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Family traditions~ our little cabin in the woods

For the third year in a row, our family took a little 2 day trip to a cabin in the woods. The last two times, we went the week after Christmas and the kids opened the package with all the details as a Christmas present.  Since it was no longer a surprise that we were going, and an expected outing during the winter break, we decided to take advantge of the full week the kids had off before Christmas and escape then.

We do so much of our vacations with extended family and friends, that 2 years ago I wanted just a few day getaway for our own little family to bond away from it all.  When we first went, I just searched “cabin in the woods” within about 2 hours of our home. We’ve gone to a different spot each year, and it is truly time and money well spent.  They end up being about $150-200 a night, and we stay 2 night.

We bring in most of our own food with plans to “eat local” one night.  They have been super small towns that we’ve gone to, and it’s fun to get a feel of the local flavor as well. This time spent is so precious to me.  Time bonding and playing games and laughing and exploring the woods…no distractions…just our family of 6.  I find myself brimming with joy over and over, gazing at my children, with a prickle in my eye.

I am less distracted, and my hubby said he is able to just relax, too.  Because it is just 2 days, it isn’t quite time for the kids to get cabin fever (no pun intended;) or annoyed with each other because its still so novel and fun. The one squabel they got into was on our 3 mile drive into “town” for dinner  when the boys wanted to sit by their younger sister and my other daughter got her feelings hurt.  Not bad. I haven’t ever planned ahead, and have mostly booked at the beginning of December.  This one, I booked just a week and a half before.  We went to a little town called Smithville, it’s the town where Hope Floats & The Tree of Life were filmed.  And they are quite proud of that there. We stayed at a place called The Treehouse because it was up above the trees.

The food:

Here are a bunch of pics I took on this little excursion.


We played a whole lotta dominoes….


This giant gingerbread man is the size of the large gingerbread cookie that the town of Smithville made to get into the Guiness Book of World record. They beat the record in 2006 (I think) then Ikea beat them out in 2009.

The park had trains to climb on…

There were all sorts of fun textured walls around main street….oh how I’d love to photograph a family….or a teen…our a couple around here.

my family patiently waiting while I checked out a few antique stores…

It was a fun adventure, you should try it!

Christmas fun at the Duke home

Christmas Eve

It was pouring rain nearly all day on Christmas Eve.  We had a breakfast party at our neighbors home, got to be Secret Santa’s to a less fortunate family, last minute grocery store run, & then we went to see another neighbor sing a solo at her church’s service. My youngest fell asleep on the drive home (5:30 p.m.) and I could not wake her up for a good hour after that.  We made and ate dinner, and before everyone changed, I wanted to grab a quick picture in all of our festive-ness….even if the baby was asleep;) When she woke up, I had to get a happy shot of her in her cute outfit.

Below…the tree on a tripod with a slow shutter speed….hmmm…not my finest.

Below is our Christmas miracle…4 children, sortof happily posing in front of the tree like mama asked…but don’t be fooled…

…then 5 seconds later…

I was so excited to find matching jammies at The Childrens Place, just a week or so before Christmas.  I meant to look sooner…it just kept getting forgotten.  Most of these are using my external flash.  I don’t know how to use it very well, and I don’t pop it on my camera too often, but I like these results better than super high ISO.  I set up my camera on a tripod to see how it would work on Christmas morning.  This was during our family dance/wrestle with excitement before the kids scurried off to bed.

A tradition carried on my from childhood is that the kids all sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve.  They’d actually been doing it all week.  My flash went SUPER bright here, but I love the expressions on their faces.

I left just after this pic, and 10 minutes later my youngest came down because “she wasn’t tired.” I let the big kids settle down with her on my lap, and then took her off to join them.  Just before 10, it was finally silent.

Christmas morning

We saved something special for the end…my son really wanted a hamster.  We gave him a poem that led him to the excitement!

Below, I surprised my hubby with an iphone.  He recently had a pay per minute trac fone, then upgraded and didn’t think he’d be able to get this latest and greatest, but I found a way.  He does so much for us, and never wants for anything fancy like this…I thought he could use a fun surprise. I have been planning it for almost 2 months, I was so excited for this moment!

my loot…

 Hope you had a wonderful day!

gingerbread houses

It seems that every other year we pull out all the makings for a gingerbread house.  It is VERY messy, but the kids just LOVE it. One of my sons wasn’t very excited about the idea until he realized he got to decorate his OWN house instead of all of them decorating one (I didn’t think we had done that before).  He ended up making a family of gummy bears, and as my most imaginative, I heard him having the bears “talk” to each other during the building process. (His has the “porch of bears” down below)  I was glad my mom was there to do a lot of the dirty work so I could take some fun pictures.


I also wanted to share a fun  holiday tradition that our family does each year.  I’ve got no pictures for it, but we call it:  The pajama drive.  It started with driving around to look at the neighborhood lights in our pajama’s.  Then we decided to tie in delivering friend/neighbor gifts (with the gifts, we like to “ding dong ditch” but people know its from us because our family card is attached).  Lastly, we make sure we come home to some nice hot chocolate. The kids love it, and we usually end up doing several “drives” in the week before Christmas.