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Christmas Vacation

What a week it’s been! I’ve been enjoying the time off from work and taking that mental pause on anything that hasn’t involved family and relaxation.

Our Christmas was not as hustling and bustling as year’s past – hurray! Usually we bounce back and forth between our families all day long but this time we were able to convince families to alter traditions (both of our families are Christmas morning celebrators). Ben and I got up on Christmas morning and didn’t have to race out the door. Instead, we had a moment to relax, enjoy our Christmas tree, and then actually head out for Christmas breakfast! Unreal and so wonderful.

Our Christmas tree! Everything gets packed up and put into the car to be transported to our loved ones. I LOVE getting gifts for people and get really excited anticipating them opening them up. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas. πŸ™‚

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After breakfast we went to spend the morning with Ben’s side of the family. We opened presents and enjoyed Christmas music, plenty of cheer, and a delicious meal.

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In the early afternoon we said goodbye and went to see my side for another round of festivities.

Our stockings were waiting for us…

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And then we had a good laugh about my parent’s tree. They have used this super-old fake tree the last couple of years to keep the dog out of the ornaments, but I think she’s plenty old enough now to stay away (and the tree is a little “Charlie Brown Christmas”). I think maybe we’ll get them a new one as an early present next year.

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Last year we had less thanΒ two dozen gifts under the tree (for 6 people) and I guess everyone did the same thing I did. Instead of one large gift (or a shared gift), I ended up doing a lot more little things instead. Way more wrapping involved but a LOT more fun to open on Christmas Day. Mom joked that we should keep the small tree because the trunk it is on makes it look like there’s even more presents. Maybe she’s right… Ha!

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Cheery people…

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I wonder what’s in there?

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It was a really nice Christmas.

We finally found a good day this week and went to the botanical gardens for the horse-drawn wagon ride through the gardens. There wasn’t a snowstorm this time BUT there was insane winds that froze all of our faces off! That’s part of the experience though. We were all squeezed tightly on the wagon and I brought along my car fleece blanket which I wrapped over our laps. Then we just held our mittens over our faces to block out a lot of the wind. We’re Wisconsin winter professionals.

Views from the bumpy wagon:

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After our ride we quickly ran around for a few photos:

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It works better with the flash.

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Inside the “caterpillar”:

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I’m. So. Cold. My. Lips. Are. Frozen.

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I took zero pictures of food this year. Odd, I know, but this year was a little scurried in the prep and a little lazy / relaxed on the holiday. Besides, Christmas isn’t about the food, is it?

It’s about 90 minutes from New Years as I’m writing this. Ben’s downstairs flipping back and forth between the various holiday TV programs and I’m trying to decide if I am going to stay awake or go to sleep right after I hit the “Publish” button on this post. Right now, I think sleep is winning. πŸ™‚

Happy New Y… Zzz… zz… z… .. .

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Sugar, Frosting, and General Ooey Goodness

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Happy New Year and happy new ‘do for this girl!

I’m on the last day of Christmas vacation before it’s back to the bump and grind of normal life. It’s been a harrowing couple of months and I unplugged from everything and enjoyed the holidays with the hubby and resetting the mental clock for success in 2016.

So… let’s get you caught up on this little vacay from work and adult life (ha). We started our vacation off with Christmas Eve packed full of traditions and baking. Ever since the first year Ben and I were dating, we would always go out for breakfast on Christmas Eve. This year we went out for delicious pancakes and waffles. I had pumpkin spice waffles and Ben went with dulce de leches pancakes and both were wonderful! Some traditions are too good to stop.

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After that we went home and proceeded to cook straight through until supper time. Since the family had a ton going on, we took on more than the usual one or two items and also baked sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner.

It was a multi-tasking, cookie baking extravaganza! We had just rolled up our sleeves when my Christmas flowers arrived! I wanted some pretty flowers and got a Groupon so they were really cheap. Love!

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My brother Matt loved the nutmeg logs we made two years ago but I didn’t feel like rolling out dough into logs, so I settled for little cookies instead. This saved a lot of time but still provided the same end result taste-wise.

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I had wanted to make some new items and really wanted to make homemade snickers bars. There was a layer of chocolate…. then a layer of nougat….005

Lots of stirring for the layer of caramel:

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And then, finally, the top layer of chocolate!

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These were really tasty, SUPER putzy to make, and I made the caramel layer a bit too runny so they didn’t stay together as well as I had hoped. Still, everyone loved them.

During this time I had sweet potatoes peeled and boiling on the stove:

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And Ben was making his very first batch of caramel puff corn (aka Christmas crack)

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And if this wasn’t enough, I had a crazy idea to try homemade toffee for the first time. After twenty minutes of intense stirring, this sweet, velvety & buttery delicacy was born:

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Homemade toffee is P H E N O M E N A L

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It was so good I almost didn’t want to share any πŸ™‚ We topped ours with chocolate and toasted pecans. Mmm Mmm Good!

We finished just as the folks called to invite us to caravan for the yearly drive around town to look at Christmas lights. We packed everything up so we would have less to bring over the next morning.

Finished goodies:

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The car all set! (plus the back seats were filled with ingredients for wassail) sheesh, what a load of festivity and cheer!

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We got home with enough time to open our stockings to one another and enjoy Christmas tunes and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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On our first ever non-white Christmas morning, we were up early and off to my side:006

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After lunch and more gift exchanges and good cheer, we were back home to unload once more before heading back to my folks for dinner.

Delicious spread of food!

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Mom made apple pie for Ben and a family request for a new kind of pie: chocolate caramel pecan. It was just as good as it sounds:

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It was a VERY long day, as usual, but we managed to be there for both families and the prepping ahead of time kept us organized and on time. It’s very lucky our families are so close!

Well that’s it for Christmas. I need to wrap up the rest of vacation and then think about what’s coming for 2016. I hope it’s off to a wonderful start for all of you!!

Christmas 2013

Ahh vacation! I’ve been a bit MIA this past week. Ben took the week off and the two of us have just been keeping busy doing silly things and basically just enjoying a stay-cation outside of the ordinary grind. It’s been wonderful and I’m already not looking forward to going back to work on Thursday. Why do vacations always have to go by so fast?

I’ve been going to bed too late, getting up too late, and not blogging regularly (ok, at all). I thought I’d start by recapping our Christmas. It’s almost unreal to think it was just on Wednesday and it seems a long time ago already.

Ben and I spent Christmas Eve enjoying our tradition of going out for breakfast. The year we first began dating, we’d only known one another a couple weeks when the holidays came around and decided not to celebrate together at all. Instead, we got together for breakfast and then wished one another a Merry Christmas and did our own thing. Somehow having breakfast out became a tradition for us ever since. πŸ™‚

We met up with friends for a wonderful noon church service. I had a few last minute presents to wrap and Ben and I watched the classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” followed by “It’s a Wonderful Life”. We were still pretty sore from Body Pump (wimps!!) and gingerly made our way around the house laughing at one another as we grimaced at bending over or walking up stairs. Yes, we fine humor in odd things. Finally, just before bed, we opened one another’s stockings and wondered hoe much snow we’d get overnight.

Christmas began at 8am with my family. We had gotten a few inches of snow overnight and more was sprinkling throughout the day, so the roads weren’t great for traveling. As a result, we actually arrived at 8:15 – much to Alex and Matt’s chagrin. They were ready for some Christmas cheer and present un-wrapping!

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Mom had some breakfast casserole and cinnamon roll bread warm and ready. It was a delicious start to the day.

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Quick shot of the ceramic Christmas tree my Grandma made years and years ago. Does anyone else have one of these? I love them!

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We were due to celebrate with Ben’s side at 11am, and since Mom had breakfast ready to go, we grabbed plates and mugs of coffee and enjoyed a leisurely time opening gifts. I love watching everyone else open their presents – it’s actually more fun for me than opening my own. It’s a great feeling to be excited for someone.

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Matt photobombed our picture – love it!!

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My very own teenage mutant ninja turtle…

 

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This is the same ninja turtle that almost flipped out when he saw I had gotten him a Playstation 4 for Christmas. It was hilarious! Ben is normally so even-keeled and he actually looked like an excited and giddy child when he ripped the box open. Love it!!! πŸ™‚

 

Ben and I made a triple batch of wassail and left everything simmering in the crockpot as we loaded up our loot and dropped it off at home. After a quick unloading and re-loading, we headed to see Ben’s family. Ben’s parents had this super cute set-up where they had some speakers set up outside playing Christmas music as we walked up the sidewalk. Talk about a festive greeting!

Every year the animals of their house guard the tree until it’s time to open presents. It’s pretty hilarious how excited they go surfing through the gift bags for their bones, snacks, and various toys…

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Izzy was happy to perch and watch me eat my noontime dinner:

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And then moved up close to check out my camera…

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Ha ha ha!!

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There was a little visitor out on the porch ready to come in for lunch!

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We left about 5:30 and went back to my parents’ for dinner. Mom served New York strip steak roast, mashed potatoes, and beans. It worked great because Ben’s mom served ham, squash, and jello.

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We played some games and everyone sampled the wassail. I think Dad and Alex liked it best. We made our way home way too late and I collapsed on my pillow after a wonderful day. It’s a lot of back and forth to be there for both sides of the family but it’s worth it. We love being so close to both sets of our parents so we have the ability to be a part of both Christmas celebrations!

It was a wonderful and joyous Christmas. We definitely have a lot to be thankful for!