My Favorite Holiday Traditions

I'm a sucker for the holidays. Who isn't, really? As soon as it's appropriate (i.e., Thanksgiving or shortly after), I've got the house decorated and the tree up.

Bryan and I have a new tradition of buying Xmas ornaments from all the places we visit!

This year's tree.

 Plus, say what you will about Chicago summers, I happen to not mind the Chicago winters - at least in the first months. Although frigid and freezing and windy and miserable, it is also impossibly beautiful during the holiday season. Chicago residents deck their homes, bars and restaurants deck their halls and the streets and parks go all out with lights galore. (see previous post about zoo lights).

Now that we're married, we've been able to start some of our own traditions, which I love. But I also like to look back and reflect on some of the holiday traditions that have given me such wonderful memories in years past, and that I hope to pass on to our own children someday. Here they are:

1. Making Cookies

  Last year's cookie making. 

Everyone knows the tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and I LOVED making Christmas cookies. My mom made the dough and frosting from scratch, and we had tins on tins on tins of cookie cutters, sprinkles, red hots, you name it. Last year, I forced everyone to bring back this tradition with the little ones in the family. While still an amazing tradition that I'd do every year, it's much more labor insensive than I remember. WORTH IT!

2. Christmas Eve
I think I love Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, my dad made homemade spaghetti, and we were allowed to open presents from our relatives. I love the memory of leaving letters and treats for Santa when we got home from midnight mass. When cousins, aunts and uncles were there, we'd sit around the Piano and sing Christmas songs. It was just happy, ya know? And now, as adults, we still eat Dad's spaghetti, go to church and open gifts on Christmas Eve. Looking so forward to it next week!

3. Advent Calendars
We always had the coolest advent calendars. My uncle Jesse sent them to us, along with these ceramic Santa boots that served as a holder for all of this delicious candy he'd send. It was always a challenge with my sisters on who would get to open the calendar that day.

4. Christmas Light Cruising
I can't remember what night of the holidays we did this, but my family and I piled in the car and drove around Iowa City looking at everyone's Christmas lights. If you know me, you know I LOVE Christmas decorations and lights in particular. They just make everything festive and happy happy happy!

5. Decorating the Tree
I've said it like, three times now, but in case you didn't quite get it, I LOVE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. Our parents get us Christmas ornaments every year, and my mom would keep my sisters and my ornaments in separate boxes. Every year I'd open that box and I remember it was like the most familiar and happy feeling seeing those ornaments. I need to get those back from mom!
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'Tis the Season to Drink With Friends

Happy Sunday, friends. It's been a doozy of a weekend, I've got to say.

It all started on Friday night, when my old co-workers (and current friends) and I got together for a holiday gathering. We met at a nearby bar for some drinks before heading to our friends' house for a Christmas party, where things got wild, fast, so I left fairly early to prepare for Saturday's events.

Saturday was a day I've been waiting for for months! A few of my girlfriends and I bought living social deals to go wine tasting in Michigan for the day--$ 75 paid for transportation to/from Michigan, plus tasting at four wineries up there. It was dumping snow when I woke up, so we were unsure if the trip was on, but sure enough, it was! We bundled up, got our coolers and coffee/whiskey drinks and were on our way!

I had actually been to all of the wineries before when I went this summer with Bryan and for my besties bachelorette, but it was still a blast. Especially with the fresh snow, Christmas decor and coziness of the wineries (and the wine) was a perfect day!
We made it back around 7, came back to my place for a (unnecessary) drink and then stopped by a neighborhood bar for a drink. Needless to say, I was in bed and asleep fairly early.

Today, as much as I wanted to, I was unable to lie in bed all day long. Instead, I woke up, had brunch with two good friends I haven't seen in months, got a manicure/pedicure afterwards and after a short nap, my hubs and I went and had dinner. Which brings me to now!
Even though it's 10:30pm, I have to go do some online Christmas shopping. We're leaving on Friday for the holidays and we don't have a single gift! Yeah yeah, I'm the worst.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Mingle 240
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Weekend Update: The Kirks Come to Chicago

Well, it's officially been a week since I've been back in the US of A, so my excuses for lack of blogging are pretty much out the window.

I'll kick off my return to blog land with a traditional weekend recap because it was a great one! We shipped Addy off to Iowa to stay with my Dad and stepmom while we were in Europe. What we lacked was a plan to get her home. My sister and brother-in-law were kind enough to offer to bring her back to us and make a weekend out of it with my niece! Win-win for me, especially since I've been harassing them about coming to visit since forever.
Sloan and Addy sleeping in the car

It's funny how plans change so much when there's a 2-year-old in the picture. For example, the last time these two came to visit last summer, my brother-in-law ended up projectile vomiting crab as a result of about 18 hours of drinking. Needless to say, such was not the case this trip.

Bryan had his holiday party on Friday night (no spouses allowed), so I offered to babysit Sloan so my sis and her hubby could have a fun date night out in the city.
Jess and Klint, all ready for date night!

Sloan and I baked cookies, pumpkin bread and we put together a gingerbread house! Sloan had a blast sitting on the counter, "swimming" on the ottoman during breaks, frosting the roof and eating half the ingredients before we could put them on. 

It was a hit, however, and Sloan showed off her "ginger house" all weekend. I had a blast and loved our one-on-one time.
Saturday we spent the morning and first part of the afternoon at the aquarium. Sloan was mesmerized by "the fishies." 
Mesmerized by jellies.

The tickets we bought included seeing an aquatic show (dolphin/whale/penguin shows). Despite a singing trio, a visit from Santa Claus and some amazing tricks by the animals, Sloan had more fun dancing to the music than watching the actual show. The adults enjoyed it though!
Who's more excited?

It was naptime for Sloan, so while she slept, the four of cracked some beers and watched football for a few hours while Sloan got her beauty sleep. When she was up, it was off to the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights, one of my favorite holiday activities in the city.

The entire zoo is lit up in lights, there's synchronized light shows to music, crafts inside the exhibits, and perhaps the best part: Warm spiced wine. Which we needed, given that it was about 5 degrees outside. 
We spent a few hours walking around, seeing monkeys, an angry lion and of course, Santa. Sloan was a trooper and was content with her hot chocolate. AND she got to visit Santa!

After we couldn't take any more cold, it was off to get dinner - pizza! After all, what's a visit to Chicago without pizza? A few beers and two 'zas later, it was home to sit in front of the fire - and promptly fall asleep.

And today? Well, let's just say I'ce been awake for 12 hours and the most productive thing I've done is walk to Starbucks around 10:30am. It was the first snow today, so I hunkered down and watched football and finally caught up on TV from when we were gone. Currently I'm drinking wine in front of yet another fire and we just ate some Chinese. Life is good.

All in all, a wonderful weekend of precious one-on-one with my family, which I always love. Now we just need to get through 2 more weeks of work and it's Christmas! How was your weekend?

 Mingle 240
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Spain Recap: Numero 1

Hola! I've officially been back in the States for about 3 days and am trying desperately to get back into real life. That means back to work, back to the gym, back to the store, doing laundry...etc etc etc. However, life isn't going to slow down just because i'm jetlagged, so I'll get to the good stuff.

We are back from 10 blissful days in Spain and Portugal. Our trip was beyond, beyond amazing. I forgot how much I love Spain. The culture, the architecture, the streets, the café con leche, the tapas, the customs, the history... Being there brought me back to why I loved living there 8 (gulp) years ago.

We made it safe and sound to Europe, arriving last Friday. But of course, not without a minor hiccup. We had a direct flight into Germany, where we connected to catch a flight to our first destination, Palma de Mallorca. Checking in to the flight, the attendant couldn't find Bryan's reservation, even though he had a boarding pass. Upon further review, we discovered B missed his flight--because he had booked it for the day BEFORE. 

B is a travel connoisseur, so trust me when I say that these kind of mistakes just don't happen when we travel. But, it did this time, and we had no choice but to buy a one-way ticket to Palma, to the tune of 229€. Eugh. So, aside from starting the trip about $325 in the hole, the travel there was smooth sailing.
Views from our room, plus a glimpse inside it. 

Mallorca is an island off the Eastern coast of Spain, on the Iberian Sea. While I've been to Spain, Bryan has not, but this was a new destination for us both. We stayed at the beautiful Castillo Son Vida, an old castle that overlooks the city and the sea. It was amazing. We got upgraded to a two-bedroom suite with an amazing view, and were given a bottle of cava, gratis. After about 13 hours of traveling and only 3 hours of sleep, we took some time to rest and relax in the hot tub/steam room/sauna, take a short nap and shower before we set out to explore.

Our hotel

We did a lot more research before this trip than last year's, so instead of aiming blindly, we knew where we wanted to go for meals, things to do, etc. One thing we did not think about - or rather, I didn't remember - was a couple of key Spanish customs. The first being that many bars and restaurants are open during almuerzo (lunch) until about 4pm, and then they close for a siesta and to prepare for the dinner rush. The other custom is that that Spaniards typically don't each dinner until about 9-10pm. 

 Views from the hotel terrace

So, we made out way to the restaurant around 5:30 to find it was closed until 7:30. Not to worry -we walked around, saw the catedral lit up, and found a café to sit outside and have some tapas and vino. 

One of the best things about Spain is that you can sit at any of the thousands of cafés in any city and get whatever you want to drink, be it a Coke, café, cerveza or glass of wine for 4€ or less (about $6). Unreal. We sat people watching and I eavesdropped on Spanish conversations while we waited for our restaurant to open. Finally we were seating at The Wine Garage, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

We had personalized service from the owner, who gave fantastic local wine recommendations. We had apertifs and shared a friend chicken and potato dish for dinner. Sounds boring, I know, but trust me - it was unreal. The chicken was flash-fried, just enough, the potatoes thinly sliced. Divine. 

We were spent by the time we were done with dinner, so it was off to bed for us. On Saturday, we took an old train to a port town called Soller, where we walked around, had some coffee, saw the water and mountatins, another cathedral and headed back to Palma.

More sightseeing, more cerveza, more sunset photos and then off to another fabulous dinner: this time to a steakhouse called Bruselas. Again, we were served perfect wine, steaks, vegetables and desserts.

I'm nodding off as I type and omitting details, but ya'll probably don't care as much I do anyway. Enjoy the pictures, and I'll get you more updates in the next week or so.

Other posts I'm thinking of: my favorite Christmas traditions, holidays in Chicago...basically anything holiday focused! Super excited for the weekend, already, because our furbaby has been back in Iowa for the past 2.5 weeks. She's coming home this week and my sister, brother-in-law and niece are bringing her and staying for the weekend! Can't wait to do all things holiday with them.

That's all I got ya'll. Nice to be back and hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings with your families!

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