The 50 Dates Challenge & A Giveaway!!

For Christmas 2012, my sweet husband gave me the most amazing gift: a year of 50 dates. Inspired by our friends Jessie & Jeremiah, he promised me that in 2013 we would go on 50 dates. This was huge! The previous year we maybe went on 15 or so dates, so it was definitely going to be a challenge.

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It was one of the best things we have ever done for our marriage.

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After 7 years of marriage, intentional dating had unintentionally been pushed aside. We went on dates when we could: when we happened to have free childcare, or a scheduled event (like tickets to a concert), or decided that we desperately needed time together so we would fork over the money for a babysitter. We had a lot of valid reasons what it was hard to go out: our schedules were crazy, our budget was tight, we didn’t have family in town to watch them and we were just exhausted at the end of each day. Our nights at home together (which only happened a few nights a week) often ended up with us sitting on the couch watching a show “together”. Our marriage was good and healthy, but it wasn’t thriving like it could have been. I think that the main reason for this was not prioritizing quality time together.

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When you are dating someone, the point of going on dates is to get to know each other better and better, to make memories, to grow your romance and to have fun together. Why do we so often let dating end when we get married? It is even more important in marriage to continue to grow our relationship with our spouse, to build memories and to have fun together. Once I started to think of dating my husband in this way, it greatly impacted how I viewed our time together.

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Making a commitment to dating each other was so incredibly huge for our relationship. Yes- life was just as crazy, if not more, than the year before. No, we had not run into a ton of extra money. But we made a promise to each other that we would make time together happen. Here are some of the things we noticed throughout this project:

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*Our communication was better than ever, because we were spending more time together.

*Even if we couldn’t get out for a date, we could plan great dates at home after our kids were in bed. This has revolutionized the way we think of dating as parents.

*It forced us to be creative and think differently about what makes a good date night.

*There were a crazy couple of months when my husband was working more than ever before. In past years, we would have likely let those weeks go by without a date night because we were so busy. We probably would not have noticed until we reached the point where our lack of time together was manifesting itself in more disagreements, increased miscommunication and feeling very distant from each other. Because we knew we had to stay on track with our dates, we made it work. We planned ahead and fit that time together into our nutty schedules. And it saved our sanity those months.

*Intimacy naturally grew.

*We both felt more secure in our relationship and our family thrived as well. My 6 year old already has a basic understanding of why mommy & daddy going on dates is so important. This is so huge for me- I hope and pray that our marriage will set a good example for our kids so that they have healthy expectations when they get married one day.

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50dateschallenge

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One of the most exciting parts of this project to me was seeing it inspire other couples to commit to dating. From newlyweds to couples who had been married over 30 years, I love hearing people say that they were encouraged to commit to intentional time together because of seeing what we were doing.

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So, I decided to make it official. It’s your turn! I am challenging you to make a commitment to dating your spouse in 2013. I already have a few friends who have told me that they are going for 50 dates in 2014, which is awesome!

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It doesn’t have to be 50 dates though. That is what we chose because it worked out to one date a week, with a couple of mulligans. But for some, 25 dates in 2014 is more doable number. My challenge to you is to pick an number of dates that is reasonable for you and your spouse, but would still be a challenge. That may be 25, 40 or even 12. Each marriage is unique and no one number is perfect for everyone. Figure out a good number for you and stick to it.

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This coming year, we’ve decided to do 30 dates. Yes, it is significantly less than last year, but it is still going to be a big challenge as we are having another baby join our family in April. I know that this season of our marriage is going to look different than the past year, which makes me want to commit to intentional time together even more. So we are going to be creative. This past year taught me we could do it. At first, we said we were just going to try to have a date every couple of weeks. But then, I was reminded of this brilliant advice from my pal Yoda: “Do or Do Not. There is no try”. If we were just going to “try” to date more, it would not happen as much. There is something about claiming a number of dates as a goal that makes it much more concrete.

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If you are going for it, I’d love to hear! If you are going to share your photos on instagram, like we did, I suggest making your own hashtag, rather than using #50datesin2014, so that you have your photos all cataloged together, not mixed with a stranger’s. So, something including your last name, like “#toney50dates2014″.

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I am going to be sharing some tips and creative ideas along the way.

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Here are some rules we set for ourselves, but again- feel free to set up yours in whatever way will work best for you as a couple:

*Dates had to include alone time, rather than doing something with a big group of friends. We did have a couple of double dates, but there was also time for just the two of us incorporated into that date as well (like having dinner on our own, then meeting another couple for dessert).

*We could do at-home dates. These were after our kids were asleep. The main rule is that they had to be something planned and intentional: a late night dinner, making dessert together, reading together, etc. Not just plopping down on the couch and turning the TV on.

*We tried to include an overnight date once a season. Leaving the kids with their grandparents and getting at least 24 hours together was incredibly life-giving to our marriage.

*They could be something simple, like a morning walk to the Farmer’s Market or a short afternoon walk. If we had family staying with us or were visiting family, we would try to sneak away for a bit for a date, even if it was only for an hour.

*We tried to not do the same thing twice to keep things fresh & creative. A couple of things made multiple appearances, but we didn’t want to fall into the rut of “for date night we go to dinner & a movie”.

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To kick this off, I am doing a giveaway! I am going to giveaway a $25 visa giftcard to use for a date night. To enter, comment on this blogpost, telling me how many dates you are committing to for the year. You can earn an additional entry for sharing on facebook, instagram or twitter- just post a separate comment telling me where you posted. So that is a total of 4 opportunities to enter. I will randomly pick a winner next Friday, the 24th.

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Here is a list of our 50 dates. You can see more details here: dates 1-20, dates 11-20, dates 21-30, dates 31-40 and dates 41-50.

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1. Dinner out at one of our favorite restaurants to kick off the new year and our year of 50 dates.

2. Snowboarding in our local mountains

3. An amazing candlelit dinner after our kids were in bed, made by my husband

4. Dessert & drinks at our local car dealership (yes- the Lexus dealership has a swanky restaurant on the top level)

5. My husband made pasta from scratch and we had dinner and drinks together while watching the Grammys

6. Valentine’s Day breakfast in Santa Barbara (while visiting family) followed by a walk down State Street & some shopping

7. We used up an old gift card for some cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. Not all dates have to be super exciting :)

8. Breakfast at our favorite coffee shop, followed by some surfing and reading on the beach.

9. Pizza & movie night: we made homemade pizzas together after the kids were asleep and watched a movie.

10. A picnic dinner at Balboa Park, followed by a walk around the park and dessert and tea at Extraordinary Desserts.

11. A hike at Torrey Pines.

12. My husband had never seen The Sound of Music. We remedied this while making and eating homemade ice cream sandwiches.

13. Dinner and game night at home after we put the kids down.

14. While on vacation in Italy with Daveed’s parents, we snuck away to walk around the small town we were staying in and to have lunch and gelato.

15. Another night in Italy, we explored the seaside village we were staying in: skipping through tunnels, stopping in a local bar to get internet access and a glass of wine, then buying some dessert and eating it while sitting on the cost watching the nighttime waves. We spent a couple of hours just talking and dreaming together.

16. Back in the US, we made brownies together from scratch and had some time reading the bible together outside under the stars. We also listened to old Foo Foo Fighters records, which made us reminisce about our early dating days.

17. We went to see a movie- The Great Gatsby- which only happens about once a year.

18. We got frozen yogurt, checked out a new local store for tea, beer and good cheese, then headed to our favorite local restaurant for some french fries. Yes- dessert and then french fries :)

19. Going to a Padres game.

20. We checked out some new fun cookbooks from the library and looked through them over drinks and appetizers. From those cookbooks, we planned a menu to make for one of our future date nights.

21. We were headed to the Midwest for a friend’s wedding, so we planned an extra night in Chicago right after we flew in. We checked out the Bean, listened to a free orchestra concert in Millennium Park, took a long walk to get the best deep dish pizza in town and then took in fireworks and the view from the top of the Hancock Building.

22. A breakfast date in the city, during which we were reminded why I should not be the person to look at a map and direct us. What I thought was a couple block walk ended up being a couple mile walk :)

23. A hot date to my husband’s best friend’s wedding in Michigan.

24. Dinner at Karl Strauss brewery thanks to a generous gift card. It was a much needed date night in the midst of some really hard stuff- a time of processing, sharing our hearts and grappling with questions of cancer & God and looking back on the story he has given us.

25. We made the meal we picked out from the cookbook date a few dates back. You can see the full menu at the link above :)

26. Free summer movie night at Stone Brewery & Gardens- a perfect low-key date during one of the hardest weeks of  my life.

27. Later that week, I needed a night to talk, process and mourn together. After the kids were down, we sat in our back yard around a fire pit and talked for hours.

28. Dinner out at a hip new casual dinner spot and ice cream and drinks at a swanky place next door afterward.

29. A night in San Diego’s Little Italy, reminiscing about our trip to Italy with pizza, gelato and browsing little Italian markets.

30. Some lazy beach time, kayaking in La Jolla and a picnic burger dinner with a Sprinkles cupcake to end a perfect summer date.

31. Another Stone Brewery movie night. When something is awesome, local and free, you gotta hit it up more than once :)

32. 8th Anniversary day date: a round of bocce in Liberty Station, paddle boarding in the bay and lunch at my favorite sandwich spot.

33. Anniversary dinner date at Seersucker, one of our favorite restaurants. I even wore my hot pink wedding shoes :)

34. Daveed’s birthday date: breakfast at Snooze and browsing some record shops in Hillcrest.

35. Seeing “The Last Goodbye” at The Old Globe theater. Amazing.

36. We both were attending a conference in Nashville, so we headed out a couple of days early to explore the town. Our first date was a BBQ dinner at Puckett’s and listening to a ton of live music.

37. Our second Nashville date was lunch at The Whiskey Kitchen, following by some shopping at the largest used bookstore I’ve ever seen and some downtime reading and talking at a cute coffee shop.

38. Our last Nashville date was dinner a great local restaurant, The Lockeland Table and delicious ice cream at Jeni’s, where we met up with a friend from college & his wife.

39. Another amazing dinner cooked by my husband with much needed time to process together as we had just found out that our 3rd baby was going to be another boy.

40. A morning walk to our local farmer’s market for a waffle and some groceries.

41. Scored major wife points by going to dinner at a wings place that had 30 TVs. We cheered on our alma mater (UCLA) and ate ridiculously slow so that we could stay until the ending to watch them win.

42. We snuck away to Palm Springs for 2 nights for a good friend’s wedding, where we played music and sang for the ceremony.

43. While visiting family for thanksgiving, we walked to breakfast through the neighborhood I grew up in and then grabbed donuts to take back to our kids.

44. An at home date, decorating our Christmas tree while listening to Christmas records and starting our advent reading together.

45. We went to see one of my favorite bands, The Head & The Heart perform in LA.

46. Dinner at a fancy restaurant in La Jolla, thanks to a generous gift card, followed by driving around looking at lights.

47. Another wedding date, for a friend from college, where we got the honor of singing their first dance song.

48. Sushi lunch date- which was a big deal for my hubs since sushi is pretty much my least favorite thing ever.

49. Gift card date night! We used gift cards we had been given for dinner, gelato and a movie.

50. New Years Eve party hopping: one party for our friends who were celebrating their 20th anniversary and another for a midnight gender reveal for friends who are expecting their first baby.

 

 

 

****GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED. Beth is the winner!

InstaFriday!

This week flew by! Time to link up with Life Rearranged’s instafriday again! It has been so nice to settle back into our normal routine. Isaiah was so excited to go back to school and Hudson has loved having alone time in the mornings again.

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This weekend, I got to put my wedding planner hat back on to help two sweet friends on their wedding day. It was such a joy- we are so happy for Brian & Kelsey!

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Yes, my eyes look crazy thanks to the red eye remover. Trust me- it’s better than the crazy evil glowing eyes :)

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This is how Southern CA does winter weddings:

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I didn’t get a chance to take many detail shots, but I did get this one. I love me a bow napkin!

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On Tuesday, Daveed started his sabbatical. Our church’s leadership team and elders are amazing and give full time pastors a 7-week sabbatical every 7 years. It’s a time to rest, study, spend time with family and rejuvenate for the coming years of ministry. We are so thankful and excited about this opportunity! We kicked it off with a date at our favorite breakfast spot, The Cottage in La Jolla. I just love this guy and I am so excited to see what God has in store for him over these next 7 weeks.

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Not only did I get to go on a date with hubby, but later that day, I got to go on a little date with my oldest. His choice? Going to Michaels to get more bands for his rainbow loom and ice cream. Like mother, like son :)

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First book of 2014: check! I really enjoyed The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. It was a dream of a book- very quick to read and beautiful imagery.

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That’s it for this week! Enjoy your weekend everyone!

 

50 dates project: dates #41-50

We did it! We actually reached our goal of 50 dates in 2013!! What a year it was. I am going to be posting a recap in the next week with my thoughts looking back and a challenge for others but, in the meantime, here is a look at dates 41-50 (you can see dates 1-40 here).

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Date #41: I scored major wife points by going to dinner at a wings place that had 30 TVs. Only for my husband and only to watch my bruins play (and they won that game to top it all of. Yay UCLA!).

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Date #42: We snuck away to Palm Springs for 2 nights for my dear friend Jenna’s wedding. We played music & sang together before their ceremony started and it was so fun! Music has been a part of our relationship since back when we met in Jr. High and it has been such a blessing to have such an amazing thing to share.

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Date #43: While visiting my family for Thanksgiving, we took an early morning walk to breakfast in the neighborhood I grew up in. We grabbed some donuts on the way home to surprise the kiddos. These are the streets of my childhood- riding bikes to get ice cream, walking to McDonald’s on long summer days, chasing the ice cream man in our bathing suits. Walking them with my love was a sweet thing.

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Date #44: An at-home date, decorating our tree while listening to Christmas records and starting our advent reading together. Mellow, merry and a lovely way to kick off the holiday season.

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Date #45: We went to see one of our favorite bands, The Head & The Heart, in concert. It was so so good. Going to concerts has been one of our favorite ways of dating since we were teens.

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Date #46: Thanks to a generous gift card from a family in our church, we went out for a fancy dinner in La Jolla and drove around looking at Christmas lights- including the house shown which had it’s own radio station that the lights danced to!

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Date #47: Another wedding date- this time for the wedding of one of our college friends. It was at an amazing new event space in Long Beach called The Loft on Pine and, once again, we had the honor of getting to be a part of the music for the wedding. David played for the ceremony and then we sang a song called “When the Right One Comes Along” for the first dance. It was a magical moment that was so special to be a part of. Wedding dates are extra special- getting to spend time with my love, all dressed up, while we celebrate love and the amazing gift that is marriage.

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Date #48: Sushi lunch date (don’t worry- I didn’t eat in raw fish!). This is a big deal- I do not like sushi, pregnant or not, so it never happens. Daveed loves it though, so last Christmas, I gave him a coupon for a sushi date and he just now redeemed it. He was a very happy boy :)

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Date #49: gift card night! We used a gift card for dinner, a gift card for gelato & a gift card to see a movie. Such a fun casual date night- made even better by the fact that it was free! :)

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Date #50: New Years Eve party hopping. First stop: celebrating the 20th Wedding Anniversary of our dear friends. Second stop: a gender reveal party for friends of ours having their first baby. What a great way to end our year of 50 dates: getting dressed up & celebrating life’s big moments with friends that we love.

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It has been an amazing adventure. More to come soon! :)

InstaFriday!

Happy New Year!

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Starting 2014 off right by actually blogging an InstaFriday on Friday! I link up with my friend Jeannett of Life Rearranged to share the moments of my week, captured on instagram.

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I took part in a gift exchange as part of the Rabbit Room and I got this fun package from John in Tennessee:

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I can’t wait to get reading! And he even included my favorite holiday tea from Trader Joe’s without knowing it :)

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We got to spend New Year’s Eve celebrating with two couples that are dear with us. The first party was for friends of ours that were celebrating their 20th anniversary, which also coincided with both NYE and the day they made their last payment to become debt free!

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After dinner, we headed to another party for our friends that are having their first baby. At the stroke of midnight, they did a gender reveal by popping big balloons that contained either pink or blue confetti. The confetti was blue, so it’s a boy!

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I am so excited for our baby boy to have another buddy- and they live in our neighborhood which makes it even better!

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I forgot to take any pictures of it, but we had a get together for our 10 year reunion. It was so fun to see friends I hadn’t seen since graduation and those who I see often as well. I stole this picture from someone else on facebook- thanks for taking pictures Hania!

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The hubs and I finished our 50 dates project on New Years Eve and what a year it has been! I am going to do a final recap of our dates next week. I love this man and am so thankful God has blessed me with him!

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Last night, I got to celebrate the birthdays of two of my favorite people and this was our view for the evening. Living in San Diego doesn’t suck.

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Happy first weekend of 2014 everyone!

50 dates project: dates #31-40

I was about to write the wrap up post for our 50 dates project when I realized that I never did a recap of dates 31-40. Oops! Here is a look at the dates we had this fall. Next week, I will share dates 41-50 and some thoughts on what we learned through this year long adventure. You can see dates 1-30 here.

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For date #31, we went to another Stone Brewery movie night. That night, the movie was Zoolander. This is our best attempt at Blue Steel. Know that there were about 10 outtakes that were even worse than this one :)

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On September 9th, we celebrated our 8th anniversary with a two date day. For our day-date (#32), we had lunch at my favorite sandwich spot, Con Pane in Point Loma, then we headed over to the new Stone in Liberty Station to play some bocce. He beat me by one point, for the record :)  We then headed down to the bay for some paddleboarding, which was so fun and peaceful.

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After some time at a coffee shop, where I heated up my hot rollers next to all of the laptop cords, we got dressed in the car and headed out for an amazing dinner date at Seersucker downtown (date #33). Daveed got bone marrow, I got a fun mocktail alongside our amazing meal and they brought us an anniversary dessert plate with three incredible desserts on it, so we were happy campers. I love taking time each anniversary to think back through our wedding and bring to life our favorite memories from that day. We then talked through God’s goodness over the years and how we have seen our marriage grow from anniversary to anniversary. We sat next two a couple who were getting married a couple of days later, which made it even more fun to look at how much our relationship has grown in 8 years and what a fun adventure marriage is.

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The next day was Daveed’s birthday. We usually try to go away somewhere for our anniversary and his birthday, since they are back to back, but it just didn’t work out this year. Unfortunately, I felt very nauseous that morning (hello first trimester) so we got a slow start. Once we got out of the house, we headed down to one of our favorite breakfast spots, Snooze, where I forced down an English muffin and Daveed got a fancy breakfast drink. We then spent some time browsing record shops and finished off our date (#34) with lunch at his favorite North County restaurant, Urge. This was a simple date, which I felt bad about since it was his birthday, but he was so gracious and supportive of how I was feeling. Proof that dates don’t have to always been extravagant or super exciting. We were just happy to be able to spend some time together that day, celebrating his birthday in simple ways.

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Date #35: We went to see “The Last Goodbye” at The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. It is a modern take of Romeo & Juliet- Shakespeare’s script, but with Jeff Buckley songs added in to make it a musical. I’m a big musical theater fan and Daveed is a big Jeff Buckley fan, so it was a perfect combo for us. We both loved it.

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In October, we were fortunately to be able to take a trip to Nashville together for a conference, thanks to our family jumping on board to watch our boys and the amazing generosity of some of our friends. It was an incredible trip- we headed out a couple of days early to spend some time exploring the city before our conference began. Daveed had been a couple of times before, but this was my first time in Nashville and I fell in love with it. The conference we went to, Hutchmoot, was amazing and greatly impactful. That took up most of our time there, but the dates we planned in the first couple of days were special times together that I will always remember.

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Date #36: BBQ dinner at Puckett’s and listening to a ton of live music, both in the restaurant and all over the downtown area. Daveed didn’t like the ribs at all, as you can tell :)

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Date #37: Lunch at Whiskey Kitchen (so tasty) and some shopping, including the largest used bookstore I have ever seen. We also had some time to read and relax at one of the cutest coffee shops ever.

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Date #38: Amazing dinner at a great little local restaurant, Lockeland Table and delicious ice cream at Jeni’s, where we met up with an old college friend and his wife who live in the area.

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If you were to say what we do the most when traveling is eating, you would be correct. We can remember almost every meal we’ve eaten on every trip we’ve been on. I love researching ahead of time and asking for recommendations from friends so that we can find the best local restaurants to try.

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Date #39: This photo may just look like a plate of food, but it is much more. First of all, it is an amazing meal that my husband cooked for us. Again, we are food lovers and I am so thankful that he is a wonderful cook. But even more than being a really tasty meal, it takes me back a difficult day that we walked through together. It was the day that we found out this baby, which will be my last pregnancy, is another boy. Over dinner, I was finally able to let out the tears that I had been holding in all evening since our ultrasound. Our boys were so excited about having another brother and I didn’t want to ruin that for them or to give them any reason for concern. So, for the couple of hours until they went to bed, I held it together- which meant I couldn’t look at Daveed or talk to him about it all or  I would break into a river of tears. So when they were asleep and the two of us were finally sitting down alone, I was able to process. To cry, to list all of the things that I always thought I would get to do with a daughter that I now had to let go of and mourn and to hear how he was a bit heartbroken over the fact that he would never have that father-daughter relationship. Those moments over pork tenderloin, risotto and brussels sprouts were so important and so necessary. If we hadn’t carved out time to have an at-home dinner date that night, we may have not had the opportunity to communicate in depth what we were feeling and thinking. To mourn together the dream that we would one day have a daughter, so that we could wake up the next morning and start getting pumped up about having three boys.

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Date #40: We walked to our local Farmer’s Market for some waffles and groceries. Another simple date, but one that I loved. It’s rare that we get to do normal everyday things like this together without our kiddos, so we soaked up the time to be able to leisurely walk through our neighborhood and to take our time sampling goat cheese, balsamic vinegar and strawberries without chasing after our sweet little guys.

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Looking back at these memories from just a couple of months ago makes my heart swell. What a gift these dates have been- treasured time together that has helped build up our marriage in ways that I never knew a handful of dinners and walks could do.

A full recap of our 2013 Advent Calendar

Christmas has now come and gone, which is always bittersweet for me. I am tempted to hang on as long as I can, but I also start longing to get the dead tree out of my house and get everything clean and back to normal. The holidays have always my favorite time of year, even more so now that I have kids who are super into everything Christmas.

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To best manage our time and focus during the advent season leading up to Christmas, I started doing an advent calendar with my boys a couple of years ago. I made mine in banner style and it hangs under our stairs, which is the boys play area.

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In each pocket, I write a Christmas related activity for us to do together that day. A little tip: I never write what we are doing until the night before or early that morning. That way, if I need to change plans last minute, any sneaky eyes don’t peek and seek the wrong thing.

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In our home, my goal is to put the focus on celebrating Jesus as much as possible. To set the tone for this, we start each morning reading an advent devotion together. This year, we followed along with posts from The Story Warren, which mostly used our favorite children’s bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible. On school days, we have our oldest get dressed right away and then we eat breakfast and get totally ready for school, making sure to leave 10 minutes for our advent time before we have to leave the house. Then, we squish on the couch and do our reading for the day. After that, Isaiah gets to take the card out of the advent calendar and read what we are going to do that day.

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Some activities were big and others were little, some were about giving and some were about eating or drinking something sweet. No matter what it was, though, Isaiah was excited. I loved that! Every day, he was pumped to do something Christmasy together- to create a memory.

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It made the season not as hurried and me not as crazy. It helped me focus on what was important, as I would have rushed through many busy days without doing something intentional to celebrate with my boys. It helped us be merry, it helped us love each other better and it helped build our joy as we awaited the day we celebrate our newborn King.

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Here is a full list of the activities we did this year, with any applicable links. I hope that this can help inspire your own lists in future years. Ours will change from year to year, but many staples will always be a part of our advent routine.

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Day 1: get our christmas tree.

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Day 2: christmas book marathon (always a favorite- I pack the Christmas books away with the decorations, which makes reading them that much more exciting for the boys)

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Day 3: holiday craft day with nonna (my mother-in-law). There were a couple of days that my kids were with one of their grandmas, so I planned something they could do together.

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Day 4: drink hot chocolate. (easy and quick- but made the boys so happy. Perfect for a busy day)

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Day 5: make christmas legos (Lego sells little $8 sets- we found them at Legoland the month before, but I am sure you can find them online)

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Day 6: Help daddy hang the lights and finish decorating.

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Day 7: listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas book on vinyl (yes- book on vinyl. One of my most favorite thrift store finds ever. This is one activity that will always remain on our advent calendar list)

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Day 8: family Christmas movie night. We had a picnic dinner in front of the tree and watched Elf.

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Day 9: make a gingerbread house (Trader Joe’s sells super easy and cute sets)

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Day 10: make snowflakes. We did some normal ones, but also used these templates to make some Star Wars ones, which were a big hit with this kid.

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Day 11: giving day 1. I try to have at least 2 days where we focus on giving to others and sharing God’s love with those in need. On this day, we went through all of the boys toys, books and clothes and donated what they didn’t need. Isaiah was surprisingly into it. It made this mama’s heart so happy.

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Day 12: make snow globes. We used these directions, but altered them a bit to make it less expensive. I just used hot glue instead of epoxy and didn’t use any anti-rust sealant and they turned out fine. We used them for decor on our dining table.

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Day 13: christmas light scavenger hunt. We had actually planned to go to the Zoo for our activity this day, but Isaiah ended up being a little sick, so we changed our plans around. After dinner, we piled in the car in our PJ’s, freshly baked cookies in hand. We drove to a neighborhood near us (in central San Diego) called Candy Cane Lane to look at the lights. I found this scavenger hunt list on pinterest, but next year I will just make my own. How often have you seen a dolphin in Christmas light displays? It became a big joke for us, as Hudson would look for a dolphin every time we drove anywhere for the rest of the month because he wanted to be able to check that last thing off of the list :) It was a fun way to spice up looking at lights.

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Day 14: christmas in the park. Our local park, Old Poway Park, is awesome. Not only do they have steam trains you can ride on the weekends, but they also have a big Christmas celebration one night in December. We saw Santa ride in on the train, rode the train (where they gave the kids jingle bells- which my boys loved), did free crafts and bought some gingerbread while choirs sang in the gazebo. Be sure to check your local community events to see what fun free family activities they may have planned.

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Day 15: christmas at Sea World. We are blessed to have Sea World annual passes, so we got to go check out the decorations and special holiday programs. We were really surprised by the Shamu Christmas show- it was totally a worship service! They had the words to Christmas carols about Jesus on the screen, a big choir singing and encouraged all the guests to sing along. I thought it was 25 times better than the normal Shamu show. (note: it is only on the weekends during the holidays. I made that mistake last year and went on a weekday)

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Day 16: Christmas bingo, found here. We use M&M’s as markers, because chocolate always makes everything more fun.

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Day 17: craft day. This day ended up being different and more awesome than I could have planned. I had a bunch of different crafts prepped for us, but Isaiah grabbed ahold of our first one and we spent all afternoon on it. I had planned for us to make a nativity scene out of popsicle sticks- which I envisioned as Jesus, Mary & Joseph inside of the manger. Oh no- Isaiah wanted to do the whole shebang. So we made shepherds, wise men, an angel and animals. I helped Isaiah glue and cut the more difficult things, but most everything was his idea. After we had it made, he wanted to use them to perform the Christmas story for my friends that were coming over that night. It was precious. I was able to hear him tell the story of Jesus’ birth in a way that I could have never initiated. This will be one I remember for years.

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Day 18: record their Christmas song with Daddy. Every year, our family releases a 3 or 4 song Christmas album. The boys always contribute and, this year, they each got their own little song. You can hear the album here.

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Day 19: giving day 2. This ended up spanning two days. On the first day, it was pouring rain, so we took hot chocolate to the cross guards during pick up at Isaiah’s school. I couldn’t get a picture because it was literally dumping rain & hailing, but they were so surprised and thankful. Isaiah’s face was beaming. We also: bought McDonald’s gift cards to keep in our car for when we see someone who needs them, paid for the car behind us in line at Starbucks, left a note & treat for our mailman in our mailbox and put together blessing bags to keep in the car for the homeless (we included socks, gloves, toiletries, snacks and water). Isaiah remembered doing some of these things last year, so he was excited to do them again. Once again, this mama’s heart was overflowing.

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Day 20: make cookies.

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Day 21: Surprise day with Grandma- she took them to see Frozen but didn’t tell them until they got to the movie theater. Daveed and I were at a wedding that day, so I was so thankful they could do something exciting with my mom since we couldn’t be with them all day.

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Day 22: ride on a double decker bus to look at lights. This has become one of our favorite holiday traditions. Friends of ours invite a bunch of people over for dinner and then we all load on a British-style bus to drive through several awesome neighborhoods. Daveed brings his guitar on board and leads everyone in Christmas carols. In one of the neighborhoods, we hop off at a house for dessert and hot chocolate. It truly is such a treat for us and we are thankful we get to be included.

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Day 23: watch A Charlie Brown Christmas on the lawn with our next door neighbors. We have been blessed with awesome neighbors who like to project Charlie Brown movies outside on almost every holiday :) Next year, we are hoping to expand this to be an outreach for our neighborhood.

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Day 24: make Christmas cards for family and friends.

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Day 25: we always end our advent activities by singing happy birthday to Jesus. We do this and read the last reading of the Christmas story before any gifts are opened. This is a tradition that will continue throughout the years and it is one of my favorites moments of Christmas day.

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A couple of other ideas that we did in past years, but couldn’t fit in this year:

*California snow day: We did  snow themed crafts all day long (including snow paint, made with shaving cream), watched Frosty the snowman and had snow themed snacks.

*Make Christmas pizzas: buy ready to use pizza dough and use cookie cutters to make it into Christmas shapes. Then add toppings and bake as usual.

*Deliver Christmas cookies to neighbors

*Each kid gets some one-on-one time with mom or dad at a store to pick out a Christmas gift for their sibling

*Ornament making day

*Buy a gift to donates to Toys for Tots. We did an Angel Tree gift this year, but took care of it before our advent calendar started, so it didn’t make it onto the list.

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It is a fair amount of work to plan these things in advance, but it is definitely worth it. Seeing the joy on my kids faces each morning as we talk about what we are going to do that day helps build the anticipation for Christmas Day and it helps me stay intentional in creating memories for my boys during a crazy busy time.

InstaFriday, sunday style

After a wonderful week of Christmas celebrations and lots of family time, we settled back home today and I finally got my computer (which is on it’s last leg and has not been cooperating) to charge enough for me to use it. Hooray- a Christmas miracle! So, now, I give you, two weeks of InstaFriday on Sunday :)

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I am sharing some of my favorite moments from this Christmas. There are many that are not shown in this post: I am leaving out all of our daily advent activities, as I will be sharing a post tomorrow that recaps all 25 days. Also missing from this post are a couple of dates for our 50 Dates in 2013 project, as I will be posting on that later this week as well.

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Isaiah and I got to take a mommy-son bike ride to our local farmers market. I love being able to do things like this with him now that he is older.

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For one of our advent activities, we went to Sea World to see all of the fun holiday activities and decor. They have a little snow play area (which is basically some ice) and Hudson kept calling the snow “frosting”. Because he is a Southern CA kid. He sees frosting 99 times more than he sees snow.

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Two and a half years ago, I sold my wedding planning company. One of the things that I miss the most is seeing all of my friends in the wedding industry. The past two years, a few of them have thrown a Christmas party for wedding friends who are also moms. It has been so wonderful to still be included in this list and I so very much enjoyed seeing everyone and catching up. My night with them was such a blessing!

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Speaking of weddings, last weekend David and I got to see one of our college friends marry his beautiful bride. The wedding was wonderful- it was held at an incredible new venue in Long Beach called The Loft on Pine. For the second time that week, I got to spend time with dear friends who I hardly ever see. We may have even done an 8-clap during dinner (Go Bruins!). It was such an honor to be able to sing their first dance song for them. I will always remember singing with my husband while watching them dance, singing the words to each other, overflowing with joy.

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This is the photo we chose for our Christmas cards this year, taken by the lovely Megan Ann Photography. I still am in shock that we could get one picture where they both are looking and smiling. I am expecting that to never happen once another little boy joins our family photo next year :)

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A couple more #placeshudsonhasatimeout photos to add to the collection:

Miss Melissa’s front porch (where he goes to daycare one morning a week):

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Please note that the sign above him says “sing a happy song”. He did not get the memo. (In case you were wondering, this timeout was because he wanted to close her front gate himself but couldn’t do it, so a major tantrum ensued. Life is tough when you are almost 3).

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And another one at Pastor Doug’s house, in the middle of a Christmas party:

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Most of the time, he is the cutest thing ever- a total lovebug and a really funny kid. He’s just two. And likes to hit his brother. And is extremely strong willed. I have no idea where he got that :)

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He usually sings while he plays, so when it gets quiet in the house, I start to worry about what he’s getting into. Most of the time, though, I find him just like this: plopped in the middle of a big pile of books, quietly flipping through the pages. It makes me so happy.

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Me & my dapper boys at church on the Sunday before Christmas:

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They are hams and I just love them so much.

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On Christmas Eve, I sing at church both services with my husband, so it is always a little chaotic getting everything ready before practice and rushing home for dinner and gifts and bedtime for the boys. My wonderful mother in law not only comes down to watch them, but she also makes the most amazing paella. It’s serious business- she even has a special paella grill for the backyard. Isaiah enjoyed watching her work:

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Look at all of that incredible seafood! While she was doing that at our house, I was doing this:

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You know that it is Christmas Eve when there are sleigh bells at my station.

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Christmas morning was lovely. Quiet, joyful time with our little family of 4, reading our last advent reading and singing happy birthday to Jesus. And opening presents, of course :)

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We then headed up to Orange County for Christmas brunch and dinner with my family. I have a big family and I love it so so much. There is definitely never a dull moment :)  As we have all grown up and started having kids, the gift list has grown and grown. To help with this, we decided to change up the gift exchange for siblings & their spouses. Rather than giving everyone a gift, we each bring a $25 gift card to anywhere we want. We then tape them up on the window and use Nerf guns to try to shoot the one we want. If you hit it and the dart sticks, it’s yours. Let me tell you- this is a lot harder than it looks! It’s become a fun little tradition for us.

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The next couple of days were filled with more family time and a bit of friend time. I was sad for Christmas to be over, but it was nice to come back home after a very full couple of weeks. Now to take down that very dead tree!

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Happy New Years week everyone!

Instafriday

I just love Christmastime. Even the small moments of each day are filled with so much joy.

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I’m linking up with Life Rearranged for InstaFriday again and this one makes me extra happy because it’s filled with Christmas fun.

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This song came on Pandora the other day and it made me so happy:

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The Stitch Market in San Luis Obispo was great and my aunt’s memorial service went well. After going non-stop for three days, I headed back down the coast. I got home late and was extremely exhausted, but walked into this:

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My sweet husband had the Christmas lights all on and the house clean. He’s the best. And I just cannot get enough of our tree.

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This advent season, I have been reading Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. It has been helpful to remind me daily of the big story of Christmas, keeping me focused on celebrating Jesus. I highly recommend the book.

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Speaking of advent, our advent calendar activities have been going along strong. While I was up in central CA, my husband took the lead for a couple of days. They read the allotted portions of the bible together in the morning and then Isaiah got to grab the card out of our advent banner. One day, the activity was to help David put the lights up outside. While listening to Vince Guaraldi, of course.

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The next day, they continued with the Charlie Brown theme and listened to our A Charlie Brown Christmas book on vinyl. Yes- book on vinyl. It is my most prized thrift store find ever.

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My first day back, we needed a mellow family night, so we had a picnic dinner by the tree and watch Elf. So great. Isaiah has been grabbing my phone all week, pretending to answer with, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?”.

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We made a gingerbread house (always one of their favorite activities):

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A big high-5 to Trader Joes for having a great gingerbread house kit. Super easy to use, stays together, homemade frosting and it’s cute on top of all of that.

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On the day that friends all over the rest of the country were talking about snowing and being snowed in, we felt like we should get in on the action by making snowflakes. I found the Star Wars templates online and Isaiah thought that they were pretty much the coolest thing ever. The boys now have a wall of snowflakes in their room.

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We had our first of 2 giving days. We went through all of the boys toys & games and donated a few bags full. It warmed this mama’s heart to see how into Isaiah was. He was just as excited about reading this on the card as he was with any of the other days.

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Yesterday, we made some simple snow globes. Another big hit. Hudson was even really excited about making them, which I did not expect. (side note: his is not all murky like it looks in the picture. The combination of him just shaking it and the lighting made it look kind of dirty).

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Today, we were supposed to go to the zoo, but a sick kiddo meant we had to change our plans. Instead, we took a car ride to look at lights, completely with PJ’s and warm chocolate chip cookies. I printed off a Christmas lights scavenger hunt list and they loved it!

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A customer shared this photo of how she used one of our mini banners on a small wreath she made. I love it!

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For date 45 of 50 (almost there!) we got to go see one of my favorite bands, The Head & The Heart perform. It was so crazy good. Totally worth getting home at 2am and then helping in my son’s kindergarten class at 8am :)

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That’s it for this week. Have a wonderful weekend full of cheer!

Our Christmas album!

Last year, my husband & I released a full length Christmas album. If you are looking for some fun Christmas music, it is available for purchase on iTunes and Bandcamp.

photo by the lovely Megan Ann Photography

InstaFriday! (times two)

Ready for a double dose of Instafriday? Including a birthday, thanksgiving, a 50th anniversary, dates and the beginning of advent? Here we go! Linking up with the lovely Jeannett of Life Rearranged.

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In my last instafriday post, I shared that it was my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We celebrated that night at dinner with family and their closest friends and it was a really sweet time. You can still kiss after being married 50 years? Gross. :)

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The kids with the parents. We love you mom & dad!

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It was my birthday a few days before thanksgiving and I felt so showered with love from my family and friends. The day before, a group of 15 friends went to lunch and to see Catching Fire to celebrate. It is so rare to be able to get this many friends in one place at one time, so it was a great present for me.

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I took this at church that morning. I truly am so thankful for our church family- especially being a pastor’s wife, it is a blessing to be a part of a community that loves Jesus, loves each other and is so real.

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On the morning of my birthday, my boys and I hiked Torrey Pines- one of my favorite spots in San Diego. It was so lovely!

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My sweet husband knew how much I would appreciate a handmade gift so he made me these joy letters:

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How cute is that? He even used glitter- his least favorite thing in the world. What a good crafty guy :)

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That night, I thought I was going on a date with David, but when we got to the restaurant, he surprised me by having a bunch of my dear friends there to join us. One of my favorite places to eat in San Diego (Extraordinary Desserts) with some of my favorite people? Definitely a win. At the end of the night, one of my friends bought me a sparkler candle and they all laughed at my while I lit it. A great end to a great day.

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Thanksgiving weekend was crazy, full and wonderful. We are blessed with amazing families on both sides and I never take that for granted. On thanksgiving, we drove a lot, ate a lot and laughed a lot. Especially at the end of the day when my brother showed the kids Elf Yourself. They were belly laughing for a good 15 minutes watching their faces on dancing elves. My heart was so full in that little moment at the end of a big day.

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No black friday shopping that day, just lots and lots of family time. Every year, either the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas, we have the Cheney family olympics. We all plan 2 games, break into teams and have some healthy friendly competetion all day long. It is a highlight of the year. We are super goofy and there are 24 of us, so it is entertaining for sure. Here is a quick look into some of the activites.

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Daveed always starts off the festivities by leading the group in the most lovely (errr.. off-pitch and loud) version of the star spangled banner, followed by ridiculous and awkward stretches. Normally, we do this down at the park, but the rain kept us inside in the morning. We started off with a bunch of minute-to-win-it style games.

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The next series of photos started like this (throw the cheetos on the shaving cream head game):

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Which led to this (sibling shaving cream fight):

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Which, obviously, led to this (polar bearing in the freezing pool):

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We headed down to the park once the rain stopped for some soccer, basketball and balance beaming:

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After our park games, we headed back inside for name that tune, a cupcake decorating contest and ended the day with the adults playing nouns in a bowl. It was such a fun day and I love that my kids will have these memories.

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Cousin cuddles:

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The next day, we did thanksgiving with Daveed’s family and I totally forgot to take any pictures. It was delicious though! Before that, we got all 24 members of my family together for a big family photo. It was pretty crazy, but went better than I thought. The professional pics are going to be beautiful, but here is a quick iphone snap of my siblings and parents:

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I’m so glad that these people are my people.

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It was so fun to have one of my favorite past brides take our photos. Kelsey, thanks for being brave enough to take on the Cheney family :)

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Amazingly, in all of that craziness, Hudson only had one timeout. #placeshudsonhasatimeout: grandma’s house.

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On December 1st, we got our tree and kicked off advent. Every morning, we read a devotional with the boys (from the great website The Story Warren- which uses The Jesus Storybook Bible) and then Isaiah gets to take a card out of our advent calendar banner. Here is a look at what we have done the first 6 days:

Day 1: Getting our tree

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Day 2: Christmas book marathon (which ended up being not a marathon due to some tantrums and a terrible dinner time… but that’s another story for another time):

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Day 3: Christmas crafts with Nonna (including a playdough dreidel for good measure)

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Day 4: hot chocolate time

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Day 5: Christmas legos:

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Day 6: Hanging the lights outside with Daddy:

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Isaiah is loving every minute of it. It’s just the best. Reading about Jesus together every morning and creating memories. We also do a couple of little things to celebrate Hanukkah, to teach Isaiah about his heritage (on Daveed’s side). I realized this week that he thinks everyone does that as part of their Christmas celebrations :)

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We got a couple of dates in during the past two weeks- we are approaching the finish line for our 50 dates in 2013. For date 43, we walked from my parent’s house up to get some breakfast and grabbed some donuts to surprise the kids on our way back. Those streets are the streets of my childhood- riding bikes to get ice cream, walking to get McDonald’s on long summer days. Walking them with my love was a sweet thing.

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For date 44, we decorated our tree while listening to Christmas records and starting our advent readings together. Such a dreamy way to start off the holiday season.

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While looking at maternity clothes online, I came across these. No. Just no.

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We have become that family that all wears our team shirts on game days. And our boys are perfecting the 8-clap. Go bruins!

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I am currently up in San Luis Obispo for the Stitch Market. If you are in the Central Coast, come see us tomorrow at Grace Church from 10-3.

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How you know you’re a mom of boys: a customer finds a star wars angry bird guy in your box of Christmas banners and then sets it on display:

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How you know you’re a crafter: your 6 year old texts you from his grandma’s phone to ask if he can show her how your cricut works.

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Happy weekend everyone! I’ll try to not post 37 pictures in my next instafriday post :)