Category Archives: Christmas

Peppermint Packages

Inspiration image from IKEA.com

It’s November 1st! And I’m unapologetically leaning into Christmas. I’m not pushing aside the remainder of autumn and all of its wonderfulness, but I also believe in striking while the iron is hot. I have excitement and energy right now about certain Christmas preparations so I’m going to act on it!

You know how some people have a new decorating theme each Christmas? Well, I like to have a new wrapping paper scheme each Christmas. I love to brainstorm and plan my “signature look” each year. Last year, I wanted something traditional and fancy, so I used tartan plaid paper and satin ribbon in red and dark green. The year before, I went kitsch and used a bright teal, gingerbread-themed Hello Kitty wrapping paper.

This year, I’m aiming for classic and cheerful—a candy cane theme! I bought red and white striped paper that I’ll pair with red/white baker’s twine and red satin ribbon. I also found some kraft paper tags and little round tags printed like peppermints. To top everything off, I’ll add a candy cane or sprig of greenery to each package.

I’ve collected a few gifts already and can’t wait to start wrapping. I enjoy wrapping presents, so one year I waited until Christmas Eve to wrap all of my gifts as a kind of treat for myself—but it was horrible! It took forever and I was hidden away in a bedroom while everyone else hung out together. I will never do that again. Now, I wrap gifts in small groups as I collect them.

What about you? Do you plan a “signature look” for your gift wrap each year or am I just weird? Do you wrap presents as you go or do you save everything for one marathon wrapping session?

Processing Christmas

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I took my Christmas decorations down yesterday. It happened to be the day of Epiphany, or the twelfth day of Christmas, the day that commemorates the Wise Men (or Three Kings) coming to visit the baby Jesus. In Spain, Epiphany is the day when children receive toys and other gifts from the Three Kings, like how Santa Claus visits children in the US on the eve of Christmas Day.

Some people like to leave their holiday decorations out until after Epiphany, some like to take their decorations down the day after Christmas (unthinkable to me!), and some like to make sure everything is back to normal in the house before the new year strikes. Personally, I always keep my decorations up until New Year’s Day and then I take them down on any convenient day after.

I’m always sad to see our tree go and I especially loved our tree this year. It had a cute bulbous shape, round and heavy at the bottom, almost like a teardrop or squash. (My daughter called it “thiccc” with three C’s. Hah!) It was dangerous to keep in the house at this point, though. For some reason, it never took in much water, even though we had the stump freshly cut before we left the tree lot. By January, it had become so dry and brittle and even turned slightly brownish in spots.

I also became pretty dry and brittle by the end of the holiday season. I started off fresh and excited like I do every year, but I encountered so many changes and challenges this Christmas that I was just exhausted by the end of it and ready to move on, which was odd for me because I normally hate to see all the festivities end and the decorations come down.

One thing I like to do every Christmas is to jot down and keep three lists:

  • A list of the gifts I gave to each person
  • A list of the gifts I received from each person
  • A list of “lessons learned”

I start jotting these lists on my phone and/or in a notebook, then I type them up and save them on my computer, and then I print a copy of each and tape it into my journal. You could stop at the phone or paper notes, of course. I just like to have them in three places so I’m more likely to reencounter them again, plus something about the act of handwriting notes and then typing/formally writing them cements the information into my brain a bit better than using phone notes alone.

The two gift lists are handy from a practical and sentimental viewpoint. They serve as a reminder of what I’ve already purchased for someone so I won’t give the same thing twice, and they act as a little time capsule showing what each of us was interested in this year—so many gifts refer to current favorites in hobbies, movies, books, etc. Over the years, you’ll see your child’s gifts change from toys to things like makeup sets and Victoria’s Secret gift cards…and then, I’ve found, back to a few toys. As a high schooler, my daughter is past the middle-school embarrassment surrounding toys and is interested again in receiving a few toys and enjoying them in a quirky, playful way.

The lessons learned document is especially useful. Every good project management plan calls for the reflection and capture of what went well and what didn’t go so well during the project—and Christmas is definitely a project. I divide my lessons learned list into three categories: The good (what went well this year and what I particularly enjoyed), the bad (what caused some discomfort or friction, or what dampened my enjoyment a little bit), and the ugly (what caused serious stress and pain this year that I need to try to avoid next year).

This Christmas showed me that some traditions need to change, which is a bittersweet thought. We all grow and change over time…and then we start to decline and change over time, especially in regard to our health. My sisters and I, along with our families, always travel out-of-state to my parents’ house for Christmas each year. But my parents are getting older and cannot manage even the basics of all the holiday prep work—and there’s so much cleaning, shopping, planning, cooking, wrapping, and decorating to be done. We arrived to find very little ready to go, and with no prior notice, which triggered an avalanche of work and complicated emotions—anger, sadness, resentment, annoyance. We have also officially outgrown my childhood home—it’s tight squeeze with 9 adults, 3 bedrooms, and 1 bathroom—so we may need to stay in a hotel next year. It’s a sad thought not to wake up at home on Christmas morning, but we also need sufficient rest, space, and privacy to truly enjoy the holidays.

Christmas wasn’t all bad, of course. My sister and I started a new tradition in the vein of Iceland’s Jolabokaflod. We gave each other a new book from our wishlists and spent an entire evening in early December eating delicious snacks and reading by the glow of the Christmas tree. We also enjoy doing little crafts as a family each year—making ornaments or other bits of décor.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and are all rested, refreshed, and inspired for 2020. Happy New Year!

December Memories, January Goals

This was the thirstiest Christmas tree I’ve ever had. It drank 0.5 to 1.0 liters of water every day and is still supes healthy one week into January. Such a good, pretty tree. I hate to give it up.

Happy New Year! How is it already January 9th? Don’t tell anyone, but my Christmas decorations are still up.  😉  December was lovely and I’m looking forward to January!

The Good

  • My mother received a clean bill of health after a year of aggressive medical treatment.
  • I had a wonderful Christmas season full of family, good vibes, and abundant, delicious food.
  • I took my family and a friend to see The Nutcracker. It was their first time going to a ballet performance and I think they really enjoyed it (“I’ve never seen a ballerina in real life before! I knew they danced on their toes, but I didn’t think they would do that here!”). A golden retriever even had a brief cameo onstage!
  • I had extra quality time with my family, including some one-on-one time.
  • I better managed my holiday stress than in past years. I dialed down the ol’ expectations (of myself), accepted lots of help from others, and made enjoyment/relaxation my goal, not perfection.

The Bad

  • A dear great aunt passed away. She was always so sweet and generous to me and to so many others. Losing her is bad enough, yet it somehow also feels like another mini-loss of my late grandparents. My aunt’s passing is the loss of another of the fragile, dwindling threads of worldly connection to my grandparents.

The Ugly

  • I engaged in a little bit of the ol’ comparison game (“How does she do all that? Why can’t I do all that?  Why don’t I want to do all that, too?”).

January Goals

  • Put away Christmas décor, but leave up a few items for winter décor.
  • Declutter personal belongings (craft items, décor items, clothing and accessories, etc.).
  • Enjoy the many good things about the winter, even though the holidays are over (snow days, sweaters, warm drinks, a couple of long weekends, etc.!).
  • Brainstorm resolutions and “guiding words” for the year.

Did you have a happy holiday season? Is your new year off to a good start? I hope so!

–Angela

We List You a Merry Christmas!

“Booze” is on my shopping list as a noun and on my task list as a verb.

Christmas is almost here!  I’m wrapping up at work today for a short vacation at my parents’ house out-of-state, and I’m laughing at the number of lists tucked into my little pink planner (which is like the control center for my life).

Here’s a list of my current lists:

  • My list of tasks to do at work before I leave today
  • My list of tasks to do at home before I leave town
  • My list of things to pack for my trip
  • My list of things to remember to bring back from my trip
  • My list of things I’ve received as gifts this year
  • My list of tasks to do in January – personal
  • My list of tasks to do in January – work

There were many other lists earlier this month, too, that I’ve already worked through:

  • My list of people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My list of gift ideas for the people for whom I’d like to buy gifts
  • My various lists of things to buy, by category and/or by location (groceries, stocking stuffers, gifts, special treats)
  • My list of gifts to wrap
  • My various lists of errands and tasks
  • My wish list to share with others if they ask for gift ideas for me

Does your Christmas celebration happen via a bazillion lists, too?  Or am I crazy?

Merry Christmas!

— Angela

Little Lanterns

QVC

I’ve noticed a trend this year in Christmas décor: tiny three-dimensional scenes displayed inside glass lanterns and jars. They are so cute and charming.

Here is an example from Valerie Parr Hill at QVC.com.  This lantern is available in three styles–“Cottage,” “Church,” and “Santa”–and they light up. They’re very cute but also overpriced, I think:

QVC

QVC

Here is a nightlight/air freshener version from Bath and Body Works. It’s sold out online and I’m kicking myself for not ordering one.  It looks so cute:

Bath and Body Works

Here is something similar, too, from Chip and Joanna Gaines’s Hearth and Hand line at Target:

Target

I decided to make my own version this year.  I have this IKEA lantern and I made a cozy scene with some mini bottlebrush trees, a barn ornament, some white tissue paper (for snow), and a string of lights behind.  Yay or nay?

My DIY lantern scene!

Did you DIY any decorations this year?  Have you noticed the little lantern trend?

–Angela

The Busy Season

It snowed last night in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp!

A friend texted me an invite last week to play one of her favorite phone games. I felt really bad, but I had to text back and tell her that I simply don’t have the time to play it right now.  It’s Christmastime, and I’m already up to my ears in crafting, shopping, visiting, and gift-giving…in my own favorite phone games (ahem).

Whew. Managing these phone games during the holiday season is like having a second job.  I’m grinding like whoa in Happy Street, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and Tsum Tsum to take full advantage of all the limited-edition holiday content.

I have major FOMO.  I don’t want to miss the window of opportunity to get all the limited-time things, so I have to regularly visit all my virtual friends, collect and send gifts left and right, and carefully plan my virtual schedules and budgets to maximize my goodies. I also have to attend to a few similar things IRL, too: crafting, shopping, visiting, gift-giving…  😉

I’m making good progress. I’ve already gotten one of each limited-time Christmas décor item in ACPC; I’d like to get multiples of a few things.  My Happy Street Christmas tree is on level of 3 of 4 and I’ve remembered to open the Advent calendar every day. Tsum Tsum is driving me nuts with its snowflake game this year. You have to play so much–hundreds and hundreds of times–to finish the challenges.  It’s boring but I don’t want to miss the little pin/medal for completing the game.

Please tell me I’m not the only adult woman who is stressing over her phone games this month.  Please?

–Angela

Tiny Christmas Treats

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

There are the BIG Christmas efforts, of course (the tree, the meals, the events), but it’s fun to layer in tiny hints of Christmas in your life, too. Here are some ideas for little festive touches that are easy, inexpensive, and not too wasteful:

  1. Eat a candy cane. The taste and smell of peppermint reminds me of winter, Christmas, and my late grandmother, who always kept a well-stocked jar of hard candy in her den.
  2. Sprinkle cinnamon on your latte, oatmeal, or toast.
  3. Change the wallpaper on your phone, tablet, and computer screens to something festive.
  4. Hang some string lights on your desk at the office.
  5. Buy and load a seasonal Starbucks gift card to your app. Every time I open my app to pay, I see a cozy, wintry scene.
  6. Flag the Christmas chapters in your favorite books and display them in a basket for easy browsing.
  7. Do you have any Christmas (or Christmas-esque) jewelry? Find it, polish it, and wear it.
  8. Play a YouTube video of a crackling, popping fireplace on your smart TV.
  9. Gather and display pine cones.
  10. Use all of your “minty” or “piney” personal care items: lip balm, foot lotion, soap, shampoo, body wash, etc.
  11. Light and enjoy your candles. What are you saving them for?
  12. Wear your favorite perfume every day. Again, what are you saving it for? It’s a treat for you and for everyone you hug this season!
  13. Wear your coziest knit clothes. No thin, scratchy polyester allowed.
  14. Paint your nails a cheery red. Add sparkles.
  15. Feed the birds.
  16. Clean out your pantry and donate the good stuff to the food bank, or mail them a check.
  17. Take extra time with your makeup, grooming, and skincare. You’ll feel confident and ready for whatever the season will bring—unexpected guests, last-minute invitations and errands, etc.!
  18. Bundle up and take a walk in the brisk air. Enjoy your neighbors’ decorations.
  19. Use your very best things: china, silver, crystal, tablecloths, bath towels, etc.
  20. Turn off the TV.
  21. Buy and enjoy a special Christmas drink at home: apple cider, hot chocolate, flavored coffee or creamer, red wine, etc.
  22. Change your ring tone to something festive: church bells, harps, carols, etc.
  23. Choose a “signature” wrapping paper to use for all your gifts this year.
  24. Pull out your Scrabble game and use the tiles and holders to dot happy little words among your decorations, like family, gather, thankful, friends, merry, sparkle, twinkle, etc.
  25. Update your apps. Many games have free seasonal content, and many other apps will “decorate” their icons or interfaces for the season.

Yet Another Post about Advent Calendars

Illustration by Kanako Kuno.

It’s finally December 1st! It’s time to crack into my Advent calendars!

This year, I have *four* Advent calendars to enjoy. Whoo-hoo! It’s an embarrassment of riches.

I have:

A Literary Advent Calendar. I’m not very organized about this, but I did gather several of the books and passages I mentioned in this post. I’m enjoying reading bits and pieces as the mood strikes. I bought two new (used) books for my Christmas library: Volumes I and II of A Little House Christmas, which is a compilation of all the Christmas chapters in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, including several original illustrations by Garth Williams. They are precious books.

An Ol’ Skool Chocolate Advent Calendar. A sweet friend at work gave me a classic chocolate Advent calendar—the kind with a piece of chocolate hidden behind each punch-out door (like these). I’m keeping it on my desk to enjoy each day.

A “12 Days of Beauty” Advent Calendar. I love the many beauty Advent calendars for sale each year, but most are too costly for the value for me, as they often contain many items that I don’t think I would use or enjoy. I liked and bought this Target one because it was inexpensive and included a mix of products that I would actually use (more skincare products than hair stuff, for example). I do wish it had 25 gifts, though. I can’t decide whether to start it on December 11th as a countdown to the day I leave for my parents’ house for Christmas, or if I should start it on the 26th as a way to extend the fun of Christmas. In the meantime, I’m trying to forget what’s in it so I’m surprised each day.

The Happy Street Advent Calendar. The Happy Street developers released their annual Christmas update! You can collect daily items from an Advent calendar and more gifts on Christmas Day if you level up your Christmas tree. Many items repeat from year to year, but sometimes the developers throw in some new stuff for us veterans. I started playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, too, and I hope there are lots of virtual holiday goodies in that game as well.

Bonus: I also ordered a Danish-style Advent taper candle this year (a kalenderlys). I read about these in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. Families burn the candle a little bit each day as a way to mark time until the 25th.

Did you get or make an Advent calendar for yourself or your family this year? Tell me all about it!

–Angela

November Memories, December Goals

My “autumnal tableau.” Also pictured: YouTube fireplace.

November was a quiet, thoughtful month for me. Autumn finally arrived to the mid-Atlantic region and I love driving among all the yellow, red, and orange leaves.

I’ve written down some November memories below.

The Good:

  • A family member’s surgery went well.
  • We hosted family and friends at our house for a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Lots of reading and writing.
  • We went to our city’s annual Christmas parade.

The Bad:

  • The unexpected passing of a friend. He was the father to a beautiful, spunky little girl and I pray that she is showered with love and support.

The Ugly:

  • Prince Harry is off the market.
  • The Florida Gators football team continued to shock and disappoint. We got a new coach, though, after the abysmal season. Here’s to a fresh start!

For this December and Christmas, my mantra is Cozy, Classic, and Simple. I want to:

  • Catch up on household tasks after a leisurely Thanksgiving; put away autumn decorations.
  • Decorate for Christmas!
  • Book tickets for one or more holiday events: the Nutcracker ballet, a Christmas tea party, a tour of decorated houses in a local historic district, a Vienna Choir Boys concert, etc.
  • Bake and decorate tiny gingerbread houses.
  • Don’t fret re: Christmas gifts, food, etc. Make a decision and stick with it. Baby suits!
  • Host a local Christmas gathering.
  • Travel to my parents’ house for Christmas.

How was your November? What are your plans and goals for the busy, wonderful month of December?

–Angela

A Literary Advent Calendar

Illustrated by Haddon Sundblom for the Coca-Cola Company.

I started reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. So far, Ol’ Scrooge has been visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Marley, and warned that he must change his selfish ways. I don’t believe I’ve ever read the actual story before; I’ve just seen a bazillion movie and cartoon renditions. The prose isn’t difficult to understand and it’s pretty spare for Victorian literature. The descriptions of the hauntings are surprisingly spooky and creepy. Dickens is always good for hopelessness and despair, I suppose.

Anyway, I cracked open A Christmas Carol because, as I mentioned in this post, I like the idea of organizing a literary Advent calendar for yourself or your family. It doesn’t have to be fancy: just a list of favorite Christmas- or winter-related passages to read for a few minutes every day in December leading up to the 25th. It would be fun to read your daily bit with your morning coffee or before you drift off to sleep.

It might seem early, but now is probably the best time to make your list and begin to gather your material from the library, your bookshelves, etc. I’ve included some ideas below. Some of these are novels or essay collections and some are individual stories, chapters, picture books, or poems. The longer books can be divided across multiple days, of course:

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (free Kindle book)
  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
  • The American Girl historical character Christmas books: A Surprise for Felicity/Kirsten/Addy/Samantha/Molly, etc.
  • The Christmas chapters in Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
  • The Christmas chapters in each Laura Ingalls Wilder book (Little House on the Prairie, The Long Winter, etc.). Here’s a handy compilation of many of the Christmas chapters.
  • “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen (text can be found online)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
  • The first few chapters of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (free Kindle book)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (did you see these stamps?!)
  • “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore (text can be found online)
  • The Bible (Book of Luke, etc. describing the birth of Jesus)

There are so many other Christmas books and stories, too, especially for kids. Almost every book/television/toy series has one or more Christmas books: Bernstein Bears, Little Critter, Pete the Cat, Llama Llama, Sesame Street, Richard Scarry, etc.

Would you consider creating your own literary Advent calendar? What passages would you include?

–Angela