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Christmas Favorites


I took the girls to see the Nutcracker this past weekend which can also be read as I saw God this past weekend, I had a mom geekout this past weekend and/or I did that imaginary swing from Christmas chandeliers celebration thing this weekend.

I am learning to accept the fact that I am deeply sentimental. As a writer, it is my Achille’s heel, and I often feel like I’m shoving gum into holes in a dam to keep the leaks from spreading into a giant crack that breaks the whole damn dam.

I catch myself sometimes, afraid I’m falling into the trap of my dad’s soft and weepy heart. The older he gets, the more he can’t keep himself from crying during a prayer or a recounted love story from one of his patients. I, the thirty-five-year-old much more in control of her feelings, roll my eyes and will him to pull it together. Jesus, Dad. The tears again. Get yer shit together, Carol

Brett’s stepmom recently told me that she loved following my dad on Facebook.

“He’s pretty sentimental. Sometimes he gets a little sappy,” I said.

She smiled and answered in her wise, calm way, “It’s beautiful. There aren’t enough people in the world who are comfortable with embracing who they are. I love it.”

*Note: As I write this, I call my dad:
Me: “Dad, are you okay with me ripping on your sappiness in a blog post?” 
Dad: “Yes, I’m fine with it.” 
Me: “I mean, I’m going to come back around and conclude that I love that you know who you are and you’re cool with it.”
Dad: “I know. I’m fine. Write what you want.”
Me: “Cool. Love you. Bye.”

So, where were we?  The Nutcracker.

Want a hit of holiday spirit? Take your girls to the Nutcracker. Take your boys too but perhaps wait until they are out of the climb curtains/scale balcony/fling crackers on dancers stage. Dress up, wear pearls, bring binoculars, Tell them all about the story of Clara and the land of the Sugarplum Fairy. When the music starts, pull them close. Close your eyes and feel every second of it. Point out every beautiful thing, and tell them why you love it. They might roll their eyes and will you to pull it together, annoyed by your sappiness. But don’t ever stop embracing who you are. Because your kids, more than anything, need you to be who you are.

The last dance of the Nutcracker kills me. I can keep it together until the Sugar Plum Fairy dances with her cavalier in the Pas de Deux dance. That song. In the dark auditorium, I sat with one girl in my lap and the other next to me, both of their eyes glued to the dancers and their faces barely lit from the stage lights. There’s this incredible crescendo in that song, and I cry every time the strings build and the brass takes over with this summit of emotions that sounds like it’s playing just for me. I leaned over to Lainey this year, tears streaming, and whispered, “Feel that music? That’s Christmas. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Damn you, Dad! Damn you and your weepy genes that can’t be controlled!

We took the kids to the Ritz Carlton afterwards for fondue in the lobby. It was super Christmas-y and special and I thought, “You’re going to remember this day your whole life.” And then the next morning I realized I left my wallet there, so I had to go pick it up in our minivan that smells like cheese. I parked it illegally so I didn’t have to valet at a fancy place, and when I met the security guard to get it back, I had to laugh when the guy handed my wallet to me and it was covered in gum. “Just write your room number here,” the guy pointed out on the form. I laughed again. “Dude. The wallet you just handed me is covered in gum and my minivan is parked behind the valet so you guys wouldn’t see the pile of shoes and last week’s lunchbox on the floor. I don’t have a room number. We just came to eat in your lobby and pretend we’re fancy.” Except I didn’t say that. I smiled, signed my name in the prettiest cursive, thanked him in a British accent and exited stage left with such graceful steps out the door.

Fancy Ritz bathroom selfie with Barbie photo bomb:

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Before they told us to turn off all electronics. I quite love the gentleman behind us, checking out his program:
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The girls, ignoring their fondue to check out a wedding outside:

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Post Nutcracker dancing at home:

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And so now that sentimental stuff and Christmas freak flag are already a flappin’, let’s just keep right on that path with some Christmas favorites.  The best of the best for December. Lainey loves to play the favorite game (what’s your favorite color? food? game?...), so a holiday edition is quite appropriate.

Prefaced with childhood photo of our family and my mom in a pink polyester robe, the epitome of an 80’s Christmas morning.

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Favorite Christmas Movie: 

The Family Stone: the dysfunctional, realistic but beautifully in-love family dynamics.
So many details and moments and quotes stand out: “Just stop. Stop trying. It’s exhausting. To keep the lid screwed on so tight. Just relax. Try it…”

If you haven’t seen it yet, promise me you’ll watch it.

Runners up: Elf, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street

Favorite Christmas Carol:

Lo How Arose E’er Blooming, Mormon Tabernacle Choir 
As far as faithy stuff, I have dumped so much of what I thought I knew and have hung on to only the simplest truth that feels okay to hang on to. This time of year brings a lot of that stuff up. But this song?  If I close my eyes and listen to it, I am thirteen years old again, sitting in an old run-down church in Flint, Michigan. It’s a cold December Sunday night, and my mom is leading the choir to this song. Though the congregation is small and made up of people with completely jacked up beliefs and faith practices, they are singing this song, and their voices come together in perfect harmony to sound much like this. My family is broken, and I am lost deep in a mess of confusion and guilt, but this song–its beauty, its harmony. its haunting melody wraps me up like the hug I’ve been waiting for, and it feels like how Christmas should be. Hopeful and beautiful and full of wonder, among the mess and all the cold of winter.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland
Because, I mean, Judy Garland.

The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole
Iconic. This is the one. Family around the fireplace, kids ripping into presents, coffee in hand, this song, and tears welling up while it all happens because Damn you, Dad! Damn you again!

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee
Best dance-in-your-pajamas-with-your-kids-on-Christmas-Eve song.

Favorite Christmas Tradition:

Going to See Santa
It’s become this imperfect, laid back tradition that starts with Santa, follows with dinner at Outback and always ends with our family having cart races in Costco while they’re closing.

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Candles and Songs
We started making our own Christmas Eve service at home several years back. We turn off all the lights, light candles and sing carols we don’t know the words to, and we’re all hilariously off tune–so much that sometimes I’m shaking with laughter. It’s funny and sweet and awesome to watch the kids who think that candles held in your hands are the coolest and most dangerous thing ever. They are.

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Reindeer Food in the Driveway and Setting up the Lights for the Sleigh Runway
The last thing we do before going to bed Christmas Eve. The excitement and magic are palpable.

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And a New Tradition…
Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies. A blast to decorate.

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Christmas favorites…songs, movies, traditions. What are yours? Share in the comment section, if you wish.

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holiday favorites and a gift

my last card order was picked up today (now get those to the post office, leah!), and we are officially beginning christmas break (cheers!).

i think i designed fifteen cards in two weeks, but i could design cards all day. i will upload them all to the card gallery after the holidays.

again, i am so thankful for all my camera gear and software that allows me to do this, and i am excited to take this photography thing to new levels this next year.

here are a few unposted favorites from the holiday madness…

(oh, how i love this next one…)

…and can’t leave out the winners of the many holiday photo attempts of my own…

to all the families i’ve photographed this season, thank you for the opportunity. i have made wonderful friends.

and finally, in being blessed in our lives and hearing so much sadness around us, i’d like to give back.

in this economy, i know you may know someone…a single mom working more than one job struggling to make ends meet, a family who’s experienced a tragedy, a parent who volunteers selflessly despite their own hardships. you may know someone who can’t afford photography but who would cherish the gift this season. you know someone who deserves a reminder of what is most important…their kids & their family.

please e-mail me and nominate someone in the naples area. i will choose the winner (with a little objective help from family) and gift them with a free photo session and a print package. please nominate before december 22.

e-mail me your story at:

oh, that feels so good.

…enjoying the giving things. ~k

Hit The Road: Summer Road Trip Favorites

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This is one of my favorite guides to do every year–right up there with stocking stuffers. Because road trips excite me like Christmas, and half of our summer adventure fun is getting there. For us, it’s a 26-hour trip to Northern Michigan, spread out over several days and including many sight-seeing stops along the way. Yes, there are lots of Are We There Yet?’s. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And why yes, there are moments when everyone in the backseat is losing it, and I’m a hair’s breadth from pulling over, handing the keys to the first person who stops to help and telling them “You can have it. The van, the kids–take it all.” But for the most part, it’s pure fun and adventure, and the memories made are some of the most special ones in our entire family archives. Kind of like the Core Memories in Inside Out.

I’ve driven the route now several times and have stashed away tips and tricks that make the trip so much more manageable and enjoyable. That moment when we pull out of the driveway to start the adventure (and–er, turn back around to pick up something we forgot)? It’s pure magic. Pillows tucked in the backseat, games and art supplies stashed in the seat pockets, snacks and drinks ready to go, and the anticipation of what awaits. If your summer promises hours trapped in a moving vehicle with your kids, here are some of our favorite things to make the adventure more fun and meaningful.

Do we use iPads and movies? HELL YES. Lots of them. But we cushion that with some good old-fashioned family interaction–car games, art and journaling. You can see our 2015 Road Trip Guide for more ideas (and read the comments–lots of fun tips from other road-trippers).

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1. Geo Adventure Journal and Travel Case. Keeping a travel journal is one of our favorite ways to preserve our trip memories. It challenges Lainey to write throughout the summer, and gives her some great creative opportunities–a place to store photos she’s taken, tape post cards and ticket stubs and keep track of favorite sites and moments. And this travel journal is extra special–definitely something to save and look back at for years to come. Made by my friend Nici at Dig & Co, it’s hand-appliqued with the place of your choice and tucked in the cutest wool travel case.

2. Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer with Zip Zero Ink Printing Technology. We’ve tested a few instant cameras and kid-friendly choices, and while they’re fun and convenient, I can’t find a camera that takes pics that compare with the quality of an iPhone or iPad–plus the other cameras don’t allow you to edit. This tiny printer is MAGIC. It connects through Bluetooth to your phone and requires Zero Ink–the chemicals are all in the paper. Plus, the paper is less expensive than Instax film and has a peel-off back so you can turn your little photos into stickers, perfect for travel journals. Lainey can use her iPad to take the photos, edit them in an app if she likes and send them directly through the Polaroid Zip app to this printer. Within seconds, a photo prints that looks exactly like the one on your screen. I printed this photo from last year’s Michigan trip with the Polaroid printer this morning–look at the colors! The printer is smaller than an iPhone and is tucked in a case and stored in my purse. We can’t wait to use it over our summer trip!

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3. Melissa & Doug License Plate Game. I’ve included this game in a road trip guide before, but we really love it and it’s a fun on-going game for the entire trip. The goal? Spot license plates from as many states as possible. My favorite part? You can’t lose any of the pieces to the game! The wood license plates are secured with elastic to the board, and all you have to do is flip one over when you spot the plate.

4. U.S. Watercolor Scratch-off Map. A fun way to keep track of which states you’ve visited, this poster map can be displayed in a child’s room or playroom. Simply scratch off a state that you’ve visited, and underneath–beautiful watercolor art.

5. Paint by Sticker. Lainey’s new favorite (mine too!), this no-mess paint by sticker book includes several drawings with sticker guides and stickers to create beautiful mosaic works of art. They take a little while to finish, so it keeps ’em busy and quiet in the backseat for a nice long time.

6. Melissa & Doug Travel Bingo. Another fun Melissa and Doug no-mess game, these easy-to-use-and-reuse bingo boards include different sheets to trade out–spot vehicles, road signs, buildings and more to win the game.

7. Family Road Trip Box of Questions Engage everyone in the car with these fun conversation starters, quizzes and car games, made just to entertain the family on long trips.

8. Games on the Go Throw it in your glove box. This little key chain includes 50 different memory challenges, guessing and word games to make the time fly.

9. Crayola Pip-Squeaks Kit. We pack a lot of art stuff for Lainey, but this little Pip-Squeak kit is perfect for the little ones. Markers clip into place so they’re not falling through the seat cracks, and paper stays tucked in the case which provides a sturdy surface for drawing.

10. Brush Tip Markers. These brush tip markers stroke the paper like paintbrushes–no-mess for the car.

11. Klutz Lettering Book. We have several drawing books, but this lettering book includes stencils, blank pages and several alphabet guides to teach fun lettering from bubble letters to block. The kids can use them to make signs and posters to hang all over your tent/cabin/hotel room this summer. And one inch closer to the perfect “TTFN” and “BFF” in next year’s yearbook.

And I have to mention a favorite from last year–the Car Scavenger Hunt. Such a fun way to keep everyone alert and entertained–score points for spotting a bald man in a car, a school bus, a dog in a backseat and more. It includes points for other senses too like hearing a siren or smelling a skunk smell. Winner can receive rights to pick a restaurant for dinner or have the best spot in the backseat.

Adventure on, folks.

Summer reads for moms and kids, coming next week. I just started a book yesterday that might be my favorite book I’ve read in ages. Plus fun incentives to keep kids reading through the summer…stay tuned.