You thought I forgot about today, didn’t you? Okay, I sort of did, but I had a plan. My favorite thing about this season is spending time with family, particularly when my parents make it a point to come up from Florida.
Stockings are, well, they’re pretty awesome. A giant sock filled with little treasures. I blame my Nana for the fact my family still has them, regardless of people’s ages. She always filled my parents’ stockings with things like surge protectors and new toothbrushes. The idea is that everyone buys things for everyone else’s stockings. (In reality, I full everyone’s but my own, with a few additions here or there.)
You’ll want to include something edible because isn’t that what most folks expect in a stocking? Candy, homemade cookies, fruit chews, gum, nuts, granola/protein bars.
Non-edible is easy for kids – small books, Hotwheels cards, bandaids with a fun pattern or character, tsum tsum plushies, playdough. For adults – a bit harder though I like to include gloves, earrings, nail polish, bottle openers, hot cocoa packets, and those wipes for putting on bug spray.
Do you have any great ideas for stocking stuffers? Do you aim for low-price or just small enough to fit?
Some families have a tradition of wrapping up 24 books which are then opened up one at a time on the days counting up to Christmas. I am not so organized. I only went as far as taking Lizzie to the library where she picked out a few books – which she has zero interest in reading for some reason – with the theme of Christmas. Those books are back at the library already so I don’t have anything to share about that. I do, however, have a list of my favorite Christmas books:
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
- Merry Christmas, Mouse! (of the If you give a…. series) by Laura Numeroff, Felicia Bond (Illustrator)
- The Night Before Christmas – particularly love the Berenstain Bear version
- The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas by Laura Murray
Do you have any favorite kid’s Christmas books?
Yeah, I know, it’s like four days until Christmas. We all should have had our presents wrapped long, long ago. But, come on now, only people like my mom and friend, Adrian, are that organized. Most of mine are wrapped, sure, but that’s only because my parents arrive in two days and my spare bedroom can’t contain all of my Amazon boxes and random bags of stuff purchased in local stores AND the stuff they shipped here to wrap.
But, should you be one of those folks with a whole pile of wrapping in front of you, I’ve got a few tips to share:
- Craft stores are great for supplies – they have lots of tape, plain gift bags and tissue paper, and photo boxes with holiday and non-holiday themes. (Make sure you check whatever store you’re going to, they probably have a 40% one item or 20% off everything coupon going on. You could also ask some nice person near you in line if they have an extra print coupon.)
- Buy heavyweight paper. Like, truly heavy-weighted stuff. If you can, feel the paper to see its thickness. Thicker paper is easier to wrap with because it will fold where you want it to, rather than just crinkle.
- Buy paper with a grid on the back. Again, makes wrapping easier. Okay, cutting is easier because you have nice straight lines.
- Buy twice as much tape as you think you’ll need. Same for paper. I can tell you from experience that only Walgreens will have supplies left and everyone else will be there buying them, too.
- If you got someone a gift card or made a donation in their name, wrap it up in a big box. It’ll show the significance of the gift and opened something that’s actually wrapped is much more fun than opening a card.
- Make your own gift bag tags that tie onto the bag – index cards cut in half work totally fine and you can borrow a hole-punch from a neighbor. Then you can more easily re-use the bags than if you stuck a label onto them.
- Use a hairtie to keep a roll of paper closed and tidy. Better yet, use two – one at the top and one at the bottom.
- Have a weird item to wrap? YouTube probably has a tutorial for how to wrap it. Or your local mall, should be truly brave, probably has a middle school band/chorus/sailing team wrapping things for tips/donations. They’ll love the challenge.
- Let your kids help by adding bows to things. (Lizzie had great fun helping Matt this way.)
- Hoard Amazon boxes starting in October. They’re great for odd-shaped gifts or wrapping together multi-part gifts (like that movie, microwave popcorn, fuzzy blanket set you put together for a friend).
- When putting presents under your tree, put ones that will be given to recipients later at the back. (Like my in-laws will be here later in the day, so theirs will be back there.) This way, you won’t have to keep pushing presents for guests not already present back when your preschooler wants to tear into her next gift.
Any tips on gift wrapping to share?
I’m at risk of repeating myself. See, two years ago I wrote a post all about my favorite Christmas songs. I came up with a Top 10 list and everything!
So I guess I shouldn’t just repeat myself…so I’ll share a story, instead.
I was in elementary school when the School of Music I took piano lessons with had a preparatory session for it’s annual Christmas concert. (There were only three teachers in said school, so don’t start thinking this was some giant operation.) One of the teachers had us all sit together and told us we were going to help her organize the program.
We would be dividing ourselves into two groups: those playing secular songs and those playing sacred songs. She carefully explained that sacred songs are those you sing in church. Secular songs were songs that weren’t about things you heard about very much in church.
We all sat there for awhile and thought about whether our songs were secular or sacred. Then, we were told to divide ourselves, secular on one side, sacred on the other.
There’s always that one kid. And, in my church (where my music school was), there was Ross.
Ross proudly announced that his song was both scared and secular (think it was “Up on the Rooftop”) because, if he could sing about poop during the church service, any song could be considered sacred.
After a bit of questioning, it was determined that this poop song was not part of the children’s choir repertoire, but a song he’d made up himself and sung – to his parents’ embarrassment, I’m sure – loudly in the pew during a recent church service.
I thought I’d share some specific ideas of what to bring to one of those holiday gift exchanges – call it white elephant, yankee swap, or whatever – because my work is having theirs tomorrow so it’s on my mind. The premise of them all is the same: bring a wrapped gift under some dollar limit then sit back and watch as your coworkers pick and swap their way to happiness. Okay, more like mild amusement. I came up with these ideas while waiting for my breakfast oatmeal to cool down / work computer to log me into the network.
If you have a $10 limit….
- Mug with tea, coffee, or hot chocolate packets
- Christmas music CD – make it something classic like Bing Crosby or a good mix of songs from current popular artists
- Cookie mix and decorating supplies (tubed icing, colored sugar)
- Joke or random facts books
- Small first aid kit
- Flashlight (could have used this when we lost power last night!)
- Card or board game – Uno, Scrabble, Apples to Apples
If you have a $15 limit….
- Set of Legos
- Nice chocolates
- Candles, either nice scented ones or flameless that look nice
- Stationery set – cards with envelopes or maybe a wax seal set
- Pair of Funko pop figurines along a given theme (Star Wars would be really popular right now)
- Whiskey stones
- Pound of local coffee – make sure it’s ground, not everyone has a grinder
If you have a $20 limit….
- Book and movie version of same story
- Wine/beer glasses – check out somewhere like HomeGoods that usually has at least a few sets on sale
- Cookie spices set from Penzeys
- Toy with storybook set of a currently popular character (for someone’s kid)
- Last-minute wrapping kit (paper, tape, scissors, labels)
Mmmmm, cookies. I didn’t grow up with the tradition of Christmas cookies but I’m very happy to be part of it now. Baking of Christmas cookies starts as soon as humanly possible and the prep begins in mid-November when Matt stocks up on sugar, flour, and cookie spices. (He also picked up some colored sugar this year, for use by a certain blonde little girl.) Most of the cookies stay with us, but we share with anyone that comes over during the season. Making ten different kinds in a season is not at all surprising.
So far, we’ve only made three cookie recipes, all were new to us:
- Butter cookies (Galettes bretonnes) from The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan
- Cinnamon stars (Zimtsterne) from The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking by Mimi Sheraton
- Decorator’s dream cookies from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook by King Arthur Flour
The butter cookies, unfortunately, have little flavor and are quite dry (so, would not recommend). The cinnamon starts are tasty but very German with not much sugar (recommend, if you like semi-sweet cookies). The sugar cookies are quite excellent – easy to roll out and cut and are quite tasty. They even aren’t too sweet when you add sugar decoration.
Do you make cookies for the holidays? Do you hand them out to others to keep them all for yourself?
Oof. I cannot imagine a more, shall we say, contentious topic than Santa.
My parents represent what is probably the most common viewpoint towards Santa. He’s the one who brings you most of your gifts when you’re little. At some point, they told me he wasn’t real and, when my brother started to question it, I was allowed to inform him.
Matt’s parents – okay, his mother – is a die-hard Santa fan. Matt is 34 and, to this day, his mother has yet to ever admit that Santa exists.
I struggle with where Matt and I will be on Santa. For now, it’s easy. Santa exists. He’ll be the one who brings Lizzie most of her presents. He uses special wrapping paper with images of himself on it and no present labels.
But what happens when she’s eight or ten and starts to ask? Do we tell her the truth? Do we give her the “Yes, Viriginia, there is a Santa Clause” answer? Do we pull an Esther (my MIL)?
For now, I’ll just enjoy the fact our little girl gets very, very excited whenever she sees an image of The Man in Red.
When folks talk of holiday stress, finding the right gift for people can be pretty high up there. Nothing too personal for coworkers. Nothing too weird for a gift exchange at work. Something meaningful for family. Something extravagant but not too extravagant for your mother who never buys herself anything nicer than a Starbucks hot chocolate. Something romantic for your partner/spouse. Something more significant than another plastic toy for your kids.
I have a few strategies for gift-finding, all focused on who the gift is for.
Matt makes it easy on me. He drops hints all year long and has an Amazon wish list. I use the following formula: a cookbook I know he’d enjoy that just came out, something he hinted at for awhile, something non-expensive that I know he’d enjoy (copy of a movie he enjoyed, a silly joke book, more Sharpies for marking things in the kitchen), something boring like underwear or socks (because the man will not buy them himself), and fill in with things from his wish list. And, other years, this whole thing goes out the window because he wants something expensive so he gets that big thing and a handful of things just barely bigger than stocking stuffers.
For My Brother and Sister-in-Law
They also have Amazon wish lists. I’ll admit I really don’t know that they’re into enough to stray much on anything expensive that’s not on their list. This year, they got a big, shared gift and I’v also sent a box of stocking stuffer-type things. I make sure to give or send foods I know they like, fancy versions of food I guess they may like (like a really nice tea), something smelly like candles for my SIL, and something fun they can keep on their desk as work (though I totally forgot that this year).
My In-Laws and Mom (aka Easy to Buy For)
Okay, they’re easy. My MIL loves just about anything someone gets for her, especially earrings that, in her words, look like something a cat would want to play with. We see my in-laws often so we just buy them something they hinted at or we think they’d enjoy. Same for my mom, she gives me a few ideas but really enjoys anything you get for her. I try for more impractical for her, in particular, because she is so-very-practical in her normal life. Forces her to live a little and let me spoil her.
My Dad (aka Hard to Buy For)
My dad is a tough cookie. He likes anything you give him, sure, but he’s not really a stuff person. Ask him what he wants and he’ll always say world peace. So, accordingly, I usually give him something that he’ll use up (like a book he’ll read) and make a donation to a cause he supports. (But no more Red Cross – they got hit by two Cat 5 hurricanes that year. I know, correlation is not causation but I felt really, really guilty.) This year, I went in a different direction but I don’t want to spoil it in case he comes and reads this. Sorry, Dad, you’re getting stuff.
If you have a hard-to-buy-for, you can take a few routes that I’ve considered:
- Make a donation to a cause they support
- Buy an experience (concert tickets, sports car rental, etc)
- Buy a piece of art (watercolor of favorite animal or Fat Head of favorite sports star)
- Spend a day with them, doing whatever they want (like go fly fishing with your best bud because he’d always wanted you to try it)
Gift-giving at work is hard. There’s usually corporate and/or government regulations about that sort of thing. If you do give something, make something like cookies that’s generic and won’t just sit on a shelf for the next few years. And only give to the couple folks you work with everyday or you’ll go broke. Give your boss a card and leave it at that – no one wants to explain to HR that they really weren’t trying to buy a good annual review, ‘ya know?
Don’t be lame. Unless it’s formally designated as a White Elephant – aka bring in random stuff you already have or got at a yard sale – don’t bring in something like that because you’ll be The Jerk. Buy with a recipient in mind, like a coffee lover or folks with a small child. Don’t get politically gifts. (Okay, there’s a story here. A very Republican coworker once wound up with a bottle opener that looked like and talked like Bill Clinton when you used it. She was PISSED.) Oh, and don’t be a dork and go way outside of the set dollar limit, if there is one.
How do you find gifts for people? Any tips for finding the right gift? Want to share a funny story of a gift gone wrong?
Coming tomorrow…Christmas lights
The Christmas season first starts for me the day we put up our tree. Well, more like the day we have the tree in the house, the lights and ornaments are on, and the ornament boxes have been put away. It’s a whole ordeal, I won’t lie. Especially now that we’re a two tree household, but I’ll get to that in a little bit.
The Main Tree
The first few years we were married, we had a fake tree. We started with the fake tree that I think Matt had as a kid – I asked, he doesn’t quite remember where that one came from, either – then we got another fake one as part of a day-after-Christmas sale from Target. The new one was pre-lit, only separated into a few large pieces and, you know, wasn’t losing all of its needles.
Then, when we moved to Virginia and real trees weren’t over $100, we switched to real trees. The first year, I insisted we go with Matt’s dad to pick out the specific tree we’d go home with. I took photos and everything. The year after that, we picked out the tree but didn’t stick around long enough to even see it cut – I was over it. Since Lizzie was born, the tree just arrives at our house in early December. Okay, it doesn’t magically get here and we aren’t fancy enough to pay someone to deliver one. Matt’s dad picks it up for us from some farm up in Pennsylvania then brings it down here in the back of his truck. Matt and he then bring it inside, with lots of bickering to make it really festive. Eventually, it’s in the house, the too-low branches are removed, it’s secured in the stand, and I spend an eternity vacuuming up dropped needles.
Where it Goes
Tree placement isn’t as easy as people always think it is. You want somewhere that’s out of the main paths of traffic of your house but is still in a place where you’ll see it often. We have a long and narrow living room, with our front door and the stairs on one end and our fireplace on the other. The middle is taken mostly up by a shoe stand, TV, and big bay window. Previous years, the tree went in the corner, sort of in front of the window but entirely blocking a bookcase. Which isn’t a big deal unless you’re a certain little girl and all of your books that are downstairs are on said bookshelf. So, for the first time, the tree is right in front of the fireplace (which is wood-burning and will certainly not be used until well after the tree is gone).
Lights and Ornaments
Matt puts the lights on because I’d probably poke my eye out or something. Then we put on Christmas music and I sing along rather loud as we put on the ornaments. Off-season, the lights are kept in a hat box (that never held hats, it’s from TJ Maxx) and the ornaments are either in original boxes carefully placed into a big plastic bin or in these ornament organizers. The later I’d love to replace but these ones are sturdy enough and rather light so it’s easy to bring two or three upstairs at a time.
So, the ornaments. It’s a whole thing. We don’t have matching ones, like at all. They are all sort of kinds from copper ones from national landmarks, hand-blown glass balls, wooden figurines, and about anything else you’ve seen as an ornament material. Our collection, which it really is, started out as Matt’s collection. A collection he started when he was Lizzie’s age. While I get annoyed that we have so.many.ornaments when it’s time to put them on or take them off, it is really lovely to go through them and remember where or when we got each one.
The Second Tree (aka Lizzie’s Tree)
This year, we’re starting a new tradition, rather like one Matt had as a kid: Lizzie has her very own tree in her bedroom. It’s just the fancier fake tree we used to use. On it right now are her foam ornaments from her birthday party craft and the little glittery cupcakes she chose from the Dollar Spot (is that still what it’s called?) at Target. I plan to add the extra ornaments I have from a craft project at some point but haven’t gotten any farther than getting the ornaments and hooks into her room.
(Ignore the messy room. Snapped a quick photo while Lizzie was occupied elsewhere.)
Tell me (or better yet, show me) about your tree. Where did you place it? Real or fake? Matching ornaments or all different?
Coming tomorrow: Christmas Cards