Christmas 2015

Getting back into the swing of things after the holidays this year has been complicated by pregnancy brain and the overwhelming feeling that there is a lot to do and so little time to do it all before Baby #2 arrives. So, while most of you have probably snapped back to reality, I’m going to stay in the land of twinkly lights, sweets and Santa Claus for just a little bit longer with this post. Plus, B was especially into all things Christmas this year, and the photos are too cute not to share!

Chester and I were lucky to both be off from work for two weeks, which gave us a little extra time to do some festive things with B in the week leading up to Christmas.

There were cookies to make—and sprinkles to eat.

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We took a trip to Macy’s to do all a few of the traditional Philly Christmas activities, including a visit with Santa, a walk through the Dicken’s Village and a viewing of the light show and holiday window displays.

B could not take her eyes off of Santa when she first walked into the room. But, she wasn’t inclined to sit on his lap when it was time for the photo. Hence, for the second year in a row, it was a family portrait. I really should have anticipated this and done a better job with my hair.

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It was so warm on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that we put the air conditioning on. It was bizarre, but at least that meant that B still got to wear the adorable outfits that I had chosen with colder weather in mind.

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Trees were definitely her obsession this year. Ours was on a timer and we told her Santa came to light it up every night. When she would see the lights go on, she would say “Thank you, Santa!” It was adorable, obviously.

Santa stopped at Ni-Ni’s early, and B was excited to unwrap the gifts that he left there. As you can see, there was a musical theme going on.

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This was the first year that she was really into tearing the paper off of things!

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Kisses for Daddy!

After eating way too many cookies for dessert, it was time to head home and wait for Santa!

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Getting Santa’s cookies ready before bed. 

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Yay! Santa came!

When B woke up on Christmas morning, she knew something was up. We waited at the top of the stairs while Chester got a few last minute things in order and she kept saying “What’s down there?!” Her enthusiasm was contagious–I can’t remember the last time I was so excited on Christmas morning! The look on her face when she saw all of the presents under the tree and the leftover cookie crumbs from Santa’s snack was priceless.

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That guitar went everywhere with her for a couple of days.

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Yes, we wore matching gingerbread pajamas.

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Well, everyone but Tracy. They didn’t make them in her size.

B was very specific in her request for a blue Care Bear, so I as excited when I found the last one at Toys “R” Us. She looked at it for about two seconds before moving on.

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In my typical fashion, I over thought all of the gifts we picked out for B (will she enjoy this? Is this right for her age? Are regular blocks better than magnetic blocks). Turns out that I needed have worried so much. Her favorite thing that she received on Christmas morning ended up being a dollar store flashlight that was in her stocking. Oh, toddlers.

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Then, it was back to Ni-Ni’s for more food, presents and family time.

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There’s that guitar again.

After all of the festivity of those two days, we kept the rest of our holiday break pretty low key. We ventured out to the Please Touch Museum, Reading Terminal to see the holiday train display and a couple of after-Christmas sales to score some half-priced décor (which I enjoy even more than the half-priced candy after Halloween) But, other than that, we were mostly at home, playing with B’s new toys.

We rung in 2016 with take-out from DiBruno Brothers’ and a movie from On Demand, to ensure that we didn’t fall asleep before midnight. We are party animals, I know, but honestly, being at home is my favorite way to spend New Year’s Eve. Except, I would prefer real champagne to the disgusting sparkling grape drink that we had. Next year, for sure!

And that, friends, was how we spent our Christmas vacation.

Now, how long do you think I can go on eating cookies for breakfast and trying to figure out if it’s possible to fit the Mamaroo in the living room without dismantling the Christmas tree?

Christmas Magic

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The cookies are baked, presents are ready to go under the tree and the stockings are hung. Sure, the 70+ degree temperatures have it feeling more like Easter, but nevertheless, two of my favorite days of the year are finally here!

I will admit that I couldn’t muster up my usual enthusiasm for all of the preparations leading up to the holiday this year. At seven months pregnant, I am exhausted, cranky and uncomfortable 98 percent of the time. But, B has been a reminder that all of that “stuff” doesn’t really matter, anyway. To her, every little thing about this season has been amazing—even getting dressed up to pose for a photo with a gift box that is completely empty, apart from two LED tap lights stuck to the bottom (which is the story behind our Christmas card photo, above. I’m also reminded how lucky I am that I married someone so creative).

So, in the end, I realized that it doesn’t really matter that the gifts look like they were wrapped by a T-rex or that we never got around to doing half of the activities that I put on the Advent calendar. All she cares about are the sparkly ribbons and pulling the numbers off the twine, anyway.

All that to say, everything can be magical. Even the little things.

I hope that you have the merriest Christmas ever, and that you get to spend this time eating way too many cookies with the people who matter most to you in the world.

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The true miracle of this holiday season was getting both of our kids to pose for photos.

Wonderful Christmastime

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My little elf, on Christmas morning

It hasn’t even been a week, but it feels like Christmas was forever ago! We had two full days of celebrations with family, friends and delicious food. And, B looked even more adorable than usual. So, of course, I can’t resist sharing a few photos of the festivities.

We spent Christmas Eve at Big Bridget’s mom’s house. Chester and Bill did all of the hard work of cooking a humongous meal, while the rest of us sat around chatting, eating and drinking.

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B was a lot more social and less overwhelmed by all of the people than she was at Christmas last year. But, she still wasn’t to thrilled about posing for photos!

When we got home later that night, I ruined a cake that I was trying to make for Christmas Day dessert, took one look at the instructions for the B’s play shopping cart, and upon seeing that it involved about 40 steps and a hammer, turned the heavy lifting back over to Santa (i.e.. Chester) and went to bed.

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I brought B downstairs around seven the next morning and her eyes lit up when she saw the pile surrounding the tree. She wasn’t really into tearing the paper off the gifts, like I thought she would be. So, we opened a few things that morning and saved the rest for later (we actually just unwrapped the final box just last night). But, she did have a blast playing with some of her play kitchen, shopping cart and Big Hugs Elmo. She also kept running back and forth between her old toys and the new ones—I guess she didn’t want them to feel left out!

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Christmas_2014-16Serious bed head

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This Elmo is literally her size. She was dumbfounded.

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Love at first sight

Christmas_2014-18We took B to Pet Smart and let her pick out a gift for Tracy. But, judging from the amount of time that poor Tracy has actually spent playing with that ball, it seems like we still have a way to go until B understands the concept of gift giving!

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Yes, we had matching pajamas (even Chester).

After naps for everyone, it was off to my mom’s for more food (including lasagna, meatballs and sausage–no one makes them better than my mom!) and gifts. Spoiled doesn’t even begin to cover what everyone in the family was this year. The floor of my mom’s living room was barely visible amid all of the boxes and bags.

Christmas_2014-35This will forever be my favorite outfit that B has ever worn. She was our Christmas princess.

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This was, by far, her favorite gift, although she kept throwing the poor doll onto the floor.

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Photo books of B’s one year photo shoot for everyone!

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Stealth photo of Uncle Mike. He’ll be thrilled to see this on here.

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Chester’s parents, on their first Christmas as Philadelphia residents.

It is safe to say that this was one of my favorite Christmases ever. Even though B still didn’t totally “get” what all the fuss was about, she was so good and just…happy. Seeing her smile and hearing her laugh are the best gifts ever. All too soon, it was time to say “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” But, next Christmas is only 359 days away!

 

Christmas Light Tour

Big, sparkly Christmas light displays are my fave. Luckily, there are no shortage of them in and around the Philadelphia area. And, since taking in the lights is a pretty toddler friendly (and free!) activity, we’ve been doing a lot of it this season. Our first stop was the Franklin Square Electrical Spectacle, with our friends Richard and Louisa and their kids. Every 30 minutes, the park is illuminated by an elaborate light show, set to a soundtrack by the Philly POPS. There is plenty to do at the park keep everyone occupied, including a seasonal craft market, food/beverage tent and of course the carousel and mini golf, so I would definitely recommend adding this to your holiday to-do list (this year, it runs through New Year’s Eve). FS-24 FS-3

She was obsessed with the water in the fountain. She kept spinning in circles and saying “wa-wa”

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She started clapping as soon as the music started

Next, we headed to Peddler’s Village in Bucks County. You can get some of your shopping done while taking in more than one million lights that make up the outdoor display. PV-1

Killing time in the toy store, while we waited for the lights to come on.

PV-6 Our final stop was the Christmas Village in Love Park and new Dilworth Park outside of City Hall. CM-2 CM-6

B had fallen asleep in the car on the way there and was not too happy about being woken up from her nap, or about the crowds in the village

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We didn’t notice until going through the photos that these lights changed color

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She’s on the move, and she loved the big, open space…

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…and the steps. She would have gone up and down them all day. Not pictured: the meltdown that ensued when I picked her up to leave. That’s how I knew it was time to head home.

Where have you all been getting your Christmas light fix this year?

DIY Christmas Countdown Calendar

One of the first signs that the holiday season was upon us when I was growing up was the appearance of the Christmas countdown calendar in our kitchen. It was this one, from Avon. When I saw it hanging in B’s playroom at my mom’s house on Thanksgiving, it brought back memories of the yearly fight between my brother and me, in regards to who would get to move the mouse first.

This year, I decided to start the Christmas countdown tradition by making a calendar for B. It doesn’t look like the fancy ones that are currently cluttering my Pinterest feed, but it’s fun and whimsical and B’s eyes lit up when she saw it. I’m glad she’s still at an age where she is easy to impress.

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I covered paper tags with card stock, wrote each activity on the back of them, cut the numbers out of glittery paper and displayed them on the chicken wire frame from her first birthday party. Since she is still a little too young for some of the traditional holiday festivities like baking cookies and ice skating, I purchased few little trinkets for her to unwrap (a hair bow and socks, books, jingle bells, to name a few) and alternated them with toddler-friendly activities, like watching Christmas movies and driving around to look at Christmas lights.

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I think it should make for a fun December (which starts tomorrow! What?!)

Merry.

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Little B won’t remember her first Christmas, but, someday, I’ll tell her about the way her eyes lit up at her first glimpse of Christmas tree lights. And, the way she hyperventilated when Chester put her on Santa’s lap. And, the way her nose crinkled and she made her first real giggle, when my mom and I let her sniff a Hershey’s kiss while we baked cookies.

It’s true when people say that the magic of the holidays comes back when you have a child. The weeks leading up to the holiday have been hectic as usual, but this year I’ve been less absorbed in the actual preparations for the day and more interested in watching Little B as she takes it all in.

It’s been wonderful.

It’s crazy to think that on Christmas Eve last year, I was drinking wine and eating raw oysters, oblivious to the fact that I was pregnant. So much has changed in a year, but I feel so blessed that I get to wake up each morning to the best gift ever.

I’m looking forward to two days of hanging out with the people I love most in the world and hope you are planning to do the same. I wish you peace, love, joy (and, of course, delicious food), this Christmas. Merry, Merry!

Merry Christmas!

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This year’s wrapping theme: Red, white and kraft.

Hope that your Christmas holiday is filled with family and friends, all the cookies your heart desires and surprises under the tree!

–Lauren

The Friday Five: Christmas Cookies

Today is my last day of work for the year and I’m looking forward to spending part of my time off next week in the kitchen, making cookies.

After consulting multiple sources and changing my mind many times, here’s what’s on my list this year. I don’t know that I’ll actually get to all of them, but it’s good to be ambitious, right?

1) Black and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies: These are kind of my signature item and the first thing that I baked successfully when I was just learning how. As I mentioned last year, the recipe is handwritten and I have no idea where I got it from.

2) Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chip Pretzel Cookies (via Sugar Cooking): All my favorite things, all together!

3) Chewy Sugar Cookies (via America’s Test Kitchen): I have a sugar cookie recipe (that I’ve used as the base for these cookies) already, but Chester and I recently saw an episode of ATK that featured these cookies and now I’ve got to try them. The Test Kitchen always gets it right. Plus, Christopher Kimbell told me that they make everyone who interviews for a job at the Test Kitchen has to make sugar cookies. I have to start practicing for my second career.

4) Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze (via Giada deLaurentiis for the Food Network): The lemon cookies I made last year were a hit, but I figured I would give this Italian favorite at try (While trying not to get annoyed by hearing Giada’s voice in my head, pronouncing ricotta in her exaggerated, fake accent that she reserves for Italian words).

5) Cranberry Thumbprints (via Martha Stewart) I love cranberries and always regret not using them more when they are in season.

Have you started your holiday baking yet? What’s on your list?

The Friday Five: Christmas Movies

One of my new favorite ornaments. We named him Buddy, just like the Elf.

I was going to share Christmas cookie recipes today, but as soon as a narrow down what I’m going to be baking this year, I come across at least six more recipes that look too good to pass up. As much as I would love to make 20 kinds of cookies, I don’t have the time to do it or an army to feed. Hopefully, I’ll have things narrowed down by next week because I need to get baking!

In the meantime, I’ll share one of my other favorite things about this season: Christmas movies. I love most Christmas themed movies, with the exception of those that appear on the Hallmark or Lifetime channels. I can’t get past the cheesy plotlines and horrible acting.

In no particular order, here are the five movies that I must watch at least once during the season, in order for it to truly feel like Christmas:

Elf: I’ve seen this movie so many times, I’m pretty sure I could recite the whole thing. Will Ferrell’s antics experiencing the real world after being raised by elves at the North Pole makes me laugh out loud every time. This scene where Buddy goes crazy over Santa’s impending arrival at Gimbel’s is one of my favorites.


A Muppet Christmas Carol: There are many great versions of A Christmas Carol out there, but Kermit just makes everything much more fabulous. Michael Caine plays a pretty good Scrooge even though he has to interact with Muppets and there are some great original songs, including this one, sung by the Ghost of Christmas Present (one of my favorite parts is near the opening of this song, about 12 seconds in, when one of the little choir singers gets whacked in the face with a trumpet and a fight ensues. My brother and I used to rewind our tape to watch it over and over. Ah, the days of VHS).


Love, Actually: Since this movie came out in 2003, there have been other attempts at movies with huge all-star casts, telling multiple, interrelated love stories (see: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve). None of them even come close to being as magical as this one. The Christmas setting (and substantial doses of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant) definitely helps.


Ziggy’s Gift: I feel like not many people know about this one, but it was one of my favorites growing up. Sweet little Ziggy and his dog take a job as a Salvation Army type Santa to collect money from the poor, but has actually gotten himself wrapped up into a “Crooked Santa” scheme. Of course, he actually ends up teaching everyone a lesson about the importance of honesty and kindness along the way. Plus, there is a particularly hilarious scene towards the end where he sets free a bunch of turkeys.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: Charlie Brown and his friends remind us of what Christmas is all about. Enough said (Also, they are all better dancers than I am).

What are your favorites?

The Friday Five: Eggnog

By the time Thanksgiving dinner was cleared from the table last week, I was already in full on Christmas mode. Our house—including the tree—is all decorated. I’ve been to AC Moore, Michael’s and Paper Source for all kinds of crafty inspiration and I’ve been pinning cookie recipes like crazy.

Most importantly, I had my first eggnog latte of the season from Starbucks. I just found out that they can be made with low fat eggnog. I don’t remember this being an option before and I’m pretty excited about it. Even though it probably saves about 13 calories.

I know that its thick texture puts a lot of people off, although I think that’s the best part. It’s just like rich, melted vanilla ice cream. I’ve been in love with the stuff ever since I had my grandfather let me try a sip of it out of a tiny paper cup at Christmas Eve dinner one year when I was little. I haven’t ever tried to incorporate eggnog into baked goods, but something tells me that it would be awesome. And, I’m sure one of the treats below could help change your mind if you fall into the anti-eggnog camp:

1)      Cinnamon Eggnog Scones (via King Arthur Flour)

2)      Eggnog Crème Brulee (via Betty Crocker)

3)      Eggnog Truffles (via Shugary Sweets)

4)      Nutella Eggnog Cookies (via Roxana’s Home Baking)

5)      Eggnog Breakfast Pudding with Cinnamon Whipped Cream (via  Lauren’s Latest)

How do you feel about eggnog? Yay or nay? Have you ever used it for baking?