Christmas 2016

I admit it. I unconsciously create expectations about any given situation and have a hard time switching gears when things go a different direction. John often says, “Let’s play it by ear…” and it makes me cringe! Oden’s first Christmas season is an excellent example. I’ve been a mom for 10 months now, and know that being flexible is really the only way to survive. But in my head, I wanted The Magic. I wanted the warm, fuzzy feeling that I get when I think of my own childhood Christmases to begin to warm Oden’s little soul, too. I wanted everything to be perfect and joyful and beautiful and meaningful. I wanted to go ahead and start making a lifetime of memories for Oden right away. No pressure, right?

Truthfully, I don’t remember a ton about specific Christmases growing up. I adore the photos that spark bits and pieces of memories. I can vividly see some of Grandma’s Christmas decorations and certainly remember her happy cackle, her ever-present cigarette with the too-long ash, the giant, tinseled tree in the corner of the living room with an obscene number of presents underneath it. My grandparents’ house was where we spent every Christmas Eve. We had to make it through dinner before opening gifts, which was torture as a small child, and the kids went first. I remember Santa coming to their door every Christmas Eve and the cousins taking turns on his lap, telling him what we wanted, and getting some kind of goodie from his big red sack of toys. (I don’t remember my Grandma slipping “Santa” a bottle of booze on his way out to thank him before he went to his home next door, but love the thought.) I remember the drive home afterward, trying not to fall asleep and watching all of the Christmas lights on the hillside go whizzing by, my eyes fixed on a giant sparkling star in someone’s backyard.

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Things I remember most about Christmas mornings, which were reserved for just our little foursome: the two cassette tapes we played over and over every year (Barbara Mandrell and Ann Murray), running through the bathroom with my brother instead of through the gift-filled den to go wake up my parents (“He came! He came!”), our dogs wandering through the piles of crumpled wrapping paper and opened gifts, disheveled hair and wrinkled jammies on everyone. My mom would make breakfast while we played with our new toys and I called my friends across the street to compare our loot.

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Let’s be honest. Those Christmases gone by couldn’t have been as perfect as the golden memories in my head. I’m sure there were over-sugared meltdowns. I’m sure there were toys that broke before Santa could even set them out. I know there were burned Christmas dinner rolls and sort of remember a year when some tinsel made of paper almost burned the tree down. There had to be stressful times- dressing two kids in fancy clothes, rushing to be on time to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve, hosting various family members for holiday meals. There can be no doubt that my parents bickered here and there, put pressure on themselves to make it wonderful for themselves and for us, and maybe they even occasionally felt let down by the whole Christmas scene… or at least relieved when it was over for another year.

I find it interesting that what I remember most are the feelings related to the holiday. I don’t remember the food. I don’t remember the gifts, despite how many there were (except my Cabbage Patch Kid, Bentley). I don’t remember timelines or running late or stress. I remember the traditions I looked forward to and my family. The Magic. Despite the fact that Oden won’t remember a thing, I was anxious to repeat it for him.

Spoiler alert: Things didn’t quite go as I imagined they would. Our attempt at getting a photo with Santa was thwarted by a line of kids so long they turned us away! So we settled for a photo with a blow-up Santa. We managed to get the house decorated and even made a batch of eggnog, though it was seriously down to the wire before the family arrived. And as I mentioned, this year’s holiday spirit was dampened a bit by family health and medical issues. It was wonderful to host my family at our house, but we may have tried to pack too much into a couple of days: welcoming and getting to know my brother’s kind girlfriend, cooking a traditional Christmas Eve ham dinner and exchanging gifts afterward, sending John off to ski fresh powder on Christmas morning, convincing Oden that opening presents is fun, switching gears to make John’s birthday feel special, all while making sure Oden felt The Magic. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt a tad overwhelmed and also confused about how things should go this first year!

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That said, our short time together as a family meant everything to me. Though the house wasn’t decorated until about 15 minutes before my folks walked in, it was warm and colorful and festive for the holiday. Oden received his own beautiful stocking from Grandma and Grandpa to add to the mantle. There was downtime to play games and chat and pass the baby around. We squeezed fresh juice for mimosas and watched football and munched tasty snacks. Our Christmas Eve ham and John’s birthday tenderloin were positively scrumptious, and I adore having a full dining room table! The too-big pile of gifts was fun to open together and I was touched by the thoughtfulness everyone put into them (particularly my brother and Angie, who handmade all of their gifts!). Oden loved all of the action and attention, and seeing him being passed from family member to family member was priceless to me. We even managed to surprise John with a homemade multi-tier ice cream cake for his birthday. I’ll never forget sneaking around with the whole family behind John’s back to make it come together for him!

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Though I might have felt like I was juggling at the time, it all feels kind of perfect now, a couple of weeks later. It really didn’t matter that things weren’t exactly the way I’d imagined. In fact, it would probably have been a little boring. Next year, we’ll tweak a few things to make it smoother, but it won’t be perfect then, either. And that’s ok with me. A goal for myself this year is to take some pressure off of myself and enjoy each day, no matter what it brings…and to remember that “expectations decrease joy.” Our family isn’t perfect. Our life isn’t perfect. It’s chaotic and kind of messy and a little stressful and sometimes exhausting and makes me ready for a glass of wine by 5pm, but I love it. And I could describe Christmas this year in the same way… Imperfectly perfect and full of memories.

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Which was just what I wanted for Christmas. Santa must have been listening.

One year ago: My goals for 2016.


  1. Amber, I think I have been following your blog for a couple years now. I wanted to tell you I just adore your positive spin on life, your beautiful photos, and so many of your recipes. Your details of Christmas rang true for me– a somewhat perfectionist mama who often hosts and wants everything to be beautiful and, yes, perfect! Thank you for putting it in perspective.

    Xo, Kacia (Missoula, MT)

    P.S. Your recipe for pork chili verde is a staple in our house.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi, Kacia! I follow you on Instagram and it’s great to hear from you. Sometimes I wonder if people still read this old site, so your comment is quite valuable to me! I’m learning that “Mom” and “perfectionist” don’t go together. Cheers to finding a balance between the two for both of us. Also, how good is that chile verde?! I think I need to make a batch! 🙂

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