Monday, December 30, 2013

From Start to Finish:: Christmas Edition

I hope your Christmas was merry and warm. 

For someone who has always enjoyed the spirit and sights of this holiday, having a toddler in the house blew all previous Christmases out of the water. Her gasps, "ooohhh"s, and squeals pretty much made me forget what we ever did for Christmas before she was around. It must have been pretty dull. Here's a quick highlight reel:

Happy accident:: stuck at Nana's Christmas Eve (thanks, germs)

Round 2:: Christmas morning with Peaches, Pip, & the cousins

One toy. Two happy cousins.

Round 4 (#3 not pictured):: Christmas night. Home at last.
It's worth noting she was incredibly sick for all of these (and another Christmas not shown). And it was still the best Christmas ever. Such a trooper!

But, now Christmas is over. I know the holiday was last week, but we took our tree and decorations down this weekend (they typically are up until New Year's Day) so it is OVER. Except for the view out of my patio doors of an empty Christmas tree. It's a sad, lingering reminder of what was. Kind of like letters from an old relationship. Time to toss it to the curb (or in our case, pass it to a fishing friend who has other plans for it).

While it was here, we loved every minute of it. The smells, the lights, the yummy food...oh, and the presents. On the other hand, my second most favorite part about decorating for Christmas is cleaning up the decorations. It feels like a bigger (cleaner) house when it's all safely packed away. A mini "spring" cleaning. I think even Hayley appreciates the clean look. More room for her to adorn the space with new toys. By tomorrow, this clean space will once again show the aftermath of a toddler tornado. But, for today, it is a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From Presents to Stockings

Christmas is less than a week away.

Picture at The Grove Park, post Christmas Jam fun.

For some, that means it's time to scramble to complete the wrapping, the shopping, and the baking. For others, that means it's almost time to start shopping. That would be me and Graham, respectively. This year, for budget purposes (we have a toddler, enough said), we agreed to only do stockings. Well, I proposed the idea, and he sort of grunted. I assume that means he will have no recollection of that conversation come Christmas morning. But I, for one, stuck to the stockings-only policy. Here's the thing: stockings can actually be one of the best parts about gift selection. Trying to find fun, meaningful, and needful things that fit into a sock?! And, not to brag, but I do say I've done a pretty decent job. On the offchance he were to get a wild hair and read my blog, I won't post his stocking stuffers quite yet. Instead, I'll share the contents of Hayley's stocking and some wishful thinking (ahem) for my own stocking.

Snowmen at Christmas :: My mom started a tradition of a book on Christmas Eve for me as a child. I love it. It's something I always wanted to continue with my own children. So this is Hayley's second annual Christmas Eve book. I'm just so thrilled she adores books. I mean sits-in-her-crib-alone-slowly-flipping-pages adores. Makes my heart happy.

The Snowy Day :: So, of course I had to include a book in her stocking. This is a classic.

Christmas Ornament :: I also got an ornament every year. I am continuing that for Hayley, as well. I snagged a good sale on this one (in ornament form, not a mobile), and I love supporting small businesses (especially mommy-owned!).

B. Fun Keys :: She loves keys and has lost or outgrown her sets. So, to avoid handing mine over on a permanent basis, I thought these would be a fun introduction to the car toy bag.

Toddler Apron (similar, but waaaay more expensive here) :: I snagged a deal in the Target dollar spot (Cartwheel sometimes offers additional discounts on those items!). We had originally planned a hand-crafted play kitchen for this Christmas, but we since decided to hold off one more year. But, this apron will still be fun as she starts being more helpful in the kitchen. And I'm pleased with my $2.40 purchase. Sure, it may not be as cute, but it was a tenth of the price. I'll take it.

iPhone 4s case :: What?? I don't have an iPhone 4s, or any iPhone, for that matter. That's about to change. Graham gets the upgrade, and I adopt his castoff so I can ditch the ever-disappointing Android. I was solidly in the Android corner. Until I had a child and had no patience for lagging apps and cameras that miss EVERY good photo. Also, the little income I do get relies on me having a fast, dependable phone. Buh-bye, Droid.

Moccasins :: I have literally worn holes through the bottom of mine. I love them. But, I would be just as happy if the mister used the coupons and Cartwheel offers available to get these similar ones.

Brookside Dark Chocolate Pomegranate :: Yum. And readily available at stores.

Target gift card :: It seems odd to ask for this from the hubs, but when you don't really have income, and you spend a good portion of your life at Target buying necessities and toddler things, a little momma shopping would be welcome. Especially at after-Christmas sales!

A pedicure :: Do I really need to explain this one? (and I wouldn't mind repeating the day I had with these ladies)

A finished, edited copy of Hayley's one year video. Currently, this is still in pieces.

Anyone else love picking out stuffers for stockings almost more than buying presents?!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

From My Favorite Tunes to Yours

Gosh, Christmas Eve is a week from today. How is that even possible? The good news is I'm nearly ready, though I have several post office trips to make this week. And a few last minute goodies (aren't there always last minute errands?) to grab, including one stop actually on Christmas Eve. Yikes. Fingers crossed Hayley will cooperate...

In the meantime, I thought a few fun, festive posts would be a good change from the serious and the stress. So, I'm sharing one of my sanity-saving secrets for the holidays: feel-good tunes. I love Christmas music. I'm always ready to give it up by Christmas, since we listen to it nonstop. But, it's also bittersweet to know I won't hear it again until after Thanksgiving. So here is a list of my favorites. You know, those songs that I crave and can't help but sing along to while decorating, wrapping, or recovering from the store crowd battles. Pipe in with some of yours. Happy Howling!
Thanks to Scribbles from Emily for free image

  • Christmas in Dixie :: Alabama
  • Tender Tennessee Christmas :: oddly, also Alabama
  • All I Want for Christmas :: Mariah Carey
  • Miss You Most at Christmas Time :: Mariah Carey (she might be one of my fave holiday singers)
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside :: So many good versions (and some not so good) Leon Redbone + Zooey Deschanel (Elf) is great, and you can't go wrong with the classic Dean Martin
  • It's a Marshmallow World :: Dean Martin
  • Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) :: Mariah Carey (told you)
  • A New York Christmas :: Rob Thomas
  • O Holy Night :: As long as a person can sing, it's hard to find a bad version. Here's a poll on this
  • Merry Christmas, Baby :: Ray Charles
  • That Spirit of Christmas (featured in Christmas Vacation) :: Ray Charles
  • Grown Up Christmas List :: I like Amy Grant's & Kelly Clarkson's versions
  • Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays :: N Sync (don't judge)
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas :: Oodles of versions, but Bing is original
  • Someday at Christmas :: Stevie had the original, but Jackson 5 also did it justice. Justin Bieber can stop ruining Christmas songs anytime.
I love so many other songs during the season, but these are the ones I long for in July and can't stop singing between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If Graham hears All I Want for Christmas, or sees me watching Love Actually, one more time, he might hand me divorce papers for Christmas. I'm kidding (I hope).

As a special bonus, here's an oddball song you might not know. It's quirky, fun, and will absolutely invade your brain (and a funny video parody): Dominic, the Christmas Donkey. You're welcome.

Merry Christmas singing!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

From Stressful to Joyful

Maybe it's the holidays (the most wonderful-ly stressful time of the year) or maybe it's just the anticipation of the coming new year. Perhaps it's just life, and I've simply taken more notice. In any case, anxiety seems to be all around me lately. Worry over events yet to happen in my own life. Concerns from friends over relationships and futures. Family struggles with new and ongoing issues. Even Sadie, our ever-happy 9 year old pup, seems to have some stress. (That may be from her recent experience that led to the cone of in the fur.)

It, all of it, can feel overwhelming. It can feel hopeless. And it can certainly feel never-ending. But that's where hope can come in because the stress, the situation, the pain, the fears, the all does change, stop, or take a break. Hanging on until that happens, though, can be tough.

It seems we all have grateful and blessed hearts at Thanksgiving. We see the daily posts of things people are thankful for. Then Black Friday comes, and the magic spirit from the day before seems to quickly fade to...well, black. Stress kicks into high gear. The holiday season, which should be a source of joy and goodwill, is widely acknowledged as the peak of depression and anxiety. Maybe we need to continue our thankful posts through the holiday season. Maybe we need to reread what we wrote. Or maybe we just need a shift in perspective.

I had a dear friend recently give birth to a handsome little man. Her pregnancy and delivery served as a great reminder to me of the emotions I went through just over a year ago. The overpowering worry that plagued me on and off throughout pregnancy disappeared when I got to hold my little girl. Gratitude washed away all concern. Until we got home, and then the late night feedings reignited my Googling and, subsequently, my anxiety. The things that once seemed dire were no longer a part of my life, but their rapid exit left space for new concerns to set up shop. Being a new mom was such a duality of feelings: joy and helplessness. And perhaps that is what happens during this season. What got me through those early challenges is the same thing I've been doing to help myself and others who have been dealing with some discomfort this year: encouragement. Encouragement through listening, kind words, advice when appropriate, displays of love, and prayer. Encouragement to enhance the joy. Because enough joy can start to shine light on the shadows. Perhaps that is why one of the most recited verses of the season is from the angel sent to dispel worry, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy".

So let me encourage any of you who may be experiencing a less than holly-jolly season. Direct your focus and energy on those people and things that enhance your joy. Remove those that remind you of the stress or the anxiety. In the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold, "I hope it enhances your holiday spirit". Whatever "it" may be for you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

From Thanksgiving to Christmas

Plans don't always rarely seem to work out when there is a kid involved. Thanksgiving was another casualty of that phenomenon. Hayley and I both got sick Monday morning before Thanksgiving and didn't recover in time to travel to either of our planned celebrations. So...we spent a very quiet day at home. Just the two of us (Graham had committed to making the only turkey product served at his mom's dinner). I actually didn't mind. Thanksgiving has always been a perk holiday for me. It's nice, but at the end of the day it's a meal and a time to reflect on being thankful. It's really something you can do anywhere. And that's exactly what we did.
She clapped along with the TV :)
We watched the parade. We napped. We made our own feast of chicken and rice, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin cake. (Plus, we got to enjoy leftovers when Graham got home!) We played outside, took walks, and even spent time just being thankful. Hayley did this while eating. No surprises there. Don't get me wrong, this isn't how I want to spend every Thanksgiving. But it was a gentle reminder to go with the flow and to make the best of everything that comes along. Even if it's the flu/cold/cough/general icky-ness.

Finally, the germs seem to be leaving. Just in time to decorate for and celebrate the Christmas season! (I'm sure we'll see germs again soon, but I'm trying to savor the healthy days.) Against my better judgment, we are going to put up a tree this year (cue the No-No Patrol). We'll see how it goes...

 Keeping it simple: laughter
And letting a toddler go nuts in Christmas paper.
I tried to keep it simple this year. Very simple. The d├ęcor is minimal. The lights outside will be (they are not up yet...) few. The tree will be mostly lights since a lot of our ornaments are breakable and not toddler-friendly. Even my gift buying was kept small this year (although I need to stop shopping all the great sales!). It just feels like a good year to focus on the things that really matter. (Also, overboard equals overbudget.) Baking cookies, surprising the neighbors with goodies, participating in an Angel Tree drive, enjoying family, and making memories. It's astonishing how putting yourself in this mindset is so freeing. There's still plenty I wanted to do this year (pick out a tree with Hayley, create a few special gifts, do a Christmas photo shoot) that I didn't get to do. But, there is so much to enjoy, who cares??! Next year is another chance to try. But, for this year, I just want to enjoy the everyday moments of the season and reflect on the true source of our joy at Christmas. Love. Christ. Joy. Peace.

Side note, Graham has decided to teach Hayley how to throw the peace sign. It's adorable.