Tag Archives: illinois

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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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!

First Flakes

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Over this past weekend we got to enjoy the first beautiful snowflakes of winter. I know I’m going to kick myself for saying this in a few weeks when the cold and snow become relentless, but I truly love seeing snow fall.

There is something so magical and peaceful about watching each unique flake float down onto the earth. Charting it’s own path through the sky. Living for a few moments with fierce individuality before melding with the other flakes on the ground or simply melting into the warm earth.

And who can deny the beauty of snow falling? White flakes flittering against a dark night sky. Or when a small bit of sun shines, radiating through these tiniest of prisms. Nature’s perfect decoration – snowflakes delicately adorning our hair as we stand still, looking upward in awe of this blessing from above.

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Then of course there’s the excitement and the pure joy that snowflakes bring. As I breathe in the cold air and taste the icy crystals, I’m inadvertently filled with something far greater – a swirling mix of hope and anticipation.

While leaving the grocery store this weekend, I saw a mother with a bundled up crew of small children trailing behind her. The mother trudged towards the car, but when the children saw the flakes that had begun to fall, their faces lit up, their steps slowed, and they exclaimed simply, joyfully, “snow!”

I hope I can hold onto that same childlike wonder whenever I see those miraculous little white flakes falling.

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{Via}

Weekend Wandering: Checking out Chi-Town

We’ve spent the last week in our new home getting slowly unpacked and settled in, escaping the house only for the occasional exciting trip to Home Depot, Lowes, Target, or Ikea. Lest we get sucked into the wide world of suburbia, we decided on Saturday it was time for a little break and an excursion to the city of Chicago.

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Just a couple miles from our house is the cute little town of Clarendon Hills, complete with a train station and easy access to the city. We met up with one of Andrew’s coworkers and his wife and hopped on the train for a quick (30-ish minute) train ride into the city. As we disembarked at Union Station, we had admittedly no plan.

I have to confess, for as much as I love to travel and explore, I am probably the worst tourist. Many of my friends are so great at putting in the time and research to discover the best restaurants to eat at and the best things to do or see. I, however, am far too lazy and usually go into a new experience with very little plan, choosing instead to wander and take it all in and just do or see whatever I happen to come across. The downside of this method is that I likely miss a number of interesting things.  In the case of Chicago though, it was a relief to not have to be a tourist and plan and pack it all in. While it was my first trip to the city, it certainly will not be my last. So I have plenty of time to see and do all the fun things this great city has to offer.

Since Saturday was probably one of the last great weekend weather days of Chicago before the cold sets in, we spent most of the day just walking around and getting acquainted with the city. It really is a beautiful place, with the sprawling waterfront and meandering canals, historic architecture, clean streets and green parks. A few of the highlights from our day:

  • Lunch at the historic Berghoff Restaurant – One of Chicago’s oldest restaurants and the first to obtain a liquor license once prohibition was repealed. It serves up delicious German fare (my favorite!) and their own freshly brewed beer and soda. I especially loved the Blackcherry Soda. And don’t miss out on trying the corned beef or a delicious wurst – yum!
  • Exploring the historic (and haunted?) Congress Plaza Hotel – Since it’s construction in 1893 the hotel has hosted countless presidents, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries; and Al Capone supposedly lived in the hotel for a time. The rich history plays into the tales of haunt. This weekend however, our little group was probably the creepiest thing in the hotel as we roamed the hallways and staircases, exploring the fading glory of this Chicago relic.
  • Visiting “The Bean” (of course) – If you’ve been to Chicago or ever seen anything about the city, you probably know about “The Bean” (official name, Cloud Gate), the large reflective sculpture that is the highlight of Millennium Park. We joined every other tourist to take in the stunning sculpture. We went in the evening and I’ll admit, it was pretty cool to see the lights of the city reflected on such a large scale.

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After a long day of walking, we made our way back to the train station to head back to our endless tasks at home (oh the joys of adulthood…). It was lovely though to have a break from it all and be quickly transported from our quiet neighborhood into the bustling city. Chicago, I’m look forward to many more dates in our future!

Have you visited Chicago? Are there any things you particularly love to see or do there? I would love to know as I embark on future city excursions! 

Settling In

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After a long couple weeks of packing and a crazy couple days of loading and moving, we’ve finally arrived at our new home outside of Chicago! Though we still face the arduous task of unpacking and making changes and improvements to make the house feel like home, we’re really loving this place already.

When we came to house-hunt, we spent a whirlwind couple of days seeing what seemed like every rental property within a 30 mile radius of the city. Though we know living in downtown Chicago would be an incredible experience, and I especially love the culture of city living, we decided that where we are right now in our lives (growing family, big dog who loves to run, desire for space, ease of parking and driving in the chilly winters, etc.) called for a more suburban locale. In the end, we decided on a little old house in Darien, Illinois, about 20 miles southwest of the city. (Fun coincidence: our landlord’s father built the house when he moved from Tennessee to Illinois).

We’re oh-so-happy with the location so far. At the end of our street is a lovely park with a walking path, sports fields, and playground – perfect for strolls with Bella or taking our little one to play. Just across from the park is a beautiful enormous library that just beckons me to come explore as the days grow colder. Within a few miles of us we have any convenience we could need – grocery store, Target, restaurants, shopping, train to the city – but our street is still quiet and feels tucked back from the hustle and bustle of it all.

And the neighbors – the wonderful neighbors could not be any nicer. Our first day moving, they came out and welcomed us with kind open arms and midwestern charm. They offered tips and recommendations on things to do and places to eat, and an endless supply of information on the area. Within 20 minutes I had been kindly provided with a guest pass to a local gym, offered a job, and met a potential future babysitter. Yes, I think we can be great friends. Moving to a new place and being immediately surrounded by a sense of community fills me with relief and hope and excitement for the future.

That’s what gets me through each box I slowly and carefully unpack – the excitement of making this unfamiliar place home. I can’t wait to share more about our adventures – past, present, and future. I have big hopeful plans!