Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Christmas in CO, part 1: Buffalo Plaid and all the Trimmings

We've been to Colorado and back, packed up all the things to head up there and somehow unpacked even more when we returned, and are now prepping for our fancy New Year's Eve dinner (each family member picked an element; it's eclectic, but the cheese board really brings it all together).

And so, on New Year's Eve, we're headed back in time a week to Christmas Eve. Or Christmas Eve Eve when we drove 12.5 hours to Boulder for a family filled Christmas at my sister's house.

That's right: the ski stuff, the Christmas stuff, the clothes, the toiletries and accessories, the hiking shoes, the snow boots, the food for my Christmas Day brunch, the bulldog's full winter wardrobe, car entertainment, car snacks, hand-me-downs for my niece, the actual bulldog and our three human children piled in the car and headed to Colorado!

It was Maggie's first interstate road trip and she loved every minute. Probably because she had by far the most room and slept for 775 of the 800 miles.

The drive was smooth (we pack our lunches and all the snacks and institute a 2 hours on electronics/1 hour off rule. Repeat x 4 and we're there!) and we arrived just in time for dinner. My parents had just come down from their house in the mountains with my brother and his fiance and we all ate together.

There was room for everyone to sleep in their own room, with all the cousins in the basement rec room, which makes for a comfortable holiday and while our new snow mountain dog objected to our basement bedroom, she was soon happily ensconced in my sister's master suite.

On Christmas Eve morning we dressed Mags in her finest puffer jacket and took her out to experience snow and meet my sister's chickens. Maggie was neutral on both, but the kids were pumped about the snow.

We headed out to Chautauqua Park in Boulder to hike the Flatirons with our full crew. We were ready early so we took the kids plus my 4-year-old niece Sky to play on the playground before the hiking could begin. Our kids needed exercise and James and I got to reflect on the 4th child I still wish we'd had. He wishes too. I think if hadn't just started a company and I hadn't just taken a big paycut and we hadn't just bought a 3-bedroom house, we would have. But then he got sick and we couldn't and it all worked out as it did. But it was fun to talk about the path not taken while watching the four of them run around together. I tried to naturally turn the conversation to why we need another pet, but he didn't follow the twist.

Eventually the full group arrived and we got to hiking. Behold, the Flatirons!

The hike was a little icier than expected, but we made it at least halfway with everyone!

My brother-in-law stayed back with baby Rio, but the rest of us took up much of the trail. As is tradition, we got a picture of the original three siblings. My kids remain baffled that I can be the oldest and the smallest at the same time.

A little side-story: while we were packing up on the 22nd and I was texting questions like "do we need hiking shoes?" and "what does 45 degrees feel like in Boulder?" I got a message on our family thread from my brother: "mom took a bad fall. ski patrol taking her down mountain now." Turns out, she was going, in her words "way too fast" (and y'all, she skis very fast) down a run, hit something, and flew completely out of her skies, parallel to the ground, and landed face-first, with her helmet hitting first along with the left hand she'd tried to throw out in front of her. Her radius snapped in half and the part of her ulna that makes the bony part of your wrist was crushed. It was bad. They set it in the village (worst pain of her life, from the woman of natural childbirths and a previously broken arm) and put her in a wrap and sling so the swelling could go down over the next five days before she could be casted. She was a trooper, but I know she was in a lot of pain every day of our holiday visit.

After deciding the hiking path was too icy for the youngest and near-eldest among us, particularly when the near-eldest is wearing 3" wedge "hiking" shoes and a sling, we decided to head back to the cars and drive a little ways up the Flatirons. The grown-up car turned back while our car (our five plus Sky) saw rocks that screamed to be climbed upon. So we got out and did that.

My boys! In their happy place.

There girls, feeling powerful.

There was much to discuss among the littles on hiking strategy.

And much pride when they made it to the top (or "top").

We headed home for sandwiches and ornament making, followed by posing lessons by Cora once they were dressed for church.

After church (during which the pastor noted his word of the year would be kindness because the country needed more of it; something I took to be an obvious nod to our president, which I enjoyed) we had dinner, which was trays from our favorite Italian place outside Houston that my parents had brought up. It was easy and delicious which was good because the cousins were READY FOR PRESENTS.

And Buffalo Plaid.

Are they not the cutest? We've never done matching PJs before, but when you have five cousins in one living room on Christmas Eve I'm not sure how you resist. As is tradition we all took turns opening gifts (as I'm sure I've mentioned before, we open all presents on Christmas Eve; Christmas morning is for stockings and your Santa gift), starting from youngest to oldest.

It took a while and the controlled chaos was pure joy.

Youngest. Preferred the trimmings to the actual presents, as is tradition.

James, who knows my heart, got me the greatest gift. Maggie's face on a yoga mat. I died.

Almost literally. She's so majestic. It's so ridiculous. I love it more than I can say.

The kids were, as always, totally delighted by their photo books. It does my heart and looming carpal tunnel good to see their true joy at receiving and reading them.

After several rounds of truly thoughtful and wonderful gifts, we put out cookies for Santa and sent the kids off to bed on their air mattresses in the basement so Santa could come.

For the first time in all our Christmas travels (we have traveled for 11 out of Landon's 13 Christmases) Santa did not bring the "big gift." Instead he rather brilliantly and helpfully brought the stockings and left the big gift at home for the kids to see when we got back the following Sunday. Because Santa knew that scooters (Cora) do not go in snow and Lego set pieces (Claire) will get lost in aunt's houses and big reading pillows (Landon) will obscure the driver's view out the rearview mirror. He's smart, that Santa.

And stockings are super fun. They didn't really seem to notice they might be missing something, which was nice and a fun bonus on Sunday when we pulled back up the driveway and started unloading the car...

The story behind that photo: my mom had set her favorite scarf on fire earlier in the week (while wearing it, two days before the ski accident; she retired on December 15th and it's been rather rough on her) and was just devastated. She'd bought it while we were shopping together seven or so years ago and it had a lot of sentimental value along with being one she wore most often. So I turned to the googles and I found it on Poshmark and rush shipped it to my sister's house to slip in her stocking. You think kids are fun on Christmas day? Try surprising your partially broken Gigi with the resurrection of her favorite scarf? It was the best.

My sister's dogs got new dog beds and Maggie appropriated one immediately. She did not move for the next five days.

Next up was playtime for the kids and brunch baking for me. I'd volunteered for this meal and I must say, it was freaking delicious. Thank you so much to all the food bloggers out there who create and test recipes and then write them out with tons of details and pictures. I love and appreciate you.

Here was the menu:
  • Egg & Croissant Brunch Bake: I switched the ham for pre-cooked turkey bacon, doubled the spinach, and tore up full size croissants (I think it took 3?). This was incredible and by far the best breakfast casserole I've ever had.
  • Even Better Sausage Balls: A Southern tradition, I made these with hot turkey sausage and all 16 oz of sharp cheddar cheese. They were SO good.
  • Best Homemade Cinnamon Rolls: these really were the best I've made. The dough had way more flavor than others and though I'd made them the week before and frozen them with their frosting, they warmed up beautifully in a 300 degree oven and were fluffy perfection.
  • Warm Croissants: the rest of the dozen I'd bought at Costco (theirs are so good!)
  • Strawberry Butter: take a stick of softened butter, add a generous spoon of good jam and a Tablespoon of powdered sugar. Whip with an electric mixer until fluffy and smooth.
  • Fresh Berries
  • Poinsettias and Mimosas: Poinsettias are a mix of orange liqueur and Cranberry juice topped with champagne and they are delightful.

It was a great holiday, fun and special and smooth and that can be hard to do with 13 people in one house.

After breakfast we assisted with the giving the chickens their special Christmas Day brunch (dried meal worms! delicious!) and I got to hold Waffles, whom I love and wanted to take home.

Maggie needs a friend.

After the chicken feeding frenzy, we packed up to head to my parents' house in the mountains! We'd be skiing for the next two days and needed to get our rentals and settle in. My brother and Tamires would be flying back to Houston the next morning and then my parents would drive up to meet us. Before we left I managed to pack all our Christmas stuff into one bin and get my brother to hold a baby. Bam!

And then up into the mountains we went, winding our way through ice and snow while chatting about the fun Christmas we all had. In classic parenting tradition we don't allow electronics on that 2 hour drive because the views are spectacular and "you should be looking at the window" so there was lots of chatter. We left Maggie at my sister's because she generously thought they should bond and we weren't sure how Maggie would respond to high altitude and us being gone all day. It was -20 degrees when we woke up the next morning, so that was probably a good move.

It's beautiful though isn't it?

And so began the next phase of our Colorado Christmas: skiing! And this year, having aged out of the mountain village daycare, Cora was going to have to ski too! Those stories to come...

Happiest of New Year's Eve and wishes for a blessed 2020 to you all!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas Countdown

I just spent 127 hours packing for our Colorado Christmas road trip. 5 people, 1 bulldog, road trip, Christmas, skiing, hiking, Christmas Day brunching... it requires MANY THINGS to be packed in the car. There was a chart and it was EXTENSIVE. Maggie and her sweaters had a whole section.

But now the things are packed. The post-its they are waiting on the counter for us to grab the last minute things in the morning. We're watching a movie on the couch (6 Underground? I'm 100% not following it) and sipping a glass of wine and it is lovely. Bring on the snow and the cozy and ALL of the family and the festive.

Speaking of family - my brother proposed to his girlfriend last weekend! We're so excited. We first met her last Christmas and we just love her. And now we get another family wedding sometime in the new year! The kids can't wait.

Also family related, my parents swung by the house on their drive up to Colorado last Sunday and got to help decorate our Christmas cookies! After all those years growing up with my mom doing all the baking, now she got to do the icing and sprinkles!

Except, turns out, she's not that focused on the fine points of design. Her cookies were lackluster at best, but don't worry- she was 100% confident in all her decorating decisions.

My dad, who was usually at work while we performed this sacred task, enjoyed mining his creative side and eating the frosting, with some side-eye from Landon.

It was a good time. They left early Monday morning to continue up to the mountains while I dragged my suddenly sick self off to work to take testimony, with a swing through Walgreens for some cold medicines.

It was a long day. My office remains under construction so it was an odd week of cycling between working from home at my kitchen table and taking my cold medicines in for meetings on various floors throughout the building not currently being painted. I'm not a doctor, but I felt at least 37% better when I could work while wearing fuzzy clothes and getting cuddles with my emotional support bulldog.

On Friday, James had a swim meet so I took the girls to school. Obviously, Maggie came along to assist.

I love this view of Claire running towards her to say goodbye.

This is Maggie's life now. A cute sweater, a nice hair accessory, and so much love.

I worked through the morning and then took an hour to participate in Pajama Reading Day at the girls' school. Cora was SO EXCITED to have me in her class to read to her, just like I've done to the big kids for years.

And it was nice to have a super excited Kindergartner to read to on the first year that I can't go read to Landon. Middle School is way too cool for PJ Reading Day. Also on Friday was our friend's traditional cookie party! A favorite tradition, it involves pot luck appetizers and tons of cookies and icing and sprinkles. Also mulled wine. It's great. I took exactly one picture.

While the kids and I were there, James was at a swim meet making another go at his 100 breast after he was disappointed in his time at U.S. Open. For context, his best time ever, back in college, circa 1999, was a 55.25. In March of this year he went an incredible 55.26 to qualify for the U.S. Open. But now, on Friday, he went a freaking 54.89 which checks off his lifetime goal of breaking a 55, something he'd just told he was wondering if he'd ever do, and is simply ridiculous. As I shrieked into the phone when he told me, my very next thought was, oh my god, he is never ever going to stop doing this.

He got 3rd (1st place was Olympic gold medalist and former American Record holder Cody Miller) and won $100! So he's a pro swimmer now, even if he later found out the $100 was actually in store credit to the shop in the lobby of the natatorium.

We spent Saturday doing some packing prep, like making Sausage Balls (with this delicious recipe) and going to all the stores in Fort Worth.

Then we took a break from the to do list to go visit Santa! Which, now that I think about it, was also on the to do list.

But Maggie got to go too and I'm pretty sure asked for more pieces of cheese.

Landon was a good sport while the Cora asked for a stuffed animal (because we don't have any of those) and Claire asked for a kitten (which would be so great even if SOMEONE thinks we don't need another living thing in the house. He's wrong, obviously, and I'm working on it).

After dinner we took a little field trip downtown to admire the tree in Sundance Square. It's lovely.

The kids begged to run in the fountains but it was cold and NO. We walked back to our car, the kids enjoying the lights in our sweet little city. We drove home through the fancy neighborhoods, admiring the lights and listening to the Raffi Christmas album. It was really nice, especially because at various parts of the day the kids were driving us CRAZY, what with the nonstop talking that's kind of fighting but somehow also bonding and omg just doesn't stop ever. I prefer the singing.

Our house was last. I love that James works so hard no our lights every year. We enjoy them so much.

Christmas 2019. It's going to be a good one; Colorado, here we come!