Christmas Day

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One of the greatest satisfactions of Christmas morning growing up was gathering all my opened presents into a big loot pile I’d just sit back and survey. Surrounded by wrapping paper shreds and a sea of shag carpet was my heap of treasures–the Cabbage Patch doll, the new legwarmers, the Kissing Coolers and Bonne Bell chapsticks all pushed into a pile that was mine. Before I even played with any of it, there was that moment amid the mess of Christmas morning that the simple sight of those gifts, arranged in a pile together, made me feel so lucky and loved and full.

Thirty years later, I sit on the floor of my living room next to a fire, second cup of coffee in hand. The sun has just barely risen, but the house is fully awake. Three piles of treasures begin to form amid scraps of wrapping paper, and I watch as my children gush over new Barbies and Legos and more glue to make slime. I slowly survey the living room and take in every bit of the scene–the way Brett gently calls “Hey Buddy” to Dash to distract him from opening his sisters’ presents, the chipped nail polish on Nella’s little fingernails as she carefully peels back the paper on her gifts, the ribbon Lainey tucked around her neck like a scarf, the dog asleep on the couch, my dad and Gary excitedly making over every little thing Dash holds up to show them, the music, the warmth, our home.

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This is my pile of gifts, this is my Christmas treasure, and though the greatest excitement of this morning is associated with childhood, nothing can compare with how lucky and loved and full I feel at this moment.

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Yes, the living room’s a mess, and yes this recognition of gifts comes with the pain that life is so very fragile and this scene will change every year, but for a moment, everything I love is pushed together into a pile in my mind, and I sit back and survey it and whisper a million thank-yous before I get up to refill my cup, grab a garbage bag, take a picture, wipe a nose, pull the sticky buns out of the oven. This...this is my favorite thing about Christmas.

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Looking back, a few scenes from our Christmas:

Making Florida snowmen Christmas Eve from frozen corn starch, shaving cream and peppermint oil.

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Our Christmas cake that Dash slowly devoured little by little every chance he had to sneak away and help himself.

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Baby of the family motto: Just give it to him.

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Christmas Eve bar with our signature drink “The Rudolph”: 1.5 oz Bourbon, 1 oz. fresh lemon juice, 3/4 oz. rosemary simple syrup, shaken and poured on ice. Garnish with rosemary sprig (and a cranberry Rudolph nose, suggested by Instagram followers who were clever to tie in that title).

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Dash wanted to address his own presents, and in true baby-of-the-family fashion, he wowed us with how many letters he can write on his own. My favorite for all my kids has always been their first capital “E” with, like, 19 lines coming out of it.

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Crossing off some of the last things on our Holiday Bucket List (taking it down, dating it and tucking it away in our keepsake drawer today)…

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Setting up our reindeer runway and sprinkling some treats for Santa’s reindeer…

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Milk & Cookies for Santa…

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Watching The Family Stone Christmas Eve, my favorite…

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Santa’s gifts waiting…

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Christmas Morning.

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The girls wanted “real baby” dolls, and Santa delivered. They played with them all day Christmas day and requested we pull out the old baby car seat from the attic.

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(Santa purchased this doll for the girls, for those who asked).

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(Palm Springs Playhouse from Land of Nod.)

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Lainey does not gush emotionally, so it meant a whole lot when she looked at me and said, “I can’t even tell you how happy I am this Christmas.”

My Christmas spirit may be a festive little elf for the month of December, but every year on Christmas Day, it goes into this deeply reflective place that–this year–had me crying in the bathroom. I feel too much–this is my burden to bear, and it does come with bonuses, so don’t feel too bad. “I don’t even know why I’m crying,” I told Brett. My sister recently likened this feeling to therapy dogs–a friend who had one said that on therapy days, the dog gets more exhausted than when he runs at the park. On therapy days, the dog soaks up the emotions of all those he’s around and loving, and that’s a lot to bear. Even when I tell myself “low standards” and “just chill” for Christmas day, I can’t help but feel so aware of how much I love the people I’m with and everything everyone is feeling–even if it’s all good–that I just go into therapy dog mode and soak up too many feelings and then fall into an exhausted heap Christmas night.

Loving people is so hard and so wonderful. And as much as I love Christmas, there’s a reason it only comes once a year.

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Taking this heap of gifts into the week as we continue to soak up family, feel grateful for everything this year has given us and move forward toward the new year…onward, my friends.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday…wishing you more love into the new year. xo

Leaving you with my post on Instagram from Christmas night: Lying in bed with the girls as they fell asleep tonight, I heard the ghost of Christmas past…quiet little sobs: “I don’t want to go to bed, Mom, because when we wake up, it will all be over.” My mom reminded me today that I was exactly the same (and maybe still am 😊)–cried every Christmas night growing up, so sad for the end of the anticipation. So I held Lainey’s hand and told her about the words that have become my anthem…There Is More. We are the keepers of the secret power of recognizing and creating celebrations among ordinary days, and that power lasts all year. Everything we love about this season is scattered throughout the rest of the year too–opportunities for gathering, music, giving and gratitude. How many sunsets will take our breath away this next year? How many nights will we fall asleep, feeling warm and full and loved? How many adventures await us? “There’s so much to look forward to,” I told her. “Let’s start tomorrow with a walk on the beach.” ❤️ Merry Christmas…there is more.

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Deja Vu: Christmas in Chicago

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I knew last year at this same time–thirty minutes into our winter trip to Chicago–that I had done a dangerous thing–stumbled into a kind of magic that would be hard not to want to return to every year. If tickets were astronomical, it would be easier to say “not this year,” but Spirit’s $105 round trip bare fares called us like the sirens, leading us to the Town of Christmas Magic while we forgot about the fact that bare fare means bare service.

Brett says this “Howdy” must be a hand paint job because Spirit would never spring the $$ for a custom job. “Like a flight attendant must have crawled up there with a magic marker.”

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Listen, I am thankful for the option of an airline that keeps their prices low.  But Lordy, do they ever set us up for the jokes to follow. I think they had two employees running a check-in line of about 937 people at O’Hare, and one of those employees was practically watching everyone while eating a sandwich on break. I swear I heard him look out, laugh and say to everyone, “You suckers.”

I don’t care. It was worth it.

Why yes, I did give my kid a balloon on the plane to keep him entertained. Except it was a wubble balloon, and the little blow-up part that is supposed to stay inverted flipped out to clearly resemble a nipple so that it looked like I gave Dash a giant boob to play with. And why yes, he did toss it into air so that it floated two rows back behind us. “Excuse me, sir, could you hit that breast back to us? K, thanks.”

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There are certain things that will take your breath away in life–a beautiful landscape, new babies, an incredible act of kindness. Let me add to the list walking into a city apartment one late December night, after lugging kids through the cold, to find this scene waiting for you.

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My dear friend to whom this apartment belongs speaks the same language as my heart. We text throughout the year about all these secret little moments of motherhood and life hidden behind the obvious–the things we recognize and know the other one does too. She surprised me and ran into the city the day before to put up a tree in the corner. It is an act of kindness that went so far, I bottled up what it felt like so that I can pay it forward. My kids immediately found the toys, I lit candles and turned on music, and then I scanned the room slowly, drinking up every inch of the scene and tucking the happiness overflow into pockets of my brain to save forever.

(this little window–our favorite corner of this place and the perfect nook to people watch)

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We wanted snow and got just enough tiny flurries Friday morning to say we got it…

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…yet keep the temps up enough so that we could comfortably walk around and enjoy the city.

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While it is hard not to create great expectations for this weekend–I look forward to it for so long–it is easy to have those expectations met, even if everything goes wrong. Because no matter if you get to cross off all the things you want to see and do in the city on your list or don’t get to do any of it…you have the city which, stripped down to the bones, is still excess–drenched with this electric festive energy, dripping with beauty, filled with people who come to be happy simply to stand in the middle of it and drink it in. I am one of them.

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And then you add to the mix these other bits of magic–a home base where my kids want to hang out, a dad who comes along and loves all of this stuff as much as I do. He even bought a light-up Christmas hat just for the trip.

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Siblings who arrived from Michigan…

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While we did get to pack in so many adventures in a short amount of time, everything we do hinges around flexibility. In fact, I had bought tickets to White Christmas at one of Chicago’s oldest theaters but quickly traded plans to spend the evening out with my siblings one night while the kids stayed with my dad, and our time together delivered more than a theater ever could. We were walking around the city together, looking for a place where we could huddle and spend the evening together and were, of course, disappointed by all the long lines and wait times. We were about to take a table by the door at one restaurant when we made the call to look for something better. We get together maybe twice a year, and we were all in Chicago a week before Christmas–settling for ambience was out of the question. As we were walking, I saw a Christmas tree in the window of a step-down we almost didn’t notice. “Guys, wait! Look! There’s a fire in there. And a tree! And that bar!” We all crowded around the window and peeked in. “This is it. I can feel it.” We walked in to this charming scene and were given the table right by the fire. The rest is history.

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As for the rest of the adventures…

Butch McGuire’s.
A friend told me we had to go there at Christmas, and when we walked in, I was all “Son of a NUTCRACKER!” Christmas Lights everywhere.

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And two trains circling the ceiling, pulling Christmas cars…

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Dash was mesmerized.

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Willis Tower.
Last year, we did John Hancock, but we wanted to stand on the ledge with the glass floor this year. We got there when it opened, and Lainey requested that we repeat what we did last year–complete a puzzle at the top. So we huddled in a corner, overlooking the city, scrambling to connect the pieces of a Christmas puzzle with 100 pieces (I regret that part).

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That ledge though. Took me a minute to not want to puke looking down.

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Because it wasn’t blistering cold this year, we did get to experience ice skating at the McCormick Tribune rink in Millennium Park, most likely an experience we won’t soon repeat because it isn’t as charming as it looks when you are pushing the entire weight of a child who wants to “ice skate” but refuses to do any of the work. Dear God, my back. And then while every cell in my body was focusing on not dying, there’s some Brian Boitano out there, circling the rink, looking for every opportunity to throw in a triple lutz.

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My sister and I took the girls for afternoon tea at The Allis at Soho House which was pure city perfection–a mix of cozy/glam so inviting we didn’t want to leave, and a scone that set the bar high for all scones to follow.

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The slightly warmer temps also allowed us to experience Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo (completely free!) which turned out to be enchanting–very North Pole-ish. We rented a double stroller so Dash and Nella could huddle together with their hot chocolate, and we walked forever under lights as far as you could see and amidst a crowd of other young families doing the same. All these little babies and kids bundled up in strollers, enraptured by the lights–heaven.

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Other simple city favorites my kids love:

Riding the subway…

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Visiting Macy’s for their Holiday Lane and Christmas window displays…

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Hailing cabs.

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The rest of the weekend was filled with walking–popping in little cafes for hot cocoa when we needed it, shopping, holding hands, getting our family fill.

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My winter bunny looking so big this year.

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Everywhere we walk feels special, and my senses sponge it all up.

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We’ll take this same picture another year and measure it against this one, pointing out how much she’s grown but that her magic dimple has stayed the same.

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And I will, like other trips, slowly forget the details over time…

The funny things he said…

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The way she still held my hand…

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The sound of her giggle when she noticed she could “blow smoke”…

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…but I’ll never ever forget the way this weekend made me feel.

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…completely aware of every good thing that brings me happiness–a street performer passionately singing “Joy to the World”, a cozy restaurant packed with tourists at brunch, fur hats, colorful mittens, a stranger who gives up his seat on the train, holding hands, the sound of bells, the sound of coffee being poured, the sound of a horse and carriage on city streets at night, feeling the cold and knowing they’re happy and warm…

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…my kids in my arms, my kids on my lap, my kids sleeping soundly beside me…

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…possibility, excitement, wonder, love.

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This city delivered once again.

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my friend left a bowl of ornaments and paint pens for us to decorate…so thoughtful)

We returned home completely filled up and so ready for this coming week of family time. Brett stayed home because he lived near Chicago for years and does not love returning to the cold. “Tell your family the Bahamas is our next trip.” And I smile because when it comes to winter in the city, it’s like the bell in Polar Express. Some people hear it, some people don’t. But for me, it always rings loud and clear.

Six more sleeps.

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(See last year’s Christmas in Chicago trip here.)

North Pole Party

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It was a whirlwind weekend here, with holiday festivities that left our house a wee bit glitter-dusted, but the result was holiday magic. (sidenote: I will never bake another cookie again in my life.)

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Saturday evening kicked off our 7th Annual North Pole Party, a celebration that began years ago with nine kids and some Santa hats and has swelled, with time and more friendships, to a gathering of 36 little ones spanning from “first Christmas” to middle school, and a kitchen full of moms recalling this same celebration when their footie pajamas were much smaller.

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It’s one of my favorite nights of the year, and every year we celebrate this, the scene ignites this deep gratitude–the kind that almost takes my breath away–for this window of motherhood I feel so honored to enjoy.

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We celebrate Mrs. Claus style–with cookies, milk and cocoa–and in our pajamas while the rest of the magic spins itself because that’s what happens when you bring kids and twinkle lights together.

With no further ado, some moments from our evening…

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Even Latte had Christmas pajamas.

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Our reindeer food bar:

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Ornament making:

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And my dad’s reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, this year, the Cajun version (my friend brought it from New Orleans)–it’s hilarious.

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Each child brings a $10-15 gift to exchange with another child. In past years, this is the part where everyone laughs because it’s been a hot mess–trying to call out names without missing someone, matching gender/age appropriately, not having some kid end up with their own gift, etc. I finally got some sense and matched up names well before the party so everyone knew who they were buying for, and–praise the heavens–it went smoothly.

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Lainey’s happy with the babies which is exactly how I was when I was her age.

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From the archives, our North Pole parties of the past: Last year, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011,

Grateful for all these friends we love and another year of memories….

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