Friday, December 29, 2023

Christmas in Dallas!

As always, there is much to catch up on, but we're going to dive right into Christmas because I have many words and pictures and I'm still just so happy with the whole thing.
When we bought our house last year, one of the things that excited me most was the idea of hosting my whole family for Christmas. 8 adults, 8 kids - we now had 5 bedrooms and 5 baths and everyone could stay and be all cozy and bright together. As we designed our pool, I pictured baby cousins on the sun shelf and playing with the bubbler, while big cousins jumped off the diving board and played in the waterfall (and adults sat in the hottub sipping margaritas). As we picked out furniture for the kids' rooms, I knew the queen beds everyone was now getting could also fit adults. Our kitchen table could extend to seat 12. Our gameroom had a giant couch that could fit all the cousins and then some and I ordered 3x the top rated air mattress on Amazon.
The weekend before Christmas, James had a big swim meet and I spent two days baking ALL THE THINGS, supervising the kids cleaning their rooms and bathrooms (and closets and anything I could pretend was connected to our hosting), and generally preparing our house to become an inn.
One thing we also did to prepare was tell the kids we would be collecting their phones before people arrived on the 23rd, turning them off and hiding them until the last group left on the 26th. We were giving everyone- including them!- the gift of being present, and while they weren't thrilled with the news (we gave them time to text their friends farewell and Merry Christmas), it was one of the best things we've done in the last few years as parents of teens. I fully believe phones are both addicting and part of life and it's our job to help our kids learn how to function in a still (mostly? occasionally?) interpersonal world, but I also think sometimes we can remove the burden of self-regulation and just be parents, putting down a firm boundary and helping our children soak up Christmas the way we got to do as kids. And with ALL of their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents under one room for 3 days, it seemed like a good time to do it.
No phones meant that any minute of downtime - between meals, between swims, between anything - rather than retreating to a screen, they chatted with their grandparents and aunts and uncles, played with their tiny cousins and soaked up their little happy holiday moments, and were just around and available and present, and it was in the quiet in-between moments that I felt it most. We're missing something when we all retreat to a personal device in moments of stillness and it was a good reminder for James and me too (we kept our phones away as well, though we did get to keep them on). And I really think they appreciated it too (one or two even said so), even if they were all happy to be reunited with their phones on the 26th.
For logistics, we had my parents in "their" room in the office downstairs. The couch turns into a queen bed and they have their own full bathroom with a door that closes off both rooms together. My brother, sister-in-law, and the twins got Landon's room with its queen bed, ample floor space, and full bath. My sister, brother-in-law, and little Sage got Cora's room with its queen bed and twin trundle, which is connected by a full bathroom to Claire's big room that housed Claire and Rio in her queen bed and Cora and Skyla in the queen blow up bed. Landon took the gameroom where he chose the couch over another blow up and both cats took refuge with him each night. James and I got our room, at least until the last night when Cora popped a fever and ended up in a twin blow up on our floor. But there was plenty of room for everyone, even with a sick kid contingency- every family got their own bedroom and bathroom and it was honestly just so great.
Back to Saturday! The house was sparkling when everyone arrived mid-afternoon. We gave tours- my brother and sister had never been here!- and all got ready in a flurry of activity for our family portrait session at 3 p.m. We don't have the pictures back yet, so I have no evidence of this, but I feel like we all looked fabulous.
We got home and swam in the (heated) pool- our Colorado cousins were thrilled- and turned on the mini fire pit for Gigi who is always in a slightly different climate than the rest of us.
I catered fajitas from our favorite Dallas Mexican restaurant- they do such a great job and it was a treat for everyone (including me!) particularly because they also deliver their incredible frozen margaritas.
We had a grownups + 2-year-old table and a kids' table and all the kids watched a movie in the gameroom before bed.
The adults played Double Deck Canceling Hearts in honor of my grandpa and I went to sleep with a full heart.
For those who have been reading a while, you know that Christmas Eve is our big day. It's the big meal, all the presents (except Santa), and all the sparkles and lights of a magical night. We had tickets for the Arboretum in the morning, but the rain held us off. The kids played in the gameroom, watched a movie, and made general localized chaos, while we waited for the clouds to pass. They did and we ended up with the entire Children's Garden at the Dallas Arboretum entirely to ourselves. It was awesome and the kids (and adults) loved it just as much as I imagined.
We explored the Christmas Village, spent forever admiring the Koi, and got everyone almost tired by the time we left.
By the late afternoon the skies were bright blue and we were swimming and splashing, as one does on a Texas Christmas Eve.
We had Italianos for dinner, which my parents brought up from Kingwood. They haven't lived there in years, but it's become an essential part of our Christmas traditions. Buffalo plaid is another tradition. Some of these have been passed down since my kids wore them.
Another tradition is opening the gifts one by one, from youngest to oldest. Kids and presents in pajamas on Christmas Eve night are all my favorite.
Along with mama's first Chanel, a beautiful necklace from James.
We tucked the kids in bed with Christmas stories and cookies for Santa and began the Santafication process ourselves. Champagne (and Chanel) was required.
Christmas Day was happy and full of Santa presents, pj's, champagne toasts, a delicious breakfast by my sister, and cinnamon rolls.
4/8 of the cousins got something involving a motor or wheels, so we headed up the street to the church parking lot for some drive time.
My parents and brother and his family headed back to Houston, while my sister and crew stayed another night. We went to the park, walked the lake, did more swimming, had a movie break in which two big cousins (Claire and Cora) fell fast asleep at 3 pm, and ate pizza for dinner.
The last of our guests drove out the morning of the 26th. The kids got their phones back, we put away all the Christmas decorations, did 87 loads of laundry, and I took an accidental 2.5 hour nap.
And just like that our big holiday hosting gig was over. It was just the best. We miss the tiny cousins, especially Milo who was utterly adored by my sister's girls.
Maggie also loved having her tiny humans back. She feels most at home with them as her pack.
All in all, it was just a really great Christmas holiday for the Rice clan. Now we're in the glorious space between Christmas and New Year's where you don't know what day it is or what you're supposed to be doing. I've worked out every day, attempted to work (with minimal success), and worn sweats morning, noon, and night. We've been watching movies and snuggling and eating leftovers and it's pretty great. This time last year we were still missing most of our furniture and I just feel so lucky and happy to be at home, all on the couch, watching Jumanji/Father of the Bride/Baby Boom/Percy Jackson and whatever else we pull up.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season too!


  1. Love your rug in the last pic and the large sofa. Where are they from?

    1. The sofa is West Elm and the rug is this one in 9 x 12 from Burke Decor ( I love them both so much!

  2. What is your favorite Dallas Mexican restaurant? I’m local & would love a suggestion.

    1. Mariano's! There are lots of great options, but Mariano's has the BEST fajitas and their catering is wonderful.

  3. I need to know where you ordered Mexican from! After another crazy Christmas eve day where I am procuring all the things after driving ten hours the day before, I have declared that next Christmas even we will be either dining out or ordering in!

    1. Definitely! We used to have homemade meals and they were lovely, but as our family has grown (and frankly, our budget), catering is the very best. We can still make all the special memories and the food just appears.

      We ordered from Mariano's - their fajitas are so good and their catering is so well done. It's family owned and they do a great, personal job. Highly recommend!