Poppa, The Great

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This guy. In the past 15 months, this guy has surpassed any and all of my wildest dreams and expectations of the father he would be to our daughter. And I am a gal of high expectations.

Though I knew in my heart that my husband would be a great dad, in my mind I worried how he would take to this life-changing little person who burst into our world. He’s a guy who shied away from holding our nieces and nephews as babies because he’s “not a baby person.” He’s a guy who laid out every real or imagined constraint that a baby would place on our lives. He’s a guy who, when I told him I was pregnant, responded with a nervous and questioning “congrats?”.

But he’s also a guy who has the incredible patience and compassion and persistence that it takes to care for a new life.

From the moment our daughter was born, he was there. He was there for her and he was there for me. In the trenches, all of us together, a family. He never hesitated to endlessly bounce our fussy newborn on an exercise ball. Never groaned about taking our sleepless babe at 5:00 am even when he had to leave for work at 6:00 am because I couldn’t hold my eye se open another minute. Never thought twice about curling up in bed with our child who can only sleep with human touch. He rose to his role as a father when neither our baby nor myself had the words or energy to thank him. This wonderful guy shepherded our growing family through that first foggy phase of new parenthood, helping us to evolve and emerge into new and beautiful places.

Since that early hazy period, so much has changed; and this guy continues to grow as a father to meet the ever-changing demands of our toddler daughter. His success as a father is reflected in the joyful spark that lights up our daughter’s eyes. He is her favorite playmate, most brilliant teacher, hilarious entertainment, and all-around hero. Throughout the day a chorus of “Poppa” echoes through our house (long before there were any utterances of “Momma”, I might add). And when the prodigal Poppa returns from work each day, the excited squeals emitted by our one-year-old could rival a group of tweens at a One Direction concert. He is her world, and it’s such a stunning sight to see.

I was the girl who always wanted to be a mother; my husband was the guy who was more reluctant to become a father. Yet everyday he is the one who is teaching me how to do this parenthood thing. He shows me that being a parent isn’t about the rules or expectations, it’s everything that lies in between – the endless capacity to love, the inspiring opportunities to play, the wonder of seeing the world through a new perspective and learning together, always together.

These are the things that make a great father, and these are the qualities that I’ve loved to see take flight in my husband as he embraces his role of proud Poppa and boldly leads our daughter into a world of limitless opportunity.

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This guy is simply the best.

Dear Momma

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Dear Momma,

I’m sorry; I’ve failed you this Mother’s Day. Your card is still sitting on the kitchen counter, buried under a pile of unopened mail topped by an un-done to-do list. Besides, it isn’t even an actual Mother’s Day card since Trader Joe’s only carried generic cards and I didn’t have it in me to stop yet again when the baby and I both so desperately needed a nap.

You get it, I know. You’ve been doing this mom thing for thirty-plus years. And I get it now too. Though I’m only a year into motherhood, it’s more than enough to make me realize all that all that you’ve done for me, from the moment of my birth; all that you continue to do as I grow into a mother. Over this past year, I’ve come to love and appreciate and respect you in a whole new way.

The very reason I can’t manage to get a simple card in the mail is the same reason that you deserve so much more than Trader Joe’s ninety-nine cent sentiments. Motherhood is hard. Without your love and support and guidance as I fumble my way through, I would be lost. Your gifts to me have been selfless and priceless and limitless.

What do I get for the woman who gave me everything? Who has not only shepherded me as I become a mother, but has risen to great and beautiful heights as a grandmother.

How do I say thank you for jumping in your car, driving all day, just so you could hold my shaking hand as I prepared to bring my daughter into this world?

How can I repay you for the countless vacation days you have spent washing my dishes, walking my dog, and taking care of me, so I could take care of the endless needs of a new baby?

Where do I find the words to tell you what it meant when you miraculously appeared at 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., when I was at my wits end with a baby who Would. Not. Sleep.? Giving me a break when I needed it the most.

No gift could express the gratitude I felt when I faced you the next morning, bleary eyed and grumpy, and you didn’t tell me what I could be doing differently to get my child to sleep. You never questioned why my one-year-old wasn’t sleeping through the night. Instead you simply embraced me and told me the one thing I most needed to hear; the one thing I was most doubting. “You are an amazing mother,” you whispered softly.

I probably rolled my bloodshot eyes at you (sorry, I was tired…), but those words meant everything to me. Still do.

When I doubt myself, and my mothering skills, your reassuring voice is a constant refrain in my head: “it’s ok, it’s ok, you are doing great, you are incredible.” Your words become the steady heartbeat coursing through my veins and keeping me alive through difficult days and sleepless nights.

So momma – there’s no card, no flowers, no bottle of wine or meticulously prepared dinner waiting for you this year. I’m sorry that, this year, I’ve gotten too caught up trying to be a mother and paid too little attention to celebrating my own. You expect nothing, but you deserve the world.

But this I can tell you, as the wisest of women once told me, “YOU are an amazing mother.”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Momma for all that you do. I Love You…

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An Ode to Midwives

I love all things baby, and from the exciting moment I found out I was pregnant, I dreamed of the kind of birth I wanted to have – bringing my babe into this world in the most natural way possible. My husband had vetoed my home birth idea, but I continued to read every birthing book I could get my hands on.  Due to a doctor’s recommendation back in Tennessee, I was seeing a Perinatal Specialist OB-GYN. The busy practice had two doctors, both male, who were friendly and undoubtedly knowledgeable, yet not quite what I had in envisioned in my Ina May Gaskin fueled birth fantasies. 

Midway through my pregnancy, we made a big move that meant not only finding a new home, but finding new healthcare providers as well. After exhaustive research, I was delighted to find a midwifery practice less than a mile from our house – West Suburban Women’s Health in Willowbrook, Illinois. This unique practice combined the skills and knowledge of five doctors and four midwives, all women, to create a uniquely caring team. Though I was initially caught off guard by the difference from my previous practice – no hospital-like environment, no long white lab coats, no loud crowded waiting room – I was instantly enamored with the compassion that I felt upon meeting my first midwife, Karen.  

Throughout the course of my pregnancy I had the opportunity to meet each wonderful midwife multiple times. Karen, Gillian, Patty, and Sherri each had their own unique talents and personalities, but they all clearly shared the same passion for mothers, babies, and the crazy beautiful journey of birth. 

Beyond the care of the midwives, I was blown away by the other incredible resources that West Suburban Women’s Health offers. We took advantage of each and every one of their pre-birth and parenting classes. Being new to the area, it was as much an excuse to meet other parents-to-be – to find our village – as it was to hone our parenting skills. And sure enough, we met some of our closest friends though those classes. Once the baby arrives, they also provide a weekly free new mother and breastfeeding support group which has become my sanity saver; many weeks my sole social outlet. Not to mention the group’s incredible teacher / guru / brilliant Lactation Consultant, Patty Janicek, who has become like a third grandmother to our child. The midwifery mindset spills out into all aspects of the practice, and I am so grateful to be the beneficiary. 

So, when the big day came to give birth, I wasn’t in it alone. By my side stood (and knelt and lay and crouched) Karen – ironically the first midwife I met. She was my champion as I went to battle. Calmly encouraging me through the unknown, firmly pushing me when I thought I couldn’t go on. And as my daughter came into this world, it was exactly what I had hoped for but never could have imagined. Not the fanfare of doctors racing in last minute, surgical masks and yelling and bright lights, but Karen softly saying to me, “Reach down and grab your baby.”

 

This is the way birth should be – surrounded by support before, during, and after the glorious experience. Then walking alongside a tribe of other warrior mommas who are all going through the journey of birthing and parenthood together. 

To My Husband: Thank You

Andrew,

This past year has been a wild and beautiful ride. With a big move and the birth of our first child, and the ensuing chaos of day to day life, there is so much that I haven’t said. So much I haven’t thanked you for.

Thank you for making my ultimate dream come true; for making me a mother to our sweet baby girl.

Thank you for standing by my side and supporting me even when motherhood is more a sleepless reality than a peaceful dream.

Thank you for allowing me to stay home with our daughter, to have those daily moments that can never be repeated or replaced.

Thank you for not assuming my life is a vacation just because I’m not going into an office.

Thank you for understanding why you haven’t had a hot cooked meal in the last six months.

Thank you for cooking for me. Feeding me when I’m always starving.

Thank you for wearing wrinkled clothes without complaint because somehow the laundry just never gets folded.

Thank you for forcing me to use paper plates when the thought of washing one more damn dish makes me want to lose my mind.

Thank you for not questioning my parenting decisions and trusting my intuition.

Thank you for reassuring me when I question my parenting deciscions and can’t trust my intution.

Thank you for holding me when it’s been one of those days and I collapse into tears.

Thank you for holding our daughter when it’s been one of those days and she collapses into tears.

Thank you for always trying, even if you feel like you’re just muddling through this parenthood thing. To watch you and our baby girl learn together is a glorious thing.

Thank you for inspring that toothless baby grin that makes the whole world beautiful again.

Thank you for making me laugh when it’s the last thing I want to do but first thing I need.

Thank you for working hard. So. Damn. Hard. Everyday for this family. To tirelessly support the ones you love is not a slight thing and we are beyond grateful for all that you do.

Thank you for being the incredible husband and father, who is so much more than I ever could have imagined or hoped for.

Thank you for being you. Amazing, unrelenting, magnificent you.

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Happy Anniversary, Love. Thank you for two wonderful years as your wife and countless more to come.

So this is what they were talking about… (Chicago Winter Woes)

When we first decided to move to the Chicago area, in November no less, every single person we encountered would look at us incredulously and warn us about the frigid cold winters. Even when we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winter temperatures regularly hover below zero, residents pitied the frosty plight that we were to face in the midwest.

So we were prepared. When the first cold front came through shortly after we moved here and temperatures hardly rose above 20 degrees for a week, I bundled up and went about my business feeling proud of my ability to tough it out and power through. But that was nothing…

This week, as a massive cold front swept most of the nation, we got a taste of our first real winter weather, where temperatures have plummeted to zero and wind-chills have gotten down to 35 degrees below zero. This is a cold like I have never known.

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When it started on Sunday, we were still in good spirits. The freezing temperatures blew in accompanied by beautiful snow. We enjoyed the day of rest while we watched the flakes fall, sun shining through, and cozied up drinking endless cups of cocoa. Eventually we got out to shovel the snow from our drive, treating it as a fun new adventure – my first time shoveling snow, how thrilling! 

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Monday was a sunny snow day filled with fun and frolicking. Though the temperatures stayed in the single digits, we alternated playing in the snow and getting out and about with bustling around the house cooking and cleaning and keeping warm. And at the end of the day, we enjoyed the vibrant colors of the sunset contrasting the stark white of the snow.

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Tuesday brought more snow. And more shoveling. Which by this point was starting to get old. But hey, the sun was still shining and this winter weather wasn’t going to get me down. So I put on a pot of soup, simmering with a mix of hearty flavors and a dash of hope for a bit of warmth. I layered on wool socks and knit hats and cozy scarves – just to stay inside.

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On Wednesday I pulled out all the stops to combat the cold. I packed on the layers and devoured the soup and drank the tea. I hovered by our space heater and broke out our new humidifier. I dashed out to the gym to warm up my body. And when all else failed I just crawled into bed early, cranked up the electric blanket, and tried to ignore the wind howling outside of our windows.

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But then came Thursday, and really I’d had enough. It was so cold, and so grey, and so cold, and so windy, and so cold. When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I discovered that there was ice lining the windows. Let me re-phrase that, there was ice lining the inside of the windows.

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Sometime around mid-morning even more snow started. The wind whipped around so wildly that it was impossible to tell whether the icy flakes were coming from the sky above or the already snow-covered ground below.

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By now my coping strategy had degraded to climbing under a pile of blankets, kept company by a marathon of House Hunters International. It was apparent that no amount of soup or tea could drown out the fact that were were living in the world of Frozen. And not in the happy Disney way, but in way that looks much more like this:

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Because we are all just so cold. All the time.

Then, out of the blue yesterday, a dear friend called me. While she lives in (relatively) warmer Tennessee now, she used to live in Chicago and consoled me with the story of her first Chicago winter meltdown (the only kind of melting we’ll be seeing around here anytime soon). She told me about a frigid day when she was walking to the train and she was so cold that she just started crying. Before a warm tear of relief even had the chance to slide down her face, she said, she realized her tear had frozen to her cheek.

Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, that story was just what I needed to hear to encourage me to keep going. Because, unfortunately, Chicago winter weather doesn’t care about our feelings. So we just have to find a way to (snow) plow forward, making the most of it, and looking towards the warmer days ahead. (Forecast is calling for double digit temps next week – hooray!)

And when all else fails, remember it could always be worse… (I’m looking at you Fairbanks!)

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Merry Christmas from the Moores!

I love Christmas cards. I love opening my mailbox and receiving the beautiful images of loved ones. I love sending them out and letting friends and family know we care.

So on December 5th, I decided it was time to order our Christmas cards and I would effortlessly address them and get postage and mail them within a week. But then my kind husband gave me a reality check which is that I have been more than a little overwhelmed with getting settled from the move, more than a lot tired from growing this baby, and had a long list of pre-Christmas to-dos (none of which had been started of course despite my insistence that this year I will finally have all Christmas gifts done at the beginning of December!). Oh, and I may have a slight issue with time estimation and imagining that it would only take me an hour to address and send all of the cards…

As I was about to hit that order button, we decided that in the interest of saving money, streamlining holiday stresses, and overall simplifying and embracing the imperfection this year, we would forgo the paper cards. Yes, it breaks my heart a little. But at the same time it relaxes my heart and mind knowing there is not yet another task that has to be checked off the list. Instead I can focus on what matters – enjoying time with family, relaxing and taking it all in as the last Christmas season just the two of us, and filling up with that joyful love and happiness of the holidays in order to share it with others.

Lovely family and friends, we hope you still enjoy our electronic Christmas card, with a few snapshots and words from this extra exciting year. Wishing you all things peaceful and wonderful this holiday season and beyond!

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Teaching Kindness and Training Warriors

As a momma-to-be, there are already so many things I worry about for this sweet child I’m carrying. Am I eating the right foods to help her grow big and strong? Am I picking the right bedding, toys, and accessories so that he’ll be safe, secure, and happy? How do I prepare for the unknown worlds of birth, feeding, and tireless newborn care?

My biggest worry, though, is the overall prospect of bringing this little one into a great big world that is so bright and beautiful, but can also be harsh and mean and scary. For a while she’ll be protected by the cloak of babyhood – being constantly supervised and surrounded by people who offer nothing but kind words for this tiny new being. But in a brief few years she’ll grow up and go out on her own – at pre-school, at the park – and someone will say something unkind to her or another child. And the thought of that shatters my heart…

So how do I teach my child to embrace kindness even in the midst of a sometimes unkind world? How do I let him know that, no matter how strong meanness may seem, kindness will always win? How do I encourage him to face each day, brave and strong, as a warrior fighting for kindness for all those around him?

With small daily acts and beautiful inspiring words.

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Fortunately, my lovely sister-in-law, Katie Moore, has recently published an incredible children’s book on exactly this topic. Her book – You Are A Warrior – tells a beautiful, whimsical, and truthful tale of a little girl who is doing just that – being a warrior by fighting back against bullying with seemingly small acts of kindness that yield huge results. What makes Katie’s book even more special are the delightfully happy illustrations that are a compilation of her four talented children’s artwork combined with her own wise words. Without a doubt, this is an inspiring book and a meaningful message for adults and children alike.

Since I’m fortunate enough to know this witty and wonderful author, I asked Katie a few questions about the book in hopes of absorbing some of her awesome, love-filled wisdom:

What was your inspiration for writing this book?                                                               

My inspiration for writing this book was to give my kids something to hold and read and know that they contributed to a real book. Something tangible that they helped to create and build and feel that they could put it in their hands and say that they were a part of. I’m working on a novel that is aimed for an adult audience so it was important for me to get this one out first. Also on my blog I write a lot of things that are adult humor that I would never (ever) want them to come across, but a book that is for kids helps confirm that their momma really is a writer. It gives me some street credit. Plus (and most importantly) I am a huge fan of children’s books that send out a positive message. I want my kids and kids everywhere to be kind and aim for good every single day.      

As a mother of four (incredible) kids, why do you think this is an important book and message for children?                                                                                                                 

I think that it is desperately important that children realize that small acts can make a tremendous impact on this world. Bullying is rampant in schools, playgrounds and probably the most detrimental of all, on all sources of media. Kindness isn’t a slight thing, costs nothing and has the potential to bring hope to every generation. Children of all ages have the power to bring change.

I love the artwork in the book! Can you tell me more about your process for creating the beautiful and inspiring images?                                                                           

Thank you! I am in love with collage work with mixed media. I wanted to create something whimsical with my own kids’ artwork and add some words and light to bring each page its own type of faithful magic. The process is really glue, hope, glue, repeat. Roll with the mess and the mistakes… perfection is overrated.   

What is the number one lesson that you hope anyone reading – both children and adults – will take away from your book?                                                          

Show up. Be kind. That really would be a dream if that was the takeaway. Oh and have fun too. Warriors are rockstars.                                                                                                                                                                            

Thank you dear Katie!

There is still time to get the perfect Christmas gift for kids of all ages (including those grown-up kids who may need a little kindness reminder) by ordering Katie’s book on Amazon: You Are A Warrior.

While you’re there, be sure to pick up a copy of her lovely inspiration journal – Dream a Bigger Dream – to spark your own creative potential.

For more of Katie’s wit, humor, and wisdom, check out her blog, The Naked Momma, at www.thenakedmomma.com.  Or get her daily dose of inspiration and fun on Facebook and Twitter @thenakedmommakt.

PS – it just so happens to be Katie’s birthday today, so share the love!

What small but mighty acts of kindness have you seen or done this week? Leave a comment below with ways to share some joy this season and beyond, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of You Are A Warrior – a beautiful gift just for you! Happy kindness spreading friends!

Weekend Wandering: The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Tree

Though I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for a while, we still stuck with tradition and waited until after the joy and mayhem of Thanksgiving to start the Christmas decorating. But this weekend it was time, so we set off to find our shining beauty – the Christmas Tree.

To save time and money, we planned to go the easy route this year and pick from the pre-sorted, pre-cut selection of firs at a local lot. But when we pulled up and learned that even the puniest of trees on the lot were going to run us a whopping $80, that wasn’t going to happen… So we made a last ditch decision to continue our tradition from last year and headed out to pick and cut our own tree at Larson’s Family Farm.

We drove an hour west, leaving the suburban sprawl behind and winding through midwestern farms and cornfields. When we finally arrived, we has less than an hour of sunlight left with which to pick our perfect tree. Though the sunset made for a beautiful setting, it also served as a stressfully ticking clock on my indecisiveness.

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I darted frantically from the firs to the pines to the spruces and back again searching for what would be the perfect symbol of our holiday cheer. While Larson’s had a vast selection and beautiful variety, every tree I came across seemed too short or too sparse or too crooked. In my eyes, one tree was not full enough while another was not green enough. As darkness began to descend, I fretted that we had driven all this way and I would still not find “The One.”

Then my husband, in his simple but infinite wisdom said, “They’re trees. They’re real and living, so they’re not going to be perfect.”

Ah yes, how I so easily forget that to be real and living means by default to be imperfect. And that’s not only okay, but wonderful. Because isn’t it far better to have the type of beauty and essence that is real and living than to strive for some artificial idea of perfection?

This season more than any other, I think it’s easy to forget the beautiful reality of life in our quest for perfecting the holidays. We strive for the perfect tree and the perfect gifts, for the perfect house for hosting parties and the perfect treats to share with friends, for the perfect Christmas card picture and the perfect gift wrapping. We can become so blinded by the sparkling lights that we forget what this season is truly about – the birth of a grace and love that allows us to be perfectly imperfect as real and living humans.

So with the sun descending below the stalks of corn, I finally decided to forget perfection and pick a tree that had a beauty and charm that we loved. We went with a pine, mostly because I loved how Andrew called them the “furry trees.”

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It’s shaggy and sparse in areas and a bit wonky at the top, but in our eyes, it’s taken on it’s own kind of real, imperfect perfection.

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An Ode to Maternity Pants

There are many wonderful things about being pregnant – growing a child, indulging in favorite foods, being showered with gifts and love. But perhaps the most underrated benefit is maternity pants.

Somewhere in the middle few months of pregnancy you reach a point where buttons and zippers on pants become obsolete. For a while there’s your good friend yoga pants, that stretch with you as you grow. But eventually you might want to (or at least need to) go somewhere that requires slightly fancier attire than gym-chic. This is where maternity pants come in – a brilliant invention that allows you to feel like you’re headed to Pilates (or a Netflix marathon) while looking like a normal pants-wearing member of society.

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(Picking out my first pair. Ahh the comfort…)

So I ask, why must maternity pants be limited to the expectant among us? Sometimes you just want to be able to eat that extra slice of cake in comfort. There’s no better time than the holiday season to break out the maternity pants and indulge. Joey Tribianni of Friends really had it figured out.

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No button? No zipper? No problem! Bring on the elastic, baby.

Now many women would disagree with me. Most pregnant ladies probably sit around with a bulging belly dreaming of the day when they can squeeze back into their skinny jeans. I, on the other hand, dread the day when I have no reasonable excuse to put on these elastic paneled beauties.

I guess there’s always Thanksgiving…

Weekend Wandering: ‘Tis the Season

Generally I am a strict holiday purist, preferring to keep my holidays completely separate. I can’t stand when I walk into a store in July and holiday goods are already decking the halls (I mean aisles). To me, the Christmas season has always begun the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music, decorations, and shopping are held off until we can celebrate Turkey Day in all it’s gobbling glory.

But then I moved to a place where by mid-November I’ve seen snow falling more days than not, the temperature has scarcely risen over freezing, and one of the few radio stations I’ve found has already started playing Christmas music 24/7. So yes, it already kind of feels like the North Pole up here.

Still, I think I could have remained strong had it not been for this one magical Chicago Christmas tradition. A place that combines three of my favorite things: craft vendors from around the world, German food and drink and atmosphere, and Christmas (of course). Christkindlmarket. A mecca of all things cozy and Christmas-y and wonderful!

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The traditional German-American holiday market kicked off this past weekend in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, so of course I had to drag Andrew into the city to experience the joys of the holiday season, European style. Though the market was admittedly crowded – it’s a pretty small space, taking up just one square block – who cares when you’re filled with good cheer and Glühwein (alkoholfrei for me).

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We browsed the vendors, taking in the delicately crafted glass and wooden ornaments, handmade cuckoo clocks, and traditional German pyramids and nutcrackers. And of course we had to sample all of the delicious food offerings – from bratwurst and sauerkraut to potato pancakes and pretzels, and anything you could imagine dipped in chocolate – the options were endless.

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Once we left the Christkindlmarket, we continued in the Christmas spirit by heading to the Magnificent Mile Light’s Festival to enjoy their Christmas parade. The weather had warmed up a bit from the frigid temperatures of the proceeding week, making parade watching more bearable. We enjoyed seeing the fun floats, giant balloons, and talented performers.

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However, being at a big parade in person is a different experience than watching it on television; involving annoying street closures, lots of standing around, being packed into crowds, craning to see over others, and waiting a while between floats. So it was a fun experience, especially since we’re new to the city, but let’s just say next year (to avoid becoming Scrooges) we’ll stick with the Christmas Market and skip the crowds.

Though this week is still all about Thanksgiving, I have to say I enjoyed getting a little head start on the Christmas season. There’s no reason these two holiday siblings can’t share the love, right?

Happy (early) Holidays to you, friends!