posts tagged with 'christmas'

our Christmas performance

While I've seen a bunch of Christmas trees out on the curb already (trash pickup was today in Bedford) it really still is Christmas, so it's not too late to show off a Christmas delight we participated in. Way back in late October I volunteered to be part of our Church's prerecorded Christmas choir—I was excited for the opportunity, because I'm usually too busy with Kids Church to participate. But when it has to all be recorded well before Thanksgiving? That I can do! In theory, at least: I did wait until the day it was due, as usual. But I got it done! If it was just me, I wouldn't bother to tell the world, but for one of the two songs the whole family got in there—and they liked us so much we're the last people to disappear at the final fade out. Check us out!

(I have to say, though, the sound of the choir is so good that it makes me think Matt, our music director, used ringers for the audio. Like maybe a prerecorded track by another choir? But never mind, we look good and that's definitely for real.)

Christmas report

We had a delightful relaxing Christmas on Friday. Excitement was high beforehand, as one would hope, two out of three boys were up well before the sun. The other, smallest boy was angry when he finally emerged (at a little after six) that no one had woken him up; but of course we'd all waited for him! The stocking presents were first, then we had breakfast and walked the dogs before we moved on to the ones under the tree. Which were mostly for the boys. They each got some legos, some Pokemon card products that included codes for online play (essential of course these days), and new pocket knives and water bottles. Harvey's knife is the real thing, as befits a child of the advanced age of 11; Lijah's is much smaller, appropriate for someone inclined to wave it around going "shing shing!". It does have scissors, which is useful.

As wonderful as that all was, what the boys were really looking forward to was going to Grandma and Grandpa's! I think they would have gone without presents before giving up their Christmas day with my parents—and especially the traditional Christmas brunch of bagels, smoked salmon, and doughnuts. Also lots of chocolate. The only tradition we missed out on was the carols: even though we sort of quarantined for two weeks before Christmas (we still had to go to stores, boo) singing together still seemed a bit too risky. We did wear masks too when we weren't eating, which, while admittedly a small proportion of the total time, felt like better than nothing.

In her longest stretch out of bed since her surgery Leah came along in the morning and stayed until all the presents were open. Then I drove her home and gave the dogs another walk in the rain through the flooded woods before heading back to vegetate for another several hours. There were lego sets to build and Pokemon decks to try out, and we all tried our hardest to work up some kind of an appetite for dinner. And pie! It was so relaxing I even had energy to help clean up the 10,000 little lego bits on the floor when it was time to go. Certainly, there were lots of things this year that didn't live up to their promise... but Christmas, at least, did all right.

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Christmas is coming

our christmas tree on christmas eve

presents accounted for

Well, we made it! I had some doubts—including as late as six this evening—but it looks like Christmas 2020 will happen after all. It's been a tough end to a tough year: I'm kind of falling apart trying to take care of the dogs and the boys and keep Leah from doing all the work she usually does. Plus I'm generally exhausted anyways. So the Christmas push was a little low-energy.

But there are presents under the tree and stockings on the couch and the boys are all tucked snug in their beds, asleep despite their quivering excitement before bedtime and ready to wake up as early as ever tomorrow morning. The most exciting thing is going to Grandma's house. Never mind presents, that's what they've been looking forward to for a couple months at least. It'll be a great day tomorrow. And now we rest. Merry Christmas!

tree time

We usually get our Christmas trees later than most folks, more towards the middle of December. That's officially because, following the traditions of our British fore-bearers, we keep it up through twelfth night in January; my general lack of focus and organization probably contributes too. But this year I had Leah's upcoming surgery to concentrate my mind, so I was sure to schedule a tree-shopping trip for a day when all five of us were able to be up and about to pick it out. That day was yesterday!

Zion, masked, looking through the face hole in the plywood

even the trees are masked in 2020

As you can see, it was pretty dark by the time we got to Chip In. That's not because of lack of focus, though: 4:30 was the only time we were all free at the same time! Fortunately, the dark didn't inhibit our ability to pick the best tree much, because there were only a handful to choose from. Some people might object to the small selection, but not us—as I've said before (somewhere in this blog, which I'm not going to track down to link), having only a couple of possible choices really saves us some time and mental work. And we always end up with a perfect tree anyways.

We decorated the tree this afternoon, while listening to selection from our extensive collection of Christmas music (14 hours and 51 minutes in the "Christmas" playlist!). I did the lights, fake cranberries, and ribbons; the boys handled the ornaments—and without breaking a single one! Harvey is tall enough now to reach all but the highest branches, though I was still required to put on the star. I wonder if I still will be next year?

It came out beautiful, as always, and we spent some time basking in its glow after supper. And it's a good thing we like it: it'll be here for the next month!

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a very merry Christmas

Our goal for Christmas this year was to make our celebrations joyful and relaxing, and I think we managed it. Of course, for our family relaxing includes getting up well before the sun—but that's how we like it.

Zion and Lijah building legos by the light of the Christmas tree

Christmas day in the morning

The festivities kicked off with Christmas Eve dinner at my parents' house. Because they accidentally bought a smaller tree than they usually get we could even eat in the dining room! Then we headed to church for dessert and ornament-making—oh, and a Christmas Eve service too.

Leah and Lijah with candles at the Christmas Eve service

candlelight

I don't know that my planning and preparations were any better than in years past, but I did have fewer presents all around, which meant I didn't have to stay up late wrapping like I often need to. Instead I spent the time cleaning the kitchen, which Leah appreciates just as much. As well as not buying as much this year, we also eased off on the homemade gifts, but there were a couple. I managed some mustard.

a jar of mustard

isn't it beautiful?

Harvey and I also did some woodworking: I made a picture frame for Leah and Harvey created a Pokemon jigsaw puzzle for Zion.

a wooden puzzle of pokemon images

Zion and Lijah made tiny clay bowls for Mama and Grandma, respectively, which are as beautiful and charming as they are impractical. Of course, the most important making of all was the traditional breakfast spread of eggs, bagels, salmon, and donuts laid out by Grandma and Grandpa. Oh, there was fruit too.

bagels, donuts, and fruit on Grandma's table

our favorite part of the holiday

After breakfast we opened presents, which was quicker than usual because Grandma was also feeling relaxed about the gift-giving. So there was plenty of time to get started on building all those Lego sets! Building a deck with the new Pokemon cards will come later.

Harvey building with Legos

busy

I hope everyone else's day was as pleasant... Merry Christmas!

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all is calm

the tree on Christmas Eve

merry

A blessed Christmas to everyone everywhere!

where are the cards of yesteryear

I love Christmas cards. I love getting them, and in the past I loved making them and sending them out. Or at least I loved having made them and sent them out; the process itself, though often enjoyably creative, was always stressful. And eventually it was just too much. For the last couple years, we haven't managed it at all, and it doesn't look like we will this year either. Which feels sad, and not only because, with us failing to reciprocate, the flow of incoming cards has slowed to a trickle. I'm kind of hoping to get a very simple design made and sent out to a select few before New Years, if not by Christmas itself, but even that might not happen; there's a lot I'm hoping to do in that time span! All that is to say: if you're someone who considers us a friend, know I that I sincerely wish you could get a card from us. And I'd love to get one from you! Maybe it'll inspire me for Christmas 2020...

tis the season

I was awake in the middle of the night last night feeling lots of stress about quite a number of things, among them the fact that I've done almost nothing at all to get ready for Christmas. And that's despite knowing about it way in advance! It turns out there are quite a few things happening in December that keep me from devoting all my time to holiday prep. Today was another busy day, but we grabbed a couple hours between engagements to buy and decorate our Christmas tree.

Zion and Lijah hanging ornaments

twinkling lights

I had told the kids earlier in the week that we might be able to get it Friday or Saturday, which to Zion and Lijah at least meant definitely Friday as soon as our book club friends left in the afternoon. Zion especially was practically vibrating with excitement. Only when I said maybe Friday I had been thinking that Leah would be home in the afternoon, and also that our kitchen would not have been destroyed by 13 people having lunch in it and then five kids eight and under doing chemistry with baking soda, vinegar, and canola oil (oh why did I give them the oil?!). But Leah graciously told us to go ahead, and the boys promised to work super hard on cleaning up while I strung the lights, and also there's torrential rain in the forecast for tomorrow... so we made it happen.

And I'm glad. The boys did do a great job cleaning up, and they put up most of the ornaments (I managed to get a few of my favorites up) without breaking a single one (the lightbulb that they broke was an unrelated coincidence). And now there's a major item ticked off my invisible to-do list, and the Christmas spirit in the house has risen by at least 45%. That'll help me get some presents made, right?

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gingerbread houses

An important part of our Christmas that I left out of yesterday's report was the gingerbread baking. Besides the cookies the boys made for Grandma and Grandpa, we also did our annual construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. We invited friends over to make the whole affair as festive and exciting as possible.

busy around the table with candy, frosting, and gingerbread

it's gingerbread chaos!

It was a pretty intense day. The boys and I started first thing in the morning making the dough: two batches, with a total of seven cups of flour. That might not sound like a lot but for scale, it's almost all of a five-pound bag. Or maybe it's not, and the bag was only empty because of how much we spilled. Which was a lot. But the dough got made, and we rolled it into balls and left it to chill.

the boys rolling the dough into big balls

the end of phase 1

A little later our friends arrived. Together we designed a house template, then each of the five kids worked (with an age-appropriate amount of help) to roll out their portion of dough and cut pieces for their walls, roofs, and auxiliary accessories. The adults were also making lunch at this time, so there was a lot going on. The house pieces were big enough that each house took up two baking sheets, and each one needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes. There was some confusion over which parts went to which house, but we got it all sorted out in the end. The frosting to glue the houses together took a pound of sugar, and then we needed another batch—another pound—for the decorating.

Which of course is what the kids were waiting for! (Some of them had such a hard time waiting they started decorating before their roofs were quite attached; it was only a little sad, because everything that fell apart was repairable.) We had a tremendous array of candy available, which was good because they expected to taste more-than-representative portions of each type. Decorating techniques varied: the 9-year-olds were guided largely by aesthetic concerns, whereas 7-year-olds and younger were more concerned with attaching the maximum volume of the types of candy they wanted to eat later. Never mind; all five houses came out beautifully.

five finished gingerbread houses lined up on the table

finished!

That was all a week before Christmas. I was talking a couple days ago with friends whose kids were having trouble letting go of the season—they're fellow 12-day-celebrators, but still hadn't taken down their tree two days past Epiphany. I told them my secret for helping the boys accept the end of Christmas: I didn't let them eat their gingerbread houses until the season was officially over! So there was something to look forward to on January 6th.

Harvey breaking the roof off his gingerbread house

finally!

Harvey and Zion's houses aren't entirely gone yet, but what remains can fit in a tupperware container in the bread drawer. Lijah's is still standing; that's because, as he describes it, "I don't like gingerbread, just candy." I estimate another three days till all the decorations have been stripped off, then maybe we can put the remains out for the squirrels.

If you want to make your own houses, here's our recipe as I have it:

In a large bowl whisk together:

7 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In the stand mixer, cream:

1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and mix until well-blended:

1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet about two cups at a time, mixing until combined each time. If necessary, add:

up to 1/4 cup cold water

Form the dough into three or four balls, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to make your houses.

At that point, preheat the oven to 325° F and grease a cookie sheet or two. Roll one ball at a time on a oured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut out your house pieces and bake them on cookie sheets for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces Let the pieces cool completely before assembling the houses.

For the mortar—er, frosting—combine in the stand mixer:

1 package powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter

Whip vigorously with the whisk attachment, adding more powdered sugar or water as necessary to achieve a thick, glue-like consistency.

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Christmas and New Years report

The recent holiday season was not our finest. All of us were sick off and on, with varying degrees of seriousness; for my part, I was pretty much knocked out with illness two separate times over the ten day span. And leading up to Christmas I did a bad job focusing on what Leah wanted, so my presents for her were not what she was hoping for. The boys had plenty to unwrap. Harvey made some sweet gifts for his brothers, including the stuffed blue triangle with eyes and a smiley face that Lijah desperately wanted (plus a house for it to live in!). I made Zion his bow and arrow. And there were lots of legos. We opened some here at home, then headed for my parents' house for the rest, and for the assembly phase.

the boys building new legos in their grandparents' living room

all they need

There was also a fire to sit by and plenty of delicious food, starting with brunch and going continuously from there through supper. We sang some songs to work off the calories.

My brother and his family came up on the 27th, so on Friday we had a second Christmas celebration with them: more of the same, only even more relaxed. Thankfully there weren't too many more presents to open, since Harvey and Zion at least felt by the afternoon of the 25th that they'd gotten more than they ever wanted. It can be a little overwhelming. All they really wanted was to play with their cousin Nisia—and meet their baby cousin Esther! We did those things.

I had thought of having a New Years Day brunch, but then we got an invitation to spend the day with my cousins, who we barely ever see. So I figured we could do a New Years Eve brunch instead. There was plenty of food and plenty of board games.

lots of food on our table

all the food for the year

When everyone got tired of our house we all moved on to the next event, a pot-luck supper at our friends' house. There was more food and more board games, plus Super Smash Bros for the kids. All was perfect except that I was too worried my fever would come back to be able to have a drink. Never mind, that meant I was sharp enough to completely dominate a game of Stone Age. The competition was all-consuming, so I was pretty surprised when we finished up and I noticed it was already 9:30. Yikes! More than late enough for us, so we went home and went to bed.

New Years Day the cousins cancelled on us, after hearing about the plagues we were suffering (Nisia came down with a fever New Years Eve). Since she already had all the food, my mom invited us to come anyways; since I had already made two quiches, I said sure. At least this time we took a walk. The kids had fun, even if they chose not to show it in pictures.

Harvey and Zion sitting on a bench with Nisia and Grandma

the light of the new year

All in all we had a pretty good time, but we're also glad to see the tree come down and the schedule go back up on the chalkboard. All that eating and relaxing is hard work!

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