Tag Archives: holidays

Holiday Baking!

I consider myself to be more a chef than a baker at any point during the year. Recipes are not really my friend and I don’t normally have the patience for baking. The exception is during the holidays! I’m known to bake anywhere from 10-20 dozen cookies during the holiday season and this year is no different. I lost track where I’m at right now, but I think somewhere around 15 dozen.

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We’ve delivered cookies to our neighbors, enjoyed some treats to ourselves and shared them with friends from work and at our holiday party. Now all that’s left is baking at least one more batch of something to share with family for Christmas and then bring some to the NICU and Antepartum {where I stayed during the end of my pregnancy} on Christmas Eve, a tradition we started last year.

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Ben and Edina had fun decorating delicious sugar cookies last week. Thanks for the pictures, Edina!

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I tweaked the sugar cookie recipe that I had used in the past and turned it into my own recipe this year and combined that with a different frosting recipe. Two thumbs up!

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Additionally, we made linzer cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and new this year, Irish shortbread toffee bars. Normally I make peppermint bark but I got such a great deal on buying it from Williams Sonoma that I saved myself a little time and purchased it. It’s really hard to pick a favorite, and not to toot my own horn but they’re all really, really good this year.

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Ben has become quite the helper in the kitchen and loves to watch me cook or bake. We’ve got a step stool that is perfect for him to pull up to the counter and lend a hand once in a while. He gets so excited to be included!

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Fourth Annual Holiday Party

Hosting our holiday party has become quite a fun tradition we look forward to every year. We’ve learned a lot over the last few years and definitely had it dialed in this year. We tried a few new foods and continued our same laid-back approach to the soiree and it was wonderful.

{not our best family photo, but the best of the bunch!}

{not our best family photo, but the best of the bunch!}

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{this year's spread included: a beautiful and bountiful cheese board; crudite platter; chicken skewers; caramelized onion, mushroom and gruyere puffs; brie and apple puffs; Christmas pinwheels;  dips from our local Greek restaurant, paired with their pita; and a big plate of cookies.}

{This year’s spread included: a beautiful and bountiful cheese board; crudite platter; chicken skewers; caramelized onion, mushroom and gruyere puffs; brie and apple puffs; Christmas pinwheels; dips from our local Greek restaurant, paired with their pita; and a big plate of cookies.}

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{Having fun with the "portrait" mode on our new phone!}

{Having fun with the “portrait” mode on our new phone!}

{The chef!}

{The chef!}

{This year's signature drink was Bee Keeper Punch.}

{This year’s signature drink was Bee Keeper Punch.}

{Plenty of bubbly and sparkling rose to go around.}

{Plenty of bubbly and sparkling rose to go around.}

{The Millers arrived a little early to help taste-test :) }

{The Millers arrived a little early to help taste-test 🙂 }

I had so much fun looking back on the last three parties – my oh my how life has changed. We have a really great time putting together these parties and are so grateful to have so many friends in Seattle to enjoy the holidays with.

Third annual party

Second annual party

First annual party

Early December

This holiday season is shaping up to be quite a memorable one! Ben is at such a fun age to where he’s starting to understand so much that I think he’ll really get into things this year. We have a lot of holiday and seasonal activities planned – I can hardly wait to experience this holiday season with our family.

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Earlier this fall I bought a beautiful advent calendar. I received it in the mail and was floored at how gigantic it is. The advent calendars I grew up with were the cardboard kind where you open the window each day of advent and that was that. This new calendar had pockets for every day. I was completely thrown off by how to use this calendar and ended up deciding to fill each pocket with a holiday/seasonal activity for that day.

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It’s kind of nice because it forced me to sit down with my calendar and idea list and plot what I wanted to do when and really plan out the month of December. I came up with some really fun ideas and realized that there’s a lot we wanted to do and not that much time so it also brought me back to reality.

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One of our first advent activities was cutting down our Christmas tree, followed by decorating it the next day. We went to Trinity Tree Farm in Issaquah to cut down our tree this year. Last year we purchased a pre-cut tree from them. Last year’s tree was the most beautiful tree either one of us had ever had and this year’s blows last year’s out of the water. Our tree this year is stunning!

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We picked a very typical Pacific Northwest day to go get our tree. It was POURING. Thankfully we all had our rain boots and positive attitudes. Ben loved jumping in the puddles – right now he’s obsessed with water in all forms and couldn’t get over the act of puddle jumping.

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Alex was a true family hero when he tackled the acts of cutting down the tree and tying the tree on the car himself. It was a multi-person job managing Ben and it required both Edina and me to corral him and keep him from diving into a puddle headfirst. I saw photos of a friend of mine who has three kids under 5 and she and her husband brought their kids and their dog to cut down the tree {mind you, they didn’t also have an extra set of hands there like we did!} and they seemed to have managed just fine. I have no idea how.

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Decorating the Christmas tree was adorable. Ben really seemed to get the concept. While he didn’t really successfully hang any ornaments, he placed them on branches or he pointed out where he thought a good place for a pretty ornament would be. His favorite part, though, was climbing the step stool and being a little entertainer.

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I feel like we’re in pretty good shape for the holidays at this point. There’s a lot we need to do to prepare for the rest of the season and it is all so much fun!! This is by far our favorite time of year. We get so much joy in entertaining and spending time with family and friends, especially during the magical holiday season.

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Ali’s Favorite Things 2017

Per the request of one of my friends, I put together an “Ali’s Favorite Things” list. I knew I had done this before but I didn’t realize it was three years ago already. It’s funny looking back on that list because every single one of those items I mentioned would be on my list today still. Definitely check out my original list – some goodies on there, for sure!

Big & Small Set of Kitchen Tongs

Silly, I know, but I absolutely love having a little pair of tongs around. We have four {or is it five?} pairs of tongs in our “gadgets” drawer and there are more days than I expected that all of the tongs are in the dishwasher. I guess you can never have too many tongs!

 

Fancy Measuring Cups & Spoons

Who doesn’t love a set of fancy measuring cups and spoons?

 

100 Days of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous

An update to my 2014 list – Lisa’s new cookbook focuses on weeknight meals. I have made so, so, so many of these recipes and they have become staples in my repertoire. Some favorites: chicken chili, veggie and bean burritos, snack bars and so many lunch ideas!

Speaking of food – here are a few of my favorite meals to make these days:

Killers of the Flower Moon

Ok, so, I really haven’t read nearly as many books this calendar year as I had hoped, but even if I had read a book a day, Killers of the Flower Moon would still be at the top of my list. This book is about the murders of the Osage Indians back in the 1920s and is so fascinating, disturbing and unbelievable.

 

Glassybabies

Glassybaby votive holders have become rather special in our home. We live just four blocks from the Glassybaby glass blowing studio and these little votives are a fixture in our neighborhood and now our home. They’re a signature Seattle item – most Seattleites have a vast collection. They are so beautiful, all hand made right here in Madrona and every Glassybaby supports a different cause.

 

Faux Sheepskin Throw

Pottery Barn does not disappoint with this super cozy throw. I got it as a throw but it ended up becoming a layer in our bedding because I love snuggling up with it. Our cat doesn’t seem to mind this either! 😉

 

Zella Keep It Cool Crop Leggings

Apparently these are everyone else’s favorite leggings too because they’re sold out at Nordstrom right now! These are my most favorite leggings I have ever had. Keep checking back!

 

Athleta Beyond Soft Pranayama Wrap

This is one of the coziest little sweater/wraps I’ve ever had. I love wrapping myself up in it in the morning or the evenings and being all cozy. It’s great to pair with leggings to go to the gym/studio or wear around the house or with your favorite athleisure combo out and about.

 

Lalicious Sugar Scrub

I use this incredible scrub on my feet every other day in the shower and it’s divine. I love the smell {brown sugar vanilla is my favorite}, the way it feels and the texture. Plus, it makes my feet so soft!

 

CND Vinylux Nail Polish

Vinylux nail polish has been my go-to for several years now. You have to get the top coat, too. I can get 7-10 days from a manicure with this nail polish and I’ve gotten as many as 7 days doing my own nails.

 

Arbonne Calm Daily Moisturizer

I tried to veer from this and only ended up disappointed. This moisturizer feels so light and calming on my sensitive skin. It’s really nice stuff!

Ben’s First Christmas

As they always seem to, the holidays kind of snuck up on me this year. I knew in the back of my mind they were approaching and I’d think about and plan something every now and then but every time I thought about the holidays I would realize they were still so far away… until they weren’t! In any case, we wanted to make Ben’s first Christmas special for all of us.

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Our holiday season kicked off with the two holiday parties we had – one we attended and one we hosted. We baked a few batches of Christmas cookies – our nanny was super helpful and baked several dozen. Somewhere along the line we nearly ran out of Christmas cookies, though, so I ended up whipping up a double batch of gingersnaps to take to the NICU and antepartum units at the hospital where Ben was born.

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Speaking of babies being born – one of the best Christmas gifts we received was the birth of our nephew Nico! Baby Nico was born on Christmas Eve in Chicago. We are SO excited for proud parents Alina and Alberto and can’t wait to meet their sweet boy. It’s going to be so much fun that Nico and Ben are less than 7 months apart!

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We celebrated Christmas Eve by going up to the mountains for the afternoon. Ben had never played in the snow before so we stuffed him into his snowsuit and laid him down in a heap of snow. He wiggled around and basically made a snow angel and inadvertently sprayed himself in the face with snow! He wasn’t too keen on that, but I think he liked being up in the mountains.

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It was a beautiful day up there – we were at Alpental, a ski resort, and the evergreens were covered in light, fluffy, powdery snow. It was spectacular and a perfect backdrop for our first time bringing Ben to the mountains in the winter.

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True to tradition, that evening we read “The Night Before Christmas” to Ben before tucking him in for his long winter’s nap. Once Ben was asleep for the night Alex and I made fondue and popped a nice bottle of Spanish wine for dinner.

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{this is actually the Polar Express, but I thought it was a cute moment}

I was a little slow in finishing up wrapping gifts so we huddled downstairs in and finished up my Santa tasks and got everything ready for Christmas morning.

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Santa brought us the amazing gift of sleep for Christmas this year! Ben almost slept through the night, but slept in the morning until 7 a.m.!!! It was so nice to sleep in and not be awaken multiple times throughout the night. We all woke up in a great mood ready to celebrate Christmas.

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Christmas morning was lovely. We were together as a little family. I made an almond pastry, called a Swedish Kringler, that my aunt Sarah has made for many years on Christmas. I had never made it before but it is divine!

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We had lots of gifts to open. It was so sweet to see all of the people who thought of Ben. We had gifts come as far away as Spain {Our friends Elizabeth and Lois were back in town from Spain for the holiday and stopped by for a visit on Friday. It was SO nice to see them.}!

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The bulk of the day was spent hanging out on the floor in the living room in front of the fire playing with Ben and his new toys. Ben is developing so fast – it’s something new every day at this point. He was really starting to master sitting up on his own. He can sit up unsupported but not for terribly long and he still crashes over quite a bit but there was a major improvement on Christmas day.

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We also enjoyed Skyping/FaceTiming with our families. It was so fun to “meet” baby Nico via Skype – these video calling features make living far away so much easier. While we would have loved to have seen our families in person on Christmas, we are so glad that we were home in Seattle for the holidays.

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Our first Christmas with Ben was wonderful. We will really treasure the family time we had together and the memories we made.

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Merry Christmas!

We’d like to take a moment to wish all of our friends and family a very merry Christmas! Since there is no snow in Seattle we headed east to the mountains on Christmas Eve to give Ben his first introduction to snow. On Christmas day we plan on having a relaxing day by the fire at our house. Our fingers are crossed that Santa will visit us tonight, but either way we’ll have some tasty Christmas pastries in the morning and sit around spending time together. We’re hoping to connect with our families on FaceTime or Skype, as well.

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Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Third Annual Holiday Party

Our third annual holiday party is another one for the books! We are so, so glad we decided to carry out the tradition of hosting a holiday party. For a while we were on the fence – life is a lot more complicated these days with worrying about nap times and feeding schedules of an energetic, squirmy 6-month old. Ultimately, we decided to pick a really easy menu and go from there.

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As it turned out, this holiday party was both of our favorite yet! There was absolutely no stress going into it – we had the experience of two big parties before and sort of had things dialed in for the most part. Not only did that make it easier now that we’ve got Ben, but it made it more enjoyable and allowed for an event where we felt we could actually spend time with our guests and not worry about anything else.

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This year we had right around 30 friends {including 2 family members!} over for the evening. I’d say a solid 2/3 of the crew has kids now and we opted to make this an adults-only affair. We got a lot of really positive feedback from both the parents and the non-parents that they appreciated it was a kid-free evening. Ben was home but we had our nanny downstairs watching him. As it turned out, he slept through the whole dang thing!

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Our food and drink spread was pretty similar to previous years with a few minor tweaks. I really enjoy cooking and putting together food to entertain with. I didn’t really stretch my creativity this year, which was probably a good thing! Some tried and true staples were as far as I went.

Ben’s nanny was a huge help – she baked cookies last week during his nap time! I enjoy baking Christmas cookies but always over-do it, so this year she saved me from that {and may have overdone it herself!}. I managed to still bake gingersnaps, peppermint bark and sugar cookies, while she made the most amazing lintzer cookies {omg you have to make them!}, lemon bars and a lemon polenta cake. She is a far better baker than I am!

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In addition, I hired a babysitter for the day before the party so I could take the day to get everything organized and prepped. As it turns out, that was a very wise move! The day of the party I put Ben in the baby carrier and had him hang out with me while I got some stuff done. I explained what I was doing and shared with him our holiday party tradition. Alex and I hope to continue this party for many years!

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One of my favorite parts about our holiday party tradition is bringing our many groups of friends together. Alex and I feel so fortunate to have so many friends in Seattle and we’ve really made this city our home, in part because of the friendships we have here. I was having such a good time on Saturday night that I forgot to take any photos during the party! Oops! I guess there’s always next year…

Merry Christmas!

It’s our first Christmas at home. Ever. Just the two of us. And we are so enjoying each other’s company, the beautiful fire in our fireplace and simply being home together.

{Earlier in the week we prepped a bunch of cinnamon and orange rolls to enjoy throughout the holidays.}

{Earlier in the week we prepped a bunch of cinnamon and orange rolls to enjoy throughout the holidays.}

{Alex was in charge of the cinnamon rolls and I was in charge of the orange ones.}

{Alex was in charge of the cinnamon rolls and I was in charge of the orange ones.}

{Mmmmm!}

{Mmmmm!}

I’m fairly certain we’ve seen our extended family more this year than any other year since moving to Seattle, which we are both very thankful for. That made it easier for us to stay here this holiday season. We’ve also got a big year ahead of us and we are so grateful to have had the time together at home.

{This was our first Christmas with Henry cat! I think the best gift for him was getting to go outside today.}

{This was our first Christmas with Henry cat! I think the best gift for him was getting to go outside today. We’ve been spoiling him with treats, cuddles and catnip toys all day 🙂 }

{Jackson got a new toy and a special treat today, but his best gift was a very solid ball playing session at the park and getting to help us unwrap our Christmas gifts.}

{Jackson got a new toy and a special treat today, but his best gift was a very solid ball playing session at the park and getting to help us unwrap our Christmas gifts.}

We have both taken some time off work for the holidays and are enjoying the best Christmas present ever… seemingly bottomless snow in the mountains!

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{I couldn’t get over the view of the snowy trees under the unexpected sunny sky. Yesterday at Crystal Mountain was by far the most beautiful ski day of the season.}

{Powder day at Stevens Pass! 12.21.15}

{Powder day at Stevens Pass! 12.21.15}

Merry Christmas. Love, the Allens 🙂

Second Annual Holiday Party

For the second year in a row we invited our friends to join us in celebrating the holidays at our home. Both Alex and I love to entertain and have people over, plus, we love the holidays, so it was the perfect excuse for a party! Our holiday party last year was so much fun that we had been looking forward to it all year long…

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A LOT has changed with our friends in the last year – six of our friends were pregnant at the last party and there were some pregnancies {and births} that happened since then {four new babes in the last three weeks!!}, so needless to say, our crowd was a little bit smaller this year.

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We had a big spread of food and drinks and had a wonderful time spending the evening with so many of our friends. It’s especially fun to pull in our friends from different groups and allow them to become acquainted with each other.

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{A big thanks to Carrie for being the photographer!}

{A big thanks to Carrie for being the photographer!}

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{The Maple Bourbon Smash drink was a huge hit again this year!}

{The Maple Bourbon Smash drink was a huge hit again this year!}

{We had all sorts of food, from stuffed mushrooms, to ham sandwiches, to cheese and charcuterie to veggies and a variety of dips... and Carrie brought lots of her amazing cookies!}

{We had all sorts of food, from stuffed mushrooms, to ham sandwiches, to cheese and charcuterie to veggies and a variety of dips… and Carrie brought lots of her amazing cookies!}

Alex and I are both exhausted today and are looking forward to a low-key holiday “break” at home in Seattle this year. We hope it will be filled with skiing!

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{Thanks for coming, friends!}

{Thanks for coming, friends!}

Our Mexican Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving we did something a little different… We went to Mexico! Thanksgiving is a holiday we typically spend with Alex’s family because his sister and her husband are usually in Italy for Christmas {her husband is from Italy}. This year we picked Mexico because Alex’s parents wanted to take a trip with us to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, which was in October. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico turned out to be the perfect spot!

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Alex and I headed south a few days before everyone else so we could get a mini vacation just the two of us down there since last time we were in PV we didn’t have any time to ourselves. It turned out that the flying gods were not on our sides, though, because we ended up getting stuck in San Diego, where we had a layover.

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There are far worse places to be than San Diego, so we made the most of it and did a little exploring around the city. We had a fantastic dinner at Queenstown Public House. It was SO good. We loved walking through the Little Italy neighborhood and seeing all of the holiday decorations.

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24 hours after we were supposed to land in Puerto Vallarta, we finally made it! The weather was gorgeous that day and we made it through the immigration line in literally 1 minute, which was a stark contrast to the last time I went through immigration there!

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Both of us enjoyed our evening together, though we were exhausted from our second travel day, and then we patiently awaited the arrival of Alex’s parents the next day.

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It was so nice to be back in Puerto Vallarta again – it had only been about 9 months since we were there, but Alex didn’t spend more than 24 hours in PV so he had fun exploring and checking things out.

{One of the first nights we took a cab into Old Town and walked along the beach and had a fantastic dinner right on the sand at La Palapa. It was a top favorite for us all!}

{One of the first nights we took a cab into Old Town and walked along the beach and had a fantastic dinner right on the sand at La Palapa. It was a top favorite for us all!}

{Gorgeous view out to sea.}

{Gorgeous view out to sea.}

{View up the coast from Old Town.}

{View up the coast from Old Town.}

{Most of our days were spent by the pool or walking the beach. We all had great rooms at the Casa Magna Marriott, which I would HIGHLY recommend, and I loved watching the sun rise from my bed!}

{Most of our days were spent by the pool or walking the beach. We all had great rooms at the Casa Magna Marriott, which I would HIGHLY recommend, and I loved watching the sunrise from my bed!}

{The weather was great for most of the trip, though we did have two very rainy days and a couple other overcast days. It surely didn't ruin the fun, though! We made the best of the weather and found other things to entertain us.}

{The weather was great for most of the trip, though we did have two very rainy days and a couple other overcast days. It surely didn’t ruin the fun, though! We made the best of the weather and found other things to entertain us.}

{Alina and I planned a special celebration on Wednesday night for Donna and Stan to commemorate their anniversary. We started out with a photo shoot!}

{Alina and I planned a special celebration on Wednesday night for Donna and Stan to commemorate their anniversary. We started out with a photo shoot!}

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{The photos led us down to the beach...}

{The photos led us down to the beach…}

{I didn't get a good photo, but we had a special table on the beach and had a delicious 3-course dinner. It was so intimate and personal and I had fun listening to Donna and Stan telling stories of memories of their 35 years of marriage.}

{I didn’t get a good photo, but we had a special table on the beach and had a delicious 3-course dinner. It was so intimate and personal and I had fun listening to Donna and Stan telling stories of memories of their 35 years of marriage.}

{The weather turned on us on Thanksgiving day, but we were grateful that the hotel was preparing special Thanksgiving dinners for the Americans! Donna and Stan's balcony was enormous and had a table big enough for all of us, so we pulled the table under the overhang and had our turkey dinner outside in the rain.}

{The weather turned on us on Thanksgiving day, but we were grateful that the hotel was preparing special Thanksgiving dinners for the Americans! Donna and Stan’s balcony was enormous and had a table big enough for all of us, so we pulled the table under the overhang and had our turkey dinner outside in the rain.}

{The hotel prepared a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, veggies, cranberry and rolls for us. We were quite surprised how great it tasted!}

{The hotel prepared a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, veggies, cranberry and rolls for us. We were quite surprised how great it tasted!}

{The turkey was so tender and juicy we were able to carve it with a butter knife!}

{The turkey was so tender and juicy we were able to carve it with a butter knife!}

{We had one more rainy day on our trip, which we spent in Old Town and the Romantic Zone.}

{We had one more rainy day on our trip, which we spent in Old Town and the Romantic Zone.}

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{My personal favorite restaurant of the whole trip was Casa Tradicional. I absolutely LOVED the carnitas - the presentation was incredible but the flavor was out of this world!}

{My personal favorite restaurant of the whole trip was Casa Tradicional. I absolutely LOVED the carnitas – the presentation was incredible but the flavor was out of this world!}

{The margarita glasses were so pretty!}

{The margarita glasses were so pretty!}

{Holidays in PV!}

{Holidays in PV!}

{On our last night in PV we had a final celebratory dinner at Cafe de Artistes. The ambiance of the restaurant was so neat - we were outside in a jungle-like setting. The menu was a Mexican-French fusion. We had a really great last night!}

{On our last night in PV we had a final celebratory dinner at Cafe de Artistes. The ambiance of the restaurant was so neat – we were outside in a jungle-like setting. The menu was a Mexican-French fusion. We had a really great last night!}

{The guys enjoyed smoking cigars out on the little point in front of the hotel.}

{The guys enjoyed smoking cigars out on the little point in front of the hotel.}

{Eventually the weather cleared and the sun came back out!}

{Eventually the weather cleared and the sun came back out!}

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{Alex and I had such a wonderful trip! It was so nice to get to spend so many days with Alex's family. We are so very fortunate that we're able to take trips and meet somewhere so we can have that uninterrupted time together!}

{Alex and I had such a wonderful trip! It was so nice to get to spend so many days with Alex’s family. We are so very fortunate that we’re able to take trips and meet somewhere so we can have that uninterrupted time together!}