christmas on bartram way

I like to think that this Christmas has proved that I've allowed myself to chill out a bit. And by chill out I mean not spend a gazillion dollars on garland or on the ribbon that I would have really preferred on our packages. Not obsessing over the wrapping of our neighbor gifts or buying Christmas party plates when I had perfectly acceptable party plates at home [THIS IS A BIG DEAL]. That doesn't mean that I haven't loved decorating our home for our first Christmas on Bartram Way, but I used mostly what I had plus some free clippings from the tree farms and some landscaping clippings from around the neighborhood. Don't tell the HOA.

You could attribute that to actually having places to go and people to see this year. Or a grounding from our favorite advent readings. Or maybe a good ol' dose of God-given maturity? That'd be nice too. Whichever way [none being anything I did myself], I've certainly enjoyed a sense of simplicity during the Christmas season this year.

There's been long lunches with friends before braving the mall, shopping for an adoptive family, wrapping gifts to Christmas music, dinner with neighbors, Sunday School Christmas parties, and lazy mornings together making pancakes with red and green chocolate chips. Simple things that are so much more important than the things I distracted my lonely self with last year.

Not being able to fathom missing a week together when our leader was out of town, my small group girls came for dinner. And though we missed the wisdom and company of our surrogate mother and friend Terri, we laughed and told stories and asked advice and passed around the babies. We ate the most simple and cozy things I could think of: soup and bread and pie. And drank Candice's eggnog which shut up all of us non-believers. Over five hours later, after the last friend had left, the candles had burned completely out - a sign of a perfect night. There was no frantic deep-cleaning, no special homemade dish with stuffed this and sautéed this, no new outfit or playlist or floral centerpiece. There was soup and, in fact, thanks to Jenny's brilliant suggestion to the group text an hour or so before, we all curled up around the table in our pajama or yoga pants. Complete with holes.

A couple days later, our downstairs was filled with all of our favorite ninth graders. This is when I put the Christmas party plates back on the shelf at Target. Again, this is a big deal. That night we were reminded that serving platters don't matter. The chip bag will work perfectly fine. And just how funny a white elephant gift can be.

I'm very thankful for Christmas 2013. I don't say all this to make it seem like the last few weeks have been obnoxiously perfect. There are still worries and stress. We miss the loved ones we lost this year. I get anxious for what I hope 2014 will bring. But I'm thankful for the changes that have come since last Christmas and what we've learned from them. For every Saturday morning pancake made, every pot of soup, every friend who steps through the door that makes this seem more like home.


mcdisney family vaca

About this time last year, we [the McMahone side of our extended family] decided we were going to do it. We were finally going to plan our once-every-two-decades Disney vacation. We started in January and planned and researched and made reservations and shopped and packed and made reference guides and printed maps and obsessed over the gazillion WDW blogs out there with more tips than you could read in a very long lifetime. Which is probably why my sister and I ran with excited flailing towards one another right in front of Bay Lake Tower.

I hadn't been since I was seven years old [and probably won't go again for another 20 years so that my legs can be fully recovered], and I didn't really know what to expect. I'd say I embraced it: Cinderella's castle gave me chills, and I felt no shame talking to animatronic characters. And expected a response. I also may have teared up a little during Enchanted Tales with Belle. I mean...it's Belle.  

Even though three of us ended up at the Disney ready clinic throughout the week [praise Jesus for steroid shots and z-packs], we'll remember the amazing fireworks and parades, Audrey completely warming up to characters [it was a Christmas miracle], our bonding moment with the Seven Dwarfs, and a week's worth of memorable family dinners in a 50's kitchen, a Norwegian castle, an African marketplace, a beautiful greenhouse, a Victorian hotel, and the main table in the ballroom at the Beast's castle [right next to the Christmas tree]. 

With all that research, we've got a wealth of now useless tips to share [in .pdf form], but the one I'd say is the most important is to have ridiculously adorable matching t-shirts. We are not a matching t-shirt family. We don't participate. But at Disney, the happiest place on earth, you are practically worshipped for a good family tee. We originally planned to wear them on a shorter day with less photo ops and ended up washing and wearing them two more times. The McDisneys were a hit. 

The one thing that I didn't realize I would love so much is how Disney World is a creative-minded person's dream. There is nothing not designed with purpose: trashcans, drinking straws, light posts, everything. Walt was a dreamer. And those that continue his legacy are too. They encourage details and quality and creativity. Sometimes my head wanted to explode. 

It was a wonderful, hilarious, exhausting, memorable trip. Maybe we'll do it again in another fifteen years. Boudin said we're never leaving for that long again.