Sinterklaus and Ugly Sweaters

There are many traditions that families have during this time of year. Some light an advent candle and have an advent calendar, others visit every holiday show and light display possible throughout the season, and others may do an Elf on the Shelf.

Whatever you do it is something your family looks forward to with anticipation. Some traditions are influenced by your childhood, others are new traditions that have been created as a unique part of your family. There are opinions about all of them and with the explosion of social media and blogs there is no shortage of said opinions. I have come to a point that I don’t pay attention to others’ opinions, but rather, focus on the house where my husband and I create a home for our family.

One tradition, new to me but is part of my ethnic background, is Sinterklaus Day. Sinterklaus is the Dutch Santa or St. Nick.  From what I have learned over the years Dutch culture and tradition separate the visit of Sinterklaus and the birth of Jesus. Sinterklaus Day comes early in the Christmas season while Christ’s birth is observed on the 25th. This white-bearded man, donning a long colorful winter coat, rides in on his horse late in the evening on December 5th. Dutch children leave their wooden shoes on the front porch with goodies for Sinterklaus’ horse in great anticipation. On the morning of December 6th children awake to find goodies such as succulent fruits and sweetbreads if they have been well-behaved; if not they find switches.  The idea of the wooden shoe is believed to have evolved into the American tradition of hanging the stockings.

When my Daughter Embug was born we started celebrating Sinterklaus Day. While we do put out wooden shoes, they are not shoes we wear like the Dutch children. Embug and Kritterman enjoy leaving hay, an apple and carrots for Sinterklaus’ horse. On December 6th Sinterklaus usually leaves each child their Christmas PJs for the season, Christmas ornament, Christmas t-shirt or sweater, a Christmas Movie or CD, plus a variety of yummies and winter stocking caps/mittens. This tradition has become such a part of us that Embug and Kritterman were surprised when they found out from their peers that Sinterklaus did not visit their homes. However, Sinterklaus has made his way to homes of our friends in recent years once those children learned of his practices.

Sinterklaus Day 14

In addition to the tradition of Sinterklaus, the family has been caught square in the web of the Ugly Sweater themed Days and Parties. While there are too many events to recount, one party got Kirsten and Eric caught red-handed in the knitted disasters.

Chrismas Sweater

How are you creating memories and celebrating new and old traditions in your family?

Family, Football and Faith

It doesn’t happen every year, but we try as best we can to go to at least one home Razorback game in Fayetteville. With my sister now living in Farmington (a small country town near Fayetteville) and my parents in Little Rock, coming to a game is a family event, for the four of us and beyond.

We packed up the car and headed to Fayetteville this November for the last home game against Ole Miss. We drove up hopeful for a win, but the sting of loss with every home game we had been to the last few years in the back of our minds. With that the forecast was for 100% chance of rain with temperatures in the low 50s.

This was not a game for the faint-hearted. Only the committed need attend… and attend they did. Despite the rain the Hogs shutout the Ole Miss Rebels 30-0 to a nearly full Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Even better, we, as a family, were there to witness in person.

With my sister’s family and her kids with us at the game, we cheered on our Hogs with unbridled enthusiasm and joy. Being a Razorback has been a part of who I was a child, then attended the University where I received my Bachelor’s in Education. I even married a second generation Razorback.  The Hog blood runs deep.

It is no coincidence that are kids have aspirations to attend the University of Arkansas. While those future plans may not be realized, the memories and the love for the Razorbacks will continue. There is no doubt memories were made with this game, where this shutout with ranked Ole’ Miss was epic.

After the game on Saturday the kids went to  my sister’s to have cousin time, while Eric and I met up with one of my former students, Kelley Whitson and her boyfriend. We enjoyed amazing gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at “Hammontrees.” Their homemade soups and their multitude of twists on the basic grilled cheese are incredible both in taste and creativity. After great conversation and sandwiches, we made our way down Dickson Street to check out the night life. We quickly became aware that we are no longer “night life” people. Plan B led us to our favorite college eatery, “Hugo’s.” There we had their famous grasshopper crepes. We wrapped the night with a walk on the Fayetteville Square already lit up for Christmas… complete with Christmas Razorbacks!

Hog Christmas Lights

The following day we enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner with my sister, her family and my parents that came up for the game from Little Rock. We had a great time reflecting on our blessings, laughing and eating delicious home-prepared food in my sister’s home. Food, family and faith… that’s what brings us together, connects us, and holds us together.  For that, I am thankful.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Trick or Treat… Under the Sea

I know the days are numbered when Embug will no longer Trick or Treat for Halloween. Carving pumpkins will be an after-thought. Attending the elementary carnival will be a distant memory.

But this fall we celebrate.  The trip to the Haslet Fall Carnival, costume contest at Fellowship of the Parks Youth Group, carving pumpkins with Dad, and the Lonesome Dove Estates Halloween Hot Dog Roast and Life group Hay ride made this another great Halloween for the books.

The Land-Shark and the Lion-Fish created the perfect under the sea treat for all who encountered them.

Enjoying the moment and hoping that this fast moving journey we call life doesn’t start playing it’s tricks and let these two grow up too fast.

#RazorbackFB as a #HogFamily

razorbacks-banner

We have been Razorbacks since before the Wilson Family was founded July 23rd, 1994.

My father, Gary Huitink, received his PhD. from the University of Arkansas. I received my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Arkansas in 1994.

Eric’s father is a UofA graduate, as well as his brother Michael and himself. Eric received his Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science in 1994 as well.

It is in our blood. So it was no surprise when we had our children, while in the middle of Texas where football is King, we taught them the ways of the Razorback.

Their first words were momma, dadda and calling the Hogs. Our memory books and photo archives are full of images of the kids and us in Razorback regalia.

It is a family tradition that we are proud to show.

This fall is like the others. We count down until the first game of the season. We schedule our events, as best we can, around the games or set the DVR.

Every year it becomes more fun to go to games with the kids and this season is no different.

We traveled to Lubbock to see the Hogs defeat Texas Tech, but had to leave EmBug behind due to her musical rehearsals. The entire family missed her like crazy. While there we saw a new side of Kritterman… he has become fully invested in his Razorback team and feels the victory and defeat with deep abiding passion.

A few weeks later we were able to see the Razorbacks expose Texas A&M and almost beat them. The loss was felt by all, but was best expressed by Kritterman in tears of anguish at the end.

Snapshots from Lubbock and AT&T Stadium Arlington

This team built by Bret Bielema is deep and abiding in passion much like Kritterman’s true love for his Razorbacks. They have been built to be men from the inside out. I look forward to the upcoming games this season. We are #Beliemer’s and know that while this team was rebuilt from the ashes, it is being reconstructed on a foundation of strong character and fundamentals. When you #NeverYield you will succeed.

Top 6 Things We Learned on Vacation

This brings an end to the blog series on our Family/Anniversary Vacation to Florida.  There are a few pictures that didn’t make the #wilsongetaway previous blog posts or Flipagrams that I will share here along with 6 things my family and I learned on this trip.

Here are the Top 6:

6. Sharing a bathroom with 4 people when 2 people have their own bathroom at home brings to light all the bad habits. (I will now be intentionally reminding my son often to put the lid BACK DOWN! My mother-in-law instilled that lesson in my husband, I only think it fair to my future daughter-in-law no matter how far in the future that might be!)

5. “We proudly serve Starbucks.” Does not mean it will taste anything like Starbucks, and in some cases the gas station coffee is MUCH better and less expensive.

4.  Send a post card each day to your home residence from the location you spent most of your time for that day highlighting the most memorable moments/events.  Send it the next day (most hotels will mail it from the guest services desk if you provide the postage).  There will be some post cards  waiting on you when you return from your vacation and others will arrive as you return to your ‘normal’ life.  Everyone can enjoy the vacation just a little longer.

4. Blog as you go, then schedule to publish the following week where it posts to your Social Media accounts.  This lets you tell everyone about your vacation adventures without letting the opportunistic burglar know you are away from the house.

5. Keep your expectations low.  If you expect great things and the situation doesn’t live up to it, you could unexpectedly rob yourself of joy you were intended to have but let unsubstantiated high expectations get in the way.  (This one was compliments of Embug.)

6. Teach your children that “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are often the best way to taste the local flavor and have the best food.  Our kids learned this lesson time and time again while we were on our #wilsongetaway.   It will be one they won’t forget!

I hope you enjoyed this little blog series tracking our #wilsongetaway vacation.  We aren’t sure when our next getaway will be, but this one will linger in our memories for a long time.

It’s a REAL Beach!

We woke early at Hawk’s Cay ready to head up through the Everglades and along the west Florida coast to Marco Island.  Call it dumb luck, exhaustion at the end of an exciting and amazing trip, or just smart.  Whatever you want to call it, my family will probably call this leg of the trip their favorite.

Since the moment we stepped on the plane on this adventure the kids have been talking about the time on the beach.  The Space Coast we only had time for the Kennedy Space Center.  The Everglades… NOBODY gets in that water, unless they want to be alligator dinner.  Then there were the Keys.  Beautiful, colorful, seabreeze… but no real sandy beaches.  So came the term by my 11 year old while at Hawk’s Cay… “Faux Beach.”

We arrived in Marco Island at Noon.  My husband was already sold.  After driving the two-lane Scenic Highway 1, he was done with traffic and there was none…. HONEST!  We came in from the Everglades so the kids didn’t see the coast until we went  over a tall bridge welcoming you onto the island.  There was many exclamations of joy and excitement… over and over again, “Real  Beach, lots of it! Real sand!”

Unfortunately we wouldn’t gain access to the beach until after we checked into our hotel…and at noon, that was too early.  Seeing that it was noon, and knowing we all were hungry I turned to my trusty “UrbanSpoon” app once again.  This time it led us to a VERY local sandwich shop called “Big Al’s.”  It was so local that the cashier knew the name of everyone who came in and left… except us.  The sandwiches were awesome.  I have never seen meatballs so big or so yummy on a meatball sub before (I stole a bite from Kritterman).

After lunch the kids couldn’t stand it anymore, so we decided to take a chance and see if our room was available for early check in.  Off to the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa we went, hopeful we would be beach side within the hour.

Luck was on our side.  We were on the beach in no time, reserved an hour of family fun on a jet ski and played, sunned and relaxed beach side.  Aside from the hour on the jet skis the kids spent hours beach-combing and building sandcastles.  I finished a book I started mid-trip (Legend by Marie Lu) and Eric enjoyed the lack of crowds and the opportunity to just sit.

After 5+ hours of beach relaxation we cleaned up, went back to the beach to catch the sunset and then enjoyed our only “Seafood Buffet” of the trip (the Hilton does an incredible Seafood Buffet).

On Saturday morning, all but Kritterman  arose to catch the sunrise on the beach and gather a few more sea shells.  We also got to see a scientist examine a recently hatched sea-turtle nest and learn a little bit about her job. While eating breakfast a storm rolled in and persisted the remainder of the morning.  We longed for a little more time on the beach and will definitely return to Marco Island again.

This #wilsongetaway has been a home-planned event that won’t soon be forgotten.  So glad we saw so much… can’t wait to return to some of the same spots again.

20 Years, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 snakes and 1 fish

On July 23rd, 1994, 20 years ago, Eric and I for better or worse said I do.  Since then we have had a revolving door of pets and friends reside with us.  However, lately we are keeping to our 11 year old daughter, Embug, 9 year old, Kristopher in regards to additional humans in the house.  The animals far out number the humans with a boxer named Sammy, a Bichon Frise named Izzie, a very onry orange tabby named Ralphie, 2 snakes (Marty, Jr. and Bosco) and beta fish named Rainbow.  So it is no wonder we needed a get away!

Long before we planned the destination for our 20th anniversary, we decided we would make it a family vacation.  With that we agreed that a portion of the trip would allow us to enjoy time together and some just as a couple.  The Hawk’s Cay Resort in Duck Key provided just the place.  We arrived as the sun slipped below the horizon on July 22nd where we enjoyed a meal outside near the channel.  It was a few hours after a rainstorm had come through and cooled the air  making for a pleasant outdoor family meal.

The while the family slept I slipped out for a run.  I will say humidity and warmth are not my friend.  After 2 miles I unlaced my running shoes and traded them for a day poolside.  We enjoyed spending the day going back and forth from the pool and a man-made lagoon/beach.  The kids enjoyed water games and discovering resident anoles and iguanas who would occasionally make an appearance.

We were staying in a villa that was away from the actual hotel.  It provided us with a condo like living space complete with two separate bedrooms (and two separate twin beds for the kids), front and back porches both upstairs and downstairs.  Breakfast and lunch we utilized a limited grocery within the marina for coffee, breakfast biscuits and sandwich makings.  Dinner the first night the kids ate at the villa while we enjoyed an anniversary outing.  The outing included a sunset cruise and then dinner at “Hawk’s Cay” fine dining restaurant “Alma.”  It was a nice evening for just the two of us to celebrate.

The next day we spent it once again at the pool and lagoon.  Although there is no pictures the kids and Eric enjoyed messing around with a Kayak.  Eric is still feeling the enjoyment of that excursion in his lower back.

Here are a few more images from our stay.

(insert images)

Cheeseburger in Paradise?

After a restful sleep at the TravelLodge we headed down historic Route 1 through the Keys all the way down into Key West.

We arrived in time to treat ourselves to a late lunch at the “Eaton Street Fish Market.”  A find through the Urbanspoon app.  While it derives most of it’s business from selling fresh caught local seafood and fish to those residing or staying in rental residences on the island, they serve a seasonal fresh menu.  On this day we sampled the lobster roll, crab cake sandwich, seafood sandwich and salmon (the only non-local caught fish) sandwich all served with plantain chips. The food and the price was a delightful and delicious surprise.

We proceeded on our Key West adventure after lunch.  We walked from the Gulf side of Duval Street to the Atlantic side.  On this journey we treated ourselves to homemade ice cream, Historical Buildings (such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church), many art galleries, and the obligatory tourist stop at the “Hog’s Breath Saloon” for a cool beverage and slice of Key Lime Pie.

 

We did not take a trolley ride, as Embug was feeling the effects of motion sickness from the congested drive down Route 1.  However, if we ever venture to Key West again, that is something that I believe would be a great way to get to know more about the home of renown American author Ernest Hemingway.

Allligators, Mosquitos and Airboats, Oh my!

After a long evening drive the night before from Kennedy Space Center.  We ended up at an unlikely motel.  The TravelLodge recommended both on price and quality by Booking.com was a surprisingly great find.  Many may have turned away as it is a one story true 70s style motel, complete with drive-up-to-your-door-and-park access.  It looks very much like it probably did when these one-story temporary home-away-from-home motels were built.  However, for $75 a night, including microwave, refrigerator and free hot breakfast it is the deal of the week if one is wanting to explore the Everglades.

travellodge florida everglades

On the morning of our planned Everglade adventure we stopped for the necessary Starbucks (mom always feels better about an outdoor adventure if it is prefaced with a cup of Starbucks!) and then headed to the Alligator Farm.

At the Alligator Farm there were threats of storm looming in the distance.  The occasional boom of thunder and lightening didn’t deter us from our airboat ride.  We saw alligators and cranes as we progressed through the Everglades.  It is amazing how the boats glide over six inches to a foot or two of water and it is everywhere.  During the airboat excursion we were given the thrill of high speeds and 360’s.  The kids and adults loved it.  I think we would have stayed on them all day if we had the option.

Once we finished the airboat ride we got to see the alligators being hand fed.  This was a weeee bit daunting as the ‘gators’ seemed to have no problem crawling up the 3 foot chainlink fence that separate us from them.  Of course, we and the 100 other people didn’t back away from the fence either.

Within minutes of the conclusion of the hand feeding a downpour commenced.  In Arkansas I call it a “toad-floater.” We waited for a bit for it to die down enough to make a dash to our rental car and then we were off to find lunch.

One of the fun things about vacations is finding those not-so-common eateries.

Today was no exception.  On our way from the Alligator Farm to the Everglades National Park we found “Gator Grill.” A little road side foodie stop.  It had a lot of the feeling of a food truck.  To our delight we were able to get grilled gator tail and frog legs.  To Kritterman’s delight he was able to procure the best 1lb. bacon cheese burger he has ever had in his life.  It was so delicious we returned at 5:30 for an early dinner.  We knew it was the best ever and didn’t know when we might be back.  On top of it, we were able to teach the kids the #1 rule of dining on vacation… “The hole-in-the wall places make the best local food.”

It was still a downpour when we finished our lunch visit to “Gator Grill.”  Eric always knows if you throw in some wine tasting in with the nature hiking, momma is always a happier camper.  So we drove down to “Schnebly’s Winery.”  There we sampled wines made from avacado, guava, mango, and passion fruit.  All fruits common to South Florida.  It was a delight and we ended up taking two bottles from this most southern winery in the United States with us to enjoy later on the vacation.

Finally the rain let up and we were able to head into the Everglades.  The forest and swamps are lush with growth.  The Gumbo Limbo trees with their smooth bark, colorful crickets and quiet alligators were an astounding sight.  Unfortunately the mosquitoes were out in mass after the rain and ate us alive.  After walking two trails and attempting a third we jumped back into our rental vehicle. Mosquitos- 1, Wilson family- 0.

We then headed back to “Gator Grill.” The owner recommended we check out “Robert Was Here Fruitstand” where they graciously cut up a ripe mango we purchased.  We also bought star fruit and passion fruit to enjoy on the next part of our journey.  It was quite a lively fruitstand with a bit of an animal farm, John Deere Tractor collection and a dog who liked to stand on his dog house to get a better view.

Finally we ended the night at a FroYo shop near our hotel.  Surprisingly, FroYo shops are not easy to find in SoFla and with my family that can be dangerous.  Happy to locate our cool creamy FroYo, we were content and exhausted from an exciting day in the Everglades!

 

 

 

 

“One small step for man…”

The first full day of our vacation in Florida it only made sense for us to spend the day at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

After the flight from Tampa and drive across state to Titusville the day before, we were refreshed and eager to see what KSC had to offer.  This was a bucket list item especially for me (mom) who loves anything to do with NASA, space and Astronauts.  (I secretly hope someday to become an astronaut or at least participate in the NASA Educator program.)

As we drove into the facility we were met with a huge sign that was overshadowed by a large ominous building that we would learn soon housed the Atlantis itself and the interactive exhibit dedicated to the NASA Shuttle Program.

DSC05512

When we arrived shortly before 10 we headed straight to the Atlantis exhibit.  As you enter you wind your way up.  Along the way on the walls are the quotes of astronauts from the many missions flown for the Shuttle program. (I love quotes and all of these were incredible that I couldn’t just do one.)

Space quote 1 Space Quote 2 Space Quote 3 Space Quote 5 Space Quote 6

 

You then entered a room where the history of how the Shuttle program began was shared.  All I can say is that you have to see it.  The story of the birth of the Shuttle program made this 80’s baby tearful and proud.  The introduction into the exhibit was breathtaking.  When the magnificent production concluded the screen lifted and at eye-line you were met with the actual Atlantis Shuttle in all of its magnificence.

There were many points of interest in the exhibit.  The kids loved the unusual facts that were part of the entire exhibit.  They also enjoyed the interactive displays, including the touch screens and simulators.  Kritterman loved the slide that took you to the bottom floor as well as the toilet.  Emmarie enjoyed the opportunities to sit in a model of the cockpit and see how astronauts ate in the Unity room of the the Space Station.

The time flew by and before we knew it we needed to be at our very special planned lunch with an astronaut.  This is something that can be purchased as part of the visit to KSC.  It was a great day to select this opportunity, as KSC was celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11’s walk on the moon.  Their contemporary, Jack Lausma, entertained us with stories and his own mission experiences, including being the only astronaut to land at the alternative White Sands, New Mexico location as lead on Columbia. Kritterman even got to ask the astronaut a question during a brief Q and A at the lunch.  His question, “On one of your flights did anything get damaged where everything shut down?” Fortunately, not for Lausma, although he did mention others had not been so lucky.

Following lunch, we took a tour of the various points of interest that NASA utilizes for the space program including the famous launch pad where it dons the largest American flag in the world.

After the tour we had one last opportunity to see Astronaut Jack Lausma again.  This time we got to speak with him and get his autograph.  He mentioned in the brief conversation he had recently eaten dinner with Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and his wife.  He also encouraged Kristopher to become an astronaut and stressed to me as an educator how important it was to continue to foster a love and pursuit of the study of math and science.

This was an experience the whole family won’t soon forget.

 

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