at the Dallas Arboretum.  Here is a listing of some of them....

The 12 Days of Christmas, Daily, 9-5, November 9-December 31
Adult: $15, Seniors (65 or older): $12, Children (2-12 years): $10
Enjoy elaborately decorated Victorian-style gazebos on display every day during the holiday festival.

The 12 Days of Christmas at Night featuring 500,000 lights, Wednesday-Sunday, 6-9 p.m., November 14-December 30
Adults: $20, Seniors (65 or older): $15 Children (2-12 years): $10
The garden will be open late five nights a week for a special, lighted night-time experience.

Holiday Tea, Daily, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Bring family and friends together and create an annual tradition with holiday tea at Restaurant DeGolyer, lavishly decorated for the season. Reservations required. Call 214-515-6511. Ages 13 and up are permitted in the tea room.

Visits with Santa, Wednesday evenings, 6-9 p.m., November 14-December 19, Saturday and Sunday, 12-4 p.m., November 25-December 24
Santa is back in the garden this year in the perfect holiday setting--Crape Myrtle Allee, resplendent with twinkling lights. Share Christmas wishes with the jolly old man and take a photo to commemorate the occasion. The Dallas Arboretum Volunteer Advisory Board will be taking pictures of the memorable moments for donations, and guests are welcome to take the photo home.

Elves Workshop
Children can visit the Elves Workshop in the Ann Stuart Courtyard where they can write a letter to Santa to let him know their Christmas wish list and then drop it in the mail box there to make its way to the North Pole.  They can also create a Santa hat, decorate a reindeer using candy canes, toss a "snowball", pin the nose on the snowman, or make a holiday hat or card to give to someone special.  The Elves Workshop will be open from 6:00 - 9:00 pm Wednesday-Sunday evenings through December 30th.

Outdoor Movie, "The Polar Express", November 29, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Martin Rutchik Concert Stage and Lawn
Nothing brings back holiday memories quite like the movie, "The Polar Express". Guests can take a ride on the joyful train and explore the mysteries of the North Pole all the way up to Santa's front door. Bring a friend, bundle up and enjoy one of the holidays most beloved movies.

Lake Highlands Wranglers Performance, December 2, 2 p.m. at the Entry Plaza
Watch the local Wranglers dance and perform to some holiday tunes.

Pride of Texas Music Festival, December 7, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Jonsson Color Garden and Café on the Green
Hear all the holiday classics as Dallas metroplex students perform songs of the season. Ensembles perform at Jonsson Color Garden and choirs perform in front of the 30-foot Christmas tree.

Holiday Activities for the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden

Animal Adventures with the Dallas Zoo (Appropriate for all ages), November 12, 11:15 a.m.-Noon
The Dallas Zoo is bringing a few of their favorite friends for an animal encounter in the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden. Stop by for a wild adventure with interesting critters.

TECH Truck (Appropriate for Ages 5 and up), November 17, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at The Moody Oasis
Tinker, Engineer, Create, Hack!  Join the TECH Truck staff from the Perot Museum in the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden for a hands-on experience.

Holiday Hunt for Santa's Helpers (All ages can participate!), November 24-December 24, throughout the Children's Adventure Garden
Help look for Santa's helpers, like a frog on a log, a deer right here, a fox in the rocks, a squirrel on a whirl, an owl on a trowel, or a bobcat in a hat. Take a picture with four (4) of Santa's helpers and bring them to the Exploration Center to redeem a prize.  

Letter-Writing to Santa (Appropriate for Ages 5 and up), Mondays-Fridays Only, All Day, November 26-December 24 in the Exploration Center
Come to the letter-writing workshop to write a letter to Santa. Special paper, pens, stickers; everything you would need to catch Santa's attention is provided. Some of Santa's helpers may stop by with some inside tips.

Creative Corner: Oh What Fun! (All ages can participate!), Saturdays and Sundays Only, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., December 1-25 in the Exploration Center
Stop by the Exploration Center and create a holiday craft to take home.

Plant Lab: Let It Snow (Appropriate for ages 6 and up), December 3-23, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. in the Exploration Center
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow... in the Plant Lab this December! Explore the wonders of melting, snowflakes, and endothermic reactions.

Plant Lab Extravaganza (Appropriate for ages 6 and up), December 24-30, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. in the Exploration Center
December 24 - Strawberry DNA
December 26 - Elephant's Toothpaste
December 27 - Monster Molecule Mist
December 28 - Starchy Night
December 29 - How Sweet It Is
December 30 - Let It Snow

Creative Corner: New Year's Wishes Sponsored by Neiman Marcus, December 27-31, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Exploration Center
As the new year sneaks closer, warm up in the Exploration Center and create a wishing wand.  Using plant parts and other natural objects, decorate wands to take home and bring joy to those around. Frolic through the garden, using a wishing wand to wish New Year's good luck to everyone.

BOGO Wednesdays
Every Wednesday through December 26
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Buy one, get one admission every Wednesday. 

The Dallas Arboretum is located at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas, Texas.  For questions, please contact the staff at 214-515-6615.  You can also visit their website or follow the Dallas Arboretum Facebook page.