Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Decorating

FYI, the blog keeps centering my text, no matter how many times I change the format. It is driving me absolutely crazy!

It is our tradition to put Christmas decorations up the weekend after Thanksgiving. This was the first Black Friday I haven't gone shopping, which was disappointing. The lack of Christmas shopping made it all the more important to decorate.

Jesse handles the outside decor, which consists of three inflatables, spotlights, and wreathes on each window. The kids were eager to assist and were so animated watching the inflatables come to life.

While Jesse and the kids worked outside, I began the tedious task of fluffing the tree branches. It was an appropriate time to wear my Daddy's "bah humbug" hat.

Despite having a pre-lit tree, we still needed light because the middle strand was out. Jesse became so irritable trying to detangle and string lights that I gave him the hat to wear.

Each of the kids did a fantastic job hanging ornaments. Jesse and I only helped by lifting the kids to reach the top.

As we were finishing the tree, the mail came. Jackson was elated to discover a package addressed to him. Jesse's mom sent us our annual ornament.

We decided to forgo the nativity scene for the second consecutive year because it is not at all toddler friendly. (Imagine dozens of breakable figurines and straw.) Jesse's dad would not have known this fact, which is what made it all the more meaningful when we gave us this very simple piece that he made. I love it!

Jesse hung the stockings after the kids went to bed.

Here's the outside of the house at night. I still prefer the white spotlights, but Jesse likes the red and green better.

I absolutely love the tree. Every other year we've put it in front of our floor to ceiling window. That no longer worked thanks to the arrangement with our giant sectional. We put it in the corner. Last year we had to put a baby gate around the tree. The trio have been okay this year. They sometimes take ornaments off the tree to admire or hoard, but they aren't ripping ornaments off or breaking them. 

I've spent the last two nights sitting in the dark, watching Love Actually and listening to the Pentatonix holiday album after everyone goes to bed. So far, it's a pretty relaxing holiday season.

Latta Plantation Christmas

Our beloved local plantation hosted their annual Christmas event. I've taken the kids to Latta twice, but this was the first time Jesse came with us and the first time the kids were able to see people dressed and engaged in 19th century life. It's much more exciting to see everything come to life.

I've taken the kids inside the main house, but not upstairs. While carrying both girls up the steep staircase, Jesse huffed, "The stairs are not up to code." It was very difficult to navigate crowded rooms and keep the kids from touching anything, so we spent very little time inside the house. 

The house was minimally decorated with small trees and simple wreaths, as was apparently the custom at the time. There were actual stockings hung over the fireplace, that would hopefully contain an orange on Christmas morning.

One of the obvious benefits of having "historical interpreters" in every room and area of the plantation is learning all the interesting stories and tidbits. One woman explained the origin of the saying, "Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." I knew it was common for bugs to crawl in the straw mattresses,

but I didn't realize the mattresses were supported by ropes that had to be tighten before bed each night. If the ropes were loose the mattress would uncomfortably sag in places.

We toured the shed which houses various tools and stalls. I was hoping we could see a blacksmith in action. I guess I'll just have to speculate how all those tools were used.  

Jesse and I joked that this man must have pulled the short straw when receiving assignments for the day. Nonetheless, the strong cedar scent and sound of the axe hitting the wood enhanced the overall feel of the day.

The gardens and crops were open for visitors. We tried to explain to Jackson that everything he saw was grown, built, or raised on the plantation. It's hard for a four year old to imagine a life without Walmart, malls, grocery stores, and online shopping.

One of the historians informed us that the minimum requirements to be a plantation were to own 30 or more slaves, have 600 acres of land, and grow a cash crop. Latta's cash crop was cotton. In addition to being able to see cotton blossoms up close, we also watched a man weaving patterned fabrics on a loom.

It was a bit odd seeing turkeys a day after eating turkey.

A random girl was feeding horses (or mules?) from an enormous bag of apple slices. I don't know if she had permission, but it allowed us to see the horse and donkey up close.

It was easy to forget it was a Christmas event, though there was the occasional reminder such as Saint Nicholas wondering around.

For the most part, it was just a day to learn to about life in the 19th century, from the perspective of slaves, housewives, children, artisans, soldiers, etc.

A big appeal to Latta Plantation is seeing all the animals.

I assume this donkey was trying to scratch it's back. The kids were amused.

The most interesting thing to me was watching various workers cook. They were actually cooking meals and eating together. I assume these people use modern appliances at home, but I greatly appreciate the fact that this art of cooking is still preserved.

I was especially fascinated by the chicken over the open fire, which was cooked by repeatedly spinning a chicken hanging from a string.

Our family had a great afternoon together. We shared a picnic lunch, enjoyed the unseasonably warm day, and took our time exploring each new sight, sound, and smell. I took a silly picture with Jackson before we left as proof that I was there.

Most of the information was over the kids' heads, but I know they enjoyed the different experiences and spending the day together. This is the first of many fun Christmas events we plan to attend as a family.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Celebrations (x3)

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. Growing up, my uncle used to drive down from New York and spend the whole week with us. It was the only week where my mother actually turned the heat on and cooked every meal. Both of my parents are now deceased, my uncle no longer visits, and I'm married with my own family, yet Thanksgiving week remains a favorite time.

Our first Thanksgiving celebration was a spaghetti dinner at my oldest sister's house on Tuesday. Jackson had been looking forward to this and counting it down on our picture calendar. When I picked him up from preschool, he told his teacher, "I've got to make rice krispy treats now!" As soon as I put the trio down for a nap, Jackson and I began our work in the kitchen. I merely supervised him while making rice krispy treats. He proudly said, "Look at me. I'm like a real grown up right now."  No rush in growing up, my sweet boy!

The traditional spaghetti dinner is with our extended family. My Aunt Jan surprised us by sharing one of her childhood birthday traditions. You simply soak a sugar cube in an extract of your choice, place the sugar cube on a cupcake, then light it on fire. We were all impressed with the flaming cupcake.

Thursday morning was spent in the kitchen preparing desserts and side dishes. We watched the Macy's Day parade. The kids shouted as their favorite characters appeared on the screen.

Jesse grabbed clothes for the kids. I laughed 'til I cried over not being able to button Amelia's 2T pants that she wanted to wear. I had flashbacks of trying to squeeze into too small of pants as a child. I'm afraid my stout girl will experience this many times in her future.

After the kids were dressed and the food was finished (corn, green, beans, cranberry sauce, dressing, rolls, and dessert), we drove 30 minutes to my other sister's house. My oldest brother is notorious for being late, especially if he's responsible for bringing food. Apparently the rice krispy treats and pound cake were appetizers for my starving, impatient family members.

Our nieces and nephews lined up,

waiting to dig in to this delicious feast!

I always feel obligated to photograph the deliciousness.

I hardly took any pictures, but the cousins happily played upstairs, downstairs, and outside. The toddlers love all the attention they get from their family.

Once home, our family relaxed on the couch and watched the Panthers game. This is the first year I could tell you who played on Thanksgiving, much less that I watched any part of the game. I may not be a football fan, but it's still pretty cool for your home team to be undefeated after eleven games. 

Years ago, Jesse and I ate lunch with my family, drove an hour, then ate dinner with his family. Unfortunately my mother-in-law now has to work on Thanksgiving, so we celebrate with Jesse's family on Friday. The bright side is we don't have to rush or stuff our faces twice in one day. Friday we ate another incredibly tasty meal, mostly prepared by Jesse's brother and sister-in-law at their house. 

A family that prays together, stays together.

Big girls!

Three generations of Harwood boys

Does MiMi ever get to eat her own dessert?

Mutual admiration between Maddie and Payton

This picture was actually from a week earlier, but I wanted to share their cuteness.

We could never question how fortunate we are to have so much love in our family. Our blessings are too many to count and it was a lovely week to celebrate just how thankful we are with lots of family and lots of food!