So long 2016

Tomorrow is the last day of the year and I for one am not sorry to say goodbye to 2016. It’s been a crazy year end for us filled with another trip to the ER for Michael, and a hit and run on our Acura. Thankfully, our trip to Iowa was a huge success but I’ll get to that later.

I’ve worked more in the month of December than I have any other month this year, by far. One of my last shifts at El Gaucho Bellevue turned out to be a really expensive shift to pick up. I had a really nice evening at work and was very happy to be leaving the restaurant at a reasonable hour, I was even hoping that I’d be home in time to see Michael before he headed to bed. Unfortunately, when I got to the car I noticed that it had a huge blue scratch on the front driver side. My stomach sank, I instantly felt horrible. Although it wasn’t my fault, I knew that it would make Michael upset and I hated to come home and drop bad news in his lap after barely seeing him for the past 2 days. Sometimes people suck, what do you do? We’ve already gotten an estimate to repair the damage and plan to get it done ASAP but it still makes me mad just thinking about it. The money I made that night doesn’t even cover half of what it will cost to fix the damage.

A few days later Michael came down with a nasty stomach bug. He took a few days off work and rested as much as possible but about 3 days into it he just couldn’t take it anymore and took himself to the ER in the middle of the night to get checked out. Thankfully they were able to give him some meds to help with the nausea and after another few days of rest he was feeling better. We did end up having to cancel our dinner party which was a bummer but we’re planning to host something in January to make up for it. It put a little bit of a damper on Laurel’s visit but we made the most of it and spent most of her visit at home which allowed us to have some good ole quality time together. Laurel and I had originally planned to get away together for a night out and maybe a bit of Christmas shopping but it didn’t happen and actually the weekend at home was just what I needed. We baked cookies with the girls, did a little shopping with the kids, had a movie night, took her rock hunting, and just enjoyed being together. I am so excited that she and her husband, Mark, are planning to move back to Seattle in the spring, there are sure to be many more weekends together in the coming year.

The day before our trip to Iowa we were visited by Santa. Michael was home from work for the day so we took the opportunity to celebrate and open presents from both my mom and Michael’s mom, as well as all the gifts we bought for the kids. It was of course a huge hit. It really doesn’t matter what the gift is, the kids get excited just to open up presents. Big or small, they appreciate them all and loved every minute of it. This year, Elise asked Santa for a helicopter, Ava asked for a purple giraffe (her favorite animal) with brown spots and Enzo wanted a fire truck. Santa came through and with the help of Amazon, he was able to deliver on each request. The rest of the day was spent preparing for our 8 day trip to Iowa. Generally I would already have all of our things packed and ready to go but because of our recent visitor and the fact that I have been working a lot, I didn’t pack a single item until the day before we left. That night at bedtime we dressed the kids in the clothes that they would need to wear the next day and got to bed as early as possible in preparation of our 4:30 am departure.

Aside from nearly missing our connecting flight in Denver due to a delayed take off in Seattle, it was a pretty easy trip. We did have to run from gate B42 to Gate B87 in 5 minutes but we managed and the flight was a breeze. We were all hangry (angry and hungry) when we arrived but Grandpa greeted us with nuggets and chicken sandwiches from Chik-fil-a so it didn’t take us long to bounce back from a long day of travel.

The week we spent in Iowa was all I wanted and more. The first day in town I was able to sneak away for almost 5 hours while Michael and my Dad took the kids sledding. My girlfriend, Liz, was in town from Dallas visiting family and drove an hour and a half to Cedar Rapids just to see me. I haven’t seen her since she visited San Diego the summer after Ava was born so there was no shortage of things to catch up on. It was such a wonderful afternoon. We stopped by the mall for a little last minute shopping and then had a nice long lunch at the restaurant we both worked at back in 2001. It’s true what they say that a good friendship is one that doesn’t fade with time. We could have stayed at lunch all day and just talked and talked. I got a little choked up when it was finally time to say goodbye but I know that we’ll see each other again when the timing is right. Meanwhile the kids had a great time playing in the snow with Dad and Grandpa. Actually, Ava had a good time playing in the snow. Elise took a spill her first time sledding down the hill and decided to take a nap in the car while Ava took advantage of what would be the only time they were able to play in the snow during our week long stay. That night we drove around the west side of town looking at Christmas lights. Driving around in search of lights has become a tradition for us and one of my favorites. It is no exaggeration when I say that we saw two houses that were by far my favorite christmas light displays ever. Its too bad that by this point all of the kids were sound asleep. One was a house that was totally decked out in lights and it was programmed to sing along with one of the local radio stations. We happened to drive up to the display and tune in just as they were playing a portion of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s by far my favorite holiday movie and one that my Dad and I used to watch together every year so it made seeing that house just at that moment all the more special. We were even greeted by the owner of the house who was outside handing out candy canes to all the cars driving up to see his house. This kind of thing only happens in Iowa, I swear. We chatted with him for a few minutes and he suggested we drive up around the corner to one of his neighbors houses to see another incredible display. We were not disappointed! The next house was covered in lights on all 4 sides including a tree in the front yard like I had never seen before. It was at least 30 feet tall and nearly every branch was wrapped in white lights. It honestly took your breath away at first sight. I have no idea how it was done but it was nothing short of spectacular.

The next day, Michael and I took the kids to an indoor play space and ran around for a few hours while Dad stayed home to prepare for the Rudd Christmas party that night. After playing games and running around for a few hours we headed over to my grandparents condo to see them for the first time. All of the kids loved seeing their condo, which is filled to the brim with breakables and all kinds of interesting things. The girls favorite part was sifting through my Grandma’s seashell collection and Enzo was instantly drawn to a wooden train that I remember playing with as a kid. It’s like a trip down memory lane walking into their condo for me. Looking around at all the artwork and knick knacks, each of which remind me of a certain time in my childhood. It was a nice visit and gave the kids a chance to get some one on one time with both my grandparents and Aunt Betsy. We weren’t able to stay long because we had a party that evening but it was nice to get some time in no matter how short.

That night was the annual Rudd Christmas party and of course it was a lot of fun. My Dad totally outdid himself making a delicious ham and beef tenderloin dinner and all the adults enjoyed a hilarious gift exchange. The weather turned nasty really quick that evening but thankfully it didn’t stop almost everyone from making it. It’s no surprise that we spent the entire evening crowded around the kitchen island laughing at each other and enjoying a few drinks. I am so thankful for the opportunity to see everyone, the kids had a blast climbing on Uncle Tracy and dragging any willing adult around the house. Michael and I had a great time listening to everyone tell stories about the year and generally poking fun at one another. After all the guests left we didn’t stop for the night. Michael, Dad, Chris and I stayed up until nearly 1:00 am sitting around the table talking. Words can not describe what nights like this mean to me. Quality time like that with my family is something that can’t be duplicated. Although my Dad and I talk on the phone weekly, nothing can replace a nice long conversation in person.

We were all pretty tired the next day so we laid low for the most part only getting out of the house to walk around the neighborhood for a bit. That night my Dad made us all my favorite Christmas Eve dinner, lobster corn chowder, and we were joined by Joel and Melanie who had recently returned from a 3 week trip to Malaysia. As is tradition in our family, the kids each get to open a present on Christmas Eve night. We bent to their pleas and allowed them to open more than one each but mostly because we wanted them to have a few things to occupy them for the evening so that the adults could get a little more time together without interruption. The meal did not disappoint, my Dad added crab for the first time and it was amazing. I remember having this on Christmas Eve years ago and it was better than I remembered. There was a lot to hear about regarding Joel and Melanie’s trip. None of us have ever been to that part of the world so it was fascinating to hear about their adventures. It was another late night spent around the kitchen table talking and one that I won’t soon forget. After they left we set out the remaining gifts from Santa, hung the stocking and headed off to bed in anticipation of an early morning.

Ava was the first one up on Christmas morning, which is no surprise since she is usually the first person to wake up. She came into our bedroom and said “Did Santa come last night? Can we open up presents?” By this time we were all up and headed upstairs to get grandma and grandpa up for the day. The kids started with the stockings and Elise was so cute, as she emptied out each item she yelled out with excitement “I got a candy! I got a car! I got socks!” It was adorable. The kids didn’t waste any time opening gifts, there was no waiting to see who got what, or taking turns. It was more like, “Which one says my name?” and then they would rip the paper off and move on to the next. There were a few times that we didn’t even know whose gift is was until it was opened. After all the boxes were unwrapped it looked like a bomb had gone off in the living room. We sat around and opened up each toy and piled a huge mound of cardboard into garbage bags. All of the adults were exhausted by this time and for the rest of the morning we just laid around and enjoyed the sound of the kids playing together. We were joined by all of Chris’s family that afternoon for an early dinner and another gift exchange. It was a great opportunity to get to know Chris’s family a bit better. Since I have lived so far away for all of my Dad and Chris’s relationship I have never really gotten the chance to spend time with her family. It was fun sitting around listening to their stories just like we had done with my own family. Once again my Dad totally outdid himself with all the food. He made what was probably the best turkey I have ever had. Wow was it good, so extremely juicy and slightly crispy on the outside, yum! After dinner I was definitely feeling like I was in a food coma and so was Michael because he fell asleep while sitting in the living room with everyone while they were doing their family gift exchange. Christmas was probably the only night we got to bed at a decent hour and skipped our nightly talk around the dinner table.

The next day we headed over to my grandparents condo for another Christmas party. My Aunt Betsy was thoughtful enough to coordinate a get together for us so that we could see all of my Mom’s family. We booked out the community room in the basement of their building and had everyone over for lunch. My grandma brought down her huge assortment of beads and Betsy and MaryJo set up a lunch buffet for us all. We sat around and talked and made beaded necklaces. The girls were both so incredibly proud of their creations and have worn them almost everyday since. I enjoyed sitting with my cousin Carissa and getting to know her a bit more while also making a necklace of my own, with a 3 picture locket on it. Although I don’t wear jewelry much this one is something that I will treasure. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy carefully selecting the perfect beads to make it, but I also had a great time sitting with Carissa while I beaded it. Michael enjoyed an afternoon of sitting with my uncles and grandpa, telling them mostly about the wonders that is Microsoft but also getting to know more about them as well. We get so little time with my family, and he has only been to Cedar Rapids 3 times now so every minute that we are there is special. By the end of the day we were pretty exhausted so we spent a nice relaxing night in at my Dad’s and ordered pizza. Michael and the kids went to bed early and my Dad and I stayed up late together watching a movie.

The next morning we packed up the van and headed out on a little road trip to Dubuque. My friend, Jodi and her family were also home for the holidays and since they were only 90 minutes away we wanted to take advantage of being so close to each other and spend the afternoon together. My went to her parents house for lunch and stayed to play for a few hours. She has two girls both close in age to Ava and Elise, last time we were in town they stayed the night at my Dads house and the kids really hit it off. This time was no different. Our kids made themselves at home as if they had visited there 100 times before and Jodi and I separated ourselves from the men a bit and were able to catch up on all sorts of things. I wish I had more time with Jodi, or that I had more friends like Jodi because it felt so great to be there with her. It was almost a bit therapeutic for me to spend time with her, she has such a calming, loving personality. I was completely bummed when I realized it was time to go. Time flew by while we were there and before I knew it, it was time to get back on the road.

The next day was our last day in town so we wanted to make it a full one. We got up and got ready and headed out to see my grandparents and Betsy one last time. It wasn’t a long visit but it was another opportunity for all of us to get in one more visit and for them to see the kids one more time. We hung out in their living room and played with the kids and Betsy totally had Enzo mesmerized with Nursery Rhymes. Humpty Dumpty to be exact. He has never heard the rhyme before and thought she was hysterical each time she repeated it to him. I was extremely grateful for this when on our last flight home he became horribly aggravated, I tried all sorts of things to calm him down and after about 10 minutes of no stop screaming I was able to keep him completely quiet by saying the Humpty Dumpty rhyme to him over and over. It worked like a charm. I was of course sad to say goodbye to them when it was time to go but we had plans to meet my Dad and Chris for lunch and then we were all headed to the Kids Museum in Iowa City for the afternoon. Leaving their house and not knowing when I will see any of the 3 of them again made me choke up. I did my best to see them as much as possible while we were in town but it doesn’t make things any easier. Seeing my Aunt and grandparents play with each of my children fills my heart with so much joy. The hardest part of living away from home is the time that you miss out on with your family. My kids will never know what it’s like to spend a sick day, home from school with one of their Aunts or grandparents. They’ll never get to go out on a random weekday movie date with their cousins, they won’t know what it’s like to have Christmas traditions with extended family every year. These are the things that fill my mind when I’m home visiting. These are the reasons Michael and I did our best to fill our 8 days in Iowa with family.

The rest of the afternoon was tons of fun, we had lunch at one of the coolest places in Cedar Rapids, The Black Sheep. Then we headed to Iowa City to the children’s museum. We all had a great time at the museum, it was definitely a good choice. Both kids and adults found an activity that caught their attention. I even noticed my Dad and Michael off together making and flying paper airplanes. The museum puts all of the kids attractions that we usually frequent to shame. We burned up nearly 3 hours of time in the blink of an eye. The highlight for all of us was easily the flight room. It was room filled with flight simulators, a giant slide, a fake, nearly full sized hot air balloon, several mini ride in planes, a network of air tubes that you could watch balls buzz around it and more. On our way out of the mall, grandma took the girls into Claire’s. They had been totally obsessed with jewelry since making their own beaded necklaces so she wanted to get them a few things to play with. It was the first time they have been taken into a store and told they could pick out whatever they wanted. I didn’t go in with them because I wanted it to be a special thing just with grandma. It was so adorable when they proudly showed us all of the treasure they had picked out for themselves. Its no surprise that since coming home these are the toys that they have clutched onto the most. What a special moment for them, no doubt. That night was a little bitter sweet, we were definitely all looking forward to being home, but we were not looking forward to leaving grandpa and grandma behind. I think Enzo has had the hardest time leaving grandpa behind. The two of them formed a bond on this trip unlike one I have yet seen with my kids. The has asked about grandpa almost hourly since leaving. Its both heartwarming and heart breaking at the same time. The joy that I get from seeing my baby boy and my Dad bond in unbelievable, the sadness that I feel knowing that we won’t be together again for several months is devastating.

2016 was not my favorite year by any means, but Christmas 2016 is one that I will never forget. I have only visited Iowa 4 times in 13 years. Two of those visits took place in 2016. This past week was everything that I wanted and more. My Dad and Chris worked their butts off in preparation for our stay. They opened up their home to mass chaos and did it happily. They hardly let us lift a finger for 8 days and when we did help they thanked us repeatedly. They hosted multiple gathering so that we would have quality time with all of our multiple family members. They provided us with an awesome “Pellegrini Suite” to stay in and made sure that we wanted for nothing. They didn’t bat an eye when one of the kids spilled or broke something and they never stopped being incredible hosts. All 5 of us had an awesome trip and we are so thankful that we were able to fill every minute of our trip with family. I love you both so very much, thank you for having us, we miss you already!

Playing at the park with Grandpa

Lunch at Biaggi’s with Liz

Daddy and Ava sledding at the YMCA

What a tree!

Staying warm with Enzo

Opening presents with Grandma

The girls posing in front of our beautiful tree

Who wants to race?

Lounging with Uncle Joel

Christmas morning

Our silly girls

Love you Dad

Elise getting ready to open her coloring book and crayons

Grandpa and his main man

Ava was so proud of the necklace she made

Visiting Jodi’s family in Dubuque

Hanging out with Great Grandpa Larry

A nice visit with Great Grandma Sherry

Christmas 2016 Begins

Although the actual holiday is still a couple weeks away, and our trip to Iowa is exactly one week out, for all intents and purposes, Christmas for our family officially began on Sunday. We were visited by Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Kristy, and Madi, for an afternoon of opening presents, eating lunch, and hanging out. The only unfortunate part of the day was the performance by the Seahawks at Green Bay, but considering the fact that my Sounders won their first MLS Cup the night before, I felt like I didn’t have too much to complain about.

As usual, they were much too generous in the gifts they brought us. The kids all love their toys, Jessica has worn her new shawl/scarf each day since receiving it and is looking forward to her Spa day after our trip to Iowa, and I’m very much looking forward to reading all my new books. I also received a really nice set of loose leaf teas that Jessica and I have been enjoying daily. Elise got a toy cleaning set that she absolutely loves; she can regularly be found ‘cleaning’ various areas of the house with her little squeegee, spray bottle, and brush. Enzo is constantly playing with his new trucks and tractors. Then there is Ava, who just enjoys playing with new toys, regardless of who they were actually given to.

After opening presents we all enjoyed cups of the new teas I got, then sat down for a big family lunch. I had previously made my ‘Meat Lover’s Chili’ (beef, pork, chicken, and turkey), so we had that along with Caesar Salad and warm sourdough bread, while the kids enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit. It was pretty much the perfect family day and a very nice way to kick off Christmas!

To add to the Christmas theme of the weekend, a couple days earlier we got our first significant snow in 2 years. I woke up that morning to about 3 inches on the ground, so I decided to avoid the roads and work from home that day. In between calling into meetings and working on coding tasks, I would go outside with everyone for snowball fights, snow angels, and snowman building. It was a lot of fun for everyone, especially the kids of course, and provided a nice transition into the weekend.

Jessica has been working as much as possible this month, mainly because this is their busiest month of the year. Last Saturday night she worked the private Pokemon Christmas party. They always go big on their annual Christmas party at El Gaucho, but due to this year’s huge success with the Pokemon Go game, the party was more extravagant than ever. Working such a huge party has it’s benefits, but not getting home until 3:30 in the morning is less than ideal. I had been hoping things would slow down significantly for me at work this month, as it did last year, but it hasn’t exactly played out that way. We’re just as busy as ever, so I think Jess and I are both very much ready for our vacation next week.

Since Jessica didn’t have to work on Monday night, we decided to take the kids downtown for some holiday shopping in the city. First they all picked me up at work and got to see my new office. The kids were all super excited to meet ‘Taco’, my office fish. It’s not actually my fish but I’m fish-sitting for a co-worker for a few weeks. Of all the fun things we did that night, meeting Taco ended up being the highlight of the day for Ava and Elise.

After leaving work we headed downtown and bounced around a few different stores, all the while taking in the various holiday-related sights: Christmas trees, lights, and fake snow. Jessica and I each bought sweaters and hats, and we all enjoyed dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I had been hoping to find a good Winter hat and ended up striking gold at Eddie Bauer. I saw this epic red and black plaid hat with plush fur lining in their window display, then went about scouring the store to try one on. After several unsuccessful minutes of searching I asked a salesperson about it and she said the one in the window was the last one, but that I was welcome to try it on. It was too perfect to pass up, so I’m looking forward to taking it on our trip. I doubt I’ll be going outside in Iowa without it.

After that we took the kids down to the Public Market for a few photos. The girls were dying to sit on the bronze pig, so we were happy to oblige. It ended up being another epic holiday-inspired day, and doing it on a Monday evening was perfect because there were no crowds to deal with.

This weekend we’ve got some fun stuff to look forward to. Jessica’s best friend Laurel is coming out on Friday for a visit from North Carolina and will be staying with us for a few nights. Saturday night our friends the Martin’s (Julie, Bardi, and their 3 kids) will be joining us at our house for a dinner party. I’m looking forward to making lobster pasta, but haven’t decided on the rest of the menu quite yet.

Laurel leaves on Monday, then we’re going to do our own small family Christmas on Tuesday night, which will include Skyping with Grandma and Grandpa Martin as the kids open their presents. We’ll be up dark ‘n early the next morning at 4:00 so we can get on our flight to Iowa. We’re staying for a full week and are looking forward to seeing everyone. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about when we return. I think we get home on the 29th, so we have plenty of time before Jessica goes to work on New Year’s Eve. I won’t be returning to work until the first Monday of the new year.

We wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and look forward to seeing you soon if we haven’t already. Here’s a few recent family pics.

Enjoying the snow. 2 out of 3 looking at the camera isn’t bad…

Getting ready for our family day on Sunday

Surrounded with presents

They love their Paw Patrol art set

Poor Madi has a hairline fracture in her heel. Didn’t stop her from having fun though. That boot looks familiar…

We have a bit of a tradition giving cutlery for Christmas. Hope Kristy enjoys.

Jim and Brenda enjoying some gifts of their own

Loving my new winter hat. Too bad you can’t see the plaid pattern. It really drives it home. #Griswold

Family selfie in the market

The girls visiting their favorite pig

Christmas in the city – Seattle style

This year’s visit with old Saint Nick