Rediscovering the Magic of the Holidays in Lake of the Ozarks
By Melinda Rhodes
To the rescue
Soon after Thanksgiving, mere hours after the leftovers were in the fridge, my best friend, Emily, and I were on the road headed to Lake of the Ozarks for a relaxing weekend filled with shopping and entertainment.
With my day-to-day responsibilities in the rearview mirror, I exhaled for what felt like the first time in months. I had been running myself ragged doing things for everyone but myself: Carpooling to soccer tournaments, heading the PTA fundraiser, hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my in-laws—all 32 of them! Emily knew that I was hanging by a thread and if I didn’t take some time for myself, I would unravel altogether. She had fond memories of spending time in Lake of the Ozarks during the holidays and thought that I would enjoy the quiet pace of the enchanting lake town. I mentioned it to my husband and he encouraged the trip, assuring me that he could handle the household for a weekend.
We arrived in Lake of the Ozarks just in time for a late dinner at Baxter’s Lakeside Grille. It was refreshing to have someone else cook and wait on me for a change, especially by friendly and knowledgeable staff. Splitting a plate of Chilean sea bass and sharing a bottle of wine, Em and I swapped stories about awkward moments with our in-laws and commiserated about the hardships of parenthood. After dinner, we checked into the Lodge of Four Seasons. Our conversation, still continuing from dinner, turned to a fit of girlish giggles as we reminisced until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. The pillow on my bed felt lighter than air and I slept until well after 8 the next morning. I can’t remember the last time I stayed in bed that long.
I opened the curtains and discovered that the landscape of frozen earth and bare branches from the night before had been blanketed by fresh powder. I made some coffee, bundled up in my coat and sat on the balcony, basking in the beauty of my surroundings. A bright red cardinal alighted on an evergreen tree dusted with snow. The image was nothing short of a Christmas card. Overhead, an eagle soared across the brilliant blue sky, occasionally interrupted by a swollen cloud. This was welcome.
With the kids back at home and Thanksgiving weekend holiday sales ahead, Em and I set out on a shopping spree. We scraped the snow and frost patterns off the car’s windows and made the short drive to the Osage Beach Premium Outlets. Dozens of stores were ours for exploring. With our VIP Coupon Books in hand to make our money go even farther on deeply discounted prices, our spending started in our favorite stores we don’t have back home: Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Harry and David. With Christmas rapidly approaching, we soon found ourselves in other stores buying stuff for the kids. I smiled as I thought about the kids’ excitement when they opened these on Christmas morning. This trip away actually had me looking forward to the next holiday—a miracle considering how I felt about the holidays while making mashed potatoes for 32 relatives. By the end of the afternoon, we had a car full of bags and were completely exhausted. Fortunately, we planned well and had a Himalayan Salt Stone Massage booked at Spa Shiki.
Unexpected life lessons
The next day, we wandered through the historic strip on Bagnell Dam, without much of an agenda. Here, there is an eclectic collection of small shops, from clothing boutiques to antique stores. The front windows were staged with holiday themes, high-end vintage furniture and obscure collectibles. One of my favorite finds was a small tractor toy that I purchased for my father-in-law. I also scored a fabulous mirror to hang in my entryway at home. Everything we bought here was unique—no need to worry about duplicating gifts or decorations found in the big-box retailers.
As the blue, winter sky turned to the cold, gray shade of dusk, we made our way to Highway 5 and grabbed a spot on the side of the road for the Lighted Christmas Parade. I watched in wonder as each entry passed in front of us, completely mesmerized by the elaborate floats and talented performers.
My attention turned to the family next to us as one of the children complained her hands were cold. Instead of chastising the girl for not wearing thicker gloves, her mother lovingly told her that they would get some hot chocolate as soon as the parade was over to warm her up. The father hoisted his son up on his shoulders for a better view of the parade, laughing and grinning the whole time.
It surprised me how much this time alone allowed me to reflect on my own interactions with my family. I had stretched myself out too far, packing my schedule by saying yes to everything. I realized that it’s most important to spend time enjoying each other. I promised myself to purge my planner of things that weren’t necessary when I got home, then hugged Emily and thanked her for knowing how much I needed this trip. “That’s what friends are for,” she replied with a smile.
A fond farewell
Before heading home, Emily shared more Lake of the Ozarks holiday magic with me by hitting the Versailles Unity Circle of Lights—one of three free drive-through light parks in Lake of the Ozarks. Each display illuminated the dark night and brightened my spirit even more; it was like driving through the literal light at the end of the tunnel. When I get home, I will be a better wife, mother and friend because of this trip, I told myself. As we said goodbye to the unforgettable Lake of the Ozarks, Emily and I agreed to return next year—and next time, we’d share the enchantment with our families.