12 Days of Christmas: Day 2 – Christmas Cards

I enjoy both sending and receiving Christmas cards. I put all of them on our fridge and even keep up the photo cards year-round. It’s really fun to get something in the mail, especially when it comes with Christmas cheer.

Standard Cards

When we were first married, I sent cards I purchased from Target or Costco. Target is a given, with their giant assortment of options. Costco, I’d recommend as they usually have a box of a couple dozen hand-made looking cards for not too much. Bonus – not many folks get their cards from there so you’ll not be as likely as Target cards to send out the same ones as someone else.

Photo Cards

People with kids (or favorite pets) have it really easy. Take a photo of kid/pet – or, for the really brave, get a photo taken of your entire family. Upload photo to a photo website, pick a card design, and they’ll mail them to your house. If you’re fancy, they may even send them directly to your recipients for you.

This year, the photo selection was exceptionally easy. Matt took a great photo of her when we were at Shenandoah this last time. We’d been down to Dark Hallow Falls and she insisted on walking/hiking/climbing back herself. When she got tired, she would find somewhere to sit then plop down for a bit. We used Mpix yet again because they are at a great price-point for the quality. I ordered them in mid-November, not because I’m that much of an overachiever but because they had a great deal.

Christmas Letters

I come from a family that sends out a Christmas letter each year. Maybe it’s a generational thing but I know almost no one my age that does the same. Let’s blame Facebook for us all knowing far too much about one another and not feeling the need to share via a letter. I do enjoy the ones we received, though, as they’re usually from folks who either aren’t on Facebook or who don’t post there often.

One More Thing

Before I go, I must remind you of a few things:

  • Not everyone celebrates Christmas…but that doesn’t mean you send them nothing when your Christmas-celebrating loved ones get a card. Hanukkah cards are easy to find and come in multi-packs. Find a funny and/or heart-warming “You mean a lot to me.” sort of card for those without a preferred December holiday.
  • Don’t forget cards for…that aunt you don’t see often, coworkers (I pass out those 6/$1 cards Target always has), the person who cuts your hair/takes care of your kid/cleans your house, and your mail carrier and/or UPS delivery team (especially true if you’re devout Amazon Prime mailers)
  • Start a Google Doc to keep track of mailing addresses and the list of non-mailed cards you passed out

Talk Back

Do you send cards? What type do you send? Do you send a letter?

Coming tomorrow…finding gifts

12 Days of Christmas – Day 1: The Tree(s)

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.)

Talk Back

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

Rest of December

I’d had all of these plans to blog later in the month but my flurry of Christmas-related posts basically zapped all of my energy. Plus the whole thinking about and reading about my memoir. (Haven’t exactly done any writing for that yet, other than a first draft of an introduction.)

But, the month and year are now gone and lots happened so, yeah, a blog post is in order.

First, there was Christmas here in Virginia.

Christmas was about as calm as you can hope for with a one year old. She slept in a bit so I got some more sleep than usual (Matt was up and wide awake at seven, as he can no longer sleep in.)

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We took advantage of the fact this is probably the last Christmas we won’t have a kid running around, demanding to open presents right away so we waited for Matt to prep part of breakfast (sausage gravy and biscuits) before we did them. I got Matt a Nintendo 3DS so he has something else to do when I drag him shopping or Squirms doesn’t need tons of attention plus some clothes and candy and a new chef’s knife (a cheap one that Cook’s Illustrated rated very highly from Victorinox). Between Squrims and Matt I got a wine fridge, Jungle Book on Blueray, and some candy. We got squirms a toy box as her big gift then some clothes and books.

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(I took this photo just yesterday but it’s a good shot of her with her toy box. She LOVES trying to climb into it to get her toys out.)

We basically relaxed – okay, I relaxed, Squirms was a busy baby, and Matt worked to prep dinner – most of the day until his parents arrived in the afternoon. Matt basically made Thanksgiving dinner for Christmas dinner which was great to me as I love turkey and the traditional sides. He also made lots of Christmas cookies and his mom brought down more so we had plenty for dessert. Then we took advantage of the grandparents to get everything packed for the trip without having to worry about Squirms either getting in the way or waking up from us, erm, loudly discussing what we did and did not need to bring with us. We got his mom a bunch of books and some earrings and his father a subscription to Netflix (with the implied gift of assistance to get them all set up – I’ve already got a queue started for both of them but have yet to get their TV which may not actually be wifi enabled to stream). They got us a date night with babysitting (my mother in law’s idea) and a set of flannel sheets (my father in law’s idea). And Squirms got her first puzzle, a book, and a few other toys.

Second Christmas was the day after Christmas, when we headed to Florida to see my parents. We went out to a really nice late lunch / early dinner in Celebration (yeah, the very fake Disney-created suburb) and exchanged gifts on the street by where our car was parked. My parents got Matt some clothes, me a bag I’d wanted, Squirms some toys (which they’d brought down with them when they came for her birthday and had us wrap up for her), and we all got two days stay at a hotel in St Augustine. My brother got her some cute socks and slippers and a Minnie Mouse toy. His future mother in law got her a little beanie baby moose. My parents got from us a Dust Buster (for my mom, by her specific request) and a new gas grill (for my dad, joint give from us and my brother). We got my brother a Home Depot gift card and one from Ulta for his fiancee.

Then we were in my hometown for a few days where we did some shopping, some walking around town, and lots of football and TV watching (including a horrible show about cruises with a narrator who not only pronounces words incorrectly but also states totally obvious things like “but we must return to the ship as the captain is preparing to move to the next port”). Squirms went to the park for the first time and wasn’t a big fan of the swings or the slide but really enjoying the bouncy whale.

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Then it was off to St Augustine for two nights before we headed back. I’ve always loved St Augustine, though it’s very Disney-fied touristy. But there’s history and a great historic area with shopping and restaurants. My brother even drove over for a day to have some more time with us. Squirms had lots of fun getting pushed around in her stroller but, if her behavior out to eat there was any indication, our days of taking her to dinner out with us may be at an end (we’re chancing it tonight, we’ll see how it goes).

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Squirms screamed most of the flight down – it was nap time and she really, really hates being held for naps at this point – and was pretty happy on the way back up, as long as she was getting fed. She got dragged all over on the trip but was happy most of the time, though she was struggling with teething something fierce the first few days. She now has my parents fully wrapped around her fingers.

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We ended the year exhausted from our trip back home (and my father in law somehow going to departures then leaving the airport entirely before finally getting us). We ate far too much junk food that Matt’s mom had prepared and probably drank a bit too much wine so were in bed before 11. I woke up from the fireworks from somewhere nearby (Fairfax City?) but quickly went to bed. Staying up until Midnight is for people without children.

So, that was the rest of our December. And now it’s a new year but I’m not feeling the new year spirit yet, just that it’s still my holiday break (okay, I extended it a day as no one was going to be in, anyway). Maybe it’ll hit me that it’s now 2015 on Monday, when I return to the usual routine.

Christmas Countdown – Songs and Carols

Christmastime has some of the best – and most annoying to hear over and over – songs. There’s the ones you sing along to every time you hear them, the ones that haunt you long after they’re over, the ones that make you groan, and the ones that you hum as you wait for your lunch to heat up at work. There’s just so many to choose from, but I’ve managed to limit this list to just my top 10.

  1. Do you Hear What I Hear?: Tons of versus but not nearly as annoying as Little Drummer Boy.
  2. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: One of those haunting songs that forces me to really focus on the meaning of the holiday. I nearly cried when we sang it at church dinner last week.
  3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: I can never keep the little afterthoughts to myself when I hear it sung.
  4. The First Noel: So, Noel is my middle name so I could either hate this song or love it. I chose the later because it takes far less energy. I just wish the tune were a bit more exciting.
  5. Emanuel (the Amy Grant song): Very 90s Contemporary Christian but that’s probably why I like it so much. I can’t remember the last time I actually heard it without specifically seeking it out though maybe I’m the only one who’s such a fan.
  6. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing: My love of this is simple – it’s really fun to sing all of those Hallelujahs that make up the chorus.
  7. All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey’s one great hit): Partly because it’s a great song, partly because the role it plays in Love Actually.
  8. Handel’s Messiah – specifically the “He shall be called…wonderful. Counselor. Prince. Of. Peace” movement: You can’t help but get excited when you hear it. It always brings back memories of a particular Christmas pageant at church, when my future eight grade science teacher was one of the wise men and was totally in character as he waited to walk down the left aisle to see the baby Jesus. I tried to say hi to him but he just stood there, stone serious through the entire movement.
  9. Silent Night: Simple tune but powerful lyrics. My parents’ church always sings it as we lit our candles and walked out into the chilly night at the end of Christmas Eve services. It has a special magic that would only break when my brother would suddenly announce it was time to go home so we could open our one gift we got to open early.
  10. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: I’m always a fan of Charles Wesley hymns – it’s like the secret language of Methodists if you can name a few dozen of them – and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Christmas Countdown – The Tree

I may have grown up with artificial trees but we live close enough now to where they actually grow them that we’ve always gotten a real one from some farm up near Matt’s parents’ house. This year is no exception, a lovely fir of some sort from good ‘ole Bud. It arrived on Sunday via my in-laws and we spent a few hours in the afternoon putting the ornaments on.

I’ll show more of the tree later but I’ve got to talk about the ornaments.

We have a lot of ornaments. Matt started collecting them when he was little and, though we’re certainly much pickier about what ornaments we buy now, we still have far too many to go on the tree – four of those ornament boxes plus two other equally sized boxes worth. But, every year, there are a few that must appear on the tree.

There’s the little blue train that was part of the first set Matt’s parents got for him. (At some point his parents got him his own artificial tree to put in his bedroom, complete with rattles and toys as ornaments.)

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There’s the bungee jumping Santa.

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One of the blown-glass ornaments from the Corning Museum of Glass we visited one of the times I went to see him at RIT.

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The ornament my old officemate got us to celebrate Squirms’s birth.

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And, last but not least, the first ornament I bought for Matt, before we were dating.

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Enough of my delaying. Our beautiful tree.

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And the required “baby with the tree” photo that I took yesterday when she, for the first time, had any interest at all in the tree.

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Christmas Countdown – Holiday Movies

There are two main kids of Christmas movie fans: those that like the sappy ones like Miracle on 34th Street or anything made for ABC Family/Hallmark Channel (aka my mother) and people who like movies that feature Christmas but aren’t really about Christmas. I’ll watch the Christmas-focused ones, sure, particularly if I’m not feeling Christmas-y, though I just love the ones that remind me of the feeling of Christmas or about how complicated the holidays are.

So, here’s my top five favorite Christmas movies:

Number 5 – Home Alone

I was exactly the right age when this came out to enjoy the physical comedy and absurd storyline of a kid getting forgotten when his family goes away for the holidays but doesn’t notice until hours later. And my brother looked just like the main character when he was that age.

Number 4 – Diehard

What? It’s a Christmas movie. It’s his wife’s work Christmas party that gets invaded by terrorists. Sure, it’s pretty dated now and the sequels were mostly horrible but the original’s worth re-watching for the action and comedic moments.

Number 3 – The Santa Clause

Okay, probably counts as a “real” Christmas movie as he’s, you know, turning into Santa Clause. I love the elf who explains the contract he agreed to and shows him around the North Pole.

Number 2 – White Christmas

Corny, corny, corny but in a wonderful Hollywood Golden Age of Musicals sort of way. Favorite scene is when the two men re-enact the sisters’ dance and song after they run away from the club. You’ll never get any of the songs they sing out of your head and the long dance sequence makes zero sense but you don’t care at all.

Number 1 – Love Actually

Follows a bunch of different pairs of folks during the five weeks leading up to Christmas as they experience the highs and lows of love in a modern society. They’re all connected to each other, though you don’t find that out until the end (I’m not ruining anything with saying that, I promise). There’s Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson and bunch of other either excellent eye candy or great actors.

So – are you a fan of Christmas movies? Real ones or my style of movies?

Christmas Countdown – Breakfast at the Manger

Our church has a great annual event called Breakfast at the Manger where kids are invited to come and, well, have breakfast at the manger. They bring in donkeys and goats and bunnies from a local petting zoo and the kids can dress up as a wise person, angel, or shepherd (complete with appropriate headwear). Everyone enjoys a simple breakfast of pancakes and juice boxes put together but the grandfather-aged Christ’s Curmudgeons men’s Bible study group. There’s also a formal program where they tell the story of Jesus’s birth and sing songs and some sort of art and craft project going on in another room.

Not having a kid before, this was our first year attending and we really enjoyed ourselves. Squirms was too little to get much out of petting the animals (though we tried multiple times) or craft time or the outfits but we could tell she’s really going to love it in a few years.

I took a ton of photos but most turned out too blurry to be usable. But, hey, whatever. It’s Christmas!

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