Thursday, December 29, 2011


I relish a good surprise. When I was a girl, I didn't want to know if the preemie cabbage doll I asked Santa for, or the James Blundell tape I had searched everywhere for, would be under the tree. Not until Christmas morning. No way would you find me rummaging through closets or peeking into storage rooms. I couldn't stand the thought of prematurely spoiling a surprise.

And now that I'm "grown" I still prefer to be surprised. But I'm quite positive it's even better to be on the other end.

Watching that unexpected joy leap out of my children's mouths, seeing the thrill of opening that one special thing light up their faces - it's an elation that can't be calculated or contrived. Something so spontaneous it swoops up everyone else in the room with the sheer happiness of it.

So Doug and I planned a surprise for our girls. One we've been saving for, planning for, and zipping our lips about for almost a year. And as much as I love surprises, some days this secret felt bigger than me - like I was going to pop if I didn't say something! (But I didn't.)


By Christmas Eve we were still working through the last symptoms of stomach flu with the boys. So we stayed home, ate clam chowder for dinner, and did our own reenactment of the Nativity.

By the time the girls were in their new pajamas and ready for family prayer, they were bouncing off the walls. Literally.


I tried to take a few pictures, but most of the time, the living room looked like this. All tickles, tumbles, and jumbles of silliness.

Finally, they went to sleep.


And Santa came.

He filled all our stockings, put together this train table for the boys, and left the girls just what they had asked for (despite occasional threats of coal).


Once Spence and Gordy laid eyes on this train set, they were consumed. I couldn't even get them to glance up for a photo.


We forced them to come up for air so we could get to church on time, but they were back at it as soon as we walked in the door.


Eliza got her cook book, and the perfect apron. Pink with math symbols.


Ali got her make-up box.

Santa wisely gave her "make-up" for a four-year-old. Things like nail polish, lip gloss, and press-on nails.


And Sami got her jewelry box. Complete with rings, bracelets, and necklaces.


Under the tree we left each of the girls a new back pack. With a little Minnie Mouse dangling her arms out of the side pocket.


On the zipper we attached this name tag.

You'd think the tag might have tipped them off, but they didn't seem to notice. They were over the moon about Minnie and the stack of "things to do" inside their back packs. But they didn't have a clue they might be going somewhere.

So Doug had Eliza pull a scroll of papers tied with a red ribbon from the tree.

Now, mind you, Doug is the mastermind behind this surprise. He's done all the legwork, all the reservations, all the deal-finding, and of course, it was only right that he do the unveiling of the surprise.


He told them they were going on a plane (a thrill of it's own since we haven't traveled outside the state since having the boys) to visit someone. And the letters to that someone's name were in this stack of papers. Two words. And both words started with the same letter.

Eliza pulled out the "M"s quickly enough. But after that, there were a whole lot of blank stares and screwed up faces.The word scramble might have been a bit over their heads. I began to chuckle, and tilt my head sideways, as we read various combinations of the letters. Soon we were all laughing.

"Mikuc Moys?" No....


"Mickey Moeus?"



And then I must have left the room for a minute because I missed them getting the spelling right and don't have a picture of all the letters in place.

But even then, the surprise was still lost on them.

"How are we going to see Mickey Mouse?" Ali asked. (They've been begging to go to Disneyland for months. Hmmmmmm....)

So Doug had to explain it (which was slightly anti-climactic). Then he handed them this paper.


And it began to sink in.


Then Doug gave them a letter from Cinderella - a special invitation to join her for lunch at her castle.

And it really began to sink in...


I know all of this might sound frivolous and extreme, and I feel a little self-conscious telling you about it here. But our girls will only be little once. We found some fabulous resort deals, we have sky miles to burn since we've traveled nowhere since moving to Utah, and well, we can hardly stand it we're so excited.

I have to thank Doug for making this happen. For watching our finances, and for spending lots of late nights online trying to find the best way to do... everything.

We'll be leaving the boys here with Grandm Nae and Grandma Ronda (those lucky boys) and heading to sunny Florida for a whole week. Truthfully, I'm not sure who's going to have more fun. The girls. Or their Mom and Dad.


It was a beautiful Christmas, full of sweet surprises. More on some of them later (like this precious doll house).


Right now, we're enjoying having Doug home for a few weeks. He took a much-needed sabbatical from work. And tonight we're hosting our first neighborhood Food Drive in lieu of neighbor gifts. I'll tell you how it goes, but so far the neighborhood is very much on board, and I think everyone is relieved to pool their resources and give to those who have real needs.

The magic of Christmas is still going strong around here. When the girls wake up each morning, instead of asking how many days until Christmas, they ask how many days until DisneyWorld?

So the girls made a chain.

To count the days.


And you can bet they're not the only ones counting down.


  1. That's awesome!!!!You'll have a fabulous time. We took our 3 kids this May and did it on the cheap. They still talk about it every single day. I think my husband and I had as much fun as they did. Great memories. Have a wonderful time!

  2. How super exciting. (I want to come.) The memories will last a lifetime. Have FUN!

  3. You're going to LOVE it!! We went in July right before coming here and had a blast. Great idea to keep the boys at home; they won't know any better and it'll just be that much harder to get around. Chaz was fine with us, but he was only 8 months at the time and a LOT more portable. YAY!!!

  4. What a wonderful present! I like the idea of how you presented it to the kids -- this for itself will be a lasting memory for you and the kids.

    I'm glad you had a great Christmas. (We did, too, my youngest daughter sang in the Church Choir -- and my son sang with her just for the purpose of holding her hand -- that was so heartwarming and almost made me forget the bazillion times, when they get into fist and yelling fights..., ;-)).

    I like how you reenact the Nativity.

    So long,

  5. That is a wonderful story and beautiful surprise!! What lucky girls, I am sure you will all have a ball.
    From a Mum in Australia wishing Disneyland wasn't so far away!!

  6. How truly magical! I love how you waited to tell them about Disneyworld until Christmas morning. All of you will have so much fun there! Your girls will be at the perfect ages for it. They will be old enough to understand it and remember it and yet young enough to look at everything with eyes of wonder.

    The train table…the dollhouse…the Christmas gifts look just marvelous. Eliza's apron is darling…"pink with math symbols".

    I love how you had a neighborhood food drive last night. Hope it went really well.

    Hooray for a few weeks with your husband home!!! You all deserve a nice break. Love to you. Happy New Year! xo

  7. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO JUSTIFY THIS WONDERFUL SURPRISE! (yes, I am yelling) Merry, merry Christmas to all of you. I hope you will still be sending out a Valentine in the future. I always looked forward to the Arveseth Christmas card and letter but now that you've switched to a valentine, I hope to see it in a couple of months.

  8. So much fun! This will be a blast for you and your girls. I love the doll house too. You need to check out bodo henning. They are (in my opinion) the doll house supreme! Everything works on a mini scale. I hang a bodo henning sewing machine on my tree ever year, all with moving parts. It was given to me while in Germany. This is what I was telling you about the other day. See you soon.

  9. Fantastic! What incredible memories you will make!

  10. Charelle - What fun that you took your three! Just curious - how old are they? And I love that they still talk about. We're hoping to make some wonderful memories as well.

    leslie - yes, come! ;)

    Erin - your emails have been so helpful. Thanks for all the great intel. Happy New year to you!

    Corinna - the image of your son holding your daughter's hand and the two of them singing in the church choir together is very tender. Thank you for sharing. And thanks for your sweet christmas card. Did you make it? Your note was a blessing to my day. It arrived just before Christmas. Happy New Year to you my friend!

    Mum in Australia - Sounds like they need a Disney Down Under! Thanks for your sweet comment.

    Anne Marie - Thanks for your comment. The hype is growing and the girls are getting very excited. I am too. This will be the perfect break for all of us. The Food Drive was far more successful than we anticipated. I hope to post about it next week. And yes, having Doug home is cushioning our whole family life, making it easier, happier. I am grateful. Happy New Year to you too my dear friend! Still remembering you in my prayers.

    Cris - Okay, okay. I hear you. I was justifying, wasn't I ? But the blog world is it's own weird microcosm (or macro). Sometimes, I worry about how things might be perceived. I would never want to parade anything about as if it's just par for the course, when in reality, we have scraped to set aside and pull this trip together. We're going big, but we also won't be going back anytime soon. I still remember your photos of your boys fighting Darth Vader. ;) Valentine card to be coming soon... xoxo

    Becca - You'll have to look at my close-ups when I post again. They're just wooden pieces of furniture, less ornate than the bodo hennig. You'll have to tell me what you think. I love that you have a tiny sewing machine from your time in Germany. xo See you tonight I hope!

    Liz - I hope so! Happy New Year my dear!

  11. Oh cath you are going to have a blast. We gave Disney world to our kids last Christmas and it was heaven. We stayed at one of the Disney resorts and had breakfast with the princesses, chef mickeys etc. They still talk about it. Even tonight while celebrating and asking what each of them wanted to learn or do in 2012, they all said go back to Disney. I hope you guys have a great time. make sure you get an autograph book, bring one from home so you don't have to pay 20$ for one so your girls can get all the princesses, etc sloop fun

  12. We surprised our kids with a trip to Disney World last year. We wrote a letter from Mickey Mouse saying how excited he was that they were coming to see him. I was video taping their reactions and they just didn't get it. When I finally turned off the camera, it clicked and they were jumping and yelling and all excited.
    It really is a magical place, my then 9 year old, Luke, who thinks holding mom's hand is the greatest punishment ever - reached out his hand to me to walk through the park. Magical.
    Olivia, my then 4 year old would stand in line for an hour and a half without complaint to see the princesses and fairies. Then after she we were finished, she would march herself right to the back of the line again just so she could see them again.
    If you ever have a chance to repeat the trip when your kids are older, another amazing adventure is Discovery Cove. It is a "day resort" type place where children 6 and up (yep parents too) can swim with dophins. (When we went, your ticket got you into Sea World for 14 days). That was a fun place that my son thinks would be a great place for a family reunion.
    Enjoy your trip!

  13. My husband and I joined Erin and her family at Disney World before they headed south, and it was truly magical. But as your boys get older and another visit to Disney seems in order, you may want to consider the California parks; California Adventure is just across the plaza from Disneyland, and between the two of them, they have many of the same attractions as the parks in Florida, although unfortunately the castle is not large enough to host a breakfast with the princesses.... but just to the south is San Diego, with its zoo, Safari Park, Sea World, and Legoland. (And if you ever do head down that way, you may want to ask Erin about info on the bed-and-breakfast they've stayed at in the San Diego area, where the kids can pick their own oranges and juice them for breakfast.)

  14. Heather - love the suggestion of buying an autograph book beforehand. Thank you!

    kt - Luke reaching out for your hand? Priceless. And I love picturing your Olivia jumping back in line for her turn with the princesses. Thanks for the recommendations to Discovery Cove. Sounds incredible. Hope you are doing well!

    Clynn'sKathy - Another time, we'll definitely do CA Disney. How fun you met up with Erin. She told me all about their trip. So memorable. Thanks for your suggestions and Happy New Year to you!


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