Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Eve

It's Christmas Eve Eve!  But, before we get to that, let's talk about yesterday.  We took a day trip to New Orleans to check a few things off my Christmas bucket list. 
Our first stop was Fulton Street.  I've heard a lot recently about the "snow" so I wanted to take the kids.  Besides, I needed a kid-friendly venue to mask the real reason I wanted to go to New Orleans.
I told the children there would be "snow" in New Orleans but that it wouldn't be real.  They were hoping to build a snowman with the fake snow, but it wasn't even that kind of snow.  When I asked them to describe it, they said, "Bubbles and soap."
The two oldest spent most of the time just like this:

And this one wasn't quite sure what to think.  Or do.
They really did enjoying "playing" in the fake snow, and I really enjoyed watching them.

And that was pretty much it for Fulton Street.  Since we were there during the day on a weekday, Santa wasn't there nor were the live bands and such.  But it also wasn't crowded, which was a huge plus for me.
And then we stepped inside the lobby at Harrah's Hotel to take a peek at the massive St. Louis Cathedral gingerbread house.
Just to put it in perspective, it took the bakery staff two months to build this 16-feet tall masterpiece with 200 pounds of gingerbread and 300 pounds of confectioners' sugar and thousands of pieces of candy!  It really was stunning, particularly in light of the little gingerbread houses we made earlier in the week.

And why is it that every time you see a beautiful tree, you make your children stand in front of it for a picture?!
Our next stop was lunch.  The world-famous Mother's restaurant was a few blocks across the street so that's where we decided to eat.  And it didn't disappoint at all.  We all enjoyed it.  
Our next stop was the REAL reason I wanted to go to New Orleans (I just had to find some kid activities to hide it).  We walked to the Roosevelt to see their iconic lobby (which spans an entire block) lined with over 40 beautiful trees.  It was a dreary, drizzly day and quite a walk, but it was so worth it when we got there.
I have to say this is one thing that looks just like it does in all the fancy books and magazines.  I could sit in the this lobby and people watch all. the. day. long.  We walked the length of the lobby twice, and my people were ready to go.
Remember what I said earlier about beautiful trees and children and pictures?  Well, here we go again!
We then walked (a rather lengthy walk) to Jackson Square and Cafe du Monde.  It was time for beignets and hot chocolate.

We took a stroll through the French Market and then walked back to our vehicle.  I think, by that point, we'd walked over five miles.  But we weren't done yet.  Our next stop was New Orleans City Park for Celebration in the Oaks.

One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is lights.  Yes.  Lights.  We didn't do outdoor lights when I was a kid, but I always wanted to.  Mama would always put those little candles in each of the windows that had a lightbulb in them.  I used to love going around to the windows each evening and plugging them in.  And then I remember the year she added lights to the wreath on the front door.  But I've always loved outdoor lights.

One of the highlights of Christmas for me was the night Grandmother and Pa loaded all eight of us grandchildren up in the station wagon to head over to Christmas Lane.  I'm pretty sure they bought that old station wagon for this one night a year.  They never drove it otherwise.  We'd eat supper and then pile into the back (all eight of us) and drive over to Thomaston to Christmas Lane.  I don't even know how to describe it . . . it's just something you had to experience.  It was the 80s . . . so it really was a big deal at the time.  I mean, these were the days before the lights at Callaway Gardens and Lake Lanier and Stone Mountain and the Botanical Gardens.  Christmas Lane was where it was at.  There was a street, a subdivision maybe, in which all of the houses were decorated with outdoor lights.  Some of them even played music so you had to ride with the windows down.  It was just a homegrown lights display that was the bee's knees to a kid who loves outdoor lights.

And then came the lights at Callaway Gardens.  That became our annual tradition as I was a teenager.  I can't even tell you the last time I've been to Christmas Lane.  But it had to be one of those trips in the back of that station wagon.  I love me some Callaway Gardens, too.  That was one of the first things I couldn't wait to do with Seth and then with our children.  I could do that every single year, and it would never get old.  Never.

So I've been looking for a Callaway Gardens type experience here in Louisiana for us.  I've not found it, but I thought this thing I kept reading about at New Orleans City Park just might be it.  So I was looking forward to it.  We had a couple of hours to wait before they lit it up so the kids played on the playground for about an hour and a half before we got in line at the entrance.  There were light displays you could walk through, carnival-type rides you could pay for, a performance tent.  And there was a train ride through the lights.  Sign me up!  I mean, the only way to experience Callaway is on the Jolly Trolly so I'm looking forward to this train.  It was definitely a train.  And it traveled through the park.  There were a few sparsely decorate light displays.  And by a few, I mean a FEW.  And that was all.  It definitely wasn't Callaway Gardens-ish.  It wasn't even Christmas Lane-ish.  But we went, we saw, we had a good time and I have one picture to show for it.  I doubt this will be an annual tradition, but I'm glad we went.
And then today.  It was Christmas in my kitchen!  I pulled out my favorite Christmas cookbooks and my mama's recipes to bake our annual Christmas goodies.
I had two of the cutest, sweetest little helpers.
Hannah Kate was especially excited.  She loves all things baking and cooking in the kitchen.  Oh, and the aprons were totally their ideas.  That's how they came downstairs dressed.  Anyway, we began baking at 1:00 this afternoon.  Hannah Kate hung in there with me for three hours.  We started with my favorite, fudge.  And then we made the brownies for the brownie mint pops.  That's a new recipe we're trying this year.
We made ritz sandwiches with peanut butter and then dipped them in chocolate and decorated them with sprinkles.
Sprinkles is Ellie's language.  She was back and forth all afternoon, but she always seemed to show up when sprinkles were involved.
We made Asian party mix.  I'm the only one who eats that, but it's a must!
Pralines were on the list, too, but I didn't have any karo syrup.  I'm not sure how I overlooked that rather major detail, but I did.  I don't particularly care for pralines.  I really don't like pecans (unless they're sugared and topping my salad), and pralines are a little too sweet for me.  I make them every year for two reasons and two reasons only.  My mama always makes them, always has.  Always.  Every year.  And they are Seth's favorite. Even though he can't pronounce them.  We popped in to a candy shop in New Orleans yesterday and watched one of the bakers turning out the pralines.  Seth commented that my mom's are his favorite.  Well.  I use her recipe.  So shouldn't mine be his favorite, too? He didn't really have an answer for that one.  So tomorrow I will go to the store to buy some karo syrup so I can make pralines!

Tomorrow morning we're having our annual Christmas Eve brunch.  Sometimes I invite family or friends over, but tomorrow it's just going to be the five of us.  We're doing something a little different on Christmas Eve this year, and I can't wait!  So this afternoon I also took the time to prepare most of my brunch recipes.  Hannah Kate's favorite is Mimi's sausage balls so she made those.
All of my other dishes are assembled (with the exception of the sweet potato biscuits which I'll do in the morning) and ready to be baked.  The citrus breakfast punch is in the refrigerator, too.

On Christmas morning I'm making homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast before church.  So I went ahead tonight and got my dough together.  Yes, from scratch, yeast and all!  When Christmas morning comes, all I have to do is roll it out, sprinkle the filling in and bake.

I finally wiped down my countertops, started my dishwasher and turned out the lights in my kitchen tonight at 9:30.  It was quite a long day in the kitchen, but it was so fun and so worth it!  The next two days are going to be spent with my favorite people, and I'm going to enjoy every second of it because all of my yummy food is already prepped and done!

Tomorrow after brunch, we're going to open all of the Georgia presents.  We usually wait until after supper to do this, but I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to really enjoy their gifts before getting more.  And then we're going to a Christmas Eve service.  I've always wanted to go to a Christmas Eve candlelight service, but our church doesn't do that.  So we're starting a new tradition.

And then it will be Christmas day!

I think my children might be too excited to sleep good tonight.  Or tomorrow night.  They are so excited!  But you know what?  I am, too!  Because I know what's coming.  I know WHO already came!  I know WHY we have reason for joy and hope and celebration and gifts!  And I'm enjoying every single second of it!

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