Traveling Here and There

Good morning from me and my iPhone! I’m already bothered that this won’t be centered. Ha! Currently on an adventure with my mom and my brothers. The adventure almost didn’t occur as I practically drove into NYC with zero, literally zero gas, in my mom’s car. Hahaha! Thank the Lord for the last exit in NJ. We have yet to get lost on the NYC Subway and for that reason, the entire trip is already a success. 😉 

First stop: Hershey, PA to visit Chocolate World and see their Christmas light display!

 
   
Second stop: New York City to see holiday decorations, go to an NHL game, shop, eat, and gallavant around like the tourists we are.
 

 

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If I can get decent wifi, I might post something a little more interesting while we are away! If not, keep up with my adventures on Instagram. 🙂 I hope you had a very merry Christmas!!
  

Healthy, Happy Holidays

Can you have a healthy AND happy holiday? It is possible.

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The holiday season used to seriously stress me out. Not because my shopping wasn’t done or my schedule was overbooked, but simply because for a few days, I felt like I wouldn’t be in control of what I was eating. I would just remind myself that I just had to get through these few days and then I could get back to my normal eating and workout schedule. But guess what? You (and I) are not here to survive the holiday season, you are here to enjoy it. I told you that I don’t appreciate being told I have to “work off” everything I am eating. So here are a few tips and tricks I’ve started applying to my life in the last few years. 🙂

1. Drink enough water. Very often, when hunger strikes, you are actually thirsty and that is your body’s way of telling you. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. That means if you weigh 120 lbs, you should aim to drink 60 oz of water every day. And then when you feel hungry, you will know that you really are! Enjoy feeling full and hydrated.

2. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. In a perfect world, we would all get 8 hours of sleep and be well rested each and every morning. For most of us, that is not the case, and trying to play “catch up” when we have a few days off is very tempting! Unfortunately, it’s detrimental to your sleep and your cognitive functioning to play this catch up game. Try to aim for those 8 hours that you don’t usually get by going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up around the same time you usually do. Enjoy being well-rested! I’m currently working on this as I’ve fallen down the Netflix “Parenthood” rabbit hole. Oops… 😉

3. Choose to feed yourself healthy food. This sounds strange, but when I cook for myself, I typically make something that would be labeled “healthy” or “balanced”. I truly enjoy these meals, but they serve another purpose. There will be many times during the holiday season when a coworker brings you a delicious snack or you meet up with an old friend for dinner. If you are planning healthy meals and snacks for yourself for the rest of the day, those out of the ordinary snacks and meals won’t be as big of a deal. Enjoy that time with others!

4. Go with the flow. If you are following a specific diet or exercise plan through the holidays, know that it will likely be interrupted in some way, shape, or form. I’m not saying you cannot continue to stick to your plan, because you totally can! But you should expect some minor interruptions. You might find yourself working out at a different time of day than you typically do and you might find yourself having a homemade Christmas cookie for dessert. Enjoy these interruptions. They are only here once a year. 🙂

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The holiday season occasionally still makes me feel stressed out, but I know how to balance my “normal” life with my “holiday” life. There’s no reason to throw your health out the window during this time and promise yourself you will start fresh in January. Do little things every day and it will make a difference. Take a walk with your family. Volunteer to make a healthy side dish for Christmas dinner. Enjoy this very special time of year!

Life Lately

The most accurate way to sum up the past few days would be comfy clothes, Christmas shopping, and a dog on my lap. The perfect Christmas Break, am I right?

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Let’s rewind to last week…because I kind of fell off the face of the Earth on Wednesday. Teaching last week was HARD, friends. The month of December is a little crazy because the students have Christmas and Santa and Elf on the Shelf on the brain at all times, but we tried to keep calm and carry on for as long as possible. My favorite part of last week was running to see the National Christmas Tree at The White House.

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I did this a few weeks ago with two friends, but it was much needed last week. I came home from work on Wednesday and took a 20 minute nap. That NEVER happens. I don’t believe in naps (hence the reason I only slept for 20 minutes…I set an alarm) but I was just so burned out that I didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything. My friends were meeting at lululemon near my apartment at 6:15 to go run and I decided promptly at 6:09 that I would put my shoes on and go meet them. Ha!

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We ran the 4 miles from lululemon to the National Mall and then made our way to the White House. All around the big tree are little trees for each of the 50 states and U.S. territories. Here we are by the Virginia tree, because technically that’s where we live. 🙂

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Doesn’t the tree look so bright?! There is actually a real pine tree under all those lights. The way they decorated it kind of just makes it look like a huge LED tree, but that is not the case. Some people were really unhappy with the decorations this year because you can’t tell it’s a real tree. Anyway, I like this view because you can see the columns of The White House right next to it. As I sit in my room in Pittsburgh and type this post, I don’t take for granted for a second that I get to live where I live. These huge, national monuments are just things I get to see on an every day run. That is amazing to me.

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Now…with the Washington Monument to the right of the tree. All the angles. All the pictures. 😉

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Those of us from Pennsylvania (and one honorary PA person who went to Penn State) took a picture by our state tree, too! We went to District Taco after our adventure for dinner (and queso) and it was so nice to just sit and talk and be social. I’m so glad I decided to get off the couch. Ha! While we were eating, we were discussing the necessity of going to the Adele concert in October. Yes, like 10 months from now. There was a four ticket maximum on orders so we had to split up when we purchased tickets. Well, three of us got tickets and three of us did not. Guess which group I was in?

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#bitter #butistillloveAdele

At work (or school…I never know how to refer to it), it was Spirit Week…you know, to keep everyone’s spirits up before break. 🙂 We had Crazy Hair/Hat Day, Twin Day, Rockstar Day, Cardinal Day (our school shirts/colors), and Pajama Day. Here are a few highlights:

I was twins with my mentor on Tuesday. She’s on the second grade team so we spend a lot of time working together! We have the same plaid shirt and black Toms, so that was the inspiration for our outfit. She suggested we wear jeans and our hair in a ponytail…I took her suggestions seriously and wore a nice ol’ messy bun to work. Which I was very happy with until I remembered I had a meeting with a parent and some other teachers at 9 AM. Ha! On Thursday, my team decided we were skipping school colors day and wearing Christmas sweaters because our classes were having their holiday parties that day. Nick took his Christmas sweater to another level and came in his elf costume! The kids thought it was hilarious. And on Friday, for the beloved PJ day, we wore matching pajamas because we love a good theme.

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The 6th grader who took a picture on my phone cut off the best part of our PJs…the plaid pants! So comfy and they have POCKETS! We had an early dismissal on Friday so I drove back to Pittsburgh as soon as I left work.

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My mom and I drove down to The Strip District on Saturday to do some Christmas shopping. If the name is throwing you off, the Strip is full of funky little cafes and restaurants as well as shops!

One of the best places to stop at while you are down there is Peace, Love, and Little Donuts. They really do make little donuts AND they make the most decadent flavors you can think of. For example, strawberry cheesecake, smores, Samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie!), salted caramel, maple bacon, chocolate chip cookie dough…I could go on. Of course we picked up a dozen because who doesn’t need more sweets a few days before Christmas?! So delicious.

So that’s life lately. How are you?!

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Christmas Cheer

This weekend, I continued my theme of trying to do all the Christmas things. Last year, I remember watching Christmas movies when I went home after finals and I felt like I was trying to squeeze everything in because I hadn’t properly celebrated the holiday season all December! I cannot say the same is true this year. 🙂

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I have heard a lot about the Christmas lights at the National Zoo, mostly because a few of the running groups that I like to run with have planned runs through the zoo at this time of year. The National Zoo is free, so why not make it part of your running route one evening?! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to either of those planned runs this season so I made my own plans on Friday night to go take in the lights!

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The parking situation was not ideal, but that is probably because the zoo isn’t located near a metro stop. This means that everyone drives to the zoo and that means parking is a nightmare. #cityproblems One of the parking guys had orange cones set up in the entrance of the parking lot and after a lot of circling around the neighborhood, I finally just pulled up to the orange cones and stopped until he walked over to my car. He said he “wasn’t sure” if there were any spots left. How are you not sure if that is your job?! Ha! $22 later we finally had a spot and we could go in and see all the pretty lights!

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We ordered spiked cider and/or hot chocolate and made our way through the zoo. It was such a nice night to walk around. The weather has been amazing lately. Most animals were inside, so we really were just there for the lights! After a terrible experience in the monkey house, we were scarred for the rest of the evening. It smelled terrible OUTSIDE of the building and you really had to hold your breath inside, too. It was that bad lol!

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My mother loves palm trees and anything beachy. She appreciated this photo!

On Saturday, I ran errands like a maniac. I was in and out of a bunch of different stores and my Christmas shopping is still not complete! My roommate and I hosted a Christmas party that evening so I was on the hunt for an ugly Christmas sweater and other party supplies…like food. Of course, this Christmas party was totally also a birthday party for me. The life of a December baby. 😉

So the Christmas light sweater dress…definitely ugly. Like I didn’t even like it enough to buy it. Ha! I actually didn’t buy either of these outfits, but how CUTE are those elf pajamas?! My coworkers and I bought matching pajamas for our Pajama Day on Friday and I am so mad that we didn’t buy the elf ones! In case you are curious, Target has those elf pajamas for both men and women, adults and children, and even pets. I think Colby, Amigo, and I will be matching this Christmas because I am 100% certain Alex and Jake will never put those PJs on their body.

 I added some Christmas decorations, pictures, and bedding to my room and bathroom! I just replaced two pictures that are usually hanging with those canvases. I actually moved them and rearranged them once I took these pictures. 🙂 I also realized post-pictures that my tree doesn’t have any lights! It is staying sad and unlit. #toobadsosad

My roommate and I decorated both indoors and out because it was so nice out that we were able to use our balcony during the party! I cannot take credit for anything except the poinsettia by the fireplace…but then again, I decorated everything for fall, so I guess I was just letting her have a turn. 😉 I did, however, buy a star for the top of the tree!

Friends from church, friends from college, friends from blogging…they were all in attendance. 🙂

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On Sunday, it was off to church. My friend Sarah has played the harp for years and she played for the first time at church this past weekend! The band usually consists of guitars, drums, and singers, but this day was a “Creative Sunday” where other instruments like violin, standing bass, piano, and harp were included! They have never done this before and all of the instruments sounded so pretty playing Christmas hymns. Sarah did amazing! She even had a little solo at the beginning of Silent Night! Our pastor called her out when he said, “You know it’s going to be a good Sunday when there’s a harpist on stage!” and she told us after that she didn’t even hear him because her ear buds were in. Ha!

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I was in charge of helping her unload the harp from her car and safely take it back up to her apartment after church. I do NOT know how she lugs that thing around without help!

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To celebrate her harp playing, we ate a quick brunch at Bayou Bakery right near her house. I had a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and she had biscuits and gravy. Because every day deserves a little sugar, we shared beignets. I’m pretty sure this was my first time trying this dessert, but you can’t go wrong with dough and powdered sugar!

How was your weekend?!

All the Christmas Things

How are you feeling this marvelous Monday morning?!

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Hopefully you are the complete opposite of Amigo. 😉 My brother’s dog is THE definition of “not a morning person”. My mom sent me this gem on Saturday morning and I could not stop laughing!

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My Monday is brought to you by lots of happiness from Christmas adventures this past weekend. My roommate and her boyfriend bought our tree on Saturday and it is the cutest. Now all we need are a tree topper and a skirt! I am most excited to have a real Christmas tree because I haven’t had one in years. We also added a wreath to our front door, some greens to our mantle, and two poinsettias on the fireplace. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas up in here!

Friday evening was spent doing a ridiculously hard workout courtesy of Blonde Ponytail. It looked a little something like this:

20 minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) with 25# dumbbells
10 squat hang cleans
10 push press
10 walking lunges

…except I modified the workout so that I could use 15 pound dumbbells because I’m not that strong yet and it still kicked my ass! I invited my friend over to watch Christmas movies and we had a ball laying on the couch and watching The Grinch and Elf. Christmas movies are the best!

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On Saturday, I took myself on an adventure to The National Harbor in Fort Washington, MD. I have never been and I have always wanted to go, plus I know that there are Christmas events going on this month, so it didn’t matter who was going with me…I was going! There are many restaurants and boutiques along the waterfront, but my first stop was at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

The lobby was all decked out with Christmas trees so I knew the rest of the place would be just as amazing! I also took a picture of that tree four times and each time, it was just as crooked. #bloggerfail

The child behind me on the escalator told his mom that he felt like he was in the tropical rain forest and I couldn’t help but agree! The interior of that place would be amazing even if it wasn’t Christmas. Added to the usual surroundings were a train, breakfast and dinner with Santa, pictures with Santa (of course), The Village of the North Pole, and ICE featuring Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. ICE is definitely the main event and I really wanted to see what it was all about, but I couldn’t justify a $38 ticket if I was by myself ha!

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Luckily, The Village of the North Pole was free and there was still a lot going on! There was a carousel, a gingerbread house making station, and lots of Christmas decorations and candy for sale! I bought bells to hang from the doorknob to my laundry room. So exciting, right?!

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I left the Gaylord and went to do the other “normal” National Harbor things such as shopping in all of the boutiques, but the best thing that I came across was The Grinch playing on the big screen! It was 53 degrees on Saturday so people had jackets on, but there were so many eating ice cream from the nearby shops while they watched the movie. It was so funny!

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I’m a child and moved to a place where no one was in front of me so that I could see better. I am sure that people thought I was very strange. The Grinch is just my favorite movie ever! Fun fact: Sarah (from Picky Runner) and I go to a lot of the same places at a lot of the same times and yet our paths still have never crossed. I posted the above picture on Instagram and she commented that she was just there. Of course! Haha:)

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Me, my puffy eyes, no makeup, and a Christmas tree. #bestselfieever #not My eyes have been bothering me lately (besides the fact that I scratched my cornea — that is all healed now) so the doctor put me on “contact vacation”. I am not a fan. My glasses are in the hand that’s not holding my iPhone here. 🙂

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Last night, I went to a Christmas party at the Hill Center. It’s an old Naval hospital which is kind of cool, but now it hosts meetings and events for various groups. My church has unofficially planned this Christmas party for the last 7 years. National Community Church doesn’t sponsor the party, but alot of NCC’ers go and proceeds always benefit a mission at our church. Last night, we were raising money for an orphanage in Zambia. I was super excited for this party because it was cocktail attire and who doesn’t love to get a little fancy sometimes?! I have to admit, I had on a sparkly navy cocktail dress and I changed into a sweater dress with tights and booties because my arms and legs were cold. #im107yearsold #iknow

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My friend Shannon is one of the people who travelled to Zambia this past summer to work at the orphanage, so this event was super special to her! She also created all the promotional things there, from posters to little info cards, and I was so impressed! We graduated from college the same year but she is a graphic designer and I am always amazed at how creative she is!

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There were probably five or six rooms on each floor of the Hill Center and each room was something different. One had a photo booth, another had live music, and several had food and drinks. Many people in attendance provided the food and drinks that were available to us all which I think is awesome! My favorite part of the party was gathering together at one point to sing Christmas carols and waiting in anticipation to see if I would win any of the prizes from the raffle. There were really good prizes! I was hoping for the $50 Anthropologie gift card or the month of free Spin and barre classes at a new studio, but no such luck. 🙂

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The best room was the one where we had room to dance…and we danced for a while! At 11:30, our feet were DONE and we crashed on a few open chairs. Even so, it was such a fun way to kick off the holiday season!

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I was up bright and early on Sunday morning to serve in the nursery at church during the 9 AM service. Somehow, I always seem to hold the baby who is teething or really tired. I do love it, though! The little girl I was holding yesterday would start to fall asleep on my shoulder and then turn around and look at the other babies playing in the room and start screaming and crying. She was not pleased to be at church haha! I haven’t been in the nursery much lately, so it was really nice to get back and see the other volunteers and of course, the little ones who are always there! Two of the babies that I have seen the most since I started volunteering this spring are about to turn 2 and move on into the toddler room. So sad!

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If you need a little marvelous in your Monday today, I suggest going to your local grocery store and finding these Peanut Butter Crunch Pretzel Crisps. I found them at the grocery store when I went to pick up my prescriptions the other day and they are SO GOOD. I may or may not have had too much sugar this weekend. You decide. 🙂

Happy Monday!

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Christmas Traditions

The best way to spread Christmas cheer (besides singing loud for all to hear) is to partake in your family’s favorite traditions. These are the little things that just make the holiday meaningful for you. These are the little things that your family talks about and looks forward to all year long!

– Decorations –

As soon as Thanksgiving dinner is cleared from the table, Christmas decorations are a go in the McGraw house! Usually, we wait until Black Friday to bring out the decorations, but this year it was Thanksgiving night when my mom and I dragged the huge boxes filled with Christmas tree up the basement stairs!

We build our tree one branch at a time. When I was younger, I remember having a real Christmas tree, but I also remember how much my mom disliked vacuuming the pine needles ha! I guess that is part of the real tree charm. 🙂 When I was 10 or 11, my parents found a 9 foot tall artificial tree on major clearance after Christmas. They were sold on this huge tree when they also found a rotating base to put the tree in. So we decorate all sides of the tree because it spins!

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When we moved to our current house five years ago, we started decorating a tree in the game room, too. This tree holds all the homemade ornaments that don’t make it on the tree in the family room upstairs. 🙂

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I always have some kind of tree in my bedroom. This one was pink, if you couldn’t tell. 😉 When we were younger, we had little green trees that were about this size with M&M character ornaments. We called them our M&M trees! Now, I am actually really sad, because I don’t know what happened to the M&M trees ha!

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I spend Christmas (and the days leading up to Christmas) at my mom’s house, but I still like to decorate my apartment. This is a picture of my apartment in college! I still have that tree but it is in storage at home and since I flew home for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t able to travel with any of my decorations…so now my current roommate is talking about buying a new tree. We must!

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I also did this to my fridge a few years ago. What, you don’t have random colors of construction paper on hand? #teacherproblems

– Desserts –

Pizzelles are our FAVORITE holiday treat to bake. The first set of pizzelles always turns out like that. Stuck to the iron! I like to make a big batch and put them in cute Christmas bags as a little treat at school or work for friends or coworkers.

We also love to bake my Grandma’s Candy Cane cookie recipe and steal cookie ideas from Pinterest. That particular year, we didn’t even need an oven! We used Nutter Butters, M&M’s, pretzels, and icing to assemble our Reindeer cookies.

– Activities –

I take pictures of every Christmas tree I walk past. And if the opportunity presents itself, I will hop in the picture, too. 🙂

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Why not shop and take pictures, too? #alltheChristmasthings

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And of course I drink my coffee and tea from all the fun Christmas mugs!

I love any and all holiday attire…including these reindeer antlers. Me, 4 years ago, loving life…and then this past weekend, we had Amigo in antlers…he was embarrassed.

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Colby’s thoughts on Christmas dress up? Side eye. He did wear the Christmas socks, though. 🙂

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Amigo HATES having his paws or legs touched, so the fact that he was in Christmas socks was no easy task! And truthfully, he loves the Christmas sweater because he is always cold.

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Another one of my favorite traditions is opening my birthday presents…because they are always under the Christmas tree! My birthday is December 10 and since the tree is already up, I have to take advantage of it, right?

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We also LOVE making gingerbread houses! My mom makes the best homemade icing to hold our houses together. She has a big gingerbread house decorating event in her kindergarten class, too. We have an expert building with us!

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I’m not sure if this is a ‘me’ thing or a family thing, but I love Christmas lights! Whether it’s driving around neighborhoods or actually going to see a display, I love the lights.

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Hershey Park 2005

A huge park in the Pittsburgh area called Hartwood Acres used to have the best light display. You could tune your radio to a certain station and hear Christmas songs that sang along with the lights as you were driving!

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Hartwood Acres 2012

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Sadly, Hartwood Acres doesn’t have their huge light display anymore. Last year, I made my mom and Jake drive with me to Overly’s Country Christmas. The line of traffic to get up to the farm was LONG but it was so fun!

There are so many fun things to do during the holiday season with friends, too! I’ve run a Reindeer 5K, seen the floral and light displays at Phipps Conservatory, heard Trans-Siberan Orchestra in concert, and run the National Mall past all the big Christmas trees.

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A tradition that is pretty unique to my family is taking a little trip right after the holiday. In the week or so between Christmas and New Years, my family likes to go away for a few days. We definitely haven’t done this every year, but as we’ve gotten older, it’s easier to get away. As you can see, when we were really little, we visited Hershey Park in central Pennsylvania. They, of course, have a huge light display too! My favorite.

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Last year, we went to Disney World. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is just that…a spectacle! Somehow, they even manage to make it snow!

– True Traditions –

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Our stockings are always on the floor and they are always the first thing that we open! Our stockings are the only time that we open presents at the same time.

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We always celebrate with these people at my Uncle’s house on Christmas Eve. If you saw my Thanksgiving picture, you know that we try to take a picture in height order. In this picture, we were being obnoxious. There is no order! No age order, no height order, nothing. Just fun. 🙂

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We always make a fun breakfast to eat together after we open our presents! It’s just me, my parents, and my brothers for breakfast.

I always get some kind of new running gear so I have to test it out after present opening and breakfast eating. Of course Colby and Amigo love to join me. 🙂 This picture was actually Amigo’s first run with me EVER in 2013!

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We always watch and record Michael Buble’s Christmas special. Then we watch it over and over and over again. This year, we played his show from last Christmas while we made Thanksgiving dinner. Ha!

*The two movies I watch the most are Jim Carrey’s The Grinch (hilarious) and The Santa Clause with Tim Allen.

*Even if my Dad and I have all our gifts wrapped, we like to run out and shop for a few hours on Christmas Eve.

*My parents wrap our gifts in different wrapping paper instead of putting name tags on everything. We figure out which presents are ours when we see the little mini gifts wrapped in our stockings!

*I always sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to see what Santa left behind. When I was younger, I was convinced I could hear him on the roof!

So tell me…what’s your favorite part of Christmas? I obviously can’t just pick one thing!

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Northwest Native & Say Yes To Happy