Christmas

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As you may or may not know I play the harp. Back when I was but a child, I saw somebody playing a harp and I just fell in love. Unfortunately for me my mother had musical fantasies of her own and I got to live those out instead. It didn’t matter that I had less than zero desire to be the church organist, that’s what my mother always wanted to be so my siblings and I were chained to piano lessons starting when we were small. I was never any good–truly–and I hated it with a white-hot burning passion. “Oh, one day you’ll thank me for forcing you to play!” my mother assured me as I sat and cried yet again before another piano lesson.

When I got old enough I started taking organ lessons. Excuse me, organ lesson. Did you know that you play the organ with not just your hands, but also your feet? There is a whole other keyboard in front of the bench on the floor!  I took one lesson and I was like, no way is that ever happening in a million years. I can’t even play a hymn with my hands let alone my feet.

Let’s fast forward to the conclusion of my piano career: I was lucky enough to get in a car crash and break my arm really badly when I was sixteen. No more lessons! I didn’t touch a piano for years after that and still avoid them at all costs. I hated, hated, hated playing and have thankfully forgotten how to do it so I will never have to play again. So, yeah, thanks Mom! I told you when I was ten that I would never play the piano when I grew up but, nooo, you just didn’t believe me.  Moral of the story: Music education is very important. But if your kid wants to play a different instrument, let her! Second moral of the story: Don’t get in a battle of wills with me. You’ll lose.

When I was thirty or so I decided that my time had come. I have always been a collector of hobbies and harp-playing seemed perfect to add to my repertoire of semi-pointless but enjoyable skills. At that time I lived in Utah where there are about a jillion harpists. (I don’t know what it is about Mormons and harps but there is a total love connection.) I found a super awesome teacher and adored it from day one. The best thing about playing the harp is that it sounds really wonderful even when you aren’t very good. It’s quite a bit more complicated than it looks, though. It has a lot more in common with playing the piano than, say, a stringed instrument like a guitar.

Even though I love playing the harp, I just don’t have a musical self. Music does not come naturally to me. I like visual stuff way more. I should be way better at playing the harp than I am, although I totally quit after I had Jasper; harp lessons seemed like a laughable folly when I had six children under age ten and could barely even handle simple tasks like brushing my hair. I can also be a bit of a perfectionist. So playing and making mistake after mistake kind of stresses me out.

Which I am now realizing since I agreed to play the harp at church on the Sunday before Christmas. I haven’t learned a new piece in about a decade. I just keep playing all the ones I’m already good at. That seems incredibly lame now that I write it out. What’s the matter with me? I guess I like coasting along.

I found a piece that is not too challenging (“In the Bleak Midwinter” because I just dig those oddball carols) but–oh my goodness gracious–is it killing me!!! I have been practicing all week and I still haven’t gotten past the second line. I can’t even play the first two lines without making a dozen mistakes! This does not bode well. And because I suck and because I agreed to play in front of the entire universe I have a permanent stress-knot in between my shoulder blades (also my eyelid twitches but that’s not such a big deal). Apparently I won’t be able to relax until after December 21st or unless a true Christmas miracle occurs allowing me to learn the music better.

Bleak midwinter, indeed.

 

PC240599Whew! What a Christmas! It’s taken me a whole week just to recover from our vacation. We went to The Motherland (Utah), where several relatives on both sides met us. We spent the entire time going from family to family with tiny interludes of seeing old friends. Relaxing, it was not. Not even close. But it was still a good vacation because we got to spend so much time with the people we love the most. I always have this crazy notion that vacations are meant for relaxation and if that doesn’t happen then I feel gypped and angry. And of course when I feel angry I like to take it out on Mister and vice versa, so there were a lot of fun moments where we sent daggers from our eyes to each other.

I may or may not have also taken my lack of sleep and stress about the holidays out on my mother-in-law.  We had a little “incident” over a lemon pie (formerly Lemon Truffle Pie but hereafter known as The Pie That Ruined Christmas) that ended with me being unpleasant and my mother-in-law sobbing at the kitchen table. If you want to know how to make my husband madder than he’s ever been, try being mean to his mom. On second thought, don’t.

But, like I said, it was a good trip because we got to spend time with our relatives; all of whom we adore. These are all the cousins who were in Utah from Mister’s side. A whole bunch are missing but hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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The kids also got to go skiing. It was the first time Ada and Jasper had seen snow since they were babies. Nothing beats that Utah snow. I, of course, did not go skiing because I don’t go outside when it’s that cold unless the house is on fire. There’s not enough hot chocolate in the world to make outdoor sports worth it.

On the second day of skiing Arabella and India ended up stranded at the top of a “terrifying ski run” (from the way they made it sound it was a black diamond, but turned out to only be a green. But they’re newbies, OK?). The Ski Patrol tried to lead them down but they preferred to sit at the top of the mountain and cry for over an hour. Finally one of their grown-up cousins tracked them down and coaxed them down the hill, reassuring them the entire time that they weren’t about to die.

Skiing at Park City

We flew to/from Utah on Southwest Airlines. This was necessary because of the two free bags that are allowed for each person. When Christmas presents and winter clothes are involved, you need all the baggage you can get. The trip north was fine (only nine suitcases!) but the trip home was a little iffier. We ended up with two additional suitcases and a box of beautiful wreaths that I bought the day after Christmas (yay for sales! And yay for Tai Pan Trading!).*

We required our own shuttle out to the airport parking lot when we got back to Austin, we had so much stuff and people. Mister had actually come to Utah on a later flight than the rest of us so he brought the near-empty minivan to the airport when he left. He had the brilliant idea to throw the rooftop luggage rack in the car at the last minute since he knew we’d be short on space.

Only it turns out the luggage rack doesn’t fit our car. It was for our old minivan. He swore up and down that we’ve used it on Betsy, my current minivan. But evidence proved otherwise and there we were with not only a million bags but a giant roof rack that didn’t come close to fitting on the top of my car. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and with the help of a luggage strap and some yarn from a knitting project, we strapped that roof rack on the top of my car. It jiggled and rocked precariously the whole way home and I expected it to go flying off onto the car behind us at any moment. But we drove 45 mph on the freeway the whole way home. It took us an extra 15 minutes but nobody behind us was decapitated. Success!

We did manage to get all the bags in the car but everyone had to sit Indian style so we could put bags under the kids’ feet. And then we all had to pile suitcases in our laps.  You should probably know that by this point I was screaming, “shut up!” anytime someone tried to speak. Never has anyone been so glad to pull into their driveway. I made a quick dinner, took a sleeping pill and was in bed with earplugs by 8:30. And I slept until 8:00 the next morning.  The perfect way to end any vacation.

I’m quite sure we won’t be taking our show on the road for Christmas again. Although it was lovely to spend the holidays with our relatives, the stress and trouble are simply too much. Unless our relatives want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure we could make that work.

*I’m going to overdo it on decorating next year. I have to make up for this year; Although I decorated my house, I didn’t put up the Christmas tree. We wouldn’t be home for Christmas! Can you blame me?  The sad thing is that I bought a new star and a new tree skirt and didn’t even try them out. I’m so lame sometimes that I shock myself.

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I may or may not have announced on Facebook a couple of weeks ago: “If you post pictures of your Elf on the Shelf I will unfriend you for the month of December.” Partly to be funny, but partly out of spite I felt I needed to issue my warning. Some people like this “tradition” (Nobody was doing it five years ago so it’s not really that much of a tradition), but some people really despise it (me!). There are so many reasons I hate it: using weird bribery to get kids to behave, furthering the “I Believe” cult of people bearing their testimonies of Santa, and it does have such a creepy little face. Mostly, though, I hate this Elf on the Shelf thing because it symbolizes all the crazy stuff we do to ourselves during the holiday season. Somehow Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day have come together to create a completely bizarre tradition: an Elf that gets into crazy mischief every single night. As if buying presents, giving neighbor gifts, attending concerts and/or parties, making travel arrangements, decorating our houses, doing one or more advent calendars, and baking at least a few more times than we usually do isn’t enough. Now we have this Elf to worry about to.

I know that most of the people who do it say it’s a fun and harmless tradition. But it seems to be a bit overboard. It seems to be just one more thing to increase the chance of being in a bad mood come December 25th. I would just ask all the big proponents of the Elf movement how many times they’ve posted pictures of their Elf hijinx on Facebook, blogs or Instagram. Because it seems that the people who are most into the Elf are the ones who are most active in social media. Are they really doing it for their kids or are they doing it to impress everyone else?

Is the Elf on the Shelf really to blame? Or is it just a symptom of our runaway culture? Is everything about Christmas getting out of hand? I have to admit that a few years ago when I had had enough of “all this materialism” and decided to make every single Christmas present by hand for all our relatives that I became a stressed out basket case. That Christmas was sheer misery. I thought that by making everything I would somehow get in touch with the spirit of Christmas, only to find myself knitting and making soap at 3 am on several occasions.

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OK, I know Christmas was over a week ago but I’m just barely decompressing. I really feel the need to discuss Christmas Dinner. I think this one meal illustrates the differences between families and traditions more than anything else in a marriage.

Mister comes from a family where the big meal is on Christmas Eve. It’s also buffet-style with mountains of food including lots of appetizers and veggie trays. (Who wants celery at Christmas dinner???). There’s more than one kind of meat (usually ham and prime rib). It’s also a paper plate-affair since that’s easiest. There’s a smattering of store-bought food, too. It’s gotten smaller over the years as the grandkids have gotten older and the family is too big and widespread to have everyone all together. But the amount of food is still unbelievable. When the cousins were younger, we used to act out the nativity. But my kids are the youngest with all of the cousins being teenagers or in college (a few now have kids of their own. So strange!). Funny how teens are not so gung-ho about dressing up like sheep.

While I like the idea of not having to cook on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve is crunch time and I usually have 15 million things to do including finishing wrapping, doing stockings, cleaning up the mayhem to Christmas preparations, and trying to have some sort of meaningful Jesus-filled religious experience. It sounds so simple but I’m usually about one second away from a complete mental breakdown.

My family does a Christmas Day dinner. Which means I’m up and cooking as soon as presents are done. Unless it’s like this year when I didn’t really feel like cooking til about 3pm. Which meant we ate at 8. But we gorge on candy throughout the day so it was all fine. I did all of the cooking this year. My mom was in town but I think she was napping. Or maybe watching a movie. I don’t know.

Our family decided that ham and turkey are kind of bleh, so we eat our favorite meal: schnitzel with noodles. In case you didn’t know, Wienerschnitzel has nothing to do with hot dogs. It’s merely schnitzel from the city of Wien (which we call Vienna). My grandmother was raised there so she learned to make wienerschnitzel. She taught my mother who taught me. My mother claims that men make better schnitzel since they’re sloppier. But none of my sons are taking the bait and aren’t interested in learning about their culinary heritage.

Our family eats a sit down dinner featuring schntzel, spaetzle noodles (kind of like skinny dumplings) and spinach salad (my spinach salad is the best in the world. I know. So modest. But everyone asks me for the recipe. Everyone.) That’s it. No appetizers. No bread. We eat our simple meal on my granmother’s china and dig out the sterling silverware. I suppose it’s very old-fashioned. That’s probably why I like it. Our Christmas dinner is all about tradition. Oh yeah, then we have pie. Always delicious homemade pies. Usually apple. This year I made lemon truffle too because the kids adore it.

Mister is happy to eat it, although he moans and groans all Christmas Eve because I have nothing good to eat. Not only do I not make a big dinner, I don’t usually make any dinner. Sometimes we go out for Chinese food. Sometimes we bring home BBQ. One year we ate cereal (hey, I’m busy!).

We’re tolerant of the Christmas dinner differences. It’s taken us a while. At the beginning we always got angry when our families didn’t do things the “right way”. But now we’ve made more of our own traditions. All that really matters is that we’re together and that something tastes delicious.

 

Who’s done with their Christmas shopping? Not me! And it’s less than a week away. But thank goodness for the internet. Not only because I can shop at 6 am before the kids are awake but because I can find pretty much anything out there.

I am a bit of an oddball and have raised my children to be rather oddball-ish too. While I generally like the fact that they refuse to wear Hollister t-shirts, sometimes it’s a big pain. My 15-year-old son York, for example, has developed a love for Feiyue sneakers (pronounced FAY-yoo-ay. For the longest time I couldn’t read the writing on York’s shoes and thought it was FYE-view. Duh). They’re are what all the Kung Fu people wear (he’s been taking Kung Fu for years). Feiyue started in Shanghai a long time ago but now they’re run by a French company and are pretty hip elsewhere in the world.  Think Chinese-French Chuck Taylors. I don’t get it, but he adores them so whatever.

Thanks to the interwebs I got York two pairs of his dream shoes for Christmas.  It tickles me that my PayPal account looks like this.


Nothing’s going to stand in the way of the perfect gift! Except for #5 on York’s list. I think we’re going to have to pass on the accordion.

Dear Newly Engaged Lovebirds,

Congratulations on getting engaged! The first question everyone asks is, “when will the wedding be?”  By this point your Pinterest boards are probably bursting at the seams with wedding ideas and you’re going to have to narrow your options down. The thought of when to have your wedding is probably not that much of a consideration to you other than wondering if you should go with red roses and a plaid theme, or maybe a spring wedding would be prettier. But other than the groom, your wedding date will most likely be the most important decision you will make. (If you’re Mormon you’ve got the whole Temple issue which is super important too, obviously.)

Here are the facts:

Ultimately nobody cares what food will be served. In two years no-one will remember. Nor will anyone care what flowers you picked or what kind of band was playing. People will maybe remember that it was nice or tacky, but for the most part weddings are forgettable. I’m sorry to burst your bubble but there you are. Most people won’t even remember what the bridesmaids wore. As a matter of fact, in twenty years you will be utterly appalled at the bridesmaid dresses you chose and probably your own wedding gown too. I know you don’t believe me but ask anyone you know who got married in the 80′s or 90′s. They will all tell you it’s true.

You wedding isn’t about the two of you. It’s about two entire families. The TV shows and magazines may tell you that it’s all about the bride (and maybe the groom a tiny smidge too), but honey, it’s not true. You are going to have to give in more times than you want in order to keep the peace. Get used to it because compromise is what marriage is all about. If you refuse to accommodate anyone’s needs or wants but your own you might have a prettier wedding but everyone–including the groom and especially your mother–is going to hate you.

So let’s talk about the date. We’re gearing up for the Christmas season and there are always a jillion weddings this time of year. Sometimes it coincides with school breaks for the happy couple, but sometimes a date in December is picked for no better reason than the couple thinks that falling snow seems romantic. Here are all the reasons why a December wedding is a bad idea:

1) It’s super inconvenient. Unless everyone you know lives within two hours of you, your wedding will require travel by guests and participants. Not only is it more expensive, but the weather is pretty iffy. Nobody wants to get stranded at an airport or shell out $2000 to fly out the week of Christmas.

2) Schedules are packed at Christmas. Especially for people with children. There are work, church and school parties, not to mention recitals and concerts. If you are expecting high schoolers or college students to come, it’s not going to work if you plan the wedding during finals week. No matter how special you are, people really don’t want to cram one more thing onto their calendars in December. It’s just too much. Instead of feeling joy for you they’ll probably be worrying about their to-do lists.

3) Everyone will be freezing during pictures. Yes, a bride in the snow is so lovely. All that white; it’s so dreamy and ethereal. Unfortunately Grandma isn’t so thrilled about it. Neither are your bridesmaids who will be wearing the strapless dresses you chose. Neither is your adorable flowergirl who is screaming in every picture because it’s 27º. This may all seem dumb but pretty much the only tangible proof you’ll have that the wedding took place will be photographs (and bills). Plan accordingly.

3) People’s budgets are tight. You want a nice wedding present, right? Well, there’s a lot less money to spare at Christmas. People are usually stretched thin, money-wise. And if they’re about to max out their credit card, do you think they’d rather spend the money on their son’s Christmas or on a wedding present for their cousin’s daughter?

4) Your anniversary will suck. This is certainly the strongest argument for not getting married at Christmas. You and your fiancé might be years away from having children now but at some point you probably will. And guess what’s going to happen then? You will not be able to take a week off from Christmas festivities to go on a fantastic anniversary trip. You will have way too much going on (see point #2 above). You will be spending money on Christmas presents for those kids and it probably won’t work with the budget.

Why do you think so many people get married in June? All the best flowers are in season, families are a lot more free to travel and you’ll be able to take anniversary trips when the weather all over the world is gorgeous. At the very least you could pick the end of January. Sure, it may not be the best for you, but it’s not all about you, remember?  Just whatever you do, don’t get married on Valentine’s Day (all the restaurants and hotels are booked solid and your anniversary will forever more be a pain. And flowers are out-of-the-world expensive so forget your husband ever getting you an anniversary bouquet.)

I’m not trying to burst your bubble, sweet Engaged Couple. I’m just trying to keep your wedding guests from cursing you under their breath.

Love always,

The Relief Society is in charge of the ward Christmas Party this year. I already have my decorating theme (Candy Canes! Everything will be red and white.) But I’m not really jazzed about any of the program/activity ideas that that we’ve been considering.  Have you been to any church Christmas parties that  you’ve really liked? Has any activity really stood out to you? Have you read about any ideas that seemed particularly cool? Please tell me!  Links are great too. These are the only requirements:

No Santa. I believe church should be the one Santa-free zone.

No Old-world christmas or Bethlehem-type themes. We’ve already started buying red and white decorations.

P.S. Non-Mormons, feel free to give me any ideas as well if you’ve been to some great church parties.

If you’ve got a houseful of bored people or just wish you lived someplace snowy, this is the perfect craft. You can’t very well go skiing on paper snowflakes but they add a nice wintery touch your house long after the Christmas decorations have been put away. They are also very addictive to make. Our family can spend hours cutting these out. This tutorial will help you make very detailed, extra-fancy snowflakes. Little hands might have trouble with the details, but older kids and adults will be fine. They are surprisingly easy and cheap to do. If you think you could never make these, I promise you’re wrong. They look much harder to make than they are.  Give them a try!

How to make paper snowflakes

The materials you need to make paper snowflakes couldn’t be simpler: paper, scissors and a pencil. You can definitely use any kind of paper but run-of-the-mill printer-type paper is kind of thick and makes it nearly impossible to get super fine details. The first year I made snowflakes I only used regular paper and I was thrilled with the results. But the next year I wanted make them even better; I wanted to make mine more detailed and elaborate. If you want to make the prettiest, fanciest snowflakes you’ll need very thin paper and nice pointy scissors. I prefer tracing paper. It’s quite thin and translucent and is absolutely lovely if you hang the snowflakes in your windows. When the sun shines through them they have a soft glow that you don’t get if you use regular printer paper which is completely opaque. This brand is my favorite (I bought this pad of 50 sheets at Michaels for $8. Actually, I had a coupon so it was about $5. Cheap!). Tracing paper is a lot easier to cut as well. Your hands will be aching after a while when you cut regular paper. I also recommend some nice sharp-tipped scissors. These were in the scrapbooking department and cost about $8.

 

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Step One: Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half. Make a nice sharp crease. The entire time you’re folding your paper the crease will be closest to you and the loose edges will be further away.

fold in half

 

Step Two: Fold the paper in half but only crease the very bottom. We don’t want it to stay folded; we just want to mark a halfway point. Open the paper back up so it’s a half-sheet again.

second fold

 

Step Three: Take the lower right side and fold it over, starting at the midpoint where you made your little crease.

third fold

 

Step Four: Fold the lower left corner over and crease.

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paper front

 

Step Five: Flip the paper over so it’s on it’s back.

snowflake directions

 

 Step Six: Fold the left side over so it’s completely even with the right side and crease it.

lots of folds

 

You can’t tell in this picture, but you’ll have a paper edge right along that dotted line. This is where you’ll make a cut.

ready to cut snowflake

Step Seven: Cut along the slanted edge. The bottom triangular part will be your snowflake. The top bits can be thrown away.
cut snowflake
Step Eight: Now is the time to draw on a pattern with pencil. The idea is to cut away most of the paper. I’ve drawn the pattern on this snowflake. To make it easier to see I’ve lightly colored the areas that will be cut away. Only the white parts will remain. This seems a little daunting and scary but it’s amazing how just about any design looks wonderful. You might think you need patterns or ideas but just experiment; you’ll get to be an expert surprisingly fast.

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Step nine: Use your nice sharp scissors to carefully cut out your design. An unfolded snowflake is not much to look at.

folded seuss

 

Step Ten: Unfold your snowflake ever so gently. These things rip like the dickens so be careful!

Seuss snowflake

Look how lovely! Prepare to feel an absurd amount of satisfaction. Now if only this snowflake didn’t look so . . . foldy.

Step Eleven: Iron your snowflake. What? Iron paper?!? Won’t it burst into flames? Not if your iron is on the lowest setting. If you try to iron your snowflake by itself the iron will get caught on all the little details and rip your snowflake to pieces. So we’re going to take two sheets of printer paper and make a snowflake sandwich. Put one piece of paper on your ironing board, then put the snowflake on top of it. Top it off with another sheet of plain paper. Now iron it gently on low heat. It won’t take more than a minute.

ironing snowflake

ironing snowflakes

Ah, that’s better!
flat seuss snowflake

All done! Now go forth and multiply some snowflakes!  Here’s a hint if you’ll be taping them to windows: don’t place the tape on the outer edges of the snowflake; place the tape inside of the details. It will be much less obvious. I recommend transparent tape but plain old Scotch tape is fine.

 

To get an idea of how snowflake designs translate from folded up to unfolded, here are some examples:

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rasta snowflake
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pointy snowflake

 

 

 

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bulb snowflake
fold swirl snowflake
gothic snowflakes

Happy Winter! Enjoy your snowflake-making!

It’s Christmas Eve and I just finished making two Texas Sheet Cakes* to take to dinner at our friends’ house tonight. We will, of course, be eating BBQ. Because we eat BBQ for every special occasion in Texas. I can’t even recall a church dinner that didn’t feature brisket. Not that I’m complaining. It beats the boiled ham and canned corn and store-bought rolls that we ate at all the ward dinners we’ve been to in other states. Brisket is a lovely, lovely thing. I’m very looking forward to tonight.

But I digress.

We are not a Big-Meal-on-Christmas-Eve family. In my family we had our fancy meal on Christmas Day. Mister grew up in a Christmas Eve family and it’s always worked out well. We’d have a big Christmas Eve shindig with his relatives and then a big meal with my family the next day.

For many years we had a replay of Thanksgiving at Christmas with turkey and ham and all that stuff. But a few years ago we collectively decided that we aren’t huge fans of turkey and ham. We would much rather eat our family’s favorite meal: wienerschnitzel.

No. Not hot dogs.

Wien (pronounced “veen”) is the proper German way to say Vienna. Wiener means something from Vienna like, say, a sausage.  Wienerschinitzel is a very thin breaded pork or veal cutlet, and was perfected in Vienna. Usually you squeeze a lemon on top. With it we eat spaetzle (pronounced “shpets-leh”), which are a cross between noodles and dumplings. You know in the Sound of Music when they sing about schnitzel with noodles? This is what they’re singing about. I love them enough to sing about them too.

My grandmother was from Vienna and she taught my mother how to make schnitzel. And my mother taught me. So now I get the pleasure of harassing the butcher to cut my pork exactly just so. With a middle name like Hildegard I have no choice but to be a schnitzel maker.

We also will have some sort of really superb salad or side dish and that’s it. We aren’t one of those families that goes crazy with hors d’oeuvres or accompaniments like, oh I don’t know, Mister’s family. We make the few things we love and that’s that.

My family also uses the best china and silver. Mister’s does paper plates and cups. Cute plates and cups, but still not exactly “special meal” ware.

For dessert I’ll do an apple pie and maybe a chocolate pie. I normally have lots of candy in my stocking and I’d really rather eat that. But I am a good wife. And good wives make pie for their husbands who love it. And my apple pie is superb so who am I to deny it to everyone?

What does your family do for the big meal? Are you busy cooking right now or are you taking a break til tomorrow night?  Lurkers, let’s hear from you too!

Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Eating!

*I may have put the cakes out to cool on the back porch and a bird may have walked across one. And I may have covered the tracks up with extra pecans.  Or maybe not. I’ll never admit to anything.

Have you noticed I haven’t gone on one of my holiday-induced rants this season?  Normally by this point I’m up in arms about the endless concerts and recitals, stupid holiday parties, and gifts for various people that I’d rather not give.

I’m angry a lot at Christmas.

So stupid of me.

This year I decided to be zen about a lot of things.

I decided to just enjoy my daughter’s concert without composing a mean letter in my mind to the choir director asking that we not have to hear a solo by every member of the choir.

This is just not a year when outside lights are going to happen. Around here, if we want lights, it’s up to me. And I made peace with not having lights. Plus it was rainy and cold most of December. And there is no way I’m braving bad weather for something as pointless as Christmas lights.

I made teacher gifts a week in advance. I took the time to do a nice peppermint soap and didn’t rush through it as I usually do.

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I said no to every party except the school parties and the ward party. I felt slightly grinchy, but one must do extreme things to survive. So, sorry friends who always have the super lame Caroling party. We didn’t really have plans already (and I hope you don’t read my blog!). Also, sorry Bunco and bookclub girls!

I spent much of the month crafting gifts. While I will probably never knit and crochet several gifts again (it was a lot of work! And there’s no way those little kids will appreciate it), it was definitely a big stress release. All that anxiety just drifts away when I make stuff. And, oh my, I had a lot of stuff to make. The little deer was the cutest. Well, so was the elephant.

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I have been wrapping several presents a day. As much as I love wrapping paper, you’d think that doing presents would be my favorite. Which it is if I don’t have a stack of fifty presents staring at me on Christmas Eve. Nothing like procrastinating until the last minute to make something not enjoyable. You’d think it wouldn’t have taken me 40 years to figure this out. (You like my gift-wrapping center? It’s right in the middle of my bedroom floor. I remain, as always, the pinnacle of organization).

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No neighbor gifts. This may seem like the height of rudeness but neighbor gifts are really not done here. The first year we moved in I did my usual over-the-top production (sugar cookies done all in white and silver and personalized with the names of each family member we’d be taking them to). Boy, was I surprised when nobody gave us anything back.  I learned my lesson fast and it has taken a tremendous burden off of me. Plus, it’s good for dieting.

I have really stripped the Christmas season down to its barest essentials. While this seems positively unAmerican, I get overwhelmed quickly. I don’t know why we all knock ourselves out to make this perfect Christmas experience for our children. Here is the truth: whatever you do for Christmas, your kids will love. The end. It is as simple as that. So my family can all be happy with the bare minimum, or my kids can do way more stuff and be just as happy but I will be miserable and practically homicidal by December 25th. Hmmm, that’s a hard choice.