Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas...


Okay, before I delve into the details of this year's festivities, I should probably tell you that I used to be pretty darn Scrooge-y about the holiday. Last year, if you asked me what my favorite part of Christmas was, I would have said, "When it's over." I have, in fact, uttered those words before. Yes, I am ashamed.

Last year, we didn't put up our Christmas tree or decorations until December 23rd. No joke. Last year, I did our Christmas shopping around that time. I'm serious. Last year, the Christmas tree came down on December 26th. Yep.

I was that bah-humbuggy.

This year, however, all the decorations went up the weekend after Thanksgiving. I actually did most of the Christmas shopping on Black Friday. (Yes, I braved the chaos, because I couldn't wait a second longer to start on the holiday fun.) I have had a total turn around about the holiday, just like Ebeneezer in A Christmas Carol. My house has been blasting holiday music since Thanksgiving. Holiday movies have been our source of entertainment since the first of December. My refrigerator has been stocked with Egg Nog all month.

Ask me what my favorite part of Christmas has been this year. ALL OF IT. I'm almost sad it's nearly over.

I wasn't able to do everything I had hoped to do: homemade tree ornaments, holiday baking extravaganza, hardcore exterior decorations (though we did have some), etc. But there's always next year, right? And I was pleased with how things turned out.

Now, onward with the photographic depiction of our Christmas!

First, we made an executive decision not to put the presents under the tree right away. Why? Because Princess and C-bear have a little trouble letting wrapped gifts go untouched for days on end. It's best to keep temptation from them as long as possible.

C-bear had a problem with how barren it was beneath our tree, so she took matters into her own hands.

Look at the the pretty presents!
They were good place-holders until we finally got the real gifts under the tree (which, unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of).

The the eve before Christmas Eve, we had a wrapping party in my bedroom. All the kids were so thrilled about the gifts they had gotten each other. In the past, they all got gifts for every sibling, but with our budget, that meant dollar store gifts. This year, they drew names and they were able to get something a little nicer for their recipients.

Every year, Scrooge-y Mom or not, we open all of the family gifts on Christmas Eve. It's a tradition from my husband's Norwegian side, and we've chosen to carry it on with our family. But, before we tear into the wrapping paper, we go caroling. Yes, we travel about to the homes of loved ones (who are home that evening) and sing to them--right after our Christmas dinner. We've done it since our oldest two were little monkeys.

This year, we added cyber caroling to our repertoire, serenading via webcam family members who live too far for us to knock on their doors. Gotta love the age of technology!

And then, it's finally time to open gifts. Now, you'd think with a family of eight that would be utter mayhem, but we've got a tradition there as well (also stolen from my husband's family). We take turns opening gifts--one person and one present at a time. It makes it more of a family experience, with the kids being just as excited to watch their siblings and parents open the presents they've carefully picked out for them as they are about what they receive.

Here is the Christmas booty:

Big E was happy with his Oregon Ducks themed gifts. From me: the very nice (and far from cheap) watch. From the kids: the vertical flag and sunglasses.
Lee-Lee's bounty! (And yes, she did chop all of her hair off--inspired by Natalie Portman's 'do in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.) From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's and Sims Medieval. From G-Man: The Trylle Series novels and City of Bones. Lee-Lee is a hardcore bookaholic.
Banana's haul. From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's (with lime green fuzzy pants--her favorite color), art kit (markers, pencils, oil paints), and painting canvases. From Little E: Make-up and a make-up box.
Little E's stuff. From Mom & Dad: Christmas PJ's (Star Wars, of course!) and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II video game. From Princess: Light Saber that goes all the way in (from Little E's Christmas Wish List) and a small Star Wars Lego set.
G-Man's take. From Mom & Dad: Ninjago Christmas PJ's and a Ninjago Lego set. (We're very keen on Legos in this house.) From C-bear: Let's Go Fishin' game, Hot Wheels set, and Angry Birds Hot Wheels launcher.
Princess's goodies. From Mom & Dad: Disney Princess Christmas PJ's and a girly basic Lego kit. (Her big siblings won't let her play with theirs, so we figured she ought to have her own.) From Lee-Lee: Princess Barbie and Disney Princess coloring kit.
C-bear's gifts. From Mom & Dad: Tangled Christmas PJ's (her favorite Disney film) and Tangled doll. From Banana: Cinderella play-doh kit, more play-doh, and animal play-doh kit.
My gifts? The entire holiday, and even better, the joy my family had during the entire season.

Christmas morning is Santa's big show. This year, Santa was played by Mommy, Daddy, Lee-Lee, and Banana when it came to filling the stockings. And for the presents under the tree (or in our garage), Santa was portrayed by generous and anonymous folks who like to bless military families during the holiday season.

But first, this is what we woke up to this morning:

Again, as a reformed Scrooge, I was ridiculously excited to have a true White Christmas. I'm probably more thrilled than the kids!

I didn't take any photos of the Santa gifts, but I can tell you what we received (aside from the candy canes, chocolates, and clementines in our stockings). All of the children received brand new bicycles and helmets.  I recevied a gift card to Target. Lee-Lee got a gift "card" to Amazon.com (so she could buy more books!). Banana got a gift card to Famous Footwear (and is already pestering me about going). Both Little E and G-man received Lego sets ("City"), and the littlest girls got Barbies.

This has been one of the best Christmases I've had since being married. I'm already counting the days until next year--where I plan to top this one.

I hope those of you who have meandered to this blog have had the happiest of holidays. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Big Eleven for Little E

In December, our little giant turned eleven years old. (Yes, he's tall for his age--and he stands out since all five of his siblings are petite for their respective ages. Apparently he got all the tall genes in the family and left none for anyone else. And he's been larger than average since his birth.)

We tend to keep things fairly modest in our household for holidays and birthdays, but we try to make it nice. Dinner on the big day is always chosen by the birthday boy or girl, there's always cake and ice cream (or ice cream cake depending on the request), and we never forget the presents.

This year, Little E requested that we have eggs, bacon, and toast for his birthday feast. That particular meal is a crowd-pleaser (we're all raging fans of tasty strips of pig). He wanted chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. (There's a young man after my own heart.)

Though he would have loved a Star Wars themed cake even more, Captain America was an acceptable alternative. (The bakery didn't have any Star Wars themed cakes--even to order, sadly).

Blowing out his candles! Also, you can see his gifts on the table. All Star Wars-y. :)

 Little E received lots of Star Wars goodies (if you couldn't tell that's his favorite...everything...you're in on the big secret now). He had on his Christmas wish list that legos Star Wars Old Republic Rebel Fighter thingy.  Mom and Dad decided to get it for his birthday instead.

Side note: Dear Creators of Legos... If you could, perhaps, make your sets cost a little less than an arm and a leg, that would be awesome. Thanks.

As soon as the cake was chewed and the ice cream was slurped, all the kids gathered round to either watch or help Little E put together his much anticipated ship.

Princess & C-bear were relegated to cheerleading duty while the others helped Little E.

The finished masterpiece. (Why yes, that is Mr. Magorium in the background on our television. If you have not discovered the magic of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, then get thee the disk from Netflix immediately!)
Did I forget to mention that the wings open up? How could I have forgotten that awesomeness!
Many happy returns, little man. You're growing up to be pretty darn spectacular.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There are no words...

It's 10 days before Christmas, the happiest time of the year. You bundle your little one and send them to school. There are presents already wrapped under the Christmas tree--or perhaps you've hidden them to keep your munchkin from sneaking a peek at their gifts.

It's almost holiday break. Maybe this year you'll be traveling to see family who live afar. Or perhaps Grandma is coming to spend a few days reveling in the carols, the candy canes, the trimmings of the season of giving. Everyone is excited. Everyone is a little nicer, a little more patient, a little more forgiving.

You kiss your precious child as they head off for a day, perhaps, of holiday celebrations--free of school work--expecting that when that final bell rings, you'll pick them up from the bus stop, at the school or maybe you'll greet them at the door after they walk home. Or maybe, you've got to work, and so your reunion with them will delayed until you clock out. But that's okay. It's the weekend. It's nearly Christmas. All is, for just a moment, right in the world.

Until it turns very, very wrong.

No one ever suspects that some unstable young man, a son of one of the school's former teacher's aides, would completely lose his mind that morning. No one would ever believe some crazed individual would walk into an elementary school and take out his rage on innocent children. No one would expect that when they sent their children to school that morning, they would never see them again.

Who could?

But this is the reality that the families of twenty young children (most of them kindergarteners) are facing today. Six more were injured, but have survived. And six adults have also lost their lives.

When I heard the news of the shooting in Connecticut, I couldn't breathe. This on the heels of the Clackamas Mall shooting in Portland, Oregon where two people who chose to go shopping that day never went home again.

I cannot begin to imagine the agony these families are suffering this holiday season. My heart aches as I look at my children, all safely home after their school holiday parties, and I realize that so many are weeping in homes that will no longer echo with the laughter of a beloved child, or hear the gentle footsteps of a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a son, or a daughter. I think of the presents that will remain unopened, the songs that won't be sung, the joy that won't be shared. Tears are streaming down my cheeks as I type this post.

There are no words for a moment like this, but I believe that the rest of America--if not the world--weeps with these families.

We grieve with thee.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Card-Making, Tree-Trimming, and Santa! Oh, My!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I walked into Michael's for the first time in a very, very long time. (I did mention before that at one time I was quite the crafter/scrapbooker extraordinaire.) The store was in the same strip mall where I happened to be doing some early Christmas shopping. I thought, "Hey, I'll pick up those cross-stitching needles I need." (I'm currently making C-Bear's Very Special Christmas Stocking and the needle that came with the kit was unworthy of me, but I digress.) I'd be in and out in a jiffy, no problem.

 The doors parted for me and all that glorious Christmas stuff was right there before my very eyes. Wouldn't you know that the tapestry needles were in the back of the store? I had to walk past all the wonderful holiday craft stuff--including my personal Kryptonite: paper crafts.

I told myself there was no harm in perusing what was the latest in scrapbooking and card-making. Oh, Michael's knows what its doing, my friends. Buy one, get one free stamps? Ridiculous sales on paper, cardstock, blank cards, everything and anything having to do with any kind of paper craft that could ever be dreamt up in all of humanity? Yes and yes.

I got an idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea. And it didn't have anything to do with stealing Christmas from unwitting little Who's. (Fortunately, my heart had already grown twice its size since re-engaging in this glorious thing called Real Life.)

I decided that not only would we be sending out Christmas cards this year, but that I would make them myself. I designed the card in my mind as I wandered the aisles, not knowing the sort of torture I was about to put myself through. Two very large bags later (and no, I didn't forget those needles), I walked toward the car full of blissful ignorance.

Things I have learned during the several day process of making 50 Christmas cards with a "simple" design:
  • It helps to have a helper. For real. In this case, Banana became my master "stamper." She also helped me cut some of the card stock.
  • Cheaper does not equal better. I bought several inexpensive silver ink pads only to discover that you can't see the silver at all. I ended up having to do a bit of a re-design using silver glitter spray.
  • Silver glitter spray is toxic. Even though I sprayed the cards in the garage, we still had to open the windows in the house in order to breathe.
  • You can't use the standard setting with an inkjet printer when printing on vellum paper. I sadly discovered this after I'd printed everything. It took about 4-5 hours for the ink to dry.
  • If you're going to attach papers with ribbon, do not use stiff ribbon. I did. The stuff I used, though pretty, is not easy to work with. There were moments when I considered scrapping the whole project while doing the ribbon part.
  • You can never have enough permanent double-sided tape. I went through 5 things of the stuff making all 50 cards. I went back to the store twice just for the tape alone.
Will I do it again next year? Most likely. I'm rather pleased with the outcome, despite the challenges--and I've got 12 months to forget the ordeal. I imagine I'll be just as blissfully ignorant next year--especially since I will be coming up with a whole new design.

Here are the cards. (And I have some extras, so if you want one, please e-mail me your address. My e-mail is in my profile blurb on the upper right of the blog.)

Cards drying from the toxic glitter spray. Big E used to do fine-woodworking and even he was knocked out by the fumes.
In the process of putting the cover together. I did each part in shifts--spending a few hours each night to whittle away at the project.
The finished product (the cover). The poem is an original of mine. I used Papyrus for the "A" and "Y" and the rest is in Rage Italic.
The entire design came to me when I saw this Nativity stamp. Banana did all the stamping for me. Didn't she do an amazing job? :)
And here is the inside. (I opted for as much simplicity as possible.)
Now, that same weekend I got the wonderful, awful idea, our family excitedly pulled out our Christmas boxes, ready to put up our tree (we've got a fake one). The kids helped Big E attach the branches to the base of the tree and fluff them out while I began work on the cards. Christmas music blared from our stereo as we happily holiday-ed along.

After the tree was put together, we all gathered around the Christmas boxes with holiday enthusiasm only to discover all of our tree-trimming accessories were missing. All but one: Big E's favorite ornament (which happened to be on his nightstand for some odd reason). No lights, no beaded garland, no string of Norwegian flags (we're rather proud of my husband's heritage), no angel tree-topper, no ornaments (not even the ones from my childhood). We tore apart the garage and various closets where we have boxes stored. Nothing. Not a single sparkly ball.

All I can say is thank you to WalMart and The Dollar Tree. Without their very cheap stuff, we would still be sporting a bare tree save for that one ornament. I hope we find our decorations, but at least we have a proper Christmas tree.

The hardest thing to find was a proper topper. (Oy, alliteration.) The Dollar Tree had a few but they were too whimsical for our decorations. WalMart had only one (one!) and while the design was fine, the colors would have clashed with the ornaments that we had purchased already. Luckily, because of the silver ink pad debacle with my card-making, I had to head back to Michael's for the toxic glitter spray. They had the topper we needed. Yay.

Because we had to buy the supplies, however, it was a week before we were able to trim the tree. Fortunately the kids were still just as thrilled to do it.

Banana took charge of the trimming event. She's very artistic and did a good job of directing her siblings so that we didn't have too many ornament clumps. (Big E took care of the lights, and both he and I hung the garland.)
Can you guess which kid turns into a little ham when Mommy breaks out the camera? If you guessed C-Bear, you would be correct.
Princess can ham it up, too. Apparently she used all her happy for this photo, because when Mommy wanted to take a photo with all the children and the finished tree... Well, you'll see.
Big E put on the angel. Note that he is standing on the arms of our couch and loveseat. (Both our living and family rooms are a little small, so we had to improvise the best place to put the tree. Interestingly enough, the upstairs is very spacious--we would have had more than enough room to put the tree in our bedroom! Ha!)
The finished masterpiece.
The aforementioned sole-surviving ornament from our original decorations. (Ever see the film "Fever Pitch"? This is my life married to Big E, only instead of an obsession with an MLB team, he's all about college football. Go Ducks!)
And here is the photo where everyone but Princess was pleased. (I can't remember why she was cranky.) Back row (from left to right): Little E, Banana, Lee-Lee. Front row (from left to right): G-man, Princess, C-Bear
The above photo is going out with the cards, by the way. Somehow, when she's older, I think Princess will probably be even less pleased that I sent this photo to all of our friends and family. My response will be thus: MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

Because Mommy has a wicked sense of humor.

Finally, last weekend we attended the annual work Christmas Party. It wasn't as swanky as last year's (where there were dozens of activities for the kids as well as photos with Santa and plenty of seating for meal-time). In fact, we were all crammed into a DFAC (for you non-military folks, that's the "Dining Facility" which is a cafeteria--and this one was not particularly big). But we couldn't complain since the special events center was being used this year for soldiers and their families to be reunited after deployment. Who cares if we had to eat standing up while the kids were squished in a booth, right? Families were getting Daddies and Mommies, husbands and wives back after a long separation.

Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

Besides, the food was still good and Santa still came. The kids may not have gotten face-painting and crafts, but they got a big bag of candy and a beanie-baby from Jolly Old Saint Nick. A good time was had, even if it wasn't quite as good as last year.

Little E was the only one of our kids who opted out of the picture with Santa. There's no surprise there. He didn't want to do it last year. He's rather leery of strangers, especially when they are dressed-up in costumes. (I'm reminded of the time he met Elmo when he was about 6 or 7 years old. I had to physically hold him in the picture.)

The other five monkeys were quite excited to see the man in red--even my oh-so-mature 12 and 14-year-olds. In fact, Lee-Lee had quite the conversation with Santa about the spirit of Christmas.

Princess, C-Bear and Banana with Santa. I wasn't there for this photo, but Banana tells me C-Bear was rather nervous about sitting on the big man's lap and squeezed big sister's hand very, very hard. Hey, at least she smiled for the photo!
G-man and Lee-Lee take their turn. (And yes, that's a Twilight shirt Lee-Lee is wearing. What's funny, though, is Banana is a far bigger fan of the series than Lee-Lee.)
There you have it, folks, the latest in the House of Crazies. The Christmas shopping is nearly done and the baking is about to begin.

Happy Holidays!