In college, students are lucky to get four, five or even six weeks off for their winter break. Since I graduated a few years ago, I’ve coordinated big lifestyle changes around the end of December which has allowed me some extra time in Wisconsin over the holidays. In 2009-10, Kirk and I decided to quit our jobs in Chicago and travel to Australia. This year, we’re moving from Michigan to California. With no commitment to a job and my physical location in flux, I’ve been able to spend more time with my family around Christmastime. This year I had two weeks in the cheese state, and we packed in as much as we could.

My mom absolutely loves playing games. Not sports games, nor Wii games. Old fashioned dice, board and card games. With no time to waste, the first night I was home we got gaming with Scrabble.

Since I can count the number of times I’ve ever played Scrabble on two fingers, you must admit my word “ASIAGO” was mildly impressive. And “ZEN”? The ‘Z’ fell on a “Triple Letter Score” square. Oh yeah.

My grandparents (my mom’s parents) are snowbirds who spend every winter in Florida. This last month they sold their house (in Wisconsin) and are in the process of moving into a condo. This meant for the first time in 12 years we were all together in the same state for the holidays. On Christmas Eve we cooked up turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, vegan stuffing (courtesy of my sister) and cranberry sauce. My Omi (German for grandma) made key lime cheesecake for dessert.

After dinner, Kelly and I entertained everyone with our standard repertoire of Christmas duets. We can play a whopping three songs through (mostly) without messing up. “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night”.

A few days after Christmas, Kelly and her friend Kayla got creative with cutout cookies.

My mom just bought her very first SLR – a Canon Rebel XS. Befuddled by its array of settings and options, she left the camera under the tree until I arrived and was able to introduce her to some of its basics. The bird feeder in the backyard helped demonstrate shallow depth of field.

After spending Christmas in Michigan with his family, Kirk arrived in Wisconsin the night of the 26th. My mom lost no time instigating more game playing. She challenged Kirk to a game of Settlers of Catan, of which he eagerly accepted.

Kirk ended up winning both games we played.

We danced.

The tree glowed.

We also surprised my Omi with tickets to see The Nutcracker performed by the Milwaukee Ballet. She was thrilled.

For one of our last nights in town, my parents took us out to Molly Cool’s Seafood Tavern, a hip joint on the riverfront in downtown Milwaukee. Kelly ordered a delicious pomegranate mint lemonade.

The place mats shared impeccable fish cleaning techniques.

Smile for seafood!

And, flaming bananas foster.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! ☼