The Nutcracker

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It was the land of the Sugar Plum Fairies last night, a Christmas tradition we’ve now held for five years, I believe, but it goes back even further if you count all the times I went as a teenager.

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The girls’ dresses Trish Scully, hair clips Giddy Up and Grow

We begin our tradition at the Ritz Carlton where we eat fancy desserts in the lobby, ooh and ahh over the giant gingerbread house and twirl through the hallways as we peruse every decorated corner–the garlands, the lights, the wreaths.

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If you are ever in Naples near Christmas, you have to visit the Ritz. Come at tea hour if you can–for the sugar cubes–but definitely come to see the gingerbread house–like, a real gingerbread house. The Ritz chefs spend over 1,000 hours constructing it from 1,200 gingerbread bricks and–get this–60,000 pieces of candy.

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It’s a little Christmas miracle.

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Lainey’s buddy Maggie–a.k.a. my fourth child–came with us again this year, and I loved watching the two of them giggling throughout the night.

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We normally have Miami City Ballet perform the Nutcracker in Naples–which is beautiful, by the way–but this year it was Moscow Ballet, and it was truly spectacular. The set and costumes were exquisite, and I always add extra points for a Nutcracker performance when the Arabian coffee dancers get all Cirque du Soleil. Lord have mercy, the ab work they did on stage last night–so many clapping interruptions. At one point, they were bent all cockeyed and blowing so many minds with their poses, I heard the older gentleman in a suit behind me say “Holy Shit.”

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Mostly, I’m grateful for the memory, for the opportunity to drink up these little things I love so much. Nella was lying in my arms–awake, but slumped in all comfy–during the Pas de Deux, my favorite part of the entire performance when I feel like Tchaikovsky is strumming the damn strings of my soul. And watching the ballet with that music, my girl’s cheek pressed against my chest and growing legs dangling further past my knees this year–it was this intense fusion of Motherhood and Art, two of my greatest loves–loves that are both so big, my receptors can barely handle such intense recognition of them together like that. The result feels like ectasy. But then again, I feel things too much.

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Our Christmas Bucket List gets another check, and my heart grows a little more to contain it.

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xo grateful. and I mean that in the least hashtag-blessed kind of way, truly.

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4 Ideas for Incorporating Photos into your Holiday

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Scene: 1953, my grandma’s living room, annual Christmas card photo shoot. Four boys huddle around the fireplace, the littlest three smiling and holding their stockings up to hang while the oldest holds a prop camera–the kind with the big round flash, now vintage–and pretends to take a photo of them. The mantle looks a lot like mine does now–bottle brush trees neatly arranged across the top and evergreen garland draped festively in front. The boys’ fresh haircuts are combed perfectly to the side, and every outfit is ironed and neatly tucked for the picturesque portrayal of that 50’s Cleaver perfection. How do I know this? Because I have the photograph framed with three other of my grandparents’ Christmas cards and displayed in my hallway. And even though they have long been gone, I can feel my grandparents in the photograph–my grandpa’s attention to detail in the orchestration of the shot and the way he added a chair for my uncle to stand on to evenly space the boys’ heights, my grandma’s impeccable housekeeping and her dedication to the things that were of utmost importance in motherhood then–ironed clothes, fresh haircuts, clean faces, the deep roots of a loving home.

The love of photos runs in my blood–on both sides of my family, actually (throw in Brett’s–the deck is stacked)–and every time I walk past those old Christmas cards and see my grandma’s family, a lot like mine, I feel so appreciative for the way photographs rekindle our memories, connect us to a time, place and people we love, and make us feel loved and inspired. And because I speak fluent photo love, I’ve taken it upon myself to wrangle together four ways you can incorporate your favorite photos into your holiday this year, all of which bring a little happiness and sense of home. My friends at Artifact Uprising have hopped in to offer a giveaway at the end of the post, so make sure you check it out because their photo books are simply delicious.

1. Make a Book of Christmas Past for the Coffee Table

Collect all your holiday memories in one place so you can look back at how the kids have outgrown their Christmas footie pajamas and how your kids have matured in the annual photo with Santa  from screaming-on-his-lap to happily standing next to him. We used Artifact Uprising’s Hardcover Photo Book for ours. To keep it easy, I arranged photos randomly (rather than chronologically) and included the year on each spread by inserting a text box in simple white text (all easy to create and manipulate on Artifact Uprising’s site).

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My favorite thing about our book is how much the kids love to look at it and talk about the photos.

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When the season’s over, we’ll pack up our book with our decorations to be tucked away until next holiday.

2. Transform the Photos You’ve Taken This Year into Gift Tags

I love the art of wrapping and the challenge of using simple things to make packages look beautiful, and photos are the perfect way to personalize a gift and add a unique little “garnish,” not to mention pull up some great memories you’ve made over the year.

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Artifact Uprising’s 3.25 x 3.25 Everyday Square Print Set are perfectly sized to work as gift tags or to accompany them to make a gift stand out.

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The hard part–choosing which memories to include!

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3. Print Old Holiday Photos to Display in Your Home

This is one of my favorite ways to decorate for the holidays, and it’s super easy. Simply collect holiday or wintery scene photos from over the years, print them and display around the house during the holidays. I switch out our framed art in our living room with holiday photos (I store them taped behind the other prints, so it’s easy to make the switch) as well as add some to the kids’ bedrooms. I love Artifact Uprising’s Wooden Photo Ledge (made of real walnut wood and handcrafted in the U.S.–ours is the 18″ one) because it’s made to hold photos without frames, so it’s easy to switch out prints throughout the year.

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We keep a stack of prints in a drawer near our ledge so we can switch out prints whenever we want to freshen things up.

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4. Create Meaningful Gifts with Your Photos

The best gifts are always the ones with meaning and memory, so you can never go wrong with a photo gift. And for grandparents? Photo gifts are always the way to go. We’ve done photo books and framed photos and, while I love them, I’m always looking for a little more out-of-the-box way to present and gift photos. I love these two:

This Brass Easel & Print Set that comes with twelve 5 x 7 prints of your choosing.

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It’s beautifully packaged, and its sleek design fits in with any decor.

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And this Handcrafted Wood Clipboard Calendar (has a magnet on the back) that doesn’t take up a lot of room (I love a good calendar but can never find the wall space to display them) and combines your favorite photos with a simple calendar design for a sweet little display.

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Our kind friends at Artifact Uprising are giving away a Hardcover Photo Book like ours. All you have to do is enter your e-mail below for a chance to win.

I’ll share a few tips in December on taking pictures through the holiday, how to capture the best moments and how to balance “capturing” with the moment itself.

Enjoying: Park Place Holiday

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I get up early in the morning–the kind of early that makes me question, as I’m lying there sorting out the last dream, if it’s my wake-up time or quite possibly 2 in the morning based on the silence and the darkness. I was waking up at 5:30 before Daylight Saving kicked in, but when we all turned our clocks back and my internal alarm didn’t adjust, I figured “To hell with it, I’ll just get more done.” That, of course, leaves my daily quota for energy dried up and depleted by the time the kids go to bed, so their bedtime is now my cue to follow suit. Or, as Brett likes to say as I’m slipping into pajamas and washing my face, “Goodnight, Grandma–don’t forget to take your Miralax.”

The thing is, I like waking up early and look forward to the recognition that sleep is over because there’s a prize inside that cereal box, and it’s called Alone Time. I can do whatever I want–which I always describe as “read,” “write in my journal” or “do yoga with candles” but sometimes looks like “look at my phone,” “online shop” or “research paint colors for a wall I’m never going to paint.” Tomato, tomahto. The important thing is that these things can be done in silence, without interruption and in the clarity of brain space that is not simultaneously wondering if the sound of water running in the bathroom is normal-post-bathroom-hand-washing running water or eight-Barbies-having-a-rager-in-the-sink-that-is-about-to-overflow running water. 4:30 a.m. is when I can sit on my couch with a cup of coffee that won’t get slopped and a book I can actually read, and a candle that will not be blown out by a 4-year-old pyro.

Let’s just say if Airbnb was renting out my living room sanctuary for early risers, the price would have tripled this past weekend, shifting into the “In Season” red-marked calendar dates.

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The tree is up, a red carpet roll-out on the invitation to wake up and sit in that space and just be.

“You know what we’re sliding into now?” I asked Heidi the other day. “If the year was a Monopoly Board, we’re entering Park Place/Boardwalk territory.”

Twinkle lights don’t remove the challenges or responsibilities of everyday life, of course (I mean, there is a Luxury Tax space between Park Place and Boardwalk, if you recall), and, in some ways, holidays can intensify demands and painful recognitions. But, there’s something about the tree and the lights and the celebration that softens it somehow and reminds us to come sit down.

Fire and annual tradition of watching Elf together
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Thanksgiving morning parade and fort-making
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So this might possibly be my favorite Enjoying post of the year, and–warning–it’s mega festive.

With no further ado, we’re enjoying…

Pulling out the winter village that gets a little more chipped up and broken every year (what is it with these villagers’ heads falling off?!) but never loses its charm.

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First night of holiday jams and checking off the holiday bucket list “roast marshmallows in the fireplace” activity.

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I love how Nella will roast a marshmallow, put it on a graham cracker, pull out a bar of chocolate…and then abandon the marshmallow/graham cracker altogether and walk away with the chocolate.

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Enjoying Thanksgiving morning lazies…

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…and our annual breakfast tradition with our neighbors.

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Enjoying little pie helpers this year…

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…and Nella’s Thankgiving plate of nothing but a heap of “mashed potatoes and grabies.”

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Enjoying sorting ornaments and memories and lingering over the story behind each one.

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The kids love this part. I hold up the little “Baby on the Way” cradles and “First Christmas” tiny spoons, tell them all about how they used to pull the ornaments off the tree or rip the wrapping paper open when I wasn’t looking, and while they don’t ask me to tell another story, you can totally tell by their big eyes and shy smiles that they want to hear more.

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And finally…enjoying Dash’s first holiday date.

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I take the girls to the Nutcracker every year (hopefully someday he’ll join us, but not his cup of tea right now), and this year Dash picked going to a movie with his buddy Thomas as his date. So we started a new tradition…Movie & Milkshakes.

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We saw the movie The Star, followed by milkshakes at The Royal Scoop next door.

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And then they talked me into taking them to the park where the sun shined magic-like through the tree branches and did all sorts of cool flarey things with its light to make up for the fact that we don’t get snow. I get it, Florida. You’re pretty too.

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In a matter of weeks, we will be lamenting over the fact that this all flew by too quickly–that we can’t believe it’s over. We’ll be ready to take down trees, purge our closets and remove garlands in attempts to reset, minimize and clean spaces for new goals and adventures. We will Pass Go again, sliding into to the less-twinkly routines and responsibilities of St. Charles Place and Virginia Avenue, but we’ll find good motivation there and know that Free Parking celebrations will surprise us over and over throughout the year.

But for now, I’m setting up houses on Park Place and planting a nice little hotel right in the middle of Boardwalk. I will wake up early as as many times as I can this next month and sit with my coffee, my computer, my book, my body and my thanks…for all the little pleasures we get to enjoy right now in this season.

There’s room in my hotel…come on in.

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Happy Monday, friends. xo