Chicago, Christmas, Family, Holidays

Christmas-ing, Kick Butt Cocoa and Trimming a Tree


I submitted a piece to Chicago Parent recently about how in trying to create the “perfect Christmas”, we end up with a very not perfect scenario.
A Griswoldian Christmas, if you will.
I try not to strive for any romantic or unrealistic plans in our life as it pertains to holidays, travel or family activities.
Oh sure, we would love for things to just fall together and become one of those life moments that you can look back on and laugh, smile even shed a tear.
Alas, these are not the memories we are creating in our home.
We have the best intentions.
We love our children; they love us but when you get the four of us in a room together, there is bound to be trouble.
It starts out all good but usually goes down in flames.
Sisters arguing to the death, stained clothing, back seats that look and smell like what I think EVIL looks and smells like.


Surprisingly, that hasn’t happened so far this season.
Oh sure, the girls are arguing.
The backseat of our car looks like Target. On Black Friday. At 10 pm.
I have stains on my clothing.
But really when doesn’t that happen? So when we headed to the city the day before Thanksgiving with the girls and it was…..dare I say…fun?
We were a little surprised.

Yes, this is a pigeon fire pit.
If you live in the upper Midwest, this shouldn’t surprise you.
Because it is cold here.


Christkindlmarket in Chicago is my favorite holiday tradition.
So it is surprising that the only picture I took is blurry.
No. It’s not really surprising.
I was in line to see Santa with the family and it was cold.
See the pigeon picture above.


We did something a little-unexpected while in the city.
We went to church.
It’s not really unexpected that we would go to church but definitely not something we had planned for this day.
The hubs saw this beautiful Methodist church across the street from the Christkindlmarket.
We wandered inside and saw that there was a service going on in the middle of the day on a Wednesday.
Now for Protestants, this is very unusual for a weekday.
Especially when you live in the suburbs.
The girls were so excited to go to church in the big city.
So were we.


On the way out of town, we always stop on the north side at this little bar.
Long story short, Mike’s parents both grew up in this neighborhood in the city.
Where his grandparents and uncles were all Chicago cops.
In this pub on the back wall is a picture of the hubs grampa in his uniform.
So we always stop by and say hello.
Only this day they had put wrapping paper on all the photos in the bar.
Sad trombone.
And yes, we walked into a bar with our two girls.
The bartender laughed when we said, “we don’t normally take our children into bars, we are just visiting grampa…”


See that green door?
Irish bistro.
Looks suspiciously like our green door.
I wonder if they read the blog. 🙂 
The day after Thanksgiving, when most people were punching other people in the head for a Xbox, the girls and I stayed in and decorated for Christmas!


I always get chest pains when I see how much stuff we have to put up.
                       Actually, last year I gave away an entire bin full of Christmas décor.
I didn’t remember doing this until my 13-year-old reminded me this year.
“Where did the garland go??”
Goodwill, Mom.
“What about the little kitchen tree????”
Goodwill, Mom.
I must have blacked out last year.


I call this our Charlie Brown tree.
Mom and Dad got this for us two years ago.
It just makes me smile.
The ornaments are from Dollar Tree two years ago as well.

Ok, so my decorating isn’t created for the blog.
I have to LIVE in my house with my two children and a husband.
So I have learned to simplify and use only things I love, that have meaning or that the girls have made at school.
Hence the Goodwill purge of 2012, apparently.


I heart these decorations.
I don’t think the teachers realize how much these mean.




The pine cones were just picked up on a walk last weekend.
It was 50 here, which means BREAK OUT THE SHORTS, THELMA!!.
Ellie loves to collect things on walks, so, in my evil plan, I decided we needed pine cones for the mantel.
And the pine trees at the park shed hundreds of them.
So we took a couple, and spray painted them silver!
Our Christmas mantel

I know the trend is going with whites, silvers, and blues.
And as much as I truly love that trend, realistically it costs a lot of money to change up your Christmas style from year to year.
I love traditional red and green.
Plus cheap me loves I didn’t have to spend a dime to create this mantel.


Our Christmas tree with the big colorful lights


We used C-9 bulbs on the tree this year!
Kick Butt Cocoa


I made the most delicious hot chocolate while we decorated the tree.
We always have appetizers for dinner the night we trim the tree.
Not sure how this started, but I think it was something we did when my immediate family lived here.
I miss my family all year long, but it is on this night that my heart sinks a little.

We always used to get together to decorate the tree.

So I made rich, high-calorie hot cocoa to make the boohoo go away.
Kick Butt Cocoa

I got the recipe on Pinterest.
It is called Polar Express hot chocolate and I cannot for the life of me find my exact pin because I pinned it a few years ago then never made it.
There are tons of Polar Express Hot Chocolate’s on Pinterest so not sure which one is the exact source is but here is the recipe I had written:

– 1.5 C. heavy cream
– 1 bag chocolate chips (not milk chocolate)
– 1 can sweetened condensed milk

– 6 C. milk
– 1 tsp. vanilla

Mix all together in a big stockpot and cook on low for 40 minutes, stirring here and there.
I set the timer for 40 minutes and stirred it every five minutes or so.

Top with whipped cream.

Dear heavens.

This was more like a dessert than hot cocoa.
Like a big ole’ slab of French Silk pie in a little mug.
AND it makes a ton.
I have a quart size Tupperware container leftover to warm up for the girls and we all had big mugs of it.
So perfect for a party.
Or a Tuesday night.
When life isn’t so cheerful and fat, old cocoa needs to be in your life.

What are your holiday traditions?



Kick-Butt Cocoa

  • – 1.5 C. heavy cream
  • – 1 bag chocolate chips (not milk chocolate)
  • – 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • – 6 C. milk
  • – 1 tsp. vanilla
  1. Mix all together in a big stockpot and cook on low for 40 minutes, stirring here and there.
  2. I set the timer for 40 minutes and stirred it every five minutes.
  3. Top with whipped cream.



6 thoughts on “Christmas-ing, Kick Butt Cocoa and Trimming a Tree”

  1. I have your little kitchen Christmas tree! I put it in my "office." 🙂 It makes it really cozy down there and every time I see it I think of you.:-)


  2. Lol I completely blocked out last Christmas. You need to let me share that picture of the tree on the blog. It is adorable!


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