Our First Visit to The Grotto

I’ve wanted to visit the Portland Grotto’s Festival of Lights for years now. This year when I was doing a little planning for our family advent time, I decided to make that wish a reality. This afternoon I packed a picnic and a bunch of warm clothes, and we headed out the door as soon as Nathan was home from work…..into a lot of traffic.

The boys enjoyed eating a picnic dinner in the car and listening to seasonal music. Simon and Caleb both fell asleep too…it was the classic late afternoon/early evening drive that is just too hard to stay awake for.

When we arrived it was freezing and everyone was tired. There were a lot of tears from the youngest two. However, we managed to get everyone bundled and were ready to go in a mere 15 minutes.

I have to say, while the grotto is a relatively small display of lights compared to others in Portland, their festival is just perfect. It is exactly what a Christmas lights display should be like. They had some family fun with puppet shows and a small petting zoo. The lights are beautiful. There are choirs performing. And the focus of the whole thing was the advent of Jesus. I just loved it. I’d love to bring the boys back when they’ll have the attention span to actually listen to a whole choir concert.

Here are some images from our time there:

20161205_175648All five of us saw a real camel for the first time. It was huge!

20161205_181046Lights! Beautiful lights!

20161205_182111“Can we do a funny face picture?” – Elias

20161205_182654Family Selfie Attempt:

20161205_182724At the very end we passed a man playing the hammered dulcimer. All three of the boys were transfixed. He was a really nice guy and played a game with the boys where he played a song and they had to name it. They did pretty well. At the end Simon was clapping and both of the older two were singing along. When we decided to leave, Elias said he didn’t want to because the music was too beautiful.

20161205_183748Caleb was transfixed too:

20161205_183824All in all it was a wonderful time and I’m really glad we went. We clambered into the van to get warm and listened to the Bob Dylan Christmas album all the way home. It made for a later night than usual, but it was worth it!

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Christmas Tree 2016

On Saturday we went on our annual Christmas tree hunt with Ama and Baba. As usual we went to Furrow Farm a few miles from our house so that Nathan could cut down our tree himself. We got all bundled up and had my parents snap a picture while everyone was still all fresh and bright eyed.


It took us a while to find “the one.” This was the first year that there were four opinions for our family instead of just two. It also seemed like the pickin’s were a bit more slim than usual for the size of tree we wanted. Despite some minor difficulty settling on a tree, we had a great time! When we found it, the boys had a fun time watching Daddy cut down the tree.

20161203_094244Later in the afternoon after the tree had dried out a bit in the garage, we brought it inside to decorate. It’s our family tradition to listen to Manheim Steamroller while decorating the tree…a tradition that came from my childhood.

Elias really wanted to put the angel on the tree. At first I thought he was too young, but when I thought some more I realized he could do it just fine. The angel was my grandmother’s and was passed down to me.

20161203_190217The boys just loved decorating the tree. They were pretty careful, and “only” broke two glass ornaments. I know some friends who just don’t do glass ornaments now when the kids are little. Maybe I should save mine since they are also inherited from my grandmother and are antiques. In the end, though, I would just rather enjoy them. The boys both apologized to me about the ornaments. I tried to convey that while the ornaments are important to me and we need to be careful, they are just things in the end, and people are more important than things.

Here is our 2016 tree:


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Getting Crafty For Advent 2016

I’ve been neglecting a few hobbies and responsibilities the last week or so in order to get crafty. I am only allotted a small amount of time each day after the boys go to bed in order get things done like pay bills, spend time with my husband, and pursue hobbies I enjoy (among countless other things). Since advent was approaching, I really wanted to make an advent calendar for both my nephew, James, and my son, Caleb.

If you have been a long time fan of the smithfam blog you may remember that every year around this time I get on my soap box about advent. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas (not December 1st). This means advent can be anywhere from 22 to 28 days depending on what day of the week Christmas falls. You cannot find an advent calendar anywhere…even in Christian stores…that has anything different than 24 (or maybe 25) days. So I decided when Elias was little to make my own. It’s become a tradition.

You can see Elias’ here, and Simon’s here.

This year I wanted to make one for both Caleb and James. However, it took a lot longer than I expected, and James took priority. Caleb is a bit young anyway, so he will have to wait.

My inspiration this year came from Luke 2:8-14

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I was reminded recently at my Bible Study how much of Jesus’ birth story speaks to us about social justice. This passage really brings it home for me.

So I went about designing an advent calendar to depict this passage. I embroidered the numbers on the pockets, and cut out the little felt shepherds, sheep, and angels, and then sewed them on by hand. It was a lot of fun thinking about my precious nephew with each stitch.

As usual, my mediocre sewing skills did not do my imagination justice. However, I was proud enough of the work to present it to my nephew, James, earlier this afternoon.

20161126_222456Hopefully he can enjoy it for years to come, and it can help him prepare for the advent of our Lord.

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Caleb Turns 1!!!!

My baby turned one year old on Friday. I was feeling very sentimental. It is very bittersweet. He is growing so fast! However, Elias said something at dinner today about wishing Caleb was a newborn again, and although I miss it, I realized I don’t wish he was a newborn. I am really enjoying him right now…just how he is. He fills our lives with joy every day.

Caleb’s birthday morning started out with breakfast and balloons. Then we showered him with a few presents. He liked the wrapping paper and tissue paper more than anything else, but liked his gifts too. We got him a cross for his room and some puffs to snack on. Here he is exploring a new piggy bank toy.

20161125_084412Elias and Simon put on a puppet show for Caleb with his new puppets.

20161125_085754And Caleb also really enjoyed his new toy from Uncle Greg and Auntie Shaina. He can’t walk on his own, but he can walk around if he is holding on to his new walker!

20161125_090855In the afternoon we just took it easy and played at home. We also got to Skype with Auntie Shaina and Uncle Greg. Then, we met cousins at Chang’s Mongolian Grill for a birthday meal.

20161125_181543We came home for more presents and birthday cake.

20161125_19001720161125_190404Elias and Simon helped me bake a cake in the afternoon, and then they decorated it. Caleb was very excited to be sung to.

20161125_192555Then was the best part. Caleb got to try is first chocolate! (And almost his first sugar). At first he looked a bit unbelieving.

20161125_192746Then he happily tried it.

20161125_192847I’m not sure what happened while I was serving everyone else…but the meal did not end happy. It’s his birthday. He can cry if he wants to.

20161125_193247After dinner we took a family picture with Nana.

20161126_183337I think he had a great first birthday!


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Happy Thanksgiving 2016

What a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend we’ve had in the Smith household. It has been full of bustling, giggling children, family, friends, and we’ve also had a bunch of downtime with just the five of us. A perfect mix of life giving things!

Our weekend started with meal prep. We hosted the big turkey meal. Nathan and I had most of the food finished by late morning. The turkey was in the oven, and things were humming along. I gave Elias an all important job: making place cards. When I was a little girl, my grandma always let me make place cards. She had this way about her that made me feel like it was the most important part of the day. I loved doing it, and she made me feel like a star. I wanted to continue the tradition. I think Elias loved making the place cards almost as much as I did!

20161123_191340Our family was scheduled to arrive soon so I made some quick things to snack on. A fruit tray, and a cracker and sausage/cheese tray. I’ll admit to having a bit of a pinterest failure moment. I was going for a turkey display:

20161124_111847 20161124_111842Oh well. Judging by what these plates looked like a few minutes into the visit it was the taste that counted…not the presentation. At least it all tasted yummy!

Caleb enjoyed re-meeting his Auntie Erin and Uncle Jared (and cousins). He’s seen them twice before but is too young to remember. He was just waking up from a nap and gave some quite skeptical looks at first, but warmed up very quickly.

20161124_120053The kids got right down to playing. It’s like they just saw each other yesterday. It’s one of the best things about this group of youngins.

20161124_120606Later Great Grandma and Grandpa showed up. It was Caleb’s first time meeting Great Grandma, who just moved home to Oregon from a seven year stint in Indiana.

20161124_134128We also took a four generation picture of the Smith fam.

20161124_184440The meal was great (if I do say so myself) and the company was even better. We have much to be thankful for!

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More Family Pics

This morning we went in to get some family portraits taken. It had been a year (since Caleb was born) since we last got formal pictures taken. Nathan has been gone a lot over the last couple of weeks so when we finally had a fully free day I scheduled some portraits. We were a little wary of going into a studio around Christmas card time, but the timing was right with Caleb turning 1 so we got a few of him and the boys too.

We ordered many prints, but I like to put them on the blog in low-res so that we can see even some that we didn’t order if we want to in the future.


The Smith Fam:

fam-1 fam-2 fam-3 fam-4The boys:

boys-2 boys-3 boys-4 boys-1One of my favorites – Daddy and the boys:

dadMommy with the boys:




simonCaleb turns 1:

caleb-3 caleb-2 caleb-1JC Penney Portraits was great as always. Now Caleb is napping and the boys are at a birthday party. I’ve actually got a few minutes to myself before the family fun begins again this afternoon!


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Leaf Jumpers

The boys have been asking to rake and jump in a leaf pile in our front yard for about a month now. The opportunity never presented itself until this afternoon. (It’s a good thing too because we were really in need of raking!)

After church it was sunny and beautiful out so I told the boys that after we ate lunch if it wasn’t raining we could go out to make a leaf pile. That got their bums in gear!

We got outside and I raked them a big ol’ pile of leaves. First they jumped.

20161106_142848 20161106_142857After a lot of jumps, I decided to let Caleb out of his restraints (the stroller). He was pretty chill just watching, but I wanted to let him have some fun too. Caleb just loved the leaves. He got absolutely filthy, but I knew that going into it, right?

I took the opportunity when all three boys were sitting together in the leaf pile to snap some cute pictures.

20161106_1411430 20161106_141206 20161106_141223 20161106_141314Caleb looks a little serious in the photos, but I think he was just so excited that I was letting him touch them. It was very cute how he held up each one to show us. He also giggled a lot when leaves “rained” down on him and got stuck on his head.

After the leaf throwing, I made the boys help me rake the leaves back into a pile.

20161106_141543 20161106_141620 20161106_142102We ended up staying outside for over two hours. What a nice surprise on this beautiful fall day!

20161106_140451 20161106_141505 20161106_141425 I didn’t get a solo pic of Simon, but it’s not because he’s the poor neglected middle child. I tried and tried, but it was just too bright. He couldn’t open his eyes, and his facial expressions were so funny, but I won’t post them here in case he gets embarrassed some day.

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Happy Halloween 2016!

We’ve had more than enough Halloween fun over the last three days here in the Smith Household. The fun started on Saturday evening, and continued all the way through tonight.

On Saturday, we dressed up in costume and headed to a friend of Nathan’s. We don’t do family themed costumes like some. We had a lumberjack, a tiger, a pirate, and a knight.

20161029_174418 Pumpkin carving was a part of this party. The boys excitedly picked out their pumpkins, and got right into digging out the guts.

20161029_175518Right about this point, Caleb stuck his finger halfway to my brain through the eyeball. It was a super bad eye poke! He didn’t do it on purpose, of course. We were just playing while the boys carved. I pretty much couldn’t open my eye for the rest of the evening. I went to bed early since I couldn’t open my eye anyway, so the longest night of sleep I’ve gotten in years was my hidden reward. Sunday I could open my eye, but it was pretty blurry. It is still not completely back to normal, but I’m happy to say that I don’t think any permanent damage is done.

Anyway, back to our Halloween festivities! I didn’t manage a picture of both the boys with their pumpkins because of my eye, but I did manage this one:

20161029_181826Sunday we had a second Halloween party at church. The boys loved cookie decorating, playing with friends, bingo, and many other activities. Elias won the mummy wrap contest and got the first bingo so he was a pretty lucky boy!

20161030_180704 20161030_181009Today, on Halloween, I was able to help out in Elias’ classroom for his Halloween party. When Nathan got home from work we celebrated All Hallow’s Read. If you don’t know about this, it was started by Neil Gaiman, and is basically another excuse to give books to your children.

It was Caleb’s first All Hallow’s Read. He was more excited by the wrapping paper than the book inside. It’s ok.

20161031_165005I got Simon a Jake Pirate Halloween Adventure Story, and I got Elias a book called “Little Goblins Ten” which he promptly read to us all using the sing songy rhyme that went with it. It was a fun and proud moment for me.

20161031_165451After dinner, we got dressed up in costumes one more time! The boys were super excited to go trick-or-treating. This year we were lucky to have Grandpa with us, and Ama and Baba also came and met us in the neighborhood to watch the boys get some candy.

20161031_181354 20161031_181429I think we were out for about 90 minutes total. After about 70, Simon was completely done, but Elias wanted to do a few more houses. After about 80 minutes I had to call Nathan to rescue us with the stroller because all three of the boys were toast. They livened right up, though, when we got home and it was time to sort through the candy.

20161031_195045And tasting it is the best part! They each got to choose two pieces tonight.

20161031_200053Happy Halloween everyone!

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Caleb – 11 Months

The clock is ticking. Caleb turned 11 months old today, which means I have only one month left with a baby in the house.

20161012_122015As you can see in the picture above, he’s starting to get a few wispy hairs on the top of his head. If he follows the pattern of his brothers, in six months or so he’ll have nice locks of hair to compliment his smile.

This month Caleb has become a bit pickier about his eating habits. He refuses to eat purees off the spoon until after he’s had a chance to feed himself. He eats chunks of fruit, veggies, meat, and cheese. He always eats the cheese first. Only after he eats on his own does he allow me to feed him homemade fruit or yogurt purees. He also really likes to eat larger things like we do. He chews on rejected pizza crusts or half bananas as happily as can be. He still doesn’t know how to bite the correct size, though, so even though he has never actually choked on anything (he is good at spitting out things that are too big), I have a heart attack every time I let him practice.

20160930_131018 20161002_181224Caleb likes attention. (Who doesn’t). I always know when he thinks I’m not paying him enough attention because that is when he gets himself into trouble. He goes for the toilet paper or the garbage can, the knives in an open dishwasher, the cat food, and best of all, trying to pull the nightlights out of the sockets. He is like a magnet to danger. We’ve been very careful about the gates on the stairs, but Nathan accidentally left one open earlier this evening and he was up about four steps in a flash.

This month Caleb has really been working on his standing and his cruising. It still seems odd to see him standing up like a big boy, even though he does it all the time. Imagine his glee when he discovered he is just tall enough to reach the piano keys.

20161025_110552Standing has opened up a whole new world to Caleb, and I’ve noticed him interacting more with his brothers during play. He’s a part of the gang now.

20161008_132919Being a part of the gang has been both fun and frustrating for Caleb’s big brothers. Caleb has also seemed a lot more interested in toys in the last month. Simon has experienced a lot of frustration from Caleb taking apart his duplo and magnatile creations.

One thing nice about being the youngest of three is that Caleb already knows how to stick up for himself. It’s tough in a house full of boys, but this picture sums Caleb up pretty well:

20161016_094001Don’t worry. Simon (who is being whacked in this picture) doesn’t have any trouble getting himself heard either.

We are still having trouble settling into a routine with Caleb’s naps. Luckily he is pretty chill. All the moms at the school pick up marvel at his willingness to just sit in the stroller and watch the big kids.

20161012_090051Caleb has gained some new skills this month, much to the delight of his brothers. He points, he claps, and he high fives. Caleb is also getting better at drinking from a sippy cup.

We are so blessed by his presence in our lives!


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Disneyland With The Smiths

Anyone who knows my mom knows she loves Disneyland. The rest of us think it’s pretty great too! Last winter, my mom started really talking up Disneyland with Elias and Simon. She started showing them youtube videos of all the rides, discussing who was tall enough to ride which ones, and in general just drumming up a lot of excitement. Her ploy worked. Nathan and I started talking about how to get ourselves to Disneyland.

We saved Disney reward points for over two years, and that paid for all of our meals. We also saved for the travel portion of our budget, and last April we made a plan.

On October 11th, we picked Elias up from school about an hour early and headed to the airport with Ama and Baba for our Disneyland adventure.

The short version? It was amazing and magical just like Disneyland is supposed to be, but I don’t remember the last time I felt so exhausted!

There is more to say than I care to write down, but I thought I’d share some pictures and stories for the memory books. Caleb won’t remember any of it after all, and he’ll probably have fun looking back some day.

Wednesday morning we woke up bright and early and went to California Adventure. We had a plan: head straight for the Radiator Springs Racers. Elias and Simon were so excited. Here they are in line:

20161012_082546The last time we went to Disneyland, Elias didn’t like any of the big rides. This time, both boys loved most of them. They had a blast on Radiator Springs Racers, and because of Caleb, we had to do ride swap. For Elias and Simon, it was the best because they got to go again with Nathan using the ride swap. Two rides for the price of one!

We explored the rest of Cars land for awhile. The other rides are pretty cute. Luigi’s Roadsters is a lot of fun.


We also took both boys on the Tower of Terror. It scared them both pretty good. We thought we scarred Simon for life for awhile, but he eventually recovered. Elias will tell you he liked it, but judging by his body language, he was pretty scared. (Although he did elect to go again on the ride swap with my parents so it couldn’t have been that bad for him).

After that scary ride, we hung out in Bug’s land for awhile. No scary rides there! The boys got to taste their first churros. Caleb got tired, and took a nap on Baba. Actually, this became a regular occurrence. I think Caleb took a Baba nap every day we were there.

20161012_095543I just love this picture of Ama, Baba, Elias, and Caleb on Flik’s Fliers. The joy on my mom’s face is priceless. The boys are so lucky to have her enthusiasm and energy. Caleb slept through the ride.

20161012_101042Caleb did eventually wake up, though, and got to enjoy the golden zephyr ride. He enjoyed looking over the side at everything down below.

20161012_141148We got to enjoy so many rides and so much time together. One thing I really wanted to do while we were there was see a parade. We caught one on Wednesday afternoon. Simon was mesmerized.

20161012_173254 20161012_173426We ended the day with some ice cream and a family photo with Mater. I couldn’t believe we spent the entire day in the park with no rest time. 8 am to 8 pm!

20161012_192918The fun wasn’t over, though, and we got up even earlier the next day! Thursday we were at the Disneyland gate by 7 am. We weren’t the only crazy ones, though. There were a ton of people there.

First we went to dumbo. Simon had been talking about the dumbo ride every night during our bedtime talk for months. His dream finally game true! You can’t tell…but here we are on dumbo.

20161013_074153We also spent a lot of time in tomorrowland where they have a “build your own droid”  section of a shop. Both of the boys really loved that. They each got to build one, and thanks to Ama, later got to build two more!

20161013_101803Thursday we also got to meet our first character: Mickey himself!

20161013_171939The highlight for Elias was riding space mountain. He got to ride it six times due to ride swap. We didn’t have Simon try after the Tower of Terror fiasco, but Elias really wanted to try, and he loved it! Both Elias and Simon really loved Thunder mountain as well.

Friday morning we went to a character breakfast. The boys started out the morning with a dance party. I don’t know how they had so much energy after two long days, but they were amazing troopers!

20161014_081733After breakfast we were back at California Adventure, and we headed straight to Toy Story Mania. I think our one regret of the trip is that we didn’t get on this ride more than once. There really is nothing like it.

20161014_090511Elias loved the silly symphony swings. He was very serious about the rides and was ready with his hands up.

20161014_095550Another of Elias’ favorites was Goofy’s Sky School.

Friday afternoon we spent a lot of time visiting characters. Elias and Simon loved collecting autographs and giving high fives. Caleb just loved squeezing all of the noses and he laughed pretty hard about it, too!

20161014_110952 20161014_143756 20161014_145228Here is Elias getting ready for the Grizzly river rapids on Friday afternoon. We got soaked, and went back  to the hotel to change and rest a bit before dinner!

20161014_151828Saturday morning we headed back to Disneyland for our final day of fun. We signed Elias up for the trials of the temple show, and he got to cross blades with Darth Vader himself!

20161015_104530We rode rides all day despite big crowds and all three of the boys did amazing. By 8 pm or so we ended up with both Simon and Caleb asleep. We got on one last ride…It’s a Small World. Here’s proof for Simon that he rode it:

20161015_200620Sunday morning we went to Goofy’s kitchen. Our plane didn’t leave until late afternoon so we had some time to kill. They boys loved seeing Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip, and Dale. Simon was so tickled by Minnie, and Caleb really loved her too. It was so fun seeing how much joy they got from the experience.

20161016_094510 20161016_094556I’m so thankful that the seven of us got to have this experience together. Disney really knows how to make things magical! It was exhausting, but was worth it!

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