Monday, February 17, 2014

Oh, There's No Place Like HOME For the Holidays!!!

I can’t even begin to describe what a wonderful time we had visiting our families in Utah! Our trip was very therapeutic, and it filled in an empty place in our hearts that has been aching for A LONG TIME. It was so much fun to be back home after a four year absence!

Our flight went OK. We were really happy with the entertainment options, however being in a cramped and tiny space for soooooooooooooo long got old really fast. Brucie got bored and impatient quickly, and at one point he was laying on the floor at my feet whining over and over and over and over again, "This is taking FOREVER!" Feeling annoyed, I thought, yes it is!

William had about 30 minutes of solid screaming time on the plane while everyone was trying to sleep. Embarrassing! He was SO tired, and we were trying to get him to sleep, but he wasn’t giving in! Some random Russian mom with a baby in her arms invited herself over and tried to give Jon some advice and soothe William. I think it only made things worse, but if it made her feel better to help, more power to her. Jon and I finally gave up trying to get Will to sleep and just handed him an iPad and he quieted down. All we could do was hope that he didn’t kick the seat in front of him and spazz out anymore.

I've decided that international flying is like being in Hell with some slight perks.

James and Bruce getting chair massages just before the flight.

I POURED on the hand-sanitizer ALL throughout the flight!
We were going home and we were NOT going to be sick for it!!!

Getting comfy on our first flight

Will FINALLY got to sleep at the end of the flight.

I think it's cute Bruce fell asleep like this.

Unfortunately, I realized after we’d left that I forgot my camera at home (insert eye roll). I was so mad at myself! Jon and I took an entire week to pack for this trip, and yet I still forgot it! Of all things to forget, especially on vacation! So, the best thing we had was our subpar cell phone cameras.  That was better than nothing, I suppose.

We arrived in Salt Lake City not long before midnight. I had always imagined, during these past 2 ½ years of living in Moscow, that once we finally returned to the U.S., I would kiss the ground with happiness and relief. Melodramatic, I know. However, I guess I was much too tired when we flew in and much too excited to see family…and I forgot to even consider it, though I doubt I would have followed through.  I mean, where do you kiss?  The airport floor (covered in dirt and germs from all over the world)?  The asphalt or concrete outside the airport?  Probably the ground at home, I would think, but then the time seems really long past.

We were so lucky – we had three weeks to spend with our families!

We spent the first part of our trip with Jon’s family. We celebrated Christmas with them, and Jon’s brother, Jason, had his wedding reception just before New Year’s.

Grandma and Grandpa saved decorating their tree for our kids! I thought that was very generous, especially since our kids did it the day before Christmas Eve. That means that most of their Christmas season they just had the lights and ribbon on their tree.


My father-in-law took Jon and me to Cosco so that we could do some “elf work” before Christmas. It was fun to get out and go on a drive without the kids (they stayed home with Grandma and Aunt Jenni) and see some of the “old”, familiar places again. I can’t remember the last time we shopped at Cosco. However, I can’t help but mention: Cosco carts are comically large! I felt like a midget pushing the cart around the store. Honestly, it’s a little ridiculous how big they are. I almost had Jon to take my picture, but realized nobody else would think it was funny. Trust me, the carts are ginormous!

The kids made gingerbread houses (brick style)
with Uncle Jason and Aunt Mandi

Jason’s and Mandi’s reception was beautiful, and it was great to see most of the family on that side.

Bride and groom dancing
Bruce playing with the chalk board in his brand new suit at Uncle Jason's reception.

What a mess!

Playing outside in the snow

Playing inside with Grandpa and Grandma's toys

Watching Grandpa's iPad

Bruce and I making pies with Play-Doh

On December 30, Jon’s parents came with us and we visited Jon’s maternal grandmother, then we met up with Jon’s other brother, Jeremy and his family and we went to see the lights at Temple Square. It was cold, but fun! That night, instead of going back to Jon’s parent’s place, we went to my parent’s home and stayed over a week.

We celebrated New Year’s with my parents and siblings, and then that weekend we had James’s and Bruce’s birthday party with the family (blog post to follow).

Bruce fell asleep right under the bras while I was shopping at Gap!!!

The last week of our trip, we hopped back to Jon’s parents house for a few days, then went to Jon’s brother’s house for a night, and then spent the last couple days with my parents.


Jon and I got to go to the temple!  It was wonderful!

William entertaining himself while Jon and I packed to leave my in-law's house

It was SO great to see parents, siblings, grandparents, and good friends! The kids loved playing with their cousins.

One of the best parts about our trip was that we had our oldest three children take turns going alone to spend time with the opposite grandparents. So, for example, we would all be with one set of parents and we would send just one of the kids to the opposite parents for a couple days each. It was helpful because we didn’t have a big enough car to fit our entire family. We could tell the children really cherished that special one-on-one time with their grandparents and getting to know them.

It was SO hard to leave at the end of our trip! There was so much anticipation going to Utah, so many loved ones to see, and so many things to do, but it felt like we had nothing to return to in Moscow -- just extremely hard work, cold weather, and snow. Of course, we have dear friends here, too, and they are the best part about being back. I guess it’s nice to be in our own space again, as well.

William napping on the place home

At the airport in Moscow, waiting for our taxi (a.k.a. the Vomit Mobile)

The boys were too tired to eat or even face their food the night we got home

We pray that it won’t be so long before we can return home again! Thank you, everyone (you know who you are), for making it such a special, memorable trip!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Bruce's 5th Birthday

Bruce had a happy, though small, 5th birthday at home on December 19th.

Jon and I thought it would be fun to give James and Bruce a combined birthday party with family while we were in the States for Christmas. James’s birthday is in January and we would have a party in between their two birthdays. So, because of that, we kept Bruce’s actual birthday fairly low key.

The children each gave him a small gift, and Jon and I gave him an Angry Birds mug (the big gifts would be given at the party).

Bruce chose to have vanilla cupcakes with strawberry frosting. So, we just made a nice white cake recipe, and then we found a recipe for all-natural strawberry frosting using frozen strawberries. The frosting turned out really yummy, but the powdered sugar we can find here is not ground as fine and it caused the frosting to be a bit grainy.

Bruce asked if he could put his napkin under his cupcake. I guess that’s how they do it at his school; they use napkins as placemats.

Happy, happy birthday, Brucie!

Sharing Christmas Art With Grandparents

by James

Little Red Cottage and Snowman 
by James

Quiet Christmas
by Shari

Masha y Medvid
colored by Bruce

Sunset Over the Snow
by Kate

Gingerbread Friends
by Kate

Wisemen and Shepherds Following the Star
by James

Beautiful Snowfall
by Kate

Good Guys and Bad Guys at Christmas
by Brucie

Papa Tree and Baby Tree
by James

Finding the Star
by James

Snow Fun (our four kids)
by James

Ready for Christmas (I love how the lights are plugged into the snow)
by James

James and Jesus Resurrected
by James

Gingerbread House
by James

Hidden Happy Face in Pic
by James

Russian Hedgehog Christmas
by Kate

Reindeer and Horse Playing
by Kate

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Kate's and James's Christmas Production

Isn't that yarn beard hilarious on James?

Kate and James put on their own Christmas production on December 15th. They worked hard on it, rehearsing and preparing for days prior. Kate made the costumes. She even used her own money to purchase snacks (popcorn and cotton candy) for the "audience" (our family) during the show.

James dressed as Ded Moroz (Father Frost or Santa) and Kate dressed as Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). They sang Christmas songs separately and together, Kate danced, and they did a little play. At the end, James sat on the kid couch, and then William and Bruce sat on his lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas. Then, James gave them a little packet of candy from his bag (something Kate also purchased with her own money).

It was a really cute and clever production and we enjoyed it! I guess it made up for the fact that the older three would not make it their own New Year's class productions at their Russian schools. We were going home to the States for Christmas and New Year's -- our first time home for Christmas in four years, and the children's and my first time back in the States since we moved from Moscow!!!

2013 Christmas Tree Ornaments

We have a family tradition of buying each of the children a new Christmas tree ornament every year. It has been really fun tradition for all of us, and the children especially love being able to choose their own ornament.  Someday, when the children grow up and leave, they can take their ornaments with them.

We actually bought this year’s Christmas tree ornaments during the summer at Izmaylovsky market.  Jon and I ended up getting a few for ourselves, too.

Except for our stockings, we left all of our Christmas decorations back in the States, so our tree is decorated solely with Russian ornaments. All of our ornaments so far are hand carved wood and hand painted, and Jon and I love the effect of how they look on our Christmas tree along with the tiny-bulbed Russian tree lights!

Kate loves owls!

James's mace.
 Yeah, it's actually a keychain, but it's what he really wanted.

Bruce's cosmonaut.

William's Russian accordion player.

This gold fish is from a traditional Russian fairy tale. 
 The magic fish grants wishes to the fishermen who catches him.

This bear and little girl are from a popular children's Russian television show (Masha and Medvid).

This is a samovar.
It is a large metal container traditionally used heat and boil water in and around Russia.
 The man gave this to us for free.

Baba Yaga -- a witch from many Russian fairy tales.
 In productions that they put on at the children’s schools near New Year's time, she is sometimes the antagonist to Ded Moroz (Santa) and she's quite the tease. Jon and I think this ornament is classic.

Clock and bell ornament.
The man gave us a good deal if we bought it.

We liked the painting on the back.

We also got this cat in a basket for free because the man like William.

A mushroom gnome (I guess).