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My Favorite Traditions of the Holiday Season

Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year but I’ve come to appreciate the time with family and friends even more recently.  After many Christmases spent away from my family or catching last-minute flights to come home for a few short days, I’ve learned to value the little things and time spent with those I care about most.  I was lucky enough to have a few extra days “off” this season and a shorter distance to travel.  So here I sit on Christmas Day, feeling fulfilled after a weekend full of love and laughs, reflecting on the holiday traditions that make it so special to me.

Christmas Eve with my relatives

For as long as I can remember, my entire extended family on my mom’s side would gather to celebrate together.  Before we lost my grandparents a few years back, there was a time when we had four generations gathering together each year.  The significance of this has never been lost on me.  My grandpa’s birthday also landed on Christmas Eve so we would get together before dinner to have birthday cake and he would open his birthday gifts.  After dinner, the Christmas giving would begin.  It has always stuck with me how my family ensured my grandpa and his birthday had their own special moment.

Now that he’s gone, we still take the time to remember my grandpa and his birthday.  He loved his sweets, a trait that has definitely been passed down to me, and every year he was gifted a sampler box of Whitman’s chocolates.  I will never see a box of Whitman’s without thinking of my grandpa.  Each Christmas Eve, someone brings a box of Whitman’s with my grandpa’s name on the tag.  So while my grandpa is no longer there in person, he continues to be there in spirit.

Christmas Eve with my family

After the last Christmas Eve gift has been opened and we’ve all overindulged on my cousin’s amazing sugar cookies, my family and I go back to my parents’ house for the night.  While the activities vary year to year, the spirit is the same.  There’s usually a Christmas movie playing in the background and nine times out of ten, it’s the A Christmas Story marathon on repeat.  Sometimes we have a game night, dividing into teams in a family feud.  This year, we made and decorated gingerbread houses: a messy but rewarding feat.  The night almost always ends with my sister’s fiance going to bed within an hour or two of arriving home and my stepdad following suit shortly after, leaving my mom, sister, and I to share a bottle of wine and some cheesy, feel-good holiday movies.

Hey Santa

No matter how old I get, Santa magically sneaks in during the night, leaving my sister and I each a larger gift and a Christmas stocking stuffed with smaller items.  I still have a hard time falling asleep the night before, the anticipation of Christmas morning keeping me awake.  When I was younger, it was the excitement of wanting to know what Santa was bringing and hoping I could stay up to catch him in the act.  Now, it’s the feeling of waking up at my parents’ house and spending a day with my family that keeps me up.  We still aren’t allowed to go upstairs until everyone is awake so nobody sees their “Santa gift” before everyone else.  This usually involved me waking up at 6am and incessantly pestering my sister until I can drag her out of bed.  Some things never change!

Champagne Breakfast

After we’re done opening gifts as a family, taking turns so we can see what everyone unwraps and receives, we have a special Christmas breakfast.  In an age where we’re all so busy and my family is rarely even in the same state for a meal, I love having the time to share a meal all together.  My mom always prepares a home-cooked meal and we all stay in our pajamas to enjoy a relaxed, family breakfast.  A few years ago, I asked my mom if we could have mimosas and a new tradition was born.  I’m a big fan of brunch and mimosas always seem festive and fun.  But really, I think the mimosas just make the breakfast seem more of a special occasion and what’s more special than a quiet morning spent together as a family.

I’ve received some amazing gifts over the years but it’s these traditions that represent the true spirit of Christmas to me.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?  Have you adopted any new traditions in recent years?

 

 

5 Ways to Fight a Slump

Friday Five: Things I’m Currently Obsessing Over

While this would probably be classified as a “lifestyle blog”, I feel like recreational would be a better term.  I love sharing my hobbies, activities, and passions with you and hope it helps you find new books, restaurants, and interests as well!  Some of these things don’t require a full blog post so I wanted to find a way to quickly share things I’m loving at the moment. Voila!  Friday Five was born…I hope you enjoy these things as much as I do!

Kelsea Ballerini – Unapologetically

I’m “unapologetically in love” with this album!  I enjoy all types of music and really find what I’m listening to reflects my mood.  While you’ll rarely find me listening to a country station on my car radio, I do have my go to artists.  Kelsea Ballerini quickly found a fan in me with her debut single “Love Me Like You Mean It”.  I was pleasantly surprised to find I loved her second album even more than the first.  On any given album, there are usually one or two songs I skip.  There isn’t a single one on “Unapologetically” I pass by, although I do tend to hit repeat at least once after “Miss Me More” plays.  The fact that Kelsea helps write her own music makes me love it, and her, even more!  Can you say #GirlBoss?

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The Minnesota Timberwolves

Clearly I am a sports fan, but if you have known me for any length of time, you would probably be surprised to hear me say this.  Although I played basketball VERY briefly, it’s never been one of my favorite sports and I would more than likely keep channel surfing if I passed a game on TV.  Credit a very good Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team and a very good friend of mine for changing my tune over the last few years.  I now find myself screaming from the stands at Lynx games, speaking semi-knowledgably about the NBA, and even watching so-called meaningless games on TV.  The Timberwolves, with welcome new additions, are off to a promising start and I’m glued to the action.  Confession: I may be biased when it comes to the Wolf Pack.

Riverdale

When season two began airing on the CW, I had never watched an episode.  However, pondering a dark version of the Archie comic book characters, my curiosity got the best of me.  Three days of Netflix binging later, I had watched all of season one and was hooked!  I love a good mystery and Riverdale, the show and the fictional city, are full of them.  Some shows are just too predictable and, for the most part, this isn’t one of them.  I now find myself impatiently waiting on Wednesdays when the newest episode airs.  Bonus: finding ways to incorporate Veronica’s killer style into my workplace wardrobe.

Faux Fur

Fur is looking to be a big trend again this winter and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it!  I love finding ways to incorporate trends into my wardrobe without overdoing it.  I think of my style as more classic comfortable with trendy twists.  Think fur-trimmed hoods, gloves or vests instead of a full-on fur coat.  A few years ago, I received a faux fur infinity scarf for Christmas (thanks Mom!).  I’ve been wearing it for three straight winters now and, not only is it warm and cozy, but it matches my classic camel peacoat just as well as my girly pink dress coat or black moto jacket.  Faux fur almost makes for trendy home accessories for the winter, such as pillows and blankets.  My faux fur blanket is so soft I even have to fight my cat for it!  It might be the bright spot in what looks to be an especially long, cold Minnesota winter…

Café Latte Protein Powder

I recently started a Holiday Hustle Health Challenge with one of my friends and finding ways to incorporate healthy habits into my everyday life has been a big focus (as well as eliminating the not-so-healthy).  It’s no secret that I LOVE coffee and eating enough healthy protein has always been a weakness of mine.  I also prefer flavored lattes to black coffee but usually drink the latter for more nutritional purposes.  Enter café latte protein powder which I began mixing into my morning coffee, a tip from my friend who is also an amazing health coach.  Now, I get the caffeine boost, the benefits of the protein, and the flavor of a latte – WIN-WIN-WIN situation!  Plus, it’s a great way to get me going on the days I have to be up before the sun is!

What are you currently obsessing over?

4 Podcasts I Can’t Stop Listening To

A few years back, not long after I fell in love with running, I decided I was going to train for a half marathon. Never mind that I had never run anything longer than a 5k, this was just the new challenge I needed! If my stepdad could do it, certainly I could too… Fortunately, one of my cousins decided to get married the same weekend as the half marathon I had decided I was going to run. I had a handy excuse for changing my mind without waving a white flag. Because while my body was holding up to the challenge, my attention span was not. For shorter distances, my iPod and a running playlist were just what I needed to distract me from the distance ahead while motivating me to keep going. Trouble was, when I reached the point in my training where I was consistently running six or more miles, music just wasn’t cutting it anymore. While I’ve realized today that about 6-7 miles is my “happy place”, the point where I reach my runner’s high but don’t have a strong drive to keep going, this wasn’t the only time I found myself seeking something outside music to hold my attention.

Driving from western Wisconsin to the Twin Cities to Chicago and so on, the hours spent in my car have really piled up. I used to have satellite radio but found that, even without the dreaded commercial breaks, the music selection still tends to get repetitive after six-plus hours. You can only take so much of the same song, am I right?

Thank goodness for Adnan Syed and Serial, the podcast and court case that captured even the most casual podcast fan. If you’ve never heard of it, think “Making a Murderer” for your listening pleasure. As an avid watcher of Law and Order reruns and ID TV, it took little to no arm twisting from my friends to give it a try. I was hooked! Since then, whether behind the wheel or pounding the pavement, I’m constantly on the hunt for similar styles of podcasts to pass the time on the open road.

Here, for your binging pleasure, is a list of true crime podcasts I couldn’t turn off:

In the Dark

Growing up an hour from Minnesota, the weeks leading up to Halloween meant more than planning costumes and trick-or-treating. The abduction of then 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling on October 22nd of 1989 changed my childhood. It was the first time those of us who lived in midwestern small towns realized that maybe it wasn’t safe to ride our bikes in the dark and the “bad guys” could even be found in our own neighborhoods. It took 27 years to solve the mystery of what happened to Jacob and, coincidentally, happened during the making of this podcast. Digging into the investigation, this podcast leaves you inspired by Jacob’s mom Patty, frustrated by the seeming ineptitude of the sheriff’s department running the investigation, and horrified by facts and events that were never before connected to Jacob’s story.

Up and Vanished

Coincidentally, this podcast also centers around a person who went missing on October 22nd. Tara Grinstead was a high school teacher and former beauty queen who “up and vanished” from her Georgia home in 2005. Captivating from the very beginning, the podcast starts out with Payne Lindsey, the creator and narrator of the podcast, delving deeper into the original investigation and initial persons of interest. However, 6 months after the first episode aired, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is contacted with a tip about a never-before-looked-at suspect, leading the investigation and podcast in a whole new direction. Interesting connection: the best friend of Payne Lindsey’s grandmother was one of the last people to see Tara the night she disappeared.

Someone Knows Something

Contrary to the first two podcasts listed, Someone Knows Something has two seasons completed at the time of this post. The first centers around a young boy who went missing when he was out fishing with his dad and brothers. With no body having ever been recovered, one of the theories they look into is the possibility that he was kidnapped and is still alive today. The second season focuses on the disappearance of a young woman just days after she accepts a televised proposal from her boyfriend on New Year’s Eve. Her friends and family say she was not expecting the proposal and had told them in previous conversations that she wasn’t ready to marry her boyfriend, a jealous and controlling man with an unstable history.  Interviews with the families in both cases leave you empathizing with their hopefulness, helplessness, and hunger for answers.

Accused

Accused also has multiple seasons and, although I’m just a few episodes into the first, I’m just as addicted. While the previous podcasts look into the mysterious disappearance of missing persons, this one examines cold cases that remain unsolved. Season one tells the story of a young woman who had just graduated college and was getting ready to move out of her college apartment to a new city and a new job. When her boyfriend arrives at their shared apartment to help her pack, he finds her dead and eventually finds himself on trial for her murder. After the boyfriend is acquitted in both a criminal and civil case, the police quit investigating, convinced the boyfriend is guilty and they just failed in bringing the victim to justice.  Amber Hunt of the Cincinnati Enquirer uses her investigative skills to go on a search for the truth, if it can be found.

I’d love to hear from you!  What is your favorite genre of podcast?  Are there any you find yourself addicted to?

What I’m Reading: The Good Girl

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. As someone who loves to write myself, I love seeing a story told through another person’s point of view and being transported to a different place and time. Having lived in multiple states, I have spent more than my fair share of time in airports. For a time, it was sort of a tradition to head straight for the airport newsstand directly from the security checkpoint. I would peruse through the floor to ceiling bookshelves, looking for the perfect read. Sometimes it was the title that drew me in; sometimes it was the cover. I’ve discovered some of my favorite authors through this ritual and actually found myself looking forward to time spent waiting to board a flight.

However, most of my travel these days is between Saint Paul and Chicago. Although I am originally a Wisco girl, I also consider these two cities home and often find myself planning last minute trips from the Twins Cities to the Windy City. Since they do tend to be more spontaneous with ever changing schedules, I find myself driving more than flying these days, which lends little time to travel reading. As fate would have it, my last trip was temporarily derailed by a blown tire and I found myself with an extended amount of time on my hands while waiting for the repairs that would set me back out on my journey. I found myself once again scanning titles and covers, searching for the perfect book to salvage this setback. Although my choices were much more limited than at the airport newsstand, it didn’t take me long to settle on The Good Girl by Mary Kubica.

The Good Girl is the story of Mia Dennett, a young woman from a wealthy family who rejects and resents everything they stand for. The story starts in her family’s English Tudor home in a suburb along Chicago’s North Shore. Mia’s mother Eve answers the phone to find Mia’s friend Ayanna on the other end of the line. Mia hasn’t shown up for work and she’s not answering her phone. With the help of Detective Gabe Hoffman, it is soon discovered that Mia was supposed to meet her boyfriend at a bar but he never showed. She soon finds herself leaving with a stranger and disappears without a trace…

The Good Girl is one of the most riveting books I’ve read in a while and here’s why:

THE CHARACTERS

Although Mia is the main character, the story is told almost entirely in first person accounts of her mother, the detective, and the stranger she met at the bar the last night anyone sees her. Through their stories, we get to know a more complete version of Mia and who she was. Each of these characters is less than perfect but you grow to care about them, root for them, and through them, care more about Mia.

THE LOCATION

I didn’t know it when I chose the book but the entire thing takes place in Chicagoland and northern Minnesota. The author does an incredible job of describing both the bitter cold and yet, the beauty of Northern Minnesota, something only Minnesotans can truly appreciate. If you aren’t from the Midwest, Kubica does a great job of taking you there. In turn, her small but important details of Mia’s Uptown neighborhood and the Dennetts’ wealthy community make me feel as if I’m back in Chicago with them (which I actually was for half the book).

THE NARRATION

Alternating between past and present accounts of three different characters, this story could have been a confusing mess. However, Kubica does a masterful job of weaving the stories together in a way that tells Mia’s story in, not only chronological order, but a way that makes perfect sense. By the end, you completely understand why the characters made the choices they did and how they ended up where they are.

At just over 400 pages, this book is a long read but I found myself devouring most of it in three sittings. The chapters are short, most under 6-8 pages, which kept me wanting to know more. At the end of each narrative, I found myself saying one more, just one more, then just one more…

Because of work, I find myself with less time to read lately and I was less than thrilled to have a five hour setback on my way to Chicago. This psychological thriller was definitely the silver lining.

What are your favorite thrillers?  Have you stumbled upon any books recently you just couldn’t put down?

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