Monday, December 31, 2007

Back to our regularly scheduled program....

I don't know about everyone else, but I always feel a bit relieved when the holidays are over. Sometimes there can be much frantic activity, it can really get out of hand. No matter how hard I try, I cannot completely relax during the month of December. Yes, the holidays are fun but what a relief when they are over. No plans, no thoughts of gifts, no cards, no last minute shopping. Shew!

We did have a wonderful Christmas, though. My daughter asked for a shelf... and a Nintendo DS! (For a minute, we thought we got away easy!) She wanted the shelf to display all of her Littlest Pet Shop pets and other assorted small toys. On Christmas morning, she rushed into the bedroom shrieking "Mommy, Daddy - there's a gift beside the tree that's as big as a door!"

My husband bought the new camera we both wanted and we had fun taking all sorts of unique pictures (some of which I have posted on Sunniviews.) We had our lovely bagels for breakfast, coffee with Irish Creme and a delicious prime rib dinner. My husbands favorite gift was a radio-controlled off-road car (with a top speed of 42 mph, of which he is very excited.) He's been obsessed all week!

Some of my favorite gifts included a beautiful bird-shaped birdhouse made by my parents (see their creations here and shop here), a sterling silver ring printed with the word "DREAM", a stack of books from the early 1900's including Alice in Wonderland, The Lady of the Lake, The Song of the Pilgrim and Black Beauty, and the infamous "Looking Good For Jesus" vanilla lip-balm that claims to return lips to near virgin quality!

Of course, Dasher enjoyed his two gifts - a new bear and a frisbee! We captured his excitement on video:

And now, so quickly it seems, we move onto the New Year! So - Happy New Year to everyone, especially my dear family and new blogger friends. So much to be thankful for, so many blessings!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

As shoppers rush home with their treasures...

All of our shopping is done (for the most part!) and we've been busy wrapping gifts this week. My husband and I decided that we would invest the money that we normally use to buy each other gifts and purchase a new camera. Since we still like to open things on Christmas day, I challenged us to buy as much as we can for each other under a budget of $15.00. After his initial shock and objection, I explained that we'd just have to work harder by scouring thrift stores to find fun and useful items!

Let me just say that from now on, the thrift stores are my top choice for gift shopping. I found the best gifts for so cheap! It was unbelievable. One day I bought nearly everything for my entire family for less than $20.00! Beautiful pottery, unique trivets, books, paintings, stuffed animals, games and clothes - it was astounding! (And really, what a great way to help environment - by purchasing things that would otherwise end up in a landfill!)

Luckily, I have a pretty creative family so we also exchange fun homemade gifts. My husband makes a herb infused olive oil every year (this year is garlic, basil and roasted shallots - yum!) My parents and sister create paintings and wooden crafts and I usually do something different every year: mosaics, jewelery, hand-bound books, eye pillows with homemade sachet potpourris. One year I made decoupaged wooden trays featuring each persons favorite things. Instead of covering it with decoupage glue, I used a thick polyresin that is durable and looks like glass!

Speaking of favorite things, my mom at Donna's Art tagged me with this fun little game: "12 Christmas Things About Me Hoopla." Here are the rules:

1. List 12 random things about yourself that have to do with Christmas.
2. Please refer to it as a 'hoopla' and not the dreaded 'm' - word.
3. You have to tag specific people when you're done. No "if you're reading this consider yourself tagged" stuff is allowed...because nobody actually ends up doing it. The number of people who you tag is really up to you, but the more the merrier to get this 'hoopla' circulating through blogosphere.
4. Please try and do it as quickly as possible. The Christmas season will be over before we know it. Lets involve as many people as possible!
5. Please give Andrea some link-love as the "Hoopla-Creator".

So, here are my 12 things:

1. I love Christmas music so much, I could listen to it for weeks on end. My favorite song (among many) is Christmas Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra and choirs singing Christmas music always makes me cry (unless I'm the one singing, of course...)

2. I have to have a live tree every year, would never even dream of getting a fake one, and have a soft spot for poor mis-shapen trees that are left behind.

3. We make reindeer food for Rudolph and sprinkle it on the lawn on Christmas Eve.

4. My mom bakes tons of Christmas cookies to pass out to the family, just like her mom before her. I still remember my Nanny in the kitchen with tupperware stacked to the ceiling filled with cookies. She kept track by counting them all, which was always a mystery to me!

5. My favorite cookies are lemon bars and peanut-butter kisses.

6. When I was a kid, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and sneak out to peek at the tree. I still remember the feeling of surprise and wonder at seeing all the gifts that magically appeared there. Christmas magic still surrounds the holidays for me and I try to create that for my daughter every year.

7. That's probably why I love Christmas lights that sparkle like stars in the dark...

8. And the hushed reverence of a Christmas Eve
Candlelight service.

9. I love all Christmas movies I have every seen... Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and funny ones like The Christmas Story and The Ref.

10. We always have lox and bagels on Christmas morning with Bailey's in our coffee.

11. My grandparents lived close to us when we were growing up and I loved that we could have three Christmas celebrations - ours, Nanny & Pappys and Grandma & Grandpas - filled with noisy, jolly family and scrumptious Christmas meals.

12. When I was younger, I ripped through every Christmas present I got with anticipation and excitement. Now I like to linger over presents and enjoy watching the reactions of family members as they open their gifts rather than open my own (which is probably why I'm always the last one to open all my gifts.)

And so, it looks like lots of my friends have already been tagged with this game, but I will go ahead and tag Shelbi at Keeper of the Chocolates (although her latest post appears to mention wonderful things in her life about Christmas.) Only 2 more days!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

One of my favorite things about the holidays are outdoor Christmas lights - little twinkling pinpoints of light like stars falling from the sky and adorning the eaves. For me, there is nothing more festive than driving around at night admiring the lights that people have placed on their houses and in the yards. (This is a picture of our house at night - too bad you can't see the fence on the side or the mailbox - it's lovely! We need a panoramic camera!)

Our neighborhood is really getting into hanging Christmas lights for the holiday - much to my delight! Some neighbors go all out and I've noticed that we even add a little more as the years go by.

The other night, we took a little drive around the neighborhood and what to my wondering eyes should appear but house after house adorned with thousands of shining little bulbs! Oh, I just love the holidays!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We are Santa's Elves, Filling Santa's Shelves!

A friend of mine turned me on to a new website called "Elf Yourself" (sponsored by Office Max.) You superimpose your head (family's heads, cats, dogs, frogs - the possibilities are endless!) onto these dancing elf bodies. There is a snappy, jazzy version of Jingle Bells that plays in the background along with your jiggy, little elves! Once you're finished, they give you a web link for your dancing family which you can send to friends and family. As you can see, we had fun with ours. (You'll might also notice that my daughter is not wearing sunglasses - but two pirate eye patches, one with a skull and cross-bones! If you remember, we went through a pirate phase recently. More about that here...) It's really hilarious and I think our Dasher-dog elf was the funniest!

The only issue I notice with this is that it may require a lot of memory or certain plugin because I had some friends that weren't able to bring up with website. But, I think it worked for most everyone. You can insert up to 4 faces and add a personalized voice message.

Here is the link of our dancing elves and the main link if you'd like to make one of your own! If you're not quite in the holiday spirit this year, they also offer a Scrooge Yourself which looks pretty funny. I just love holidays and all these silly internet things they offer! So much fun!

(UPDATE: Apparently you need to have the most recent version of Adobe Flash to play the video...)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Deck the Halls...

Every year, my office holds a door decorating contest (or cube-decorating contest for those of us in cubicles.) It creates quite a buzz with everyone discussing their new ideas for the year. This year was no different! We had Santas falling down chimneys, giant door-sized wrapped gifts, winter wonderlands, crackling fireplaces, lots of Christmas trees and plenty of festive wreaths.

I based my decorations on a quote I found several weeks ago and modified it slightly:
"A single candle can light a thousand
and not be diminished... Happiness never dwindles when it is shared."

I got some large cardboard from the warehouse and cut out a giant Christmas tree. I hooked up the drill and punched about 150 holes in it to hold about 150 lights. I taped a candle light to the top and surrounded it with a golden cardboard halo drenched in glitter. I folded some bright red paper strips and made little cutout people joined by hand and foot with sparkling hearts on their chests. I used about 10 large paperclips folded inside-out to hook it to my cubicle fabric, hung some wrapping paper as my background and glued my lovely quote beside it. It turned out to be quite pretty!

This year, our judges were a group of volunteers that come every week. They are from a home of mentally challenged adults and are the sweetest, most loving people you've every met. Of course, we couldn't fraternize with the judges as they walked by, but I heard them and had to hold back the tears as they read the quote on my cube to their counselors. It was so touching! When they left, our receptionist found some t-shirts and pens to give them as a thank-you for their hard work and you would have thought she was handing out a million dollars to each of them. They were ecstatic! What a perfect group to judge such a fun and festive competition!

Anyway, we had our Christmas party a few days later and I was shocked to hear that I had won first prize this year! What an honor!

Here is a sample of some of my amazingly creative co-workers... Kudos to everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Well, not chestnuts exactly, but we did roast marshmallows the last weekend over an open fire! We had a bizarre shift in the weather and it was a delightful evening in the high 60's. Just that morning, rush hour traffic was dealing with black ice from the freeze the night before. During the day, the temperatures just kept rising and rising and finally stayed there!

We thought it would be fun to light a fire in the chiminea and invite all the neighborhood kids over to roast marshmallows.
The kids collected pine cones and dry leaves all day and were just about bursting with anticipation by the time we started the fire. I made hot chocolate for everyone and passed out candy canes (I just love hot chocolate with a peppermint stick!) They had a ball singing Christmas Carols and getting sticky!

After the marshma
llows were gone, they decided to have a quick game of nighttime tag. It was fun to sit by the fire and watch them run around without a care in the world. Kids are so crazy, I had to laugh at their tag tactics!

When everyone was gone and my daughter in bed, I went back outside to watch the dying embers of the fire. I was surprised to hear a few crickets in the trees. It's funny how fast they come back from their cold weather hibernation! I could see the soft glow of the Christmas lights from the front of our house but the back was dark and quiet. How delightful to sit outside, warmed by the fire on a mild evening in December... taking a
break from the hectic season for just a moment!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Here Comes Santa Clause...

What is Christmas without a good old-fashioned Holiday Parade? This year was especially fun because my daughter was asked to ride on the Santa Float with 3 other kids! What a special experience for her. Plus, my mother-in-law was walking with the seniors group (I think this is her third year in a row), so we were quite involved this year!

Our town Christmas parade has been growing over the years. This year was no different - more marching bands, more groups, more horses, more antique cars! We were blessed with a beautiful sunny morning - just a slight chill in the air. The morning rays made the floats sparkle and the trombones shine.

I just love parades and my favorite of all are the marching bands. The depth of the music with all of those wonderful band instruments added to the powerful drums and percussion just touches my soul and lifts my spirits. Add the visual of the colorful flags and batons - wow. I love how you can hear each section in its individuality as the group passes by - I tear up every time! Here's a little sample of what we saw:

So, the kids collected huge bags of candy, our dog Dasher had a great time howling with the fire engine wails (and didn't chase any giant squirrel mascots this year!), we saw nearly all of our neighbors and got lots of great pictures. Our daughter was a hit with Santa. Who is ready for Christmas?!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Surprise, Surprise!

Yesterday was my birthday and I tried to not mention it at work earlier this week. Only because last year, the birthday thing kind of snowballed out of control. We got into this birthday frenzy going out to eat, meeting after work or getting cards and gifts for every birthday of everyone in the office. Heaven forbid someone was forgotten. It was just crazy. We eventually just let the birthday plans fizzle out.

But, my birthday secret slipped. I really tried not to let it, but you see, it was simply an exhausting, anxiety-filled week. At one point I just happened to blurt out, "I just don't want to have to work this weekend, of all weekends - it's my birthday weekend!" Well, apparently the ears of several co-workers perked up at that comment.

So, Friday rolled around. It was a long, tiresome week. I work for a non-profit and this is the busiest time of the year. Everyone is hyped up on chocolate and coffee and feeling a little beserk when one of our col
leagues bursts in the office and announces that the boss just called a mandatory meeting - quick, but important. "Everyone grab a notebook!", which translates to more work coming down the pipeline.

I grab the chocolate bowl for us and we trudge to the conference room. We're trying to organize the seating and my boss calls for someone to get more chairs from his office (our conference room is a tad small.) But, alas, instead of more chairs she comes back with more people - a group of folks fr
om other departments! She's holding a beautiful plant and cake and all of a sudden, the room bursts out in song... "Happy Birthday to you!..."

Holy cow! My very first surprise party - and boy, was I ever blindsided! I wanted to laugh out loud, but I just happed to be trying to swallow a Hershey's kiss that I ate in preparation for bad news! How funny and bizarre the whole scene was at that exact moment.

I got a lovely card from all my sweet friends, we sat and enjoyed cake and laughed at my utter shock. Our media manager shoots pictures in the background and my boss has to pat me on the hand and reassure me that there is no meeting. Really. (I admit, I'm perhaps slightly type-A personality!)

It was crazy and funny and such a joy. I'm so grateful for such wonderful, supportive colleagues. I've already framed my lovely card and will hang it in my office to remind me that life doesn't need to be taken so seriously. Funny how that reminder sometimes comes in the strangest ways.

Thanks guys - you are all super-awesome!!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oh, Christmas Tree!

Last weekend we headed out to our local hardware store right after Thanksgiving and bought our Christmas tree. I always like to start this process early in the season. There have been times in the past that we've waited too long to get our tree and there are slim pickings on the lots. Just like Charlie Brown, I feel sorry for the slightly imperfect trees that are left behind. I think one year I even chose one of those poor trees on purpose because I just couldn't imagine it going to the dump without one beautiful Christmas bulb to grace it's pretty little spindly tree limbs!

The fluffy evergreens were lined up in abundant rows this year and we were lucky to find the perfect tree right off the bat. Our daughter was excited to help get it wrapped up put in the car. The scent of pine surrounded us and we sang Christmas carols all the way home.

What's even more exciting than finding the perfect tree is bringing down all the Christmas boxes from the attic and unpacking them for another season. My daughter announced that this is her favorite... going through all the special little treasures we've collected through the years - in addition to bringing down her little pink shimmering tree we put in her room every year. I also have a tradition of my own - heading out to the after-season sales and buying a special something for the next year. My pleasant little purchase from last year was a box of beautiful red and purple tear drop shaped bulbs with sparkling gold swirlies. Fabulous!

My absolute favorite part about decorati
ng the Christmas tree is sitting in the dark after it's finished as it shines in all its lovely, peaceful glory. A Christmas tree, to me, seems like a giant beautifully decorated nightlight - jam packed with items that bring back the most delightful memories of the past. 'How lovely are thy branches' indeed!

What a joy this time of year is! The start of wonderful, magical things to come!