Monday, December 30, 2013

Is it really over?

It takes at least two months to prepare for Christmas.
Shopping. Wrapping. Singing. Baking. Planning. Partying. A Christmas Angel. An elf on a shelf. Letters to Santa. Advent calendars. Gingerbread men and a Gingerbread house. And, of course Santa.
Then, it's over. Just like that.
No wonder Julie and Johnny always seem depressed and cranky the day after Christmas. I feel the same. All those preparations and magical moments. And, it's done. Caput.
This year was especially fun for our family. We had a packed house: nine people and three dogs.
Scott's mom Janice came out a couple weeks before Christmas to enjoy all the pre-holiday festiveness. There were Christmas pageants, caroling, a Christmas pizza, karaoke, dice games, Christmas Eve service, a visit to Chicago's Botanical Garden, outdoor ice skating and a Santa Breakfast at Macy's in downtown Chicago. We loved having her here, and I think she loved experiencing Christmas through the eyes of her grandkids. On Christmas morning, Janice woke up the earliest--at about 6 a.m. She wanted to be the first to peek at all the presents and turn the lights on the Christmas tree. "It was just magical," she told us.
My parents came the day before Christmas Eve--not wanting to miss our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions. And, my sister, her boyfriend Rob and their two dogs came the day after Christmas---stretching the holiday just a little longer.

It was a full, but merry house. Can't wait to do it all again next year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Can't we all just Believe?

What's with kids' Christmas movies?
Almost every Christmas movie revolves around the premise of some kid not believing in Santa.
It  just annoys me that there are hardly any movies with original plot lines. Why plant the idea of "not believing" in Santa before kids even think about it? How many movies can movies be created about the lack of Christmas cheer?
Even in Mickey Mouse's Christmas movie, Goofy's son 7-year-old son doesn't believe in Santa.
Come on. Why would a movie meant for 5 year olds and younger even mention the possibility of Santa not existing. Of course all these movies have happy endings with everyone believing in Santa.
But, I just don't get why that has to be the thrust of a Christmas movie.
At least for kids' Christmas movies, can't Santa just be without-a-doubt real?
I guess I'm just hanging on to the last threads of magical Christmas. With Julie we probably only have one Christmas (if that) left when she truly believes. There's a Christmas Angel that sends inspirational messages and small gifts and an elf who hides and causes a little mischief. Then, of course there are Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. Julie and Johnny believe wholeheartedly in all of these characters. I just want that innocence to last!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Spreading Christmas Cheer?

All the "Santa Claus is coming to Town" threats are just bunk.
It doesn't work. At least not in our house.
The closer we get to Christmas, the more Julie and Johnny seem to act up. They whine and pout and make up goofy songs about "Jingle Poop."
And then there was a recent episode of just plain meanness. I'll rehash:

It has snowed quite a bit here, and that's a big deal because Scott's mom is visiting and she rarely sees snow. So, on Tuesday she, Johnny and I went sledding. Then, we made a little tiny snowman. The snow was too powdery to make anything bigger. We had a great time and that little snowman was so cute. He had little berries for eyes, a tiny carrot nose and chocolate chip buttons.

When it came time for Julie to come home from school, I was slipping on my shoes when I heard Julie and her neighborhood friends outside laughing. I went to the door and watched in shock as she and her friend completely smashed the poor little snowman as another friend chanted "DO IT! DO IT! DO IT." Then, Julie gobbled his chocolate chip buttons. Gleefully!

I was pissed.

That was just plain mean. Peer pressure or not.
Smashing a snowman isn't the worst thing a kid could do, but I was just upset that Julie could be so purposefully mean.

Needless to say she got into a little bit of trouble, and the day ended with Julie tearfully writing apology notes. Scott and I told her she had to find ways to spread Christmas cheer.

So far so good. She has given Johnny "art lessons", made cards for all her teachers, sang and danced with her grandma and dropped money in the Salvation Army's red kettle.

Let's keep the Christmas cheer coming. Only 5 more days...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's real.

We had two Christmas trees in our little townhouse when I was a kid. No idea why.
Our "perfect" tree sat upstairs. It was fake and covered with clumps of fake white snow. Also no idea why. This was the tree only Mom decorated. With breakable blue teardrops and mirrored diamonds. It was pretty...and boring. Beneath is sat a perfect and breakable winter village. It was so tempting with the adorable little ice rink with skaters and the little houses that lit up. But they were off-limits.

Downstairs was "our" Christmas tree. The real one. Prickly pine needles and all. The weekend after Thanksgiving our family of four would faithfully drive to our favorite Christmas tree farm and hunt for the perfect tree--short and fat--just like our family. Then dad would cut it down after struggling for a while with the saw, strap it to the car and set it up a week or so later after it marinated in a bucket of water outside. Again, no idea why.

The day we decorated the real tree was the best. Mom would carry down boxes of ornaments collected over the years and Kelly and I could barely contain our excitement. We'd dig in the boxes to find our favorites--little dolls and tiny animals, and we'd create our own magical little world.

Then, reluctantly, after a couple days, we'd hang our favorite ornaments on the tree. Our gorgeous tree---decked out with big, colorful bulbs---the old fashioned kind, and topped with an angel as old as me I guess. And the best were all those ornaments---they all had a story. There were school pictures and handprints, and hand-painted Christmas trees or Santas we bought at the school Christmas shop. They celebrated milestones or served as reminders of fun vacations. They were the best.

Today, many of those same ornaments are hung on our tree. And, our tree is very real. Scott, the kids and I search every year for the best tree--one with a nice shape, a good trunk and not too heavy to carry. Then, Scott chops it down, straps it on the car and we drag it into the house. Scott strings the tiny colorful lights around, and I lug up the ornament boxes as Julie and Johnny excitedly dig in. I listened this year as Julie and Johnny talked about each ornament, what they remembered about it and why it was special.

Real trees are full of memories.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Munch: Gino's East

Pizza. It's what Chicago is all about isn't it?
People here are proud of their pizza and they often disagree who serves up the best deep dish. A lot of people swear by Lou Malnati's or Giordano's or Pizzeria Due. They are all great, but our family favorite is Gino's East right off the Magnificent Mile. The pizza is fantastic and the place is It's loud and most likely you'll sit at a big booth. And, you can write, draw and scribble all over the walls. A kid's dream! If you really want to keep the kids entertained bring different color permanent markers. Gold and Silver work best.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Field Trip: Chicago Botanic Gardens

Right about this time you're probably either totally in the Christmas spirit or overwhelmed by all the holiday whimsy. Maybe all you need is a little Christmas pick-me-up. If so, head to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

After reading about this magical place in Chicago Parent Magazine, we decided to take my parents last Christmas. We really didn't know what to expect...other than some model trains and beautifully festive plants.

We were in for an awesome surprise.

The massive poinsettias and winter arrangements were gorgeous, but the train garden was truly amazing. Laid out exactly like the city of Chicago, the train garden includes all the landmarks and impressive details of the city. Before touring the train garden, we were given pamphlets and we were encouraged to search for the city's landmarks. (This was obviously a hit with the kids...especially Julie as she obsessively tried to check off each landmark.)

And, if you need any more convincing....It snows inside! I'm serious. As we were wandering around the train garden, snow became falling from the ceiling. I have no idea what the mixture was, but it was definitely magical!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's not over just yet....

Last night Scott and I thought it was over.
We were convinced there was no way we could recover.

The Christmas magic had come to an end.

Our cover was blown.
We had just placed our Elf on the Shelf...on the shelf,
and I was busy in the office typing up a letter from our magic Christmas Angel. (Yes. We really love mythical creatures in this house.)

It was midnight, and Julie came creeping down the stairs. I quietly peaked out of the office door, and I watched as Julie spied the elf and the angel, and tiptoed back upstairs...just as she was caught by Scott.

I felt sick to my stomach.

Did she watch as I typed the letter from the angel on the special paper? Was she listening as Scott and I laughed about where to put the silly little elf? Was Julie trying to catch us in the act? Was she trying to figure out what was real? Her teacher did send an email on Friday explaining that one child had "spilled the beans" about Santa. Julie never once mentioned this, but that doesn't mean she wasn't mulling over the possibility of a Santa-less world.

Scott and I whispered nervously about it, wondering whether our days of Santa and tooth fairies and the Easter bunny and elves and leprechauns were over. We just weren't ready for it to end.

The next morning I asked Julie why she was up at midnight.

"Because I wanted to see the Elf and the Angel," she answered.

"You can't do that Julie. What if the elf was flying or he saw you wake up in the middle of the night?" I asked.

"Well, Santa and his elves always know when I'm sleeping or awake. So, he probably knew I was awake which is why he hurried and got up on the shelf," Julie explained.

Enough said.

I think we're pretty safe with at least one more year of Christmas magic.
Thank you! Thank you for our imaginative and gullible daughter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Munch: Beans & Bagels

I'm not a big breakfast person. I can resist pancakes, waffles and doughnuts. Sausage and bacon literally gross me out.

Bagels, however, are my weakness. Give me an everything bagel smeared with vegetable cream cheese and topped with tomatoes and I'm in heaven. Best thing ever.

When my good Lake Zurich buddy Kelly invited the kids and I to tour her old Lincoln Square neighborhood--she enticed me with a stop at Beans & Bagels. The shop is small, and kind of hippy-ish, but the vibe is relaxed and warm. Our kids (6 altogether) monopolized the largest table in the back of the restaurant. They loved munching on the chocolate chip croissants and blueberry bagels. I couldn't get enough of my poppyseed bagel with black bean hummus. Yum!

It's just a little corner coffee shop, but worth the stop if you're in the neighborhood. While you're at it, explore Lincoln Square---lots of cute shops and fun restaurants. (That will be my next Field Trip Friday post.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

This year's Christmas list....

Why do my kids always ask for the oddest things for Christmas???

When Julie was 3 all she wanted was cheese for Christmas, so cheese she got. Right beneath her stocking Santa placed a huge block of cheddar.
Last year she wanted "real glasses" though her eyesight was 20/20. But, Santa found her adorable fashion glasses.
Johnny last year requested the "Bean"---Chicago's gigantic mirrored sculpture in Millennium Park. He told us he wanted to put it in the basement so he could play inside of it. Santa gave him an ornament replica of the "Bean."

This year Julie and Johnny are asking for things that are not just simply unusual; They are not even in the realm of possibility.

To them, the sky's the limit. Santa will get it for them...even if their parents have no way of buying, finding, making, or building the requested gift.

On this year's list:

Johnny would like a Candy Cane Machine.
A quick Google search yields results for industrial candy cane machines made in Shanghai for $600,000
That's it. There aren't any cutsie kid versions of a candy cane machine, yet Johnny insists that's at the top of his list and Santa can make it.

Julie would like a "blurf".
What the hell is this, you might ask.
According to Julie, a blurf is a time machine that will transport her back to Biblical times....specifically when Jesus was born and also to the Garden of Eden.
When we asked Julie more about this her response was "You'll see when Santa brings it."

Seriously. What is with my kids?

While I love their imagination and creativity, I sometimes wonder, what goes on in their little heads??

Surprise Thanksgiving

It was supposed to be a quiet Thanksgiving....just the four of us.
Scott was out of vacation days and we didn't feel up to braving the Chicago Thanksgiving traffic.
I admit I wasn't thrilled about our lonely Thanksgiving plans.

Every Thanksgiving of my childhood and adulthood was spent surrounded by family at my grandma's house in Maryland. Last year was the first Thanksgiving I missed in Cumberland, but Scott's family was visiting, so it was still fantastic. It was a little different, but still wonderful to have family at our house.

I couldn't imagine quite picture a Thanksgiving without extended family. Wouldn't it just be like any other dinner we share together every night? Not that I couldn't deal with that possibility, but it definitely made me a little sad thinking about it.

Apparently Julie felt the same. Scott told Julie she could pick any activity she wanted for Thanksgiving weekend since it was just going to be our little family.
"But, I just want to be with family. I want to go visit them or maybe they can come here," Julie told her daddy.
Scott tried to woo her with promises of ice skating or restaurants or movies and popcorn.
Julie wouldn't budge.
"I just want family."

Finally about a week before Thanksgiving, Scott caved and convinced his boss to give him off Wednesday so we could get a start on our 10-hour trip to Maryland. I was ecstatic, and so were the kids when we told them.

Intent on surprising my family, we didn't say a word to my parents or my sister Kelly. I even tried to confuse my mom by asking for recipes and instructions on how to cook a turkey. The best was calling her right before we pulled onto their street, asking her explicit directions on how to thaw a turkey.

As I was talking with my mom on the phone, we rang the doorbell. She opened the door, completely bewildered. When it all registered, there were tears in her eyes, and my dad's too.
That made it worth the trek!

And, then of course, there was my completely ecstatic sister who jumped on me and hugged me for 10 minutes without letting go. "I just knew you would come!!" Kelly shouted bouncing up and down.

I think we might just try and "surprise" our family every year.