Let's back up to the last weekend of Advent. My cousin, Jess, flew in from Edmonton (where she's doing her master's in occupational therapy) for a quick visit. She arrived on Friday evening, so on Saturday morning we went to the impressionist exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum and then walked to Pike Place Market for lunch. 

Claire checking out the impressionist exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.

Her best friend and college roommate lives in Seattle too, so Jess went to see the Nutcracker with her that evening and then hopped on a ferry to Vancouver Island to spend Christmas with her family. On Sunday, we picked out our tree and went caroling with our parish. 

Picking our Christmas tree! We thought it would be cool to get a tree as close to Christmas as possible, but it's too tricky to find one at the last minute. I think we'll have to move our tradition to Gaudete Sunday next year!

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went by in a blur of cooking preparations and all of sudden it was Christmas Eve! We started the day by decorating gingerbread houses with the girls.





We assembled the houses and made the royal icing the night before. Turns out making the icing in advance was a bad idea because it started to separate and wouldn't adhere as well, but we still made it work.



The marshmallow snowmen are my favorite! We made a house for each of us, but Claire and Maggie aren't old enough to tackle decorating on their own, so each pair just made two houses.



On our second, Claire requested a "house man" while Adam and Maggie leveled up with a reindeer and a chimney. We went to IKEA to eat lunch and buy a new dining set, something we'd been saving towards for a couple years. It was actually really empty on Christmas Eve, so apparently that's a perfect time for furniture shopping? IKEA is right by the airport, so we swung by to pick up my parents and little brother, Scott. They had heard it was too dicey to drive through the mountains at Christmas and decided to fly instead, which was a great call because the pass was closed all week.




We came home to decorate the tree! We've found it so hard to commit to a tree topper and tree skirt that we love, so our tree always looks a bit naked. We finally ordered both on after-holiday clearance this year, so next year's tree won't have to suffer the same injustice.


We had our traditional cheese fondue for Christmas Eve dinner.



Then changed Claire and Maggie into their festive pajamas. Maggie's pajamas are actually Claire's from her second Christmas.


Aww! This picture shows me that 1.) we used to bathe our children much more frequently and 2.) they were equally horrible at sitting still for pictures.


Adam is thinking, "Can we please stop with the pictures and put these toddlers to bed now?"


So, we read a nativity story, put the last ornament on our Jesse tree, added Baby Jesus to our advent calendar, and tucked them into bed.



After the presents were assembled and the stockings were filled, the grownups broke out the chocolate fondue!


We actually had to wake our children up at 7:30 so we could have time to get ready for Mass! They opened their stockings, in which they found a flashlight, twirling ribbon, gummy candy, and a new ornament for the tree. Then we had cinnamon rolls (recipe courtesy of Mel's Kitchen Cafe) for breakfast, got dressed for church, and headed out the door.



Christmas morning mass is totally the way to go, in our opinion! We arrived thirty minutes early and had no problems getting a seat. Way better than the ninety minutes early you need to arrive to the children's service on Christmas Eve. We would definitely love to switch to Midnight Mass when our children are older though.


Claire and Maggie came home to the big Christmas present they requested, the Little People Disney Princess Castle, a generous gift from my parents.


We didn't want to overwhelm them, so they only opened one other present that day, the other items on their wish list - a Belle dress for Maggie and a Sleeping Beauty dress for Claire. (Also both from my parents.) That's the nice thing about having twelve days of Christmas. No need to rush through the celebration! We had quiche for lunch and while the girls were resting the adults exchanged gifts. I gave Adam the new illustrated Harry Potter book, The Martian, a Chris Thile CD, and the Master & Commander DVD. He went way over our gift budget and surprised me with a new diaper bag! We gave my parents photo books from the last couple family photo shoots we've done all together and, for Scott, we stuck with what we know a college student would love - a gift card to his favorite restaurant near campus.


For Christmas dinner, we had steak, green beans, and the Pioneer Woman's twice baked potatoes. We popped Christmas crackers and wore our paper crowns, of course. And for dessert, we had a birthday cake for Jesus.


I used a recipe from a new-to-me food blog for gingerbread cake with orange buttercream frosting. It was honestly quite underwhelming - the cake was pretty dry and the recipe didn't make enough frosting to cover the whole cake! That's what I get for relying on untested sources.


But Claire and Maggie were thrilled to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, which is all that matters, right? We used twelve candles for the twelve days of Christmas. The rest of the week we've been taking things pretty easy. The girls slowly finished opening the presents. On the 26th, we gave them our gift - a teepee and pretend campfire. And the next day, we gave them Adam's parents gift - a big set of magnaformers!



Their aunts and uncles generously sent them some new books, games, and outfits. We hung out at home, kids playing with new toys, adults playing new card games (Pit and Sushi Go), and eating lots more delicious food. The Pioneer Woman's peppermint ice cream was a big hit, in particular. My mom graciously babysat while the rest of us went to see the new Star Wars movie. My mom and I got to hit up the sale racks at Anthropologie and Pottery Barn. My dad and Scott awesomely assembled our new kitchen table and chairs. Of course, the high point was getting to talk with Allison in Honduras! Her missionary class left language school in Guatemala on December 21st and arrived at the orphanage just in time for the Christmas festivities.

Thanks for watching the girls, Mom!!

My family was originally set to leave on Tuesday morning, but realized they had accidentally booked their flights for January 29th instead. Oops! Thankfully, the pass was clear and they were able to cheaply rent a car to drive home instead. It actually worked out really well because Monday evening, my mom and I both came down with a stomach bug. She was able to stay here on Tuesday to recover and they left Wednesday morning instead. I've spent the last two days washing everything in our house, hoping Adam and the girls don't get sick too! I wish I had snapped some pictures of my parents and brother while they were here - I've failed pretty badly at capturing their visits this year. At least we got some really cute ones during our family pictures this summer.


Before we head off to a New Year's Eve party (where we'll celebrate with the East Coast at 9:00 pm) here are our traditional new ornaments:



A blonde and brunette Clara ornament for Claire and Maggie, to represent the first year they went to see the ballet and the first year the PNB introduced their new production.


And Santa made out of an oyster shell from the Olympic Peninsula for us, found at Pike Place Market. Happy New Year, everyone!

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