A wild and wonderful week.

I’ve never been very good at being sick.

When my body needs it most, it’s hard for me to just rest and do nothing. Inevitably, I’ll end up tackling items on my to-do list, folding laundry or making dinner, anything so that the day doesn’t feel like it was a total loss. It takes a lot to take me out. That said, I spent the last two days wrapped in a blanket, popping cough drops like candy with a box of Puffs Kleenex tucked under one arm, watching “You’ve Got Mail” (more than once). My coughing, sneezing, sighing body ached all over, and my energy level was so low that, for once, I just laid there. All. Day. Long. It wasn’t surprising: I’d spent the last month going non-stop. Cause of sickness? TOO MUCH CHEER. But the timing was actually perfect: my full holiday house had emptied out just that morning.

As I scan the house today, I survey the aftermath. I spy the deck of cards and poker chips on the coffee table, smiling at the memory of winning our final game of 31. Big Bertha’s needles litter the floor beneath her where beautifully wrapped presents were stacked a few days ago. Gifts from our family are piled up in one corner, waiting to be put away in their new homes. A small mountain of empty boxes sits by the stairs, full of crumpled wrapping paper. There’s half of a plate of decorated sugar cookies, red and green and white sprinkles mingling with crumbs on the counter. One third of John’s rich chocolate birthday cake remains, only the frosting “J” still in tact. Cholula’s toy boxes are upturned and the floor is littered with a rainbow of puppy playthings. The Christmas lilies have wilted and are drying up, and the dining room table is full of dirty placemats and burned out candles. The water pitcher is on the counter because there’s no room in the fridge, its shelves stuffed with the leftovers of our Christmas Eve feast and John’s birthday dinner. To someone else, it might seem like an utter mess. To me, it’s all evidence of a fun-filled holiday week with my family.

When we decided to host my family for Christmas, I knew there would be a fair amount of mayhem involved. Six people with very different personalities (and four dogs thrown in for good measure) for a week would likely be hectic, but it’s the holidays! I feel grateful to have enough space to host The Fam, and hoped for a week full of new memories. While the gang is actually quite satisfied to just be together, playing cards or hovering in/around the kitchen or watching football, The Planner in me stepped up. Not all of the activities I had in mind panned out the way I imagined… but sometimes, that’s even better.

My brother, Matt, and his wife, Jodi, arrived with their two dogs last Friday. We turned the toy boxes over for Olive and Penny and headed out for dinner and a movie. I love seeing funny movies with my brother- his laugh is contagious!

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My folks arrived on Saturday with their dog, Lucky. We spent the weekend playing games (with money on the line!), watching football with yummy snacks, waiting for packages and then wrapping the contents, policing the dogs’ playtime, and just being together. We made it to High West Distillery on Monday for a fun dinner on the town.

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On Christmas Eve, we prepped the dishes for our traditional ham dinner early so we could head out on one of the memory-making activities I had in mind: SLEDDING. We even had my mom on board to jump in a tube and slide down the hill at Gorgoza Park! By the time we got bundled up and headed to the park, the place was packed. An employee mentioned that one round-trip sled ride was taking upwards of 45 minutes. Spontaneously, we decided to bag the sledding idea and go bowling instead. Why not?

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We must have been a sight to see. Only a couple of us scored over 100. My mom and brother both slipped on the slick lane and fell. We drank wine and white Russians and snacked on wings and chips, hooting and hollering and laughing. It was way more fun than sledding would have been!

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We popped ibuprofen and power-napped when we got home. Our Christmas Eve feast was served a few hours later than planned, but was scrumptious– ham, potatoes and carrots, green bean casserole, creamy dilled cucumbers, good wine and Dad’s favorite pumpkin pie. After dinner, we rearranged the living room couches and dove into the beautiful pile of gifts under the tree. I can guarantee that we all went to bed feeling grateful for our family.

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The next morning, we all slept late except the birthday boy: John rose before the sun to get in a few ski runs before the rest of us were up and about.  A (fabulous) family tradition is for the boys to make Christmas brunch while the ladies sip mimosas. Boys’ Breakfast usually involves multiple kinds of meat. It was delicious!

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After brunch, John received a couple of birthday presents before kicking off a family nap session. We examined our new gifts and decorated sugar cookies and played Scattergories. Jodi and I made a chocolate cake from scratch, almost losing it in the oven but rebounding nicely. Dinner was a marinated beef tenderloin, cheesy scalloped potato casserole, and “smushed beans” from John’s childhood. The cake was light on the candles but moist and rich and delectable. Happy birthday, dear husband.

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On Thursday, I woke up feeling sick, but I’d planned an event for The Fam- something I’ve always wanted to do. Weeks ago, I’d purchased a Groupon for a horse-drawn sleigh ride at Blue Sky Ranch (where John and I visited the yurt this summer). We bundled up and made our way to Wanship, making friends with cows and horses on the ranch, sipping cider and hot cocoa, and enjoying a trick rope show by Rudy the cowboy. He was amazing!

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Our beautiful rides showed up, pulling a large wagon stacked with warm blankets. We piled in and snuggled close, with temperatures below 20 degrees. The big blue sky was glorious. Our guides played cowboy Christmas music and off we went, the two horses plodding along through a meadow.

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It wasn’t long until the horses stopped, needing rest. With no new snow, our wagon was on wheels instead of sleds and that made it difficult for the horses to pull us through the semi-snowy meadow. We also learned that the usual wagon had broken and we were sitting in a replacement wagon that was much bigger (and heavier). Our guides never lost their smiles, even when the horses stopped a few more times. We made jokes about too many slices of chocolate cake the night before and enjoyed the scenery. It really was a gorgeous day.

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We got out for a family photo during one of the horses’ breaks, then turned around to head back toward the barn. It wasn’t the magical snowy sleigh ride I’d envisioned, but we’d had a great morning and made a new family memory. “Remember that Christmas when we ate too much and almost killed a couple of sleigh horses…?” The employees at Blue Sky Ranch had made a tricky situation quite pleasant for all of us- true professionals.


Our last big event for the trip was to try to catch some ski jump practice at the Olympic Park. We made it there in time to watch athletes soar through the sky, prepping for the Olympic trials this weekend. It’s so awesome to see in person, and something my family really enjoyed! The rest of the day involved naps and slippers and leftovers and one more family card game of 31 before calling it a night.

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In the morning, the inevitable happened. My family packed up and drove home. John went to work and took Cholula to puppy playtime so I could rest. A quiet house felt strange and lonely after being filled with energy and love and dogs for a week. And what a week. No, we didn’t get the costumed holiday family photo I’d wanted, and we never did go sledding. But I’d gotten what I’d hoped for: a week full of new family memories. There’s absolutely no better gift than that.

From our crazy family to yours- I hope your holidays have been filled with love!


**One year ago: I shared a recipe for Christmas morning sticky buns!


  1. What a lovely holiday, Amber! That retro bowling alley is suuuuper cute, and I love the idea of starting a tradition like that. But what a good planner you are. It looks like everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. Loved the still of Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” — my fav holiday movie 🙂

  2. Feel better, Amber! At least the cheer flu happened AFTER the festivities rather than during them. Looks like a wonderful and blissful holiday and I love how Cholula “helps” in the kitchen. My little Jake does the same thing. 🙂

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