Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Tree Cutting

Tree cutting - a McGrath family tradition that has been around FAR longer than me...but I was adopted into the tradition when Ryan and I started dating and we've been doing it ever since.  When I was growing up we always had a fake tree so things like "watering the tree" often go undone if assigned to me.  This year, we gave the job to Abby and she woke us up the very first morning at 5:30 to remind us it was time to water the tree...that's what we get I suppose. 

What's interesting is how much the weather can differ from year to year.  We've had cold/snowy tree cutting trips, rain and mud or near t-shirt weather.  This year it hit almost 60 degrees the day after Thanksgiving so, as you can imagine, the tree cutting place was CROWDED! 

It was windy windy windy though and we were so thankful when we finally got inside Ms. Claus's house and away from the wind for a bit.  The kids were VERY patient...actually, more patient than me for once and super excited to see Ms. Claus.  That is, until Hazel ACTUALLY saw her...then it was all tears and "pick me up" and hiding her what I expected from a two year old.  Abby on the other hand, was super excited.  She wrote her and Hazel's names on the Good List and told Ms. Claus all about what they wanted for Christmas.  Apparently it's a car with a horse pulling it...which, I'm not sure if that's on Santa's list this year, we'll have to see. 

Maybe next year Hazel will be brave enough to stand and get her picture taken with Abby...but NOT this year!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gingerbread houses

The holiday season brings lots and lots of traditions around our house (and probably around yours too!).  For us, Gingerbread houses is definitely one of them. Joey and I started doing Gingerbread houses back with Danny and Stephanie when were kids...though I'm SURE Carolyn didn't get the pre-made, pre-assembled, pre-packaged kind.  I'm sure hers were home made and filled with love!

You can looks back and see pictures from over the years here 2015 and here 2016.  This year Hazel go her very own house to work on.  Next year we'll add Lincoln to the project table!

As always the decorating part is a little hectic with three kids, tons of candy and not enough adult hands to go around.  Somehow everyone needs something at the same time and then, in a blur its over and we have finished houses. 

The big kids are getting much better at listening to directions (like you can only eat one piece of candy) and Hazel was content just watching Ryan go to town on her house, sneaking her frosting when I wasn't looking.

These girls seriously are the sweetest and I can't wait to see how their creativity and personalities show in these houses over the years.  This is a tradition that is here to stay!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

1 Family x 12 (Nov)

I'm so bummed I have a snow flake right over my eye...but everyone else looked so cute that I just decided to go for it and make this our family photo for November.  Want to know what's REALLY cool about this picture?  Someday (in the not too distant future) that big tree behind us is going to be made into a dining room table for our dining room!!

First step, she's coming down.  This is a huge oak tree standing in my parents front yard.  Its dead and they've been delaying having it taken down, but it's time.  First step of many to get that tree into a table...but it'll be so worth it!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Halloween 2016

Halloween has always been one of Ryan's favorite holidays.  I blame Breakfast Club at Perdue and him getting to dress up outside of the traditional Halloween festivities but whatever the reason, costumes go over pretty big at our house.

In the past Ryan's always roped his Mom into making us some really cute costumes but this year it just seemed like one more thing nobody really had time to do, so we took the kids to Target and let the run wild.  Hazel picked (with a LOT of help from me) this cute little Llama outfit.  It was warm and snuggly and cute and I think she looked adorable.

Going into the store Abby was CONVINCED she wanted to be something super scary.  Last year she was a dragon (or a dinosaur...I cant remember which she decided she was) and some kid told her she wasn't very scary.  Well, she remembered that a full 365 days later and she was certain she was going to pick the scariest costume they had.  In the end, she picked a Unicorn (hahahaha!).

The kids made quite a haul this year because we actually ended up going Trick or Treating twice.  Our annual beer tasting weekend fell on the Apple Canyon Campground Trick or Treating so we got the kids all dressed up and let them run wild in the campground for a bit.  It was warm, sunny and the perfect fall day for it!

These kids and their faces.  Just wait til you see the one of Abby and I little farther down!

Bhahaha!  I mean, look at those eyes!

Two weeks later the weather had changed quite a bit and and we headed out for another round with some friends up in Crystal Lake.  If you've been to our house since we moved you know we don't have the ideal trick or treating situation (5 acres and a long driveway doesn't really say...come on up and get some candy) so we visited a cute little neighborhood with friends and it was perfect!!  Bethany and Patrick, make a note, we're coming back again next year!!

These two sweet girls have been friends since the day they were born...I hope that never changes!

It's too bad we already had an October family photo because this one would have been perfect.  Funny faces and all!

Oh, and...we even got a chance to do a little adult party the weekend before Halloween.  Ryan and I dressed up in a couples costume "Deer in Headlights".  It was perfect!!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pumpkin Carving 2016

Sheesh!  Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I still have pictures from Halloween I need to post.  I guess this is why the holiday season always seems to fly past so quickly.  There are lots of traditions to fit into just at two month span!

We started doing family pumpkin carving when Abby was teeny tiny.  When the kids we smaller we just gave them paint and let them scribble all over the pumpkins but this year, we went with real carving.  Ryan let Abby draw the faces on each of the pumpkins and then he and I did the actual carving.

I was gone getting Hazel when the pumpkin scooping happened so I'm not sure if Abby actually helped with that messy piece or not!  Isn't our little family of pumpkins cute??

Monday, October 30, 2017


Maybe 2 years ago right after Christmas, we took Abby (and Hazel, she was a tiny baby) to Disney on Ice in Rockford...little did I know, that was the beginning of a trip to Disney for us.  I was so surprised at how excited Abby was to see the characters, especially Mickey!  She was about 3 and a half years old and before seeing Disney on Ice, I'd have said we were going to wait until the girls were older before hauling the whole family to Disney.  But, we saw the Disney magic right before our eyes!! And it was at that moment, that we started thinking about when we should take these little peanuts to the most magical place on earth.  HA!

Fast forward to last fall when we started planning a trip to Disney with the entire family in tow.  We booked rooms at my parents timeshare and started looking at flights.  Originally the plan was that my parents, Ryan's parents and Erin would all join us.  Life has been a little crazy in 2017 and for a long list of reasons, Dan and Ellyn decided to stay back so we had a group of 5 adults all waiting excitedly to see the girls experience Disney for the first time.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself here, we had lots of firsts on this trip...and the first, first is taking a PLANE!!

Abby flew with us to New York when she was about 8 months old, but this was the first time she'd actually remember and boy, oh boy, was she excited.  We scored second row seats (all 6 of us across the second row) and they were awesome!  We flew Frontier and I'd totally recommend it for anyone looking to book.  We bought an upgraded ticket package that allowed us to check bags for free, pick any seats in the plane and reschedule our flights which was a life saver on this trip!

We flew out EARLY EARLY EARLY on Saturday morning which made for a long, nap free day, but also allowed us to get into Florida before noon and gave us much of the day to get ourselves settled, get groceries and spend some time relaxing at the pool in prep for our first day at the parks!

Let me start by saying Disney was BUSY and HOT!  When we scheduled the trip for early October I was sure we'd have cooler weather and fewer crowds but boy was I wrong.  With it being a Sunday AND Columbus Day weekend, the crowds were out in droves.  Literally guys, even the dumbest rides had an hour long wait.  I mean, I'm talking Tea Cups, It's A Small World...everything.  An hour long wait!  Luckily we had a secret weapon!  Ryan's friend Lauren and her son, Seth, tagged along with us at the part on Sunday and her advice was priceless!

About a week before we left, I gave her my login to my FastPasses and gave her full reign to plan our our day.  Best decision I've ever made....literally!  I'm not going to bore you with the ins and outs of how we managed to get around the park and scam our way onto rides using FastPasses, but if you care or or going to Disney someday soon, call me!  I've got a ton of info to share!  Long story short, we waited it two "real lines" early on in the day and then, from that point on, we rode with FastPasses for the entire rest of the day and it was amazing!

Erin flew in SUPER early Sunday morning, just in time to join us at the park.  Though, I have a feeling she instantly regretted her choice of pants for the day.  Guys, it was SO HOT.  I'm talking like 90 degrees and humid.  Disney did a great job of giving you just enough air conditioning right when you needed it though.  You'd be thinking there was no way you could go on, and then, you'd turn the corner of the line and there would be a cool, air conditioned room or in a dark underground room where you could get away from the sun.

We all had favorite's from the day.  For me, I think it was what Dad and I keep calling Run Away Coal Train (I think it's really called Big Thunder Mountain??)...oh oh oh, or Haunted Mansion, I loved that one!  For Abby, I think her favorite was either seeing Mickey or riding Seven Dwarfs, she really really liked the roller coasters.  For Hazel, her favorite was Pooh.  It was one of the last rides we did for the day and she was so sweet as we walked out of the line.  "I loved that one Mommy, that was my favorite!".  My Dad and I both get pretty motion sick so we spent lots of time hanging with Hazel while others went on rides...and we were fine with that!  The only thing worse than a hot park with long lines is a hot park, with long lines AND feeling sick!

Look at sweet Hazel clutching her Sully doll.  Dad bought that for her from one of the toy stands and she was immediately in love with him.  She wouldn't go anywhere without him for the rest of the entire trip!  This photo cracks me up...or rather, Erin's comment "Erin and Ryan, effectively ruining pictures since the early 80's".  Man I love these people!

We finished our day at the park with seeing Mickey and I don't think we could have had a better ending.  It's a LONG story how we ended up with FastPasses to see Mickey, but my girl Lauren got us in and while the real line wait time was around 2.5 hours, we were in and out in less than 30 minutes.  If there is one thing I think everyone should do while at Disney, I might say it's this one.  The way it's set up is so nice.  You are in the room, alone, with Mickey and your group.  Mickey interacts with the kids, you can snap as many photos as you want and they DO NOT rush you along.  We had a big group and did pictures in a ton of different configurations...but they were so sweet and did not rush us.  Even the photographer offered to take pictures for us with our own cameras...not just his, which you'd need to purchase.  On this, I have to say, "good job, Disney!"...great job!

Abby was pretty tentative with Mickey, especially at first, but Seth was NOT and that definitely helped Abby feel more confident.  Seth gave Mickey literally the longest, sweetest hugs I've ever was clear he was seeing an idol!  Hazel on the other hand....she was not interested!  That is until she touched his ear!  That may have been the highlight of the whole visit for her.  You can see it, two pictures down.  Someone caught the exact moment that she felt brave enough to stick out her little hand and brush his ear.  I'm sure it's technically not allowed but she shrieked for joy when she did it and she talked about it non-stop for days.  Definitely a memory I won't forget!

We got really lucky with the weather at Magic Kingdom.  The forecast threatened rain for days before and we were sure we were going to get down poured on as we walked in to see Mickey, but we actually made it the entire day without a single rain drop and got all the way out of the park before the rain hit.  I was a little disappointed, I really really wanted to stay for the parade and fireworks but if I'm honest, we were all exhausted...and the kids were done for the day.  There didn't seem to be much point in dragging it out to the point that people were miserable, so we called it a day after about 9 hours at the parks.  I don't regret the decision, not one bit.  It'll just be something we have to do the next time we go!

Monday, the day after Magic Kingdom, we opted for a low key pool day.  The girls needed naps and the adults needed beverages!!  But, Tuesday, we got our park walking shoes back on and headed to the Animal Kingdom.  Guys, this place was awesome!  It was far less crowded than Magic guess is partly because it was a Tuesday and partly because Magic Kingdom is probably ALWAYS packed.  But, I'm glad we did things in the order we did them.  After the crazy of Magic Kingdom, it was nice to have a slightly slower pace.

What's really neat is that the Animal Kingdom really is a lot like a zoo.  There are tons of exhibits that are just walking trails through the different countries where you can see animals, plants etc without waiting in real lines.  There are lots of ways to explore without riding rides.  That being said, there are only about maybe 10-15 real "rides" at this park...nothing like Magic Kingdom.

Somehow I was lucky enough to score one of the most sought after FastPasses, for a 3D simulation ride in Pandora, the newest area of the park, built to resemble Pandora from the movie Avatar.  The real line wait times for this ride are nearly 3 hours long at points and Ryan, Erin and my Mom got to ride it twice, in under and hour.  Mom even want so far as to say it was the best ride she's been on in her entire life!!  Dad and I, feeling nauseous just watching the stupid Dumbo ride, clearly decided to sit that one out.  Oh well!

We had FastPasses to another popular ride, the Safari tour, which was really cool as well.  As you can imagine, animals have a mind of their own, so there are no guarantees about what you'll see what you ride, but we were lucky and were able to see some really cool animals pretty close up.  The giraffe was probably one of the neatest....she was so close I bet we could have reached out to touch her. 

We also got to see Mickey (and Minnie!) again which was really fun as well.  Abby wasn't scared at all this second time around and she was so proud when Minnie noticed she had a little Minnie necklace on and jumped for joy and hugged Abby when she saw it.  It was really sweet...and I'll say it again, Disney really does do a nice job with these character interactions.  We were impressed!

Similar to Magic Kingdom, there came a point in the day when we were all tired and ready to go home so we called it a day and went back to the hotel for dinner.  Wednesday was Erin's last day in Florida and we'd originally planned to do a day at the beach but we opted for another hotel day at the pool instead. 

The hotel we stayed at was really nice and they had a lot of things for the little kids to do.  There were zero entry pools with splash pads, planned activites throughout the day, an indoor play place and lots of things for families to do.  Ryan even rented this cute little boat to take Abby out on.  Originally we'd though they were paddle boats but he was happy to learn that they included a motor (and room for the cooler backpack).

We started both girls in swim lessons at the first of the year, figuring with the pool right off our back deck it was time to make sure they were safe and excited about swimming.  It's seriously been some of the best money we've spent on activities for the girls.  Both kids are totally confident and excited about swimming and it totally showed at the pool.  Abby's able to swim almost from one side to the other (with a little help) and Hazel isn't too far behind!

Thursday we decided to venture to the beach even though the weather was questionable.  We opted to go to the Atlantic side even though we knew it would be rougher waters.  The drive is only about an hour long to the Atlantic vs. over 2 to the Gulf so we figured since we were only going for a day trip that we'd take the shorter drive and deal with the rougher waters.  As you can tell from the picture below, the water was CRAZYTOWN!  Partly because its the Atlantic but mostly because of all the tropical activity happening down there this time of year.  The good news is that the kids LOVED the beach, which bodes well for our trip to the Outer Banks next year. 

The girls loved playing in the sand and in the waves as they splashed up on shore.  We didn't do any swimming because of the rough water but we had a great time regardless and we're super pumped to do a full beach vacation next year with my parents, Joey/Andy and the entire Ritterbusch clan! 

We spent our final day, Friday, at the pool and packing up.  We flew out at like 5:30 Friday night which meant we had most of the day to enjoy the hotel and the pools.  I think it's safe to say that this picture of Hazel pretty much captures how we all felt after this whirlwind trip.  We were gone for 6 days, which isn't any too short, but for some reason, we were all exhausted when we got and adults alike!  I think the heat and the busy park days took a lot out of us but we wouldn't have changed a thing!!  I can't wait til we do it all again in a few years when the girls are both a bit older.