Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Very Special New Years Eve

With Brian in Chicago with friends and me home by myself with the kids, I wasn't expecting anything fun to happen today...then the door bell rang and the mail came.

I am a member of the The Moms Group of Monticello. We have special, secret "sisters" who we adopt throughout the whole year just to give notes of encouragement, fun gifts, etc. My first secret sis fell ill and had to leave the group so I was just assigned a new secret sister. She gave be a beautiful handmade picture frame with pics of my fam for Christmas ( and she probably doesn't even know yet that I'm a picture crazy lady). I was just expecting the regular card or small token gift to arrive at our next meeting in mid-January.

When the doorbell rang, i was surprised to see if was the flower shop delivering the most AMAZING flowers and champagne!!! Gerber Daisies and Blue Hydrangeas are my FAVORITE!!!!!!! The card said it was from my Secret Sister! I WAS BLOWN AWAY!!! This moms group has been such a blessing in my life so far this year and I already feel like I receive special gifts each time I do something with the group. Getting spoiled by a stranger is really fun and I'm so very grateful!

Then, the mail came!!! The local newspaper came and on the front page was the story about my church and our efforts to gather items for soldiers in Afghanistan. I assisted in organizing the hundreds of thousands of donations that will be sent oversees over the next year. I was interviewed by the newspaper the last week of November and when the story didn't run at all in December, I had given up on the coverage. De Harton, the soldier from my church, will be even more overwhelmed to see the local coverage. SO many groups were involved in collecting and I'm forever grateful and blessed!

What a great way to ring in the NEW YEAR!!! HAPPY 2009!

Christmas #6- Iowa City

December 27th, we went from Coal City, IL to Iowa City, IA to be with my aunt and cousins. We only get to see this side of the family three times a year and we love all the time we can spend together. There were 20 of us at the same table sharing a wonderful meal created by Auntie Doris.
Then, Brian brought his new game of Monopoly because he knew the Bechtel/Houser men would love the challenge! My dad kicked everyone's butt! The stopped the game early so my parents and Dan and Jen could quick run over to the hotel and check in since it was getting dark and the roads had turned to ice. After a few spills in the driveway and cars and ditches ( luckily not our family), Dan and Jen made it back to Doris' but mom and dad didn't. They turned around and went back to the hotel as they didn't want to get stuck in a place that wouldn't be safe.

The rest of the night was really laid back. We missed mom and dad for sure. Like most families I'm sure, we spent most of the time in the kitchen just standing around talking- even though there were 25 spots to sit down in just feet away. Here is my cousin Mindy, her daughter Alinia, cousin Becky, her daughter Maddie, Amara, Bri, and Becky's son Brady.

Then we opened gifts. The Bechtel/House family does Christmas even more uniquely. Instead of buying each person gifts or drawing names or doing a grab bag, we draw family names. You have $50 to spend and you can buy a family anything you want. THis year we had the Brad Houser Family. We got them a $50 giftcard to this amazing indoor playland in Cedar Rapids with bumper cars, wall climbing, bowling, food, etc. Auntie Doris had us this year. She got us some popcorn, two DVD's, a bottle of wine, and cash to go out to eat! The perfect gift for us. The rest of the family doesn't listen much when we say no gifts for the little ones- all we want is to be together. Alinia however gave Amara the coolest gift. A Groovy Doll. It's just a cotton rag doll in cool clothes but she found one on-line with the name AMARA!!! Amara can't appreciate it yet but she will later having such a unique name.

11 people slept over at Auntie Doris'. Alaric woke up the next morning and was ready to play. Taylor had on jammies with feet just like Alaric!

My cousin, Woody does the sweetest thing every year. Knowing that my cousin Brad, Dan, Bri, and my Dad are into unique beer, he goes out and buys 24 different beers and lets the guys battle it out to pick their very own 6 pack. Woody doesn't even drink beer so it's even more appreciated! HEre the guys are discussing who gets what. Even Alaric is giving orders.

Here are all the Houser/Bechtel kids (I'll put in paranthesis who they belong to)...from left Benjamin ( Woody), Taylor ( Woody), Samantha ( Woody), Veronica(Dan), Madison ( Brad), Alaric ( Katie), Braden ( Brad), Alinia (Woody), and Amara ( Katie)

The Week of SIX Christmases is done and we are exhausted but overwhelmed with love! We had the 6 best Christmases we have ever had at each place and we loved each moment with had with our family and friends.

Christmas #5-Coal City

On the 26th, we headed to Coal City to visit Brian's grandma, Aunt Mary and Uncle George, and Uncle Tommy. Again-it was a wonderful visit! Here is Amara with her Great Gram! They both look so happy and so content just being together talking!
Alaric and Amara took some sweet pics together after they opened their gifts. This special Christmas each year is always the best for the kids- the least overwhelming. They only get one or two gifts from each person- a savings bond and one other small thing. The kids have a great time and clean up is a cinch!

Here are the four generations of Fultons...Great Grandma Eleanor Fulton, Grandpa Bob Fulton, Dad Brian Fulton, and kids Alaric and Amara Fulton
Aunt Mary and Uncle George with Alaric after dinner!

Uncle Tommy, who pretends sometimes not to care about anything, was Alaric's favorite by far. When the rest of us were playing cards and not watching, he got down on the floor and played constantly with Alaric. He built Alaric an airplane and a truck with legos and was explaining all her did. Alaric was mezmorized!

Christmas #4-Christmas Day in Monticello

No matter what happened at any other Christmas, there is nothing better than Christmas Day at our home. Especially this year. Alaric has so much wonder and love in his eyes and heart. Brian and I have just loved seeing the world and enjoying life through him. Christmas Day is spent in Jammies-it's required. ALL DAY! No exceptions. Stockings from Santa, gifts, homemade breakfast, and then movie marathon ALL DAY. Popcorn for lunch, pizza for dinner. it's our favorite day of the year.

Here are the kids before opening their stockings from Santa.
All Alaric had been asking from Santa was a tow truck. Good thing Santa found two and good thing Alaric likes small tow trucks! We could have ended Christmas there he was so happy!

But no- there was more to come. Last year, Brian and I began a new tradition that we love and truly believe has allowed us to stay centered to the important things at Christmas. Each person receives only three gifts on Christmas morning- representing the three gifts the Wise Men brought to Jesus. One gift is purly selfish-something you think they would just love. Another is something to do at home that is geared towards that person. The final is something to do away from the home, geared towards that person. This takes the focus off of the material things and more on the time spent together and helps us keep our priorities and values in check during the holiday season.
For Amara's gift just for her, she received these Little Enstein blocks. For her thing to do at home, she received a book. For her thing to do away from the house, she received a sled.

Alaric's gift just for him was this endloader. His gift to do at home was a game called NED's HEAD. His gift to do away from the house was an Illini hockey t-shirt and the promise to go see an Illini Hockey Game together.

I win this Christmas for sure. Have I told you lately that my husband is the most amazing, romantic, special, sweet man in the entire world- seriously!!!!!!
For the gift just for me, he MADE this Arbor below. He found some original cedar wood beams out at Allerton, milled the wood himself and created this masterpiece for us to put in our garden! Its so beautiful! Then, for my gift to do at home, he created a Fulton Family Dinner Box. Eating as a family is so important to us both. He created a box with little slips of paper for us to draw each night at dinner. SOme are things to talk about ( Talk about the weather outside). Some are things to do during the meal ( stop and do a cheers) and some are things to do after dinner ( don't do the dishes, go out for ice cream instead). SO CREATIVE!
Are you ready for the gift to do away from the house? it's the best ever. He created a beautiful card for me with pictures of Allerton Park and asked me if I would renew my vows in the Sunken Garden next July for our 5th anniversary!!!! He already reserved the garden and asked if we could renew our vows UNDER OUR NEW ARBOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AMAZING!!! I cried of course.

Well, Brian's wasn't nearly as awesome as mine or as creative but I think it was pretty great too. For his gift just for him, I gave him three things....A binder with clear pages to put all the recipes and ideas for meals he gets off line, a journal to keep track of his ideas and lists when making special meals, and a coupon to create his very own cookbook together over the next year with pictures, history, etc. His gift to do away from the house was a family day out with gift certificates to the local bowling alley, movie store, and DQ. His gift for home was a board game. I took Scatergories and turned it into Fultongories. Each list is related to our family. I printed new cards and paper with our pictures on it and personalized it just for him.

After the gifts and an amazing waffle and strawberry breakfast, we blew up the air mattress in the family room, got every pillow in the house, and started our movie marathon. What a wonderful day!

Christmas #3 Christmas Eve

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the kids woke up to their special Christmas Eve gifts. They each got a pair of PJ's to wear on Christmas Eve and an ornament. Amara got to wear the same pair of jammies Alaric wore his first Christmas ( White and red striped pants and an I LOVE MOMMY shirt) and Alaric got PJ's with reindeer on them. Amara's ornament was a Things Remembered Star with her name and date and Alaric got a backhoe loader with his name and date.
We headed to my parents house around 11:30 to feed the kids their lunch there and put them down for their naps. Here is Amara in her new stocking Grammy made.
Two two year olds amounst 6 adults and a baby in a small living room with tons of gifts could be a bit overwhelming...but Veronica and Alaric never let on they were overwhelmed at all. Veronica, who is AMAZING with singing, music, and her memory received a microphone on a stand. Alaric received his own guitar. They switched toys and started "Rocking Out"

The last gift of the night was to Grammy from Papa. Papa ( with Dan, Jen, Bri, and I) gave Grammy her own playhouse for the backyard for the kids to play in. Grammy started crying. No one expected that reaction. Her response..." I've always wanted a playhouse!" It was a perfect ending.

While we cleaned up and got ready for dinner before church, the kids enjoyed playing in the rubbermaid boxes we brought to bring everything home in. Isn't that just how it goes...they receive tons of gifts and they just want to play in the plastic boxes.

Family pics by the tree. The three cousins LOVE each other! And all look so much alike! Amara is wearing the same outfit V wore on her first Christmas!

Then, as Bechtel Family tradition dictates...Grammy and Papa read The Night Before Christmas! Everyone made it through the whole story, even Mara. Grammy and Papa were beaming with pride.

Off to church we went. They all did great. Alaric just wanted to watch the people and V just wanted to sing the carols. Amara, two hours past her bedtime, rallied, and laughed throughout the whole thing. Our friend Laura has two foster kids ( Luna and Lucian) the same age as Alaric and Amara. Here they all are in the Christmas best!

The Boyds meet us at Allerton

Our best friends, and Alaric's Godparents, are Heather and Justin Boyd. Justin is a Navy Jag Officer currently stationed in Virginia Beach. After 6 months deployed to Iraq and only 6 months back at home, the Boyds recently found out they are now being stationed for the 3-year oversee tour in Rota, Spain. They leave at the end of January. There trip back to Illinois was also goodbye to some for a long time.

Brian and I have already started our Spain fund in the hopes of getting there in a year from now but the time away from our special friends will be tough. The Boyds came down just for the afternoon on the 23rd and we had lunch out at Allerton where Brian was working. Alaric and Olivia ( Heather and Justin's one year old) had so much fun running through the mansion.

Mara, Brian, and Justin
Best Friends Forever. Alaric was smitten with Heather the whole time!

Amara hanging out in the Gallery!

Christmas #1 and #2

Friday December 19th began our whirlwind Christmas tour 2008. We started in Galesburg for Brian's parents Family Christmas. It was joyful! Saturday morning, the kids woke up to one special gift under the tree from Santa. Alaric's was his new favorite character, Handy Manny. Santa had brought him a Handy Manny doll, Handy Manny pickup truck that converts into a work bench, and Handy Manny tools ( all of which have names that Alaric knows by heart). He came running out and said, " handy Manny- I can't believe it!" It was a hit!
From Santa, Amara got a baby doll and stroller that is also a walking toy.

Here they are with their Santa gifts- just look at Alaric's excitement!

The Fultons!

The biggest hit of the day, other than Santa gifts, was Anita's Wii game. By the end of the night, I'm not sure who was most excited about the gift...Alaric playing Guitar Hero, Brian and I smoking everyone on bowling , or Bob and Chris golfing!
Here is Anita's boyfriend, Joe. It got competitive and was hilarious- Anita literally fell on the floor laughing. We were up really late into the night bowling our hearts out!

Anita, Joe, and Sweet Amara!

December 21st we headed to Knoxville for Christmas #2-Nelson Family Christmas! As always it was WONDERFUL. We had so much fun. Girls and Boys Grab Bag Game was a hit but the real highlights were having Grandpa out of the hospital and in attendance, having Luke's girlfriend Kierstyn and Anita's boyfriend, Joe there for the first time, and a wonderful family prayer by Uncle Dan and Grandpa that left not a dry eye. What a blessing our family is!
HEre are the girls!

Alaric has some Quality time with Great Gramps and shows him is snowman that makes everyone feel better.

Back to FUlton Family Christmas- I can't figure out how to make the video clips go where I want them to. Just after Aunt Nita got Wii and Guitar Hero, Alaric exclaims that he wants to "Rock Out!" Here is his air guitaring.

Oh, Sweet Mara! That's not much more to say. She's my precious angel!

Too cute to handle

Sorry for the two week delay in posts- the holidays put everything but the necessities on hold.

Amara loves sitting in her Bumbo on the counter while we cook, feed Alaric, work, clean, etc. Very accidently, Brian discovered her unique reaction to clapping....

Then, Alaric's hero- BOB THE BUILDER, inspired this song....

Saturday, December 13, 2008

SOOOOOOOOOO much going on!

We are going through alot these last few days- some great stuff and some not so great stuff. Everyone is sick! Alaric has a cold, I've had stomach stuff and a terrible cough, and Bri has the stomach flu. To top it all off....we ALL have pinkeye! Yup! Alaric started it two weeks ago, then Bri, then Amara and I today. Here's a pic of Amara's eye right before I washed away all the yucky yellow goobers coming out if it- poor girl. She has no idea what's going on.
Mara started sitting up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She's even cuter now and has so much more personality. That means she can use her highchair finally too!
Before December begins, I wrap up 24 Christmas books we have ( the ones we read every year). Now that I'm not teaching, i probably have 60 Christmas books so we still have an extensive Christmas library even without the 24! Each morning, Alaric gets to unwrap one of the books and read it. He loves it. His favorite...Twas the Night Before Christmas.
HEre Bri is reading to both of them before breakfast.

Wait till you see the video below with Amara in the tub sitting up for the first time! She's completely the opposite of Alaric in so many ways- he hates the water splashing and she didn't even mind when she faceplanted directly into the running water. Here's our big girl!

SO, back to the sickness thing....I must update you on potty training. Alaric is fully potty trained with peeing but we've been struggling with the poops for weeks and weeks. He's been so constipated, it caused an impaction. He had to stay home from school one day because he was so impacted ( poop all backed up with loose poop coming out) we had to give him an enima ( doctor's orders). IT WAS THE WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE!!!! I FELT LIKE A CHILD ABUSER!!!!! Alaric was a new man afterwards but it took me days to recover. Now, he's on a stool softener that causes super runny poops. We have had two to three big poops a day but his very first came at school in the form of a blow out- SO bad we got sent home from school with a "shame on you" for sending him to school on a laxative. So, we are trying to figure out a good balance with the stool softener. We keep him in a pull up instead of undies much of the time because of the poops. Our hope is after the new year things will settle down. For now, that seems like an eternity away!

So, good stuff and bad stuff all mixed together. 11 days til Christmas. It will all come together, it always does-right?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Pageant at Church

Big Year for Alaric! He got to be in the Christmas Pageant at Church!

Amara couldn't participate so she dressed up and just looked pretty.

Alaric was a sheep
Daddy and Uncle Dan didn't know it, but they too got to be in the play AND have speaking parts. Veronica and Alaric are on the far right with Dan and Brian behind in their shepherd outfits! The kids did great. No meltdowns! There were 7 children under the age of 3 and they all did great!

After worship, the cousins took a picture together..they look like family!

Christmas Party with Friends

Our dear group of friends has an annual Christmas party too- seems like just yesterday we were all at our house for Thanksgiving.

This year, our friends Clint and Tiffany Jackson surprised everyone with a special visit from Santa Claus! He was great. He came in and talked to all the kids. Then he took individual pics with each kid...

How cute is Alaric here? He loves St. Nick!
Amara....not so much!

We then tried to take a group pic of all the kids- didn't turn out as well as Thanksgiving.
Then we took family pictures and he had special gifts for each child ( books)! It was wonderful.
We even sang some Christmas songs.