Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Activity Advent Calendar

The holidays have been crazy for us so far!  We took a last minute trip to Utah to be with family and to celebrate my grandma's life after her passing.  It was wonderful to be with family during such a time, and during the holidays, especially since we hadn't planned on going home at all this year.  So, I'm really glad we made the trek back to the states, and luckily most of our Christmas shopping was done before we left, but it's been a pretty hectic few weeks.

One thing that has been put on the back burner has been my blog!  And, although we're only just over a week away from Christmas, I wanted to share our family's Christmas activities that have filled our advent calendar this year.  Last year, I made a simple, retro-inspired advent calendar for our family.  And, last year, we filled it with small treats and trinkets.  But I just didn't love it.  I felt like the kids were getting plenty of sweets and gifts during this time of year, so I didn't feel like we needed to add to all of that by giving them more each day.  So, this year, instead of treats, I filled our advent calendar with Christmastime activities!  And, so far, I love it so much more!  Plus, I think the kids enjoy it more as well.  It makes each day's surprise last longer and is more meaningful.

If you're interested in creating a Christmas activity advent calendar, or if you're just looking for some new ideas of things to do over the next week to get into the Christmas spirit, here's the list of activities that we've been doing!  (There's not quite 24 on this list because a few, like "reading Christmas books" and "Christmas movie night" were repeated a couple of times!)

Christmas Activities

-Read a Christmas book
-Have a Christmas movie night
-Decorate Daddy's office
-Make a Christmas ornament
-Make gingerbread houses
-Drive around looking at Christmas lights
-Go see the lights at Temple Square
-Make gingerbread nativity scenes
-Do a service project 
-Make cookies and deliver them to neighbors
-Visit Santa Claus
-Make a Christmas scene out of Legos
-Light candles, drink hot chocolate, and sing Christmas songs
-String popcorn garland for the tree
-Make Christmas aprons
-Light candles, drink hot chocolate, and read a Christmas book
-Build a snowman (and if there's no snow, build it out of marshmallows or cotton balls!)
-Dress up in Santa hats and go take pictures in a photo booth at the mall (or on your computer!)
-Make Christmas cards to send to grandmas and cousins
-Deliver neighbor gifts
-Wear Santa hats and go bowling
-Read the account from Luke 2 in the Bible (save this one for Christmas Eve!)

Have a fun and very merry Christmas season!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Neighborhood Olympics

Last week, we had "The Neighborhood Olympics", organized, practiced, planned, and executed entirely for and by this group of kids.  Here they are lined up for the bike race.  (Peter joined in as the support vehicle for William, since he'd only learned how to ride a 2-wheeler the day before!  But he did totally awesome and raced his heart out!)  For the Olympics, they also competed in three-legged races, soccer, and a triathlon (bike, run, jump)!  I swear these kids have endless amounts of energy!

I love these kids.  This pictures explains one of the most important reasons why I love where we live.  We share a backyard with all of these kids, and this isn't even all of them!  Will is in heaven every single day, running around from the moment he gets home from preschool until dinner time.  And Clara tries to escape the house to join the fun every chance she gets as well!  They are really making wonderful memories here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nippara Limestone Caves and Lake Okutama

About an hour's drive from base are some of the prettiest mountains I have ever seen.  That, plus beautiful fall colors, make this place hard to beat.  To enjoy the season and do some exploring, last weekend we joined our friends and went up to the Nippara Limestone Caves and for a drive around Lake Okutama.  

These pictures don't really do the beautiful mountains justice, but considering these pictures were all taken with our iPhones (and mostly out our car windows), they turned out pretty well!  The fall colors, combined with the fog and rain made the scenery truly breathtaking.  I can't say often enough how much I love living here!!!

After the drive up along super skinny mountain roads, we finally arrived at the Nippara Limestone Caves.  They were huge--the largest in the Kanto region!  And really cool.  We had fun exploring and were on the lookout for bats, but unfortunately we didn't see any.  The boys (between our 3 families there were 7 boys and 2 girls!) especially loved exploring the caves, checking things out with their flashlights, and hearing their voices echo.  By the time we were walking out of the caves, William was already asking if we could go back again sometime.  It was a really fun family outing.

After exploring the caves, we all jumped back in our cars and went for a drive further up the mountain.  We drove up to Lake Okutama, which was INCREDIBLE.  BEAUTIFUL.  GORGEOUS. I don't know how else to express the exquisiteness of such a spectacular place!  And, with the fog over the mountain tops reaching down to the lake, it was peaceful and calming as well.  

After driving around the lake and enjoying the views, we found a tiny little mom and pop's restaurant that usually caters to hikers and travelers.  We ate delicious katsu-curry, ramen, ginger fried pork, and ton katsu.  It was the perfect warm meal to finish off a wonderful day!

GPS Coordinates for the Caves: 35.8551800, 139.0408900

GPS Coordinates for the Lake: 35.784308, 139.033419

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween from a Galaxy Far, Far Away!

Happy Halloween!!!  Yes, we are Star Wars nerds!  And, we love to do family-themed Halloween costumes.  Double nerds!  So, for Halloween, Peter was Han Solo, Clara: Princess Leia (of course), I was Luke (from The Empire Strikes Back when he's training with Yoda), Bennett: Yoda, and William: Wicket the Ewok.

We had been planning to do Star Wars costumes for months and months, but as the time got closer, we got busier and busier.  We went to Kyoto, then there was Will's birthday and then Peter's birthday, then we went to Bali, and all of a sudden we got home and we had less than 48 hours to make our costumes!  So, I kicked it into high gear and pretty much spent the next day and a half sewing.  But, we got it done and our costumes were ready in time to debut at our church Halloween party last Saturday night.  

For anyone that's interested, here's a breakdown of how I made our costumes . . . 

Wicket the Ewok:

I didn't know where to find fake fur on short notice out here, and to be honest, I wasn't that amped about sewing an entire outfit out of fake fur; it just didn't sound very easy or forgiving.  But, then as we were at the store looking for yarn for Leia's hat, my husband genuisly (my computer is telling me that's not a word, but I think it is, so I'm keeping it!) picked up a giant brown, fuzzy towel and asked, "Would this work for Wicket's fur?"  Yes, yes it would.  And it was perfect.  It looked great and was sooooo much easier to work with than fake fur!  

So . . . for his costume, I took two giant towels and pretty much made a sweatsuit.  I used this raglan tee pattern for the top, with a few changes.  Or shortcuts really.  I sized up 2 sizes since I wasn't using knit fabric and I knew that it wouldn't stretch or give once it was made.  And, since I didn't have good ribbing and towels are so thick, I chose to not add the waist band, wrist bands, or even the ribbing around the neckline.  This saved me a lot of time and headache!  And, it still turned out perfectly enough.  

For his pants, I just used a pair of Will's pajama pants and drafted a pattern.  Then, I just added elastic to the ankles to make them into sweat pants.  Easy!

And the hood was even easier to make!  I happened to have this orangish/red knit fabric in my stash, so I threw it over Will's head, cut out a hole for his face, cut the bottom off on an angle, and marked two spots for the ears.  Then, I made two little ears out of the towel, cut slits in the two spots I'd marked, and stuffed the ears through and stitched them down.  And then to finish the outfit off, Peter made his spear with just a long stick and cardboard.

Princess Leia:

For Leia's dress, I used an old white sheet that we had and drafted my own pattern, loosely off of this cute cowl shirt pattern that I've used before.  Again, I sized up a couple of sizes since I wasn't using knit fabric, and also because I wanted it to be much looser.  I used the pattern for the neck, and then I just extended the sleeves out to be loose and bell-shaped and extended down from the bodice so that it would be floor length dress.

To make Leia's hair, I crocheted a basic beanie and then made little crocheted buns for the sides. 

Han Solo: 

Han's outfit is only half homemade.  For his tan shirt, we took one of Peter's long-sleeved military undershirts and cut the neck.  His vest took just a little more work; we took an old, black button-down shirt that Peter doesn't wear anymore and I cut the collar, sleeves, and buttons off.  Then I shortened and hemmed it and used some of the fabric I'd cut off to make extra pockets on the front of the shirt.  We got an extra pair of blue Air Force pants and I hand stitched strips of red felt down the legs, and then he just put on one of his utility belts and tucked his pants into some borrowed black boots and Han's costume was complete!  Oh yea, except for his blaster, which Peter created by simply cutting out cardboard, covering it in duct tape, and then coloring it with Sharpies. 

Luke Skywalker and Yoda:

These two costumes were the easiest because I didn't have to make anything!  We bought the Yoda hat a few months ago at the Disney Store in Texas, and then Bennett just wore some brown pants and a green hoodie that we already owned.  Then, I stuck him in our Ergo and wore him on my back just like Luke does with Yoda when he's training with him.  

To be Luke, I wore another one of Peter's military uniform undershirts, these cargo pants from The Gap, and some brown boots that I already had.  Add Will's light saber and boom!  Done.  

And that's it!  We had a great time dressing as our favorite Star Wars characters and stuffing our faces with candy!  So, with that, have a Happy Halloween and may the Force be with you!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bali Trip: Garuda Wisnu Kencana

Our last stop of our week in Bali before we left to come back home was to a cultural sculpture park.  The main attraction of the park is a giant, 66 foot tall sculpture of the Hindu God, Wisnu.  It was huge!  And really cool, although it did frighten Clara a little bit!

My favorite part of the park, however, was getting to see some traditional Balinese dancers perform.  It was really beautiful and the costumes were so ornate and incredible.  But again, Clara got scared!  As some of the men came out in their crazy costumes she lost her mind and was crying pretty hard, so we told her to just close her eyes and lay her head on Peter's shoulder.  She did . . . and then she fell asleep!  Which ended up being a good thing; no more being scared, and she got a nap in!

The stone sculptures in the park were absolutely remarkable.  Bali is full of cliffs and natural white rock in the earth, which is why it has such a strong stonework heritage with so many incredible sculptures and stonework artisans.  But back to the cliffs!  The cliffs really make the landscape unlike any other place that I've ever seen.  The magnitude of the rocks jutting up out of the ground was almost mystical to see and completely wondrous.  

We love you, Bali!  Hopefully one day we will be able to go back and visit again!