(our setting on Saturday morning) We pull up to the long gravel drive and park next to an old white barn with Christmas wreaths hung on the four side windows. The barn is old and its paint is chipping, but its charm reminds me of the movie Little Women. We check in with a sweet little girl named Sable and head into the old white barn. There are two wood stoves keeping the place warm, an old oak piano with the sheet music to Silent Night awaiting to be played, and in the middle of the barn sits a pen with two goats, two lambs, and two donkeys wearing Santa hats. Cruz immediately wants in the pen and follows the animals around, smiling from ear to ear as he feels their soft fur and giggles when they bellow at him. Sable soon kneels over by Cruz holding a black and white bunny and asks if he would like a chance to hold her. He sits so still, holding her cautiously, every once and awhile rubbing his fingers along her side as if she is an animal in one of his touch and feel books. We tell him how gentle he's being and I smile when I think of him holding his baby sister soon.
Soon, a burly but sweet man enters the barn ringing a large dinner bell, signaling that it's our turn on the wagon. We head outside and climb onto one of three red, horse-drawn wagons. We huddle together on hay bales and wrap up with flannel comforters waiting for us. Then, we make our way to a cabin in the woods where Santa is waiting to greet us.
The ride to the cabin is storybook. This year, the ground is covered in snow and a new round of flurries dances around us. It's quiet except for the clop clop clop of the horses and the jingle bells around their necks. We pass a field of livestock before crossing a frozen creek and entering a little forest about a hundred yards from our original barn. There, we spot the cabin, the festive garland around its porch, and Santa and Mrs. Claus waiting and waving at us in the distance. Parents start to whisper, "Do you see him?" as little necks stretch to spot him. Then, one by one, we climb off the wagon and are welcomed into Santa's cabin for cinnamon rolls, apple slices, hot cocoa, and a jingle bell straight from the North Pole itself.
This was our scene on Saturday morning at Heritage Farms in Hudson, Iowa. We took Cruz here last year and it was one of our very favorite Christmas experiences as a family. There is just something very magical about a horse drawn wagon in the woods a few weeks before Christmas time. The storybook cabin, the cinnamon rolls and apple slices, and the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the season to take part in this quiet little adventure is a special one. While last year was warm enough that we didn't even need our coats, the snow that flew in the sky as we climbed on those bright red wagons made the cold worthwhile. It makes me thankful to celebrate Christmas in the Midwest, thankful for the chance to show Cruz the magic of a white Christmas.
There's nowhere I'd rather be.
Other happy moments from this last weekend before Christmas break...
We had our first of many family Christmases on Saturday. Four generations of my dad's family fill my hometown's Amvet Hall. We had a family steak fry, Cruz had a ball playing boy things with two of his third cousins, and we received two of the most precious embroidered ornaments from Grandma Henrichs that I will cherish forever. I'm telling you - Anthropologie would hire her if they saw these ornaments.
We had a beautiful church service on Sunday morning and a message I won't forget. At times, it seems that famous story in the chapter of Luke gets watered down this time of year, and it's easy to lose the magnitude of exactly what God did for us through the birth of his son. Kurt Vander Weil shared his perspective on what Christmas is through the lens of Zechariah, and I'm not sure I've ever understood it more than I did yesterday. The world changed forever when this baby was born to walk this world with us - from fear and separation to endless salvation.
Finally, we spent most of Sunday in the kitchen. Well, Cruz and I did while Daddy watched the Bears play and came in every so often to sample our progress and referee when needed. I had plans to bake two or three goodies I've been craving, but we only got through sugar cookies. We started around noon and I don't think my sous chef stopped talking until he crashed on the couch at 5:00. While he loved rolling the dough, picking out his favorite cookie cutters, and sitting by the sink to 'help' with dishes, the frosting part wasn't his cup of tea. After literally dumping an entire container of sprinkles on ONE cookie, he decided the decorating business was too stressful and took to eating the supplies himself. At one point, he was shoving "lemonades", aka, M and Ms in his mouth so fast I thought he would choke. I have evidence of his destruction in pictures and promise to anyone who gets our cookies that we have held back the special treasures Cruz made himself. Scout's honor!
And here is where the engagement dissipates...
Too much excitement in the kitchen for one day...
Looking ahead to my last week of work before a long winter break. I can't wait to hibernate and await this baby girl that will be here before we know it.