Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to Travel With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

I'm honored to be posting at We, A Great Parade for my friend Shannon who recently gave birth to her third child. Shannon is witty, eloquent, compassionate and always keeps it real. Join the parade on her blog or Instagram; her writing will uplift & encourage you and also make you come up with a list of excuses to visit Iowa so you can be real life BFFs.

Family trips sound good on paper and look precious in the photos, but somewhere in the reality of the actual vacation it becomes clear that even though you would not hesitate to throw your body in front of a moving train for these people, if you have to be in a room with them for one more minute you just might die.

Obviously there are sweet moments too: the look on your child's face the first time he sees the ocean or the can't-catch-your-breath-from-laughing card game around Grandma's dining table. We travel with our kids to make memories, to escape our routine and to connect with them through new experiences.

It won't all be perfect, but there are some things we can do to ensure we come home with the same number of brain cells we left with.

Click over to We, A Great Parade to read more!

Monday, May 23, 2016

To the Teacher Who's Wondering if You're Making a Difference

I recently came across this letter I wrote last year for my first grade teacher's retirement celebration. I decided to post it for two reasons.

1) If you are a worn-out, stretched-too-thin teacher wondering if you are making a difference in this overwhelming, underpaid profession you have chosen, the answer is YES. You may not hear about it for nearly 30 years, if at all, but you never know the life-changing impact you might have on someone just by doing your job.
2) Think about someone who has made a difference in your life - a teacher, a mentor, a friend. Have you ever taken the time to tell them the difference they have made? You don't have to write a novel. Look them up, write an email, send a Facebook message. Take the time you normally spend on Zulilly and let them know. It will mean the world to them, I guarantee. 

I'm in the second row with the pigtails. Not sure what I'm doing with my face, but I suspect I'm feeling quite smug about having the ruffliest collar in the class. 

Occasionally throughout life, the question comes up: who was your favorite teacher?

Hands-down, without hesitation, since I was 6 years old, my answer has always been Mrs. Gordey.

I was in Mrs. Gordey’s first grade class in 1990. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the particulars of learning math or science that year. I barely remember reading groups or spelling tests, but what I do remember has stayed with me for over 20 years.

I remember her laugh. I remember the way she would throw back her head with laughter when one of her students innocently and unwittingly said something funny. We must have all been hysterical too, because her classroom was always filled with joy. Or maybe that was just her way of showing how she took delight in each and every student.

I remember the fun. When I was in first grade, I couldn’t wait to go to school each day. I was so excited to see who might get “cornfused” about something and be allowed to sit with the coveted box of Cornflakes on their desk for the morning. I remember “Crazy Hat Day.” I remember accidentally/on purpose saying the banned word “ain’t”, the punishment for which was to pet a stuffed yellow lion on the teacher's desk. I remember all the stories about Mr.Gordey; apparently, he was so skinny that he had to wear skis in the shower so he wouldn’t wash down the drain. (I thought she was kidding, but I was never quite sure.) I can still sing all the words to the silly songs she taught us. I remember earning stickers, wearing buttons and especially, I remember the day that Mrs. Gordey slid down the slide.

I remember the life lessons. She showed us through words and actions that each student was special and important in their own unique way. She told us to “Do right, even if the stars fall.” She demonstrated the unconditional love of Christ every day.

When I was in first grade, Ms. Gordey asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to be a writer, a “poetess” to be exact. She encouraged my pursuit. When the assignment was to write a story, she let me write a poem instead. She even allowed me to sign my name “Poetess Anna” on several occasions. The goal of my 6-year-old life was to write poems that made her giggle.

But I did not become a poetess. I became a teacher.

When I was in college I chose elementary education as my major because 1) I was not sure I could make a living as a poetess and 2) when thinking about the people who had most influenced my life up to that point, I could not deny the impact of Mrs.Gordey.

Mrs. Gordey ignited the spark that lit my lifelong passion for learning. She saw my potential and I strove to make her proud. A laugh and a hug from Mrs. Gordey was better than any gold star. The confidence that was instilled in me in the first grade has lasted my whole life.

I can only hope to have the honor to take what Mrs. Gordey gave me and pass it on to another. I became a teacher because of Mrs. Gordey.

I am currently on a break from my teaching position as a stay-at-home mom while I raise my three children, but even as a mother I endeavor to impart the lessons I learned in my first grade classroom 25 years ago. I try to laugh with them, to have fun with them and most importantly, to show them how to love God and love others.

As a teacher I learned something that Mrs. Gordey has known for decades. I learned that you cannot teach a child anything until that child knows you truly care. You cannot instruct a child’s head until you capture his heart.

Mrs. Gordey has captured the hearts of hundreds of children. Those children are forever inspired and impacted just by knowing her. Mrs. Gordey has made the world a better place, one tiny heart at a time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finding Love by Letting it Die

In Charleston they eat pimento cheese at breakfast, lunch and dinner and the women wear sundresses in November.
I think I've found my people, y'all.
John and I recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a quick trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Neither of us had ever been and we spent the better part of a long weekend savoring low-cuisine, enjoying historical tours, sampling multiple varieties of pimento cheese, wandering the old city and sneaking several plates of our hotel's complimentary dessert buffet back to our room. Do you notice a theme here?

One of the most magical things about our relationship is that neither of us believe in the concept of spoiling one's appetite, especially on vacation. And when you are in a city known for it's culinary flair, it would be a sin to miss even one meal. Or tea time. Or cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres. Or midnight snacks from the mini-bar. We are faux foodies, after all.

I was definitely looking forward to the slow pace, the quality time, and of course, the good eats. I did have one troublesome thought nagging at the back of my mind though. We have been together for so long and we know each other so well, I was a little worried that we might run out of things to say by noon on day one. I've learned how not to hate him, but had I forgotten how to date him? When you know every single detail of someone's life, what else is there to talk about?

I planned activities during the day to keep us busy - a horse-drawn carriage tour through the city, a ferry out to historical Fort Sumter - but it was actually the mealtimes that had me most concerned. There are only so many comments one can make about the bread and butter while waiting for the food to arrive.

Ever the planner, I decided the best course of action would be to Google "questions to ask your date" because the internet has the answer to all of life's problems. Sure enough, several options popped right up and one night at dinner, when the inevitable conversational lull reared it's ugly head, I decided to use one.

I pulled out my phone. John inquired as to what I was doing.

"It's a list of date night questions," I answered and he looked at me quizzically with raised eyebrows. "What? I'm just trying to keep the spark alive! Now tell me, what movie reminds you of us?"

He laughed. "Let me see that." And we both scrolled through together. We asked the questions, some silly, some serious, some slightly inappropriate (those answers whispered in hushed tones). We giggled and we laughed so hard we risked choking on our crab cakes. We reminisced and we waxed nostalgic about years already spent.

And you want to know something funny? We did not learn one new thing about each other that evening. He knew my answers before he asked the questions, and I asked him questions just because I like to hear him tell the story - "when did you know you loved me?" "what is your favorite memory of us?" "tell me how you think I'm more beautiful than Scarlet Johanssen" (I may have ad libbed a few).

C.S. Lewis once eloquently wrote that "People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one...This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time."

I was worried that the thrills were gone, and it's true that the butterflies have long since died, but they have been replaced by a quiet familiarity, a warm fullness that comes with having a partner who knows you to your core. I had forgotten that there is actually a deep comfort in the ability to sit in easy silence with another person. Words are not always necessary. 

Our relationship has matured to the extent that all it takes is one look to know what the other is thinking. One glance may say "get this child out of my face before I go all Joan Crawford-wire-hanger crazy." Another gaze might communicate the overwhelming gratitude and love felt for this life we've created together.

That night it happened to be one calculating glance as we sauntered past the hotel dessert buffet. One look which said "obviously we need to try the comfort of our own room of course, not as the gluttonous couple who just sat down with eight plates of dessert" and just like that we were piling up plates of cheesecake, chocolate pie and cookies, and making a mad dash to the elevator for our getaway. 

Food, it seems, is our love language. And we speak it so well.
I love our quiet, mature love.

It's a world of new thrills all the time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Salad Dressing Formula that Will Change Your Life

I am a salad dressing snob.

It's true. I never even liked salads until I was practically in my 20s. At 19 years old I had a chance encounter with a Caesar salad tossed with a dressing made from scratch and a choir of angels sang from heaven with each bite. I finally understood what all the fuss was about and my life was changed forever.

After that I accepted salads into my life, but I still avoid bottled dressings like the nasty little devils they are. I will eat high-fructose gummy worms with reckless abandon, but don't you dare put preservatives in my dressing. Do not even try to feed me Hidden Valley Ranch or I will gag. I'm sorry, it's just what dressing snobs do.

Without dressing, salad is just some leaves and a sad carrot. I mean, who would actually eat a cucumber by itself? It's the dressing that separates us from the rabbits, my friends, and if you've spent years drowning your salad in Wishbone, I'm about to change your life too.

Vinaigrettes are the healthiest and easiest salad dressings to make. You can never go wrong with straight up oil and vinegar, but if you want to take your salad up a notch, here is a no-fail, one-minute, super spectacular salad dressing formula:

3 parts Oil + 2 parts Vinegar + 1 part Flavor
{with salt & pepper to taste}

Use 3 Tbsp oil, 2 Tbsp vinegar and 1 Tbsp flavor for a smaller amount of dressings - good for one salad for a crowd or for a couple days worth of individual salads. You could also make enough to have on hand for a week or two if you combine 1/2 cup of oil, 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 Tbsp flavor. Keep in mind that some vinegars are stronger than others, so if it's too tart you can add more oil, or if it's not strong enough just add more vinegar.

Personally, I like to throw it all in a mason jar and shake it til it does that emulsify thing because 1) a blender is too much work to clean 2) whisking makes my hand tired and 3) you can store leftovers in the same jar so woohoo! less dishes.

Here are some of my favorite combos:

Oil + Balsamic Vinegar + Honey = Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Oil + Sherry Vinegar + Strawberry Jam = Strawberry Vinaigrette

Oil + Red Wine Vinegar + Mustard & Honey = Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Oil + Lemon Juice + Parmesan Cheese = Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette

Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Maple Syrup with a generous pinch of cinnamon = Maple-Cinnamon Vinaigrette

Oil + Rice Wine Vinegar + Soy Sauce (add in some garlic, ginger and sugar for fun!) = Asian Vinaigrette

Oil + Lime Juice + Cilantro and Garlic = Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Finally, I feel I must end with a disclaimer: Though I am a self-admitted salad dressing snob, if I come to your house I will happily eat your bottled stuff because I love you more than I love hating bottled dressing. Just to clear that up.

Secondly, even though I occasionally have dreams about ranch dressing made from scratch, there are some days when it is just too hard to mix 3 ingredients together. On those days I do have some bottled dressings (gasp!) that have fooled me into thinking they are home-made.

My favorites are:
-Braswell's Balsamic Vinaigrette
-just about anything from Tessamae

Happy Mixing, friends!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Parenting Explained in 5 Simple Graphs

I pride myself on being well-prepared for new experiences. Whenever we travel, for example, I giddily spend months planning the optimal itinerary, which I then type up in a color-coded daily schedule making sure to ignore all the eyerolls from my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband.

 Naturally, when I was expecting our first child, I reasoned that if a successful vacation simply depends on adequate forethought and research, shouldn't childrearing follow suit?

At around 8 months pregnant, after memorizing each page of What to Expect While Expecting, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no earthly clue what to do once the baby actually arrived. None of my friends had babies yet and the internet was not quite so chock full of unsolicited advice back in 2009, but thank goodness for books. Surely after populating the planet for thousands of years, humans had arrived at some sort of general consensus regarding the best practices for raising offspring, and I was confident that wealth of knowledge was shelved, ready and waiting for me, at my local Barnes and Noble.

A day or so later I found myself at the bookstore, casually selecting a few reads on parenting, my decisions mostly based on the attractiveness of the book covers. After all, won't these books mostly repeat the same things? How much could there even be to write about raising an infant? (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was sitting somewhere up in heaven laughing his head off.)

That night I got my very first taste of parenting. I sat in bed, leafing through my copies of Dr. Sears' The Attachment Parenting Book and Babywise, two books which are essentially the oil and vinegar of the parenting world. As I read, I began to feel panic surging in my chest. It was like the feeling you might get if you had stayed up all night studying for a biology test only to find your exam is on chemistry. It was like ordering pizza and getting a plate of beef lomein. It was like spending 9 months revelling in all the attention and joy that comes with a first pregnancy and then OH MY GOSH I'M HAVING A HUMAN PERSON AND THESE BOOKS ARE CRAP.

"JOHN!" I hysterically yelled at my husband.

"What's wrong? Is it the baby?"


"What happened? Did you have a contraction? Did your water break? ARE YOU IN LABOR LET ME PACK SOME BAGS."

"No, no, it's what these books have to say about the baby."


I clutched one book in each hand, wildly gesturing while John adopted the posture of a deflated balloon, a mildly irritated deflated balloon. "You see, this book says if we sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person and this book says if we DON'T sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person!!"

I suppose I was expecting inspired words of wisdom from my husband who was attempting to watch a riveting baseball documentary, but all I received was silence and a slow blink which in no way assuaged my mounting concern.

"These books say the EXACT OPPOSITE thing! How am I supposed to know which one is RIGHT? I mean, I know there's no manual for parenting, but isn't there at least supposed to be a book that everyone agrees on with instructions that tell me EXACTLY WHAT TO DO??" (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was clutching his sides, rolling on the floor.)

I learned an important lesson that night: parenting is a crapshoot. To be honest, in my 6.5 years of raising tiny people, I haven't learned much else, but I've taken what I have learned and turned into 5 highly informative (though severely under-researched) infographics on parenting, just in the hope that anyone googling "baby has been screaming for 2 hours now what" might find some solace.

First up, having a baby. Forget everything those parenting books have told you. Having a baby comes down to two things:

Lord help you if the baby doesn't take a pacifier, but at least you will have extra strong biceps from all the bouncing and swaying. Unfortunately, neither your toned arms nor your honed tracking skills will prove to be the slightest bit useful in the toddler stage.

Basically, you're screwed. 
I have had at least one child in the toddler stage for the past six years or so and still have not developed any telepathic abilities whatsoever, despite being given ample practice opportunities several times a day. I can't even figure out what I did at breakfast this morning to make my 2-year-old scream as if her entire family just died. Was there not enough butter on her toast? Was it too toasted? Should I have cut it into squares instead of triangles? These are the great mysteries of life.

On the upside, my nearly-4-year-old ran up to me recently holding 2 halves of his snack exclaiming, "Mommy, my granola bar breaked and I didn't even cry!!" and I swear, I have never been more proud of him.

Calm down, I know that girls can play with Legos (mine does) and boys can dance around in a sparkly pink tutu (mine does, and don't ever tell him I told you), but currently the majority of my time is spent picking stray specks of glitter off my clothing while listening to the boys replace every noun and/or verb in every song with the word 'poop'.

"Twinkle, twinkle little POOP! How I wonder what you POOP!" All the day long, friends, ALL.THE.DAY.LONG.

"I'm the tooth fairy! No, I'm the POOP FAIRY!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

There's a lot of information in parenting books, but certainly none that prepared me for broken granola bars, poop jokes or spending half the baby's infancy bouncing him under a humming vent in a dark bathroom. They never told me that my kids would fight over who gets to sit on my lap WHILE I WAS ON THE POTTY.

They also never prepared me for how completely and utterly these babies would overwhelm my heart. They never painted a picture of early morning cuddles or kitchen dance parties or contagious giggles (because every now then a poop joke is actually kind of funny). They never warned me about a love so fierce and deep it transforms you from the inside out.

Experience is the best teacher and there are some things you just can't learn from books.

Fortunately, internet graphs are always spot on. 

(Though I can't be certain, I believe I just heard laughter.) 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Ways to Embrace the New Year without Making a Resolution

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, which is odd considering my great love for to-do lists, but I tend to live by the motto "if I'm not going to be spectacularly successful at something, then why even bother doing it?" This is something I'm working through.

Goals are not a bad thing and I've made them in the past. When I was in middle school I made a list of all the characteristics I hoped to find in a future husband, including such deal-breakers as He must be at least 6 feel tall and His last name must be at the beginning of the alphabet (my maiden name began with W and DANGIT I was sick of being called last for everything!) Several years down the road I landed a 6' 3" dreamboat and added an 'H' to my monogram. I'm not saying it was all due to my teenage requirements, but probably. Thank goodness for goals because I could have ended up married to 5 foot 10 inch man named Wilson and that would have been a disaster.

Every year I feel like I should make resolutions, but every year I put it off til January 3rd or so and by then IT'S TOO LATE because everybody knows you can only have resolutions if you start them on January 1st. (This is something I'm working through.)

But this year, in the spirit of fresh starts and middle school husband requirements, I made a list of New Year's Resolutions:

1. Read at least 20 books without pictures

2. Watch all my DVR'd shows, even those episodes of CSI that have been there for 3 years

3. Stop eating dinner over the sink and also lose 12 pounds

4. Make it through the whole year without hitting the house with my car 

5. Pee without an audience

Now it is January 7th and I have already failed at #3 and #5 and I'm sure my bumper will have a fresh new gouge come February and WHO AM I KIDDING RESOLUTIONS ARE A BUNCH OF CRAP so please pass the Krispy Kremes.

The truth is, at this season of my life, I don't have the energy to strive to become a smarter, skinnier, better version of myself. Quite frankly, I don't have time. I feel like I need to have another baby just so I can watch some TV. Managing dinner and bills and permission slips is difficult enough without tacking on organizing the closets or cutting out sugar and, honestly, if I stop eating over the sink I might starve. 

At least I didn't resolve to keep the house clean.
Do resolutions make you crazy? Are you in a season that requires more grace and fewer goals? Instead of making our lives "better", can we simply recognize the beauty and perfection that exist in the harried, imperfect lives we already have?

This year, as an alternative to resolutions, here are 3 ways we can embrace the new year. 

1. Join the #onebeautifulthing Instagram challenge 

Instagrammers are coming together weekly to "look for beauty in the nitty gritty of everyday life. It’s in the piles of laundry waiting to be washed. While most of the time people look at that as a huge chore and something to put off, instead, look at it as an opportunity that your family is together and home and spend time praying for each child as you wash, dry, and fold the clothes." Also, there will be winners and prizes so GAME ON, erm, I mean let's get going on that beautiful laundry. 

Find more info on #onebeautiful thing here.

2. Make a "101 Things in 1,001 Days" List

Whoa. I know. That's a lot of numbers and I hate lots of numbers unless they're in my bank account. But don't worry, the 101 Things are FUN things that you actually want to do, no cleaning out closets here! Instead you might decide you want to take a cake decorating class or reread a book series or plan a Mediterranean cruise with a dashing Italian tourguide named Alessandro. (Oh come on, everybody wants to do that last one.) And the best part? You've got 3 YEARS to get it done! 

The Lazy Genuis explains more here.

3. Choose One Word for 2016

Someone wrote a whole book about this very thing, but obviously since it has no pictures I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Thankfully there is a website! "'My One Word' is an experiment designed to move you beyond the cycle of broken resolutions. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD. This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future."

So this year I will be instagramming beautiful things (because Instagram is my latest obsession and you should totally follow me so you can see pics of my laundry), I will be making a list of fun things (because lists are my favorite) and I'll be focusing on the small things.

My One Word I have chosen for this year is 'small.' Small is not very glamorous or poetic or inspiring, but it's just what I need right now, because in a society where bigger is better, it's oddly refreshing to turn my attention to the small.

Small tells us to notice the beauty in that laundry pile. Small says to write because you love it, not because thousands will read it. Small says that it's the mundane acts of packing lunches, driving carpool, and reading one more bedtime story that build on each other to create a life of stability and joy. 

One day there will be time for clean closets and quiet meals and even locked bathroom doors. There may even be room for big things one day - ambitious goals have their place too - but even if not, we can be faithful in the mundane; we can show up everyday for the people that need us - our children, our partners, our friends, even strangers. And isn't that the mark of a great life anyway?

This year I will be focusing on doing small things with great love. So if you need me, I'll be here, hanging with all my small people...taking pics of the laundry pile.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Slacking at the Grove Park Inn

A funny thing happened last December. After Thanksgiving we began some renovations on the main living area of our home which were supposed to be completed in 2 weeks, but ended up taking 9. (Guess how many people were surprised when I told them this? Approximately zero people. It would probably be smart for contractors to start factoring Murphy's Law into their timetable estimates.)

You would think that we would be angry or at least disappointed that our home was in such disarray at Christmas. In fact, it was the most relaxing, stress-free Christmas of my adult life. It turns out, not having a functional living space is the perfect excuse for being the ultimate Christmas slackers.

Sorry, kids, we can't have a tree this year, there's no where to put it!

No, we can't host any parties, we've got nowhere for people to hang!

Elf on the Shelf? All the exposed nails just make it too dangerous for him this year.

Send out Christmas cards? Nope. Can't. We have no mailbox.

AHEM. I may have gotten slightly carried away with all the Christmas slacking.

Consequently, our house was in sad shape. The stockings were anti-climatic.

Our tree left something to be desired.

The holiday aesthetic was lacking to say the least.

However, come January 1st, all I had to put away was some felt and 3 large socks. It was glorious.

Unfortunately, this year our house is in pristine condition. With the absence of precarious stepladders and menacing nails poking through the floors, I panicked at the thought of carrying out our usual holiday tradition: cramming in so much holiday bustle and sparkle and cheer that I end up a hysterical Christmas zombie who cries at cracked cheesecakes and yells things like "I swear, if you kids do not stop shaking those jingle bells YOU WILL BE GETTING NO PRESENTS!!"

So in an attempt to ride the wave of holiday slacking as long as acceptably possible, we we decided to delegate Thanksgiving. For years my mom has talked about spending Thanksgiving with the whole family in the mountains of Asheville, NC, particularly at the lovely, historical Grove Park Inn. This year we took her up on it.

Built in 1913, the resort sits nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The impressive stone structure was constructed in the popular Arts and Crafts style of the time, giving the inn a rustic mountain-lodge feel complemented by touches of artistic charm found in ornate carvings, stained-glass light fixtures and literary quotes impressed upon large stones throughout the resort. Or, as Cormac McCarthy described it in a novel "a cool room high in an old rough pile of rocks." Same same.

The Grove Park Inn was conceptualized by Edwin Riley Grove and was built with the fortune he amassed by selling a treatment for malaria called "Grove's Tastless Chill Tonic." The tonic was so popular it became a household name and sold more bottles than Coca-Cola in the 1890s.

We had a lovely, relaxing Thanksgiving this year and if anyone asks what I am thankful for I am going to say malaria.

Best marketing campaign ever. #fataspigs

We spent our three-day stay exploring the grounds, snacking at the Gingerbread Bar, keeping Elise out of mischief, frequenting the buffets, viewing the dozens of gingerbread houses on display and sipping hot chocolate on the terrace. And eating. Did I mention eating?

Since I was not performing the usual Thanksgiving tasks of basting a turkey or washing dishes or consoling the child who got the short end of the wishbone, I had time for other things. Like taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. As in, your finger may need a rest after all the scrolling you are about to do. 

Every November GPI hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition and the top ten entries in each division (adult, teen and child) are displayed around the hotel until the new year. Ironically, of all the displays, there were only a handful that were actually houses. This year the entries included a gingerbread peacock, a gingerbread choir and a gingerbread ice queen whom Elise insisted was Elsa from Frozen. Luckily, Elsa was located right by the elevator so we got to spend 10 minutes looking at her every time we left the room.

Gingerbread "Elsa"

The grand prize winner of the gingerbread house competition.
Probably got bonus points because it was an actual gingerbread house.

It was no surprise that of the dozens and dozens of themed trees throughout the resort, Henry's favorite was the "farm tree". Like Elsa, we also spent quite a bit of time around the farm tree, and Henry, in an attempt to recreate the magic of the Grove Park Inn, stuck all his animal toys in our Christmas tree when we got home. Elise has not yet attempted a gingerbread Elsa.

Along with the edible houses (and non-houses) the GPI put their own little spin on gingerbread by creating a magnificent hot chocolate bar constructed entirely of gingerbread and other confections. Naturally, cocoa and gingerbread people were available to purchase at the Gingerbread Bar which helped reinforce for my kids an important childhood truth: when Mommy says no, Grandpa says yes. 

It took an entire 30 seconds after arriving at the resort for me to exclaim "this is great! why doesn't everyone do this for Thanksgiving??" It turns out, everyone does do this for Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving day the inn was teeming with people of every age, from near and far, dressed in their holiday best. It was crowded, but the atmosphere was festive and jovial, like the scene in White Christmas, when all the soldiers arrive for the big show and there is dancing and singing and Bing and Rosemary Clooney smooch behind the tree. If we had only brought our feathered fans, my siblings and I could have done an inspiring rendition of "Sisters."

My mother and sisters are missing from this group photo. I think they got distracted by the gift shop.

Of course, it wasn't all magical cocoa moments and endless buffets and majestic mountain views. Actually, it was mostly those things. There was the occasional tantrum and every night Elise did crawl into my bed and lie across my face, but I realized that by removing myself from the role of holiday coordinator-of-all-things, I was actually able to relax and enjoy our time together.

Nonetheless, as soon as we got home there was baking to be done and presents to be wrapped and parties to attend. I'm sure you will be shocked to hear that I have a hard time taking things off my plate (both literally and figuratively). There's always a new recipe I want to try and just one more string of lights I want to hang and a color-coded gift spreadsheet I can't wait to type up. 

But I always overestimate the number of days in December, so by the time Christmas Eve rolls around I'm kicking myself for all the stupid, fun plans I've made because now I'm exhausted and if anyone is mean to me I am going to cry so hard at them. 

It seems the only way I can take things off my plate is if the plate is pried out of my type A, overachieving fingers. 

Still, there are some tasks that can't be negotiated and if mama doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. All the same, I need to find moments in this busy season to channel my inner slacker. I may not have a Gingerbread Bar, but by golly I can make some darn good hot chocolate and force the kids to watch White Christmas with me. 

And I suppose if that doesn't work I can always call my contractor. 

Merry Christmas, friends. The weary world rejoices on this day and I wish you peace, rest and a big mug of cocoa with the ones you love.