So many people say to me, “those boys must really keep you on your toes,” and “I bet your house is always busy,” and “you sure have your hands full!”
All true. My toes are fine (albeit, not very pretty; they’re not even currently polished); my house is a constant flurry of noise and little voices and tripping over Legos, Matchbox cars, and Transformers); and my hands are undoubtedly full…but my heart is so much fuller.
I often share snippets of our conversations on my Facebook page, purely out of a genuine desire to share some of the joy and laughter these boys bring to our lives…ok, and maybe a little bit because I love when these little conversations pop up in my “memories,” and I can look back and remember some of their best antics. My good friend Angela keeps a “laugh book:” a journal where she writes her favorite conversations with her three boys and the funniest things they say which I think is a brilliant idea.
This week, I’ve been just a little bit behind, and haven’t taken the time to share the highlight conversations and antics that have brightened my week. And I’m not sure what the weather is like where you are, but today is a wet, dreary Friday here. We’re having rain that’s melting the snow, and it’s just pretty depressing. For that reason ,I thought I’d share some sunshine with you.
This week, the twins went back to preschool after Christmas break. It was a fairly easy transition for them; they were ready to return to school, with their friends and their teachers and their routine…and they may have even been ready for a bit of distance from their mama. We had a nice break together, but they had been with me almost 24/7 for about 3 weeks, and I’m not sure if you know this or not, but…I can be a lot to take sometimes (that was sarcasm, for those of you who aren’t fluent). Anyway, their days at school are short- only two and a half hours- but they look forward to their time there immensely. Which is why I was a little surprised on Wednesday when I picked them up to have the littler twin singing me an Ed Sheeran song on our way home. The specific lyrics he highlighted in this serenade were, “I can’t wait to go home. AND I’M ON MY WAY!” While he’s definitely our musical child, and it’s not uncommon for him to spout random lyrics throughout the day, I can’t help but assume there was some significance to his choice on that particular day.
Last night after dinner, the twins were working on flash cards they’d brought home from school with letters of the alphabet printed on them. They need to be able to identify the letters in the box, and we were quizzing them. When the letter “W” came up, their big brother chimed in to “help,” prompting them by repeating the “wa, wa, wa” sound. Then, he continued with, “wa, wa…WAYFAIR!” And so, on that note, my parenting work here is done.
For years I’ve been teasing you with promises to share stories and recipes from our annual New Year’s Eve party. This is the year, friends!
New Year’s Eve traditions are a big thing in my family. My parents have been ringing in new year after new year with the same friends for the last 30-plus years. There’s no longer a need for an invitation; my mom makes snacks, prepares hot dogs and kielbasa and sauerkraut in the crock pot, and her famous Slush drink (for adults only), and their friends come over. It’s a small, causal gathering, and it’s special because that’s the one time of the year they’re sure to see these friends.
When I was in college (and for years before), my aunt and uncle hosted New Year’s Eve, with my other aunt and uncle and a few of their close friends attending. Ryan and I joined them every year, sometimes with Ryan’s parents. Since my aunt also hosts a large Christmas Eve dinner and cooks a big Christmas dinner, after we purchased our home and had more space (and a child), Ryan suggested we host New Year’s Eve to give my aunt a break and also to be able to keep our son at home near his own bed on a night we’d be sure to be up late. After the first time, it became the new tradition, and one I look forward to all year long. Each year, I begin looking for menu ideas months in advance. This year, Ryan woke me up on Tuesday morning by delivering a cup of coffee to me in bed and and announcing, “It’s time, babe! This is the day you spend all year looking forward to!” He knows how much I love planning and hosting and entertaining in our home, and that cup of coffee was such a perfect way to start my day.
Preparing for this event is a science I’ve gotten down to a two-day process: day one is grocery shopping and preparing make-ahead recipes, and then setting the table. Day two is cleaning and last-minute food prep. I haven’t changed the dinner menu much in the past eight years: we have a traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner, with mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato and apple casserole, mushroom casserole, and a couple of vegetables. I almost always serve green beans, and then the other veggie changes from year to year. This year, I realized a day later that I’d forgotten to cook the green beans. We’ve had brussels sprouts in various forms, roasted radishes…something a little different, usually whatever I can get my hands on that I can find a good recipe for. Where I play is with appetizers and desserts. I’ve served a pretty wide variety of different appetizers, and different desserts almost every year: stuffed potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, raw veggie plate, meat and cheese plate…whatever I’m inspired by from Pinterest, cookbooks, magazines, and my mood. My aunt always brings her famous bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, which disappear really quickly.
This year’s menu utilized some tried-and-true favorites: Ina Garten’s Tomatoes Roasted With Pesto; Joanna Gaines’ recipe from her Magnolia Table cookbook for “Beck’s Crackers;” a selection of pepperoni and salami with Havarti, Gouda, and Colby cheeses; some olives and pickles; assorted crackers…and a new addition this year, Lobster Dip Crostini, from my David Venable cookbook, “In the Kitchen with David: Back around the Table.” (You may know David as the food guy on QVC. Those who grew up in the part of Pennsylvania I did may remember him from his days on the local TV network WTAJ
When I’m planning a menu, I try to find recipes that utilize similar ingredients so I’m not purchasing every single ingredient for every single separate recipe. First of all, it’s tedious; secondly, it can get expensive, if you can only purchase a large quantity of an ingredient you need a tablespoonful of for one recipe. A great example would be the tomatoes with pesto appetizer, even though pesto is not an expensive ingredient, it’s also not something we use regularly at our house. The little bit it takes to make the tomatoes leaves 3/4 of a jar to sit in my refrigerator and gets thrown out. So I found this recipe for pesto twists to use the remainder of the jar. It helps that the pesto twists also use fresh Parmesan, which I’d used on the tomatoes as well. I often add the twists to our appetizer menu, but this year I put them on the table as the bread to serve with our meal. A third reason to look for recipes using common ingredients is to cut down on the margin of error while grocery shopping for your event. Nobody likes getting home with bags of groceries and realized they forgot something; it’s so much worse when you’re under pressure and preparing for guests.
I like to prepare as much of our dinner the day before our party as I can. Much of what I serve can easily be done this way, and refrigerated overnight. The lobster dip was easily prepared ahead and kept well chilled until just before our guests arrived, and I toasted the crostini just before party time. The tomatoes are best made fresh, but they’re quick and easy and don’t require much cleanup.
Most of the dinner sides recipes I make ahead, including this apple and sweet potatoes dish; the apples compliment the pork nicely, and the sweetness of the dish is the perfect contrast to sauerkraut. The best part is that my boys fight over finishing the leftovers. This mushroom casserole has been a favorite in our family for years, takes only minutes to make ahead, and is perfect to reheat just before putting on the table as well. It’s rich, creamy, cheesy, with a bit of crunch from the toasted bread crumbs on top (don’t put those on until just before baking) and it’s super easy to make. Don’t be surprised if there’s none left; if you like mushrooms, this one is a star.
I mentioned I’ve used several different recipes for Brussels spouts. A lot of the time, my recipes take the direction of a certain ingredient I have on hand, or a flavor I know my family likes. One year, I roasted Brussels sprouts with some fingerling potatoes as a potato dish for two of my aunts who aren’t big fans of mashed potatoes. But the majority of the time, I find Brussels sprouts and bacon to be a wonderful pair. This year’s Brussels sprouts side was another Joanna Gaines recipe, this one using bacon (which most everyone loves), sugared pecans, and a balsamic glaze (one of our twins is a huge fan of balsamic). While my husband typically passes on Brussles sprouts, this year as the dish passed his plate, he commented, “I’m going to try some of these since my beautiful wife made them.” (When I asked if the same principle applied to testing the mushroom casserole, he politely declined. Can’t blame a girl for trying…)
In order to have enough room in the oven to finish heating all of the appetizers and side dishes, I always cook our boneless pork loin roast and couple of bags of sauerkraut in my electric roaster in the basement. Not only does this free up my oven, but it also keeps the sauerkraut smell from overpowering the other kitchen aromas. Ryan and the boys bought me a Ninja Foodi for Christmas, so some year I may cook the meat and sauerkraut in that, but until I’m confident in my use of a new appliance, I’d rather not ruin a meal when I’m hosting a group of our family and friends.
Finally, once we’ve gotten our fill of mixed drinks (I set up a mini bar on a kitchen counter, setting out glassware and providing several bottles of liquor and soda mixers, bottles of wine, and beer, plus ice and glasses, where guests can mix their own drinks and mingle with me as I put the finishing touches on appetizers and dinner) and appetizers, then dinner, we take a break to digest and then we start on dessert. I typically offer two different options: one is usually a cake or cake roll or cheesecake; the other is often something served in individual cups. I’ve served Bailey’s chocolate mousse, creme brulee, homemade ice cream… this year we enjoyed this Hershey’s Pot de Creme recipe. Traditional pot de creme has a custard base, but this is a fast, easy, four-ingredient alternative that provided the perfect sweet finish to our meal. The other dessert this year was Peppermint Bark Cookies and Cream Cheesecake, from the Philadelphia cream cheese recipe I’d seen in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. You really never can go wrong with cheesecake, and I dare you to argue with me about that.
And that, my friends, is our New Year’s Eve spread, in so many words and not so many photos, because…well, I’m nailing procedures but I still have some work to do at efficiency.
I hope your holidays were merry and bright, and surrounded by love, peace, and joy. Wishing you and yours all the best in this New Year…
We’re down to less than a week until Christmas. It feels like it’s coming too fast. It always does. We keep consoling ourselves with the fact that we’re a week shorter between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to most years. Truly, we are rock stars, simply for surviving. The truth is, I’d still be behind even if we had an EXTRA week, rather than one week less, but that’s neither here nor there.
Every year I’m unprepared. I take the Christmas season day-by-day, and somehow most everything still gets done- even with a seven year old and two four year olds who are literally bouncing off the walls with excitement and anticipation for the Big Guy’s arrival (no matter how many times I threaten that he’s going to miss our house, because are we really parents if we don’t threaten to cancel Christmas if they don’t settle down, even if we would never follow through?).
I’ve been accused of being a perfectionist, a little Type A. I can neither confirm nor deny these allegations, but I can say that I freak myself out over the smallest of holiday details, regardless of whether or not there is a fat man with a beard dressed all in red and covered in coal dust scheduled to visit my house in less than a week.
The trees are up, the decorating is done, the shopping is mostly finished, wrapping is caught up, cookie baking has begun, and we spent this week purging old toys in order to make room for what is inevitably an influx of four times the amount of stuff I just got them to part with. I’ve been on a cleaning frenzy, despite the fact that the twins are on break from school already and they can hurricane through a freshly cleaned room more quickly than twin tasmanian devils. This week I’ve decided that the ceiling paint needs touched up, the cobwebs need knocked down, the appliances must all be moved to be cleaned under and behind, the bedding must all be changed…and on and on and on. I’ve focused a lot of attention on small details that the *average* visitor would never take notice of. And we don’t get many visitors during the holidays anyway.
I’ve spent too many evenings when I should’ve been putting finishing touches on some Christmas preparation, binge-watching Virgin River on Netflix, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, with a hot toddy or some spiked hot cocoa in my hand, and you know what? It’s good for the soul. When I’m feeling tapped-out with holiday prep, a little unwind time isn’t going to make much difference in the grand scheme.
And you know what? My kids (and yours too, I’m certain) won’t notice what doesn’t get done. They won’t care if there are still cobwebs in the chandeliers, or if you only got two batches of cookies baked compared to your usual 10, or even if Santa gets Oreos and Chips Ahoy this year. They won’t care if there’s one or two lights out on the Christmas tree, or if the Christmas morning breakfast is store-bought cinnamon rolls instead of a big, elaborate, homemade spread. They may not even notice if they don’t get everything that was on their lists to Santa, because if your kids are anything like mine, the list changed four times between the beginning of list writing until the time the list(s) went into the mailbox, and half the items on said lists don’t even freaking exist. They don’t care how many “likes” your gingerbread house pictures get on social media or if the whole thing falls to crumbs before you even finish it anyway, because all they want to do is eat the candy off of it.
You know what your kids (and you)will remember? They’ll remember you being there. They’ll remember the family events, riding around in the car looking at neighbors’ lights in their pajamas. They’ll remember picking the candy off of the gingerbread house and sneaking the pieces into their mouths. They’ll remember the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning with the whole family, having a cup of cocoa and opening gifts together. And, spoiler alert: a lot of kids learn very early that it’s better to give than to receive, so don’t be surprised if yours are more excited to watch you open the gifts they picked out oh-so-thoughtfully (I spent four days shopping with elementary school students last week, and was continuously in awe of how selective these little people were about the gifts they chose for their family and friends) than they are to open their own gifts.
This holiday season is a time of struggle for many I know, and for some I don’t, or don’t know well, but whose stories have reached us and touched us, and I’ve spent a lot of time during my Great Christmas Time Race reflecting on how unimportant many of the items on my to-do list really are compared to a lot of families’ struggles. I’m trying to slow down and remind myself that the perfection of it all is more in the eye of the beholder, and Hallmark movies are for entertainment; it’s not real life. That’s not to say that true Christmas magic doesn’t exist! I wholeheartedly believe that it does. But to my thinking, Christmas magic is in the good we do for one another.
So offer yourself a little grace during the season when we are so generous about extending grace to others. Let’s remember what’s really important- family, love, peace, and joy. There is much to celebrate and to be thankful for, and the details are all just…well, details.
Cheers, friends. May peace and love surround you and yours this season.
Did you ever have one of those moments where you look around and think, “Damn. This is my life. Look how it’s all come together”?
I often get so caught up in obligations that I forget to look around and see how incredibly fortunate I am. But man, when I look around and think about it, the blessings are enough to take my breath away.
A couple of weeks ago, after dropping my boys off at school, I met with the former preschool teacher who had worked with all three of the boys and had asked me to help her to convert the loft to her home writing haven. A special added bonus to our meeting was an invitation to preview her premier novel, before it’s been sent to a publisher. “Honored” and “humbled” are words that don’t even scratch the surface of how I felt to have been asked to take on both of these projects. Rolling two of my greatest life passions into one meeting was one of the most fulfilling professional experiences ever.
After returning home from this meeting, I escaped to my own home office to work on installing an experimental portion of peel and stick wallpaper (more on this in a later post). As I was hanging wallpaper, I had to literally stop what I was doing to take a moment to process how incredibly fulfilled I am by what I’m working on right now. Hands on hips, I literally turned around in a full circle and thought, “holy crap, this is my life. How lucky am I?”
I’ve been afforded the unbelievably good fortune of being home with my boys full-time since they were born. I’ve been with them more than almost anyone else, and I’ve had the privilege of being available for every event, every appointment, every sick day, every milestone since their birth. I haven’t had to balance sick time/personal time/vacation time, haven’t had to weigh the cost of staying home with them during illnesses, as I would have with a full-time job outside of our home. Instead, Ryan has encouraged me to soak up every minute, being with them and watching them grow. Being available for school drop-offs and pickups, chaperoning field trips and school parties, all of it. I don’t ever forget how lucky I am to have married a man who knew better than I did that these precious moments don’t come around twice.
And so this Thanksgiving season (because yesterday we ate well, but today I’m still thankful. And I will be tomorrow as well. And I will try to remember to be every day until Thanksgiving Day comes around again), I’m most thankful for living my best, most blessed life. For a family I love, and who love and support me and my dreams as well. And I hope you and yours are as well.
I’m not sure how it happened, but summer is drawing to a close. This topic is probably worn out by now, and I’m pretty sure I lament the close of warm weather days every year, but despite its inevitability, the sting is always the same.
The back-to-school displays are getting cleared out, fall decor has debuted, and the temperatures here have dropped about 15 degrees in three days.
Today is the final official day of summer vacation for our Big Kid. Since this summer disappeared all too quickly, between poor weather and a list of daily obligations that seemed never ending, it feels kind of like our summer never really started.
Sure, we squeezed in as much fun and as many memories as we could: days at the beach, afternoons in the pool, play dates with friends, a couple of trips to the movies, bike rides (and teaching the twins to ride without training wheels), walks, blueberry picking, and lots of weekends at the go kart track. We ate on the deck; we had a full week- albeit a busy one- with my sister while she attended a summer class at the college nearby; and we went out for ice cream. And still, it flew by in a blink, and here we are, staring at the beginning of another school year.
Today we celebrated the last day of summer break filling our summer to-do list leftovers. My boy had requested that he and I take one day to scout antiques and go out to lunch. Since I’m a procrastinator by nature and always wait for the “perfect” day (which probably stared me in the face a dozen times without my realizing it), we got to the very final day of summer vacation before I obliged. So this morning, we made a date to meet his beloved kindergarten teacher for lunch (where he insisted on buying iced coffee for both me and Ms. K), followed by a stop to visit one antiques dealer by the side of the road, and one stop to a local antiques restoration shop, where he found and purchased a book on war planes. When we got home, he braved the chilly waters of the pool to get in one final swim (though I’m sure he’ll be in a few more times before we close it, he wanted to be absolutely certain he squeezed in every ounce of fun he could.)
This summer was a hectic one, and my kids were mostly patient with me, and the rest of the time, they were kids just doing what kids do. It wasn’t always easy, and there were days I couldn’t wait for the day to come when I could send them back to school, but now that it’s really over, what I really want is a few more weeks to soak this all in. Because when this time rolls around again next year, I’ll be sending all three.
Stay tuned, friends. I’m considering a follow-up to this post where we’ll discuss all of the things I learned this summer. It could be quite a list!
As children, we begin to make associations between each season and its traditions. For many of us, spring is a time we remember picking flowers for our loved ones; summer is filled with memories of water play and sunny days; fall holds the memories of choosing pumpkins and picking apples; and winter is a time those of us in the north remember playing in the snow.
For me, some of my best summer memories are from the berry patch. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and red raspberries- we lived in an area where we had easy access to all of them. In fact, within walking distance of my grandparents’ farm was a very large strawberry patch, and a blueberry patch so extensive I’m not sure I ever reached its limits in all the years we spent picking there. There’s no end to the stories I could tell from strawberry picking- like the time my mom went to pick dressed as an old lady because she was convinced that the elder clientele were directed to the most bountiful areas of the patch. And the much less amusing time she spent bent over the berry bushes in the hot sun for so long that she had a sunburn that blistered between the line of her shirt and shorts.
But my fondest memories are from picking blueberries. The couple who owned the blueberry patch across the road from my grandparents’ farm were so sweet, and would deliver patrons to the best part of the berry patch via golf carts. Mom would always tell us she was going to have us weighed both before picking and after so she knew how many berries we’d eaten so we could pay for them (clearly she never did). Regardless, we would always sneak a couple, because…blueberries.
In the years since my grandparents have both passed away, the family farm remains, and a high school classmate of mine has built a home where the cherry trees once stood next to the blueberry patch. A high school classmate of Ryan’s (and a former coworker of mine, from my first job as a convenience store clerk when I was 15) lives next to her. It’s funny how things work out when you get older- passing acquaintances become forever enmeshed in our past, somehow making them an integral part of who we are.
I don’t think I’ve picked blueberries since the summer before I started college, a decade and a half ago, though I stop often at the patch near our house and buy the already-picked ones. For a long time, I couldn’t find time between school, work, chores, and life. Then it was because I had three babies in three years and that was a lot to manage. But a couple of weeks ago I finally decided it was time. The boys and I got up early on a Wednesday morning and headed off to the berry patch. I was not optimistic that we’d have a positive experience, but I really wanted to go and pass on the nostalgia that I tend to associate with these summer traditions, so we did it anyway.
Man, did I underestimate my kids (not the first time, folks, and certainly won’t be the last). Armed with a one-gallon ice cream bucket (for me) and three half-gallon buckets, my boys and I hit the blueberry bushes. For one solid hour, my friends, my three boys and I picked berries, and sang songs, and laughed, and there was not one fight or negative word the entire time. They listened, they followed directions, they didn’t wander off- not even my wild child. That hour was probably the single most peaceful block of time in our entire summer, and it resulted in two and a half gallons of blueberries, which have since been frozen, turned into blueberry muffins, baked into blueberry scones and eaten by the handful. One of my brothers has a favorite blueberry cake that I usually make only once a year (my oldest son asked if that meant it’s a “seasonal item”) that we may make again with our bounty.
In the end, we left with probably way more berries than we really needed, but they’ll last us past the season. And so will the memories.
My second grade teacher nicknamed me “Chatterbox.” I’m sure I don’t need to explain that one. Some things, apparently, never change.
However, despite my ability to move my mouth constantly and chatter incessantly about very little of consequence, I find it hard to say the important words out loud.
We’re driving back north after a weekend with our families. We spent time at the races, met a brand-spanking-new nephew, loved on our other nieces and nephew, met another- less new but still very tiny- cousin, and had an afternoon of farm exploring. We talked, we laughed, we enjoyed two full consecutive days of warmth and sunshine. It was a wonderful, fulfilling weekend. All three boys- and the dog- are snoring in the backseat.
Yet somehow I’m finding myself shooting off text after text on our way home to say all the things I didn’t say while we were there. The “I forgot to mention…” or “I never asked you about…” or, “here’s a story I wanted to tell you but didn’t get the chance,” peppered with the occasional, “Oh, crap, I think we left…(insert someone’s unaccounted for personal item) at your house.”
Two weeks later, on our drive home, I’m reflecting on all of this, plus another weekend of running into old friends and classmates I haven’t seen in, erm, well over a decade (closer to two, actually, but let’s not dwell on that) and how Bon Jovi himself once said “who says you can’t go home?” And, well, who can argue with Bon Jovi?
Ryan has teased me in the past about my ability to spend all weekend at home and continue chatting with my mom for the whole two hour drive home. He’s not wrong. In fact, often our conversation flows from the weekend for weeks without pause- at any time of day or night. (As evidenced by the fact that we were still exchanging texts last night well after midnight.)
I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder and actual physical connection fortifies bonds that phone calls and text messages can’t touch. It’s such a gift- particularly as a parent- to be able to be able to keep in contact via text,(I don’t know how my mom carried on telephone conversations when we were kids if I was anything like my kids are. See chatterbox, above. I can barely call to make a dentist appointment, never mind catching up with far-away family) but you just can’t replace the gift of being in the same room as those you love. That leaves the opportunity to convey everything one may want to say, without having the actual conversation. “Miles don’t matter. This moment is important. I love you. I’m here.”
Well, it’s official, y’all. I think I’ve finally become a real, mature adult.
It’s taken a few decades to get here, but I can honestly say that I truly recognized my maturity on this Valentine’s Day.
Ryan came home from work yesterday, a little freaked out after talking to other females he works with and hearing their expectations for Valentine’s Day. They asked him what he had planned for his wife, and he told them he didn’t have an extravagant plan. (He failed to mention that last weekend he had been trying to line up a sitter so we could sneak away somewhere for a little getaway).
My husband is really amazing that way. Valentine’s Day has never been a real thing for us. When I was younger, inexperienced in life and love, I wished for romantic Valentine’s Day surprises. When I was about 12 or 13, I decided I wanted a Valentine’s Day wedding because I thought it was the most romantic day of the year. When I discussed this plan with my aunt Sharon around that time, she pointed out that when you marry the right person, ANY day is the most romantic day of the year. So that plan fell by the wayside. Still, I sent Ryan telepathic Valentine’s Day messages that I wanted all of the wine and roses and chocolate and jewelry I could get, but never vocalized my desires because I wanted him to know all on his own what I wanted. He’s always delivered a small surprise: always chocolates, sometimes a small piece of jewelry, sometimes flowers, sometimes all of the above. But he’s notorious for surprising me with spontaneous romantic gestures on random days throughout the year. He doesn’t need a calendar or a big-label greeting card company to tell him when to extend a romantic gesture.
This morning I made my trip to shop for valentines for my family while they were at school and work. For Ryan I had decided on candy and frozen pizzas. Sounds weird, I know, but he’s been asking for pizza all week. So I thought if I bought frozen pizza, we could have a romantic pizza snack to ourselves after the boys went to bed. I bought the boys each a little box of candy- more than enough to supplement the sugar highs they all brought home from school- and called it a day on my shopping.
I was in the kitchen making a very non-exciting dinner of oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and homemade mac and cheese when my tall, handsome valentine walked in the door laden with grocery bags, a liquor store bag, and… a premade deli pizza.
I bust out laughing. He was so confused until I pulled his “valentine” out of the freezer. We congratulated ourselves on thinking so much alike, and he handed me the liquor store bag with not one but two bottles of my favorite wine. Then he started to unload the other grocery store bag. When he pulled out three miniature boxes of chocolates identical to the ones I’d purchased for the boys, we both started to laugh.
Friends, that moment- the moment of knowing that celebrating Valentine’s Day in the simplest way, with my four guys who piled on top of me yesterday morning and declared me their “Princess,” my favorite wine, chocolates, and frozen pizzas on the same night Grey’s Anatomy is on, is the only way I care to celebrate Valentine’s Day, ever- that moment was so clarifying.
Ok, so after all my fussing about making sure we didn’t forget Thanksgiving, I’ve moved on to Christmas decorating.
Actually, full disclosure: hypocrite that I am, I had all of the Thanksgiving decorations down before Thanksgiving. We traveled and weren’t home anyway. And since I married a man who loves the Christmas season as much as I do, it’s an unspoken agreement between us that Christmas is a big thing here. And when we’re away for Thanksgiving, we all love to come home to find at least one Christmas tree waiting for us.
This year before we left, I set up five.
I think my love of design first manifested itself due to my love of Christmas decorating. My first “client” was my Granny, long before my college days…hell, I think it all started while I was in elementary school, if not before. She and I had some deep-rooted holiday traditions, dating so far back I can’t even pinpoint exactly when it all started. I can assure you, however, that I’ve loved decorating for Christmas for most of my life. And my own kids seem to be following in my festive footsteps.
Christmas has always been extra special for our family. My Pappy was probably the jolliest man on the planet, second only to Santa himself. The man loved nothing more than the holidays when our whole family would gather to eat and celebrate and be together. My mom has four siblings: three sisters and a brother; when my grandparents were alive, holidays meant about 20 people around the table (often more, by the time all the extended family and any passersby who would walk in while we ate were invited to join us) and nothing gave them greater joy.
My pappy was a man with a wry sense of humor, and he was always cooking up some practical joke to play on his kids… often using me as his accomplice. One year, specifically, he collected random pieces of nature… I believe pheasant feathers, deer antlers, and other “organic items” if you will…and had me help him to wrap them in chop sacks to give to his grown children as “gifts.” Not to be outdone, the following day I was accomplice to my aunt as we turned the “gifts” into warped snowmen. Funny the random stories that stick with us sometimes, isn’t it?
Another of Pappy’s Christmas traditions was the “grab basket;” he’d spend the year scouring flea markets, junk stores, dollar stores, and clearance tables for items Granny, my aunts, and my mom may consider to be “treasures.” He’d fill a laundry basket with these finds and keep it hidden till all of the gifts had been opened. Then he’d let the girls “grab” whatever they wanted- no fighting allowed. You had to be quick if you saw something you liked. This tradition continues even now, keeping my grandparents’ spirits alive and keeping a part of them with us, to pass on to future generations.
The days and weeks leading up to Christmas when I was a kid were full of preparations. I loved helping my mom at home, and then moving down to the farm and helping my granny to bake cookies in the kitchen, knowing we had to bake the favorite of each and every person in our family; helping Granny to find the perfect gifts for 20-ish people and then wrapping said gifts; and, of course, decorating. The decorating extravaganza typically took a full weekend- sometimes two, depending on how far they’d let me go and how many side adventures we got into. There was a closet in an upstairs bedroom that was stuffed to the brim with Christmas trimmings, and I had unlimited access to do whatever I could in the time I had. Granny also had an impressive collection of porcelain Dickens’ Village lighted buildings. We would arrange and rearrange on the dropleaf table in the good living room until we had everything perfect, Pappy perched on the sofa to watch and make sure we didn’t overlook any important details. We decorated the (real) tree with hand-crocheted snowflakes and colored satin-covered balls, and topped it with a crocheted angel. And the only condition to all of this was that it was my responsibility to make sure it was all taken down and put away by the end of January. Once the decorating was all done, we had a standing date to attend the “Living Christmas Tree,” a performance at church where choir members stood on a tiered stage in the shape of a Christmas tree. My description can’t do it justice. Other holiday traditions included watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Sound of Music” with microwaveable movie theater popcorn that Granny always added even MORE butter to (and, because I know you’re wondering, she was about 5’2″ and approximately 95 pounds- in spite of the double buttered popcorn and all those cookies).
My husband has many similar stories about his grandparents and the holidays. One of our treasured traditional Christmas decor items is a set of plastic singing bells from his maternal grandfather that go up every year. We just looked at the box last week when we got them out; it’s marked with a copyright date of 1982. Another of his family heirloom decorations that we display with pride is part of his paternal grandmother’s Dickens’ Village.
With all of our inherited Christmas decorations (including all of our family Christmas tree ornaments), plus the ones we’ve accumulated over the years, our Christmas decor style is a little more “traditional heirloom Christmas.” While I’d love to curate a Christmas display in a custom color scheme or style, it wouldn’t be true to our family’s history or traditions, which are so important to us. So while our house isn’t ready to compete with the Biltmore, it’s chock full of our stories of Christmases past, present, and future. And that’s ok with us.
Doesn’t look much like it outside, what with the white stuff covering the ground (already. Again. So soon after it went away. Sniffle). But seriously, it’s still fall. That’s what the calendar says, anyway.
You can’t really tell from the store displays, either, or from the TV commercials and Hallmark movies and the Hallmark Christmas station on my XM radio. But seriously, we still have four days till Thanksgiving. Seriously. Still fall.
Are you ready for Thanksgiving? I love it. It’s like a Farewell to Fall event- the opportunity to get together with family and sit around the table and just be thankful, before the full-blown chaos of the Christmas season sets in.
Fall decorations are my favorite. The colors, the natural elements; you can decorate your home for fall almost exclusively from nature. The changing leaves, the bare twigs, the pinecones, the assortment of squashes: pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash.. you can make a centerpiece from all of these things for super cheap!
My grandmother had the prettiest Thanksgiving dishes. We used them every year, and seeing them even today makes me think of our family gatherings when she and my grandfather were still alive:
Friendly Village Dishes by Johnson Brothers. Image via Google Images
Since we don’t typically host Thanksgiving, I don’t have holiday-specific dishes. However, I do have enough versatility in my collection that I was able to round up a few ideas for you, in case you’re looking for simple ideas to set your table beautifully enough to keep your kinfolk gathered round (while the men do the dishes, amiright?)
Disclaimer: my decorating style is a little quirky. I love mixing up different styles to add elegance to simplicity, a dash of modern to the traditional, or some country to the urban. I guess that’s just me- a juxtaposition of contradicting ideas and styles. Obviously, any of the ideas here could be changed around to include what you already have and to suit your own style and the mood of your gathering. Play with it. Have fun. SHOP YOUR HOME! (or, as previously mentioned, your backyard. Or your pantry. Or your neighbor’s…with permission, of course).
I guess I should also add that in our home, almost everything has a story. The plates in this setting, for example, are locally crafted near our town. The candle holders are place card holders- leftover favors from our wedding. And the turkey centerpieces and pumpkin napkin rings are ceramics my mom painted for us. The glasses with the spiral design are vintage Libby glassware, inherited from the attic of a family friend.
This setting makes me think, “urban rustic,” with a more formal place setting (a discontinued pattern from Pier One, my favorite dishes), made modern with my favorite wine glasses- a prekids purchase from Crate & Barrel. The absence of a tablecloth softens the formality of the dishes and brings a bit more rustic to the table. The tall candlesticks are also from Pier One, and those leaf candles were from the head table at our wedding. The centerpiece is a collection of random items I collected from around our house- the candles, again, are from our wedding (a decade ago), and the plate was a gift that I’m too afraid to serve food from in a houseful of boys. Under the candles and ribbon I’ve buried potpourri; this centerpiece is often on my dining room buffet.
I tend to think of this last setting as being more “traditional,” with the plain, solid color dishes and traditional stemware. Mixing the styles of the plates- the round with the square- adds just a subtle enough twist to make it fun. The pumpkin and napkin rings, again, are ones my mom painted for me.
There are so many ways to make your table inviting and pretty without purchasing special…everything. Do any of these speak to you?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May your holiday be full of food and love.