Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mansions and mountains

When we left Tennessee on Friday, we headed over to North Carolina, where Bruce's parents had invited us to join them for a tour of the magnificent Biltmore Estate.  Wow!
We started with a delicious lunch in what was formerly the stables.  Notice that we are eating in what was one of the horse stalls!
There was a bitterly cold wind, so we didn't linger too long outside.  (Pictures are not allowed inside, so I don't have any to share from there.)
After we toured the house, we visited the farm area on the estate.  Abigail made friends with Bert the retired draft horse.
By the time we got home, after all of that walking, cold air, and good food and company, the kids were good and tired!  So tired, in fact, that David slept with his feet sprawled against Abigail's head and she slept right through it. :)  (Yes, I did rearrange them after I took the picture.)
The next morning we visited Jump Off Rock and enjoyed the gorgeous view.
From there we ate lunch at Hot Dog World (home of my favorite slaw dog) and then headed home.  We had a full but wonderful week!

Going up in smoke

Last week we "escaped" to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee at the invitation of our friends Jon & Karen and we had a great time!  Last year just us two couples went, but since then they have had their first baby and so this year we made it a family affair.  Noah was definitely one of the big attractions of the trip. :)
We enjoyed lots of games and some pool time -- there is an indoor/outdoor heated pool which was lots of fun, and they guys enjoyed lots of ball playing.  I myself preferred the hot tubs!
One night we made a quick trip into downtown Gatlinburg to pick up food from the best Chinese restaurant we've found yet.  While we were there, we took the kids to an old-fashioned candy shop and let them each get some cotton candy (and no, David's did not have rum in it...he was just blinking in this picture!).
We also showed them the 5 ton granite ball suspended on water.  They were duly impressed and had fun pushing it around.
I forgot to take pictures of us with our fabulous Chinese dinner or the grown-ups' Mahjong tournament that followed...but here is the whole clan before the kids went to bed.
On the morning we were leaving, we woke up to an inch or so of snow!  It was just enough to lend some magic to the landscape without stranding us there due to messy roads.  This is the chalet we stayed at while we were there.
 Here's the view from our balcony (see the mountain peak hiding behind the "smoke"?).
 And this is a full view of the mountain range behind us.
Thanks to Jon and Karen for another great Tennessee visit!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

School day 100!

Yup, we still have plenty of ice and snow, although the daytime temperatures are on the rise, the sun is warm, and the roads and driveways are clearing.  Here is a picture of Abigail and Samantha enjoying the weather...I took it especially for my grandma, since she knit the outfit that Samantha is wearing in this picture. (as you can tell from Abigail's closed eyes in this picture, the reflection of the bright southern sun against the ice-glazed snow produces a pretty strong glare!)
 On a slightly random note, my Christmas cactus is in bloom!  It's slightly late (although the buds were forming at Christmastime), but it's the first time I've ever kept a Christmas cactus alive from one year to the next, let alone have it re-bloom.  This feat was not due to any great skill of mine (unless neglect counts as a skill), but I put it outside all summer long and I think that made it happy.  This is a rather unflattering picture, but at least it's proof that it happened. :)
Yesterday we finished day 100 of our school year -- it seems like once we hit the midway point, the days start to roll by more quickly.  Day 100 seemed to sneak up on me, what with holidays, illnesses, the snowstorm, etc, so I didn't have anything special planned, but we heard through the grapevine yesterday about a neighbor girl (and fellow homeschooler) who was performing in a local troupe's rendition of Little Women, so we went on an impromptu field trip last night!  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and having a friend on the stage made it extra special to the kids.  Here they are after the show with our friend, who played "Beth" in the production.
 And so another week draws to a close!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Days 3 and 4 of snow...and some cookies

We continue to live in a world of snow and ice!  The thick layer of ice on top of the snow looks rather like fondant on a cake -- rounded and smooth over every surface.  I took some pictures to try to show the glossy layer of ice...
 This picture didn't turn out well, but you can see the night-time reflection of the street light on the ice of our front yard.
 David was in need of a playmate today and Abigail was not feeling up to playing outside, so I bundled up and went out with him.  We went sledding, traipsed around the yard enjoying the crackle of the ice, and had a snowball fight in our wooded area.  Someday he'll realize that it was a labor of love and not a result of any great desire on my part to get cold and snowy! :)  We did enjoy the one-on-one time, though.
And in warm and tasty news, today I supervised David's first independent baking effort.  He did marvelously and we are all enjoying the fruit of his efforts!  He made his great-great Aunt Myrtle's Molasses Crinkle Cookies.  I love to see something repeated down through the generations!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 2 of snow

I let the kids loose outside for a little while today (David is finally showing some signs of improvement, hooray!).  They were busy sledding -- on cardboard this time, which worked great -- and having a grand old time!
 It's pretty unusual for us to have snow last for a whole day, let alone several days in a row, but it looks like this is here to stay for most of the week!  In the mornings we do school.  The rest of the day, for the most part, we snuggle, read, watch movies on the Roku, and do puzzles (three cheers for the half-dozen 100-piece puzzles I bought at the dollar store before the storm hit!)...

(way to go, leftie!!!)
...and wrestle.  You have to burn off energy somehow. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fun in the snow

Bruce and I went outside with the kids for a little while this afternoon...
 We tried sledding down our little hill, but the crust of ice on top of our six inches of snow just wasn't quite right (of course, it doesn't help that the only sled we have is a baby one, so our kids have to squash up to sit on it...a 'real' sled is on our get-list!).
 Sliding down the slide into a pile of snow worked much better!
 After tramping around the yard in two rousing rounds of "follow the leader" and putting out bread and water for the birds, the sleet started again and we went inside, where we are enjoying the obligatory hot chocolate and are getting all tucked in with books for a long winter's nap...

Southern blizzard

We woke up this morning to nearly six inches of snow!  It's beautiful snow, too -- soft and gently curving over everything hidden underneath it.  When I was up at 5:30 this morning to give David a breathing treatment, it was truly blizzarding like I've never seen it do down here -- whirling and blowing and coming down thick and hard.  This morning all is peaceful and pretty.  I wish I had a camera capable of capturing all of the beautiful birds at our feeders this morning...there are dozens of birds helping themselves and it's a lovely scene.  There's nothing quite like a bright red cardinal against a snowy background!  Here are a few pictures of our snowscape earlier this morning, though...

Wrapping up our Christmas break

I scheduled the whole week following New Year's as a week off from school, with designs on getting the house scrubbed, my desk sorted and reorganized, and several other organization projects accomplished...but we spent it sick instead!  Oh well, at least we had the week off and could curl up under blankets with our books, without the stress of getting behind in school!  Here are a few "odds and ends" pictures...
The kids and I squeezed in time before Christmas for a refreshing visit with Karen and Noah.  She surprised them with supplies to make gingerbread Christmas trees and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
 While my parents were here, my mom and I made new flannel pajamas for me.  Well, we started making them together...and as the day progressed, I came down with THE VIRUS and ended up napping while my mom finished the pjs...moms are wonderful!  I was so happy to have comfy new pajamas to wear while I was sick. :)  
 A little backstory on these...they are now affectionately known as my "Big Browns".  The original pair of pajamas from this same pattern was a pair my mom made for me when I was a teenager, and when I wore them, my brothers called me Big Green.  The name stuck and eventually we referred to the pajamas as their own personage -- Big Greens.  That pair wore out eventually and the replacement was another pair in the same exact fabric.  Those wore out a couple of years ago and I just finally got around to replacing them with this pair...and so the joy lives on!  I've missed them!
When we weren't on the couch reading and watching movies, we did some puzzles...
 ...and took our medicine. :)  This is David doing his nebulizer for the pneumonia/asthma he is currently battling.
 Pictures are -- quite understandably, I should think -- lacking from this last week.  We weren't pretty sights!  Here is a cute picture I stole from my mom's blog, though, of Abigail and Samantha in the matching nightgowns my mom made for them.  Abigail is still not over the excitement of matching her doll at bedtime every night!
 (My mom has a great recap of our Christmas together here.)
We're still nowhere near 100%, but we are back to school today, albeit it at a slower pace than normal.
Despite the change in plans, we still enjoyed our time off...after all, "home" and "together" makes any time off a good thing!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Christmas with the Minota clan

My "Florida family" (parents and two youngest brothers) made the trek up the week following Christmas, so we celebrated Christmas on Friday morning and New Year's Eve on Friday night!  Unfortunately, all of the Florida clan was sick when they came...and stayed sick the whole time they were here...Abigail came down with it on Saturday evening...but we had a wonderful time nonetheless.  The constant state of pajamas, coughing, runny noses, and naps did make for a dearth of good pictures, though!  Caleb brought his new Kinect and we spent most of our time taking turns playing that and oh, what laughter ensued!!!
This is my dad playing horseback riding...
 ...and Matthew and Caleb doing whitewater rafting, I think.
(and yes, Caleb hiked his pants like that just to be silly!)
My mom and I did a mystery quilt-along on New Year's Day.  We had a lot of fun working together!
 We also ate...although not in quite as much quantity as we do when we are healthy.
 We did make the effort to take a family picture on Sunday morning.  My mom and Abigail were still sick; the brothers were still quite sick but were getting ready to head home; the rest of us were headed to church.
 I vote for a healthy Christmas next year; however, we did have a wonderful time together despite the illness.  We manage to make fun even when we feel nasty!

Christmas with the McKee clan

Without a doubt, one of the big highlights of Christmas 2010 with the extended McKee family was a white Christmas!  It started to snow on Christmas morning...
...and it kept piling up as the day progressed.  The in-residence cousins all went out to enjoy the snow while they waited for the rest of the cousins to arrive.
(Who would've thought we'd move south and still get to experience a white Christmas?!  It was wonderful!)
Partway through the day, the rest of the family arrived, despite snowy roads.
Here are all of the cousins.
 My family on Christmas Day.
 And with Bruce's parents, who hosted this rowdy group and the whole grand adventure!
After festivities, the dads and older kids all headed back outside to enjoy even more snow!  It was fun to see the yard/street full of cousins having a great time together.
All told, we ended up with twelve inches of snow.  On Sunday we were snowed in and church was canceled, so we all bundled up and headed to a nearby sledding hill to enjoy the fun.  It was the first time our kids really went sledding.  They love an inch of snow on the little hill in our yard, but this was a whole new experience! :)
When we got home, everybody was frozen stiff!  The cousins huddled under blankets while their grandma made hot chocolate.
By Monday, the roads were good enough to get us to SC to reunite with the other half of the clan, who had managed to make it back home on Christmas night.  The cousins enjoyed more playtime, we all had a big dinner together, and then we shared hugs and goodbyes and headed home.
 We had a wonderful Christmas with everyone!