Monday, December 31, 2007

Making Christmas: Odds and Ends

Fine. Enough with the Christmas stuff. I'm bummed, though, because I've really had a wonderful time doing this series - reflecting, reading others' input, planning for the future. I feel like it has helped me get the most out of the season, so thank you. I've got a few final thoughts on the various topics, so here goes. And then I'll quit, I promise.

I broke down and got Aly & AJ and Josh Groban's Christmas cd's this year, both on iTunes. I've really enjoyed both of them, especially Josh's Little Drummer Boy with a celtic flavor. Maren got me to give Chris Isaak another shot, and he's growing on me. I looked for the Garth Brooks song mentioned by Tona in the comments, but he's not on iTunes. So I need a copy.

My Santa advent calendar that I couldn't resist turned out to be resistible to the kids. Hazel just wanted to always put the tree in the "24" pocket because that's when we were going to Grandma Marsha's. Turns out we do need a tree/ornament advent - luckily I tricked Kat into volunteering to make me one. She's got a whole year and I will periodically check in to make sure she is pacing herself to be done on time.

Maren gave me a box of disco ball ornaments so I think we can see where my ornament theme will be going. Mom said she got me some colored disco ball ornaments and will keep them for me until I live nearby next year. I also went to Target on Dec 26 and got a dangly/jewely star tree topper at 50% off.

After staring at Ginger's stocking all month next to the rest of ours, I decided she needs a random sequin here and there around her name letters. Can't help noticing what a cheater's route I took with the iron-ons. Then I got inspired by my neices' stockings I saw in Colorado - the names were spelled out in beaded sequins. A nice compromise between the iron-ons and the nightmarish ribbon cursive. If I have need to make another someday, maybe I'll go that route.

Ed hit home again with the stocking stuffers - socks, Crest white strips, lithium batteries and a gift card to Little Cupcake. I cried...again.

I was surprised by the comments we got on this post - just in the small sample that responded there was a wide range of purposes the Christmas card/letter serves. I got some good ideas and I think the varied points of view helped me be a little more sensitive. Also, on that same December 26 Target trip (7 am) I picked up my cards for next year - 6 boxes of 18 (=108 cards) again at 50% off. Too bad (or good thing, depending on if you're me or Ed) I had packing limitations to consider since we were in Colorado; otherwise I would have stocked up on gift bags, bows, wrapping paper, ornaments, lights, etc. on sale. Next year.

I forgot to bring up in the original post about opening early. This is a hot topic in the Younce family because we do it and our in-laws don't. It started when we were young and our parents noticed how overwhelming Christmas morning would be on little kids - so many presents at once. So we started opening a present or two each night starting a few days early, sometimes a week out. It was a way to build up to Christmas, and to keep the mounds under the tree from taking over the house. It also allowed us to enjoy and appreciate the gifts better when not opened en masse. Christmas Eve we'd open four or five, then the rest Christmas morning. It made perfect sense to us.

When we got married I think we each encountered resistance to this tradition from our spouses. Tough.

While I got many lovely and thoughtful gifts this year, perhaps the stand-out winner came from Ed's sister Natalee: a coupon for a night of free babysitting plus a movie gift card. Ahhh...we used it two days later.

Books & Movies
Mom gave me a beautiful pop-up Christmas book to add to our collection called The Nativity. I recommend it.

I got The Bishop's Wife from Netflix since it was the only Christmas movie I came across that I hadn't seen but wanted to. I didn't get it watched before Christmas but it's here and I'll watch it soon. Darn computer keeps calling to me.

My sister-in-law Jenny made us this seriously delicious sweet bread for Christmas breakfast that's a tradition in her family. I asked her what it's called, expecting a foreign, perhaps Scandinavian name. "Christmas Bread." I hope she'll post the recipe either here or on her blog.

Merry Christmas,
Happy New Year,
and to all a Good Night!

Making Christmas: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The traditional Younce Christmas Eve consisted of reading the scriptural accounts in both the New Testament and Book of Mormon, followed by the Treasures of Christmas, a homemade child-friendly description of Christmas. My favorite part was poring over the family Christmas pictures in the back. Afterwards we would have dessert on the holiday plates that appeared once a year, and open a few gifts. Sometimes we would watch a movie or play a game until bed time.

Each year Mom and Dad would appoint the time before which we were not allowed to wake them up; it varied. Christmas morning was probably the most fun and magical part of the whole season, and with good reason. When else would we sit around in our jammies as a family, hanging out for several hours, eating, laughing and talking without interruption? Of course the presents helped make it all possible. Stockings were first, followed by the gifts under the tree. Grog and coffee cake were on the dining table. When all the presents had been opened, Dad announced loudly and dramatically, "Well, that's all there is! There are no more presents until next Christmas!" or something like that. Then there would be a pause, a mime, a shocked look into the tree branches. "Wait a minute - what's this?"

THIS would be an envelope with someone's name on it, and inside would be the first clue to a treasure hunt. Sometimes it was for all of us, sometimes just for one, but we all went on the hunt. Usually the clues alternated running us upstairs and downstairs, and ended in a larger gift being found hidden in the bathtub, washing machine, or a high closet shelf. Yeah, it was a good way to "end" Christmas.

This year Christmas was paced for us. We opened a few gifts at home on Dec 23 because we flew to Colorado on the 24th. But I got sick that night and we were in a rush to get packed, so most were left under the tree. Christmas Eve at the Hickmans this year was a nice but quick affair. Ed's sister Natalee typed up a program with scriptures and hymns, but by the end the babies were ready to move on or crash. Christmas day was staggered, with different families arriving at different times. Ed and I did stockings with the girls, then helped his parents with the big breakfast they were preparing for everyone. After breakfast, mid-morning, the fourteen of us that were there opened presents. The other eight opened later in the day or the next day, as they arrived. The rest of the day was hanging out, playing games, watching movies. We were in Colorado for a week but Hazel and I were sick for all but 2 days of it. At least we were able to enjoy Christmas.

And when we got home, there was still a little Christmas waiting for us, to help usher in the new year.

How did your Christmas go this year? What activities or traditions, old or new, did you enjoy?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to Tona!

Now updated with ANSWERS!

Today is my sister Tona's birthday. She's the oldest of the living Younce siblings; also the shortest, the only redhead, the youngest to marry (19), has the most kids (4), the only Ph.D., and usually has the most on her plate to keep her furiously multitasking. Hearing about her life wears me out. But she's a super mom, an awesome sister, an important example in so many ways, artistic and creative, I could go on. But there may be a few things you don't know about her. Let's find out, shall we?

4. Once Tona decided to make herself a glamorously billowly bubble bath like in a commercial. When she drained the tub there were so many bubbles that the basement toilet overflowed with foam. When our parents interrogated her, what did it turn out she had used to make the bubbles? PALMOLIVE (dish soap)
9. What is the similarity between Tona and her birthdate? They're both _______. SHORT (December 21 is the shortest day of the year; Tona is the shortest in our family)
12. As a child, Tona collected what objects? HAND MIRRORS
13. What was the name of Tona's imaginary kingdom in the woods behind our house? According to Maren, this was the name you had to yell while running down the hill and in between the tall trees before running back to the woods path. I was deemed too young to enter the kingdom, which made it all the more magical to me. IDYLWILDE
14. What sport did Tona cheerlead for in high school? BASKETBALL
15. When she was little, Tona hopped around the house like what animal? FROG
17. What is Tona's current favorite evening activity? KNITTING
18. How is the name TONA spelled in it original Norwegian? THONE
19. Where was Tona's first job outside the home? MINNESOTA FABRICS
20. When Tona was about 10, she wanted to take a class, but didn't want to go alone, so Dad took it with her. What was the class? PAINTING

1. For their anniversary this year, Tona took Don on a surprise overnight trip to NYC. What play did they see? CURTAINS
2. What part does Tona sing? ALTO
3. What field did Tona start out majoring in at MIT? MICROBIOLOGY
5. What is Tona's favorite children's TV show? MISTER ROGERS
6. What dignitary did Tona meet at her Ph.D. graduation? JOHN GLENN (Cute story: the boys were excited they were going to meet him, so they drew him pictures. When they gave them to him, he signed them and gave them back so they would have a special momento.)
7. When Tona was about 11, what kind of bed did she have for a year? HAMMOCK (she hung from the ceiling I think, and had to climb up into the top part of the closet to get in there)
8. What is Tona's favorite syndicated/rerun TV show? FRASER
10. What did Tona eat for breakfast on big test days in high school? TUNA (disgusting)
11. How tall is Tona? FIVE TWO
16. What is Tona's "pet" middle name? BEAN - you say it "Tonabean"
20. Where did Tona & Don go on their honeymoon? PEI (Prince Edward Island)

So how'd you do? Post what you think your score is or which ones you didn't know - I'll post the answers in a few days.

Happy Birthday, Tona!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making Christmas: Food

The goods are an important part of the holiday season. Weight loss programs get more recruits in January than any other month. I'm a big fan of culinary creations myself, though as I've thought about this topic, no certain dishes stood out as traditions or must-haves for me. But food does play a part in many of my Christmas memories. Kat's holiday parties in Colorado come to mind - full 4- or 5-course meals of amazing decadance. Candy dipping and sugar cookie making were also favorite things to do at Kat's house (miss you, man.)

For as long as I can remember my Aunt Janet has brought us a homemade coffee cake sometime the week before Christmas, and we always ate it with hot grog* Christmas morning during present opening, help-yourself style. I wonder how many of those she makes each year. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be the final post in this series, but we can still talk about the food. Last year I was delighted to partake of Aebleskivers, a High family tradition (my sister-in-law.) One year Maren made some serious stuffed french toast I wouldn't mind having again.

My sister Tona's family has a middle eastern meal Christmas Eve, along the lines of what the shepherds may have eaten - pita, olives, dried fruit & nuts, lamb. I myself am a big fan of a Honey-Baked Ham, but I'm not picky.

Food is a great gift to give, especially for co-workers and neighbors. I was always happy when the home teachers would bring by a sampler plate of goodies. One year my visiting teacher brought me a little cellophane bag of homemade bark - pretzels and peanuts in dark chocolate. Totally simple, cheap and easy but I got a little addicted for awhile there. This year one of my friends worked at perfecting Williams Sonoma's peppermint bark, and did a fine job of it, I was happy to receive.

Every year I get Food Network's 12 Days of Christmas Cookies emailed to me but I've never made them for some reason. Also I love Starbucks peppermint hot chocolate, or any hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane that melts into it - yum.

This Saturday is our ward Christmas party and I signed up to bring a dessert. Easy, right? I mean, how do you pick? So many options. Well I'm drawing a blank so suggestions are welcome. (I don't make pie crusts and I don't work with yeast. I do love a good Bûche de Noël, but I'm not up to it.)

What are your Christmas food plans, traditions or memories?

*Grog recipe: orange juice, apple cider, mulling spices, lemon or lime juice, honey. Combine to taste and warm on stove in a big pot - serve in mugs with a ladle.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making Christmas: Movies

I know, I know. I should have done books and movies together in one post. But neither one was on my original list so I wasn't organized enough to do it. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't think of movies earlier. I like movies. I used to watch a lot of them - I think I remember doing that. Anyway, I saw a commercial for Fred Claus the other day and it got me thinking about all the Christmas movies - several come out every year, hoping for a little box office holiday love, and they're not usually any good. But people go see them because 'tis the season. Then I got thinking about a few Christmas movies that are good - we might call them classics - and this addition to the Making Christmas series was born.

I could only come up with four that I like enough to recommend:
It's a Wonderful Life - Cliche, yes, I know. I've never been one for bandwagons. Which is why I never watched the whole thing through. Then last year I finally saw it start to finish and it was so...wonderful!
A Christmas Story - What can I say? If you've seen it, you already know. If you haven't, you're missing out.
Scrooged - A Christmas Carol that doesn't put me to sleep. Love Bill Murray.
While You Were Sleeping - At first thought I don't consider this a Christmas film, but I guess it really is. It's set around Christmas time and the themes of family vs. loneliness are emphasized. Sweet story, and one of Sandra's best, in my opinion.

I know Miracle on 34th Street is a classic for many, but I pass on the whole Santa thing. Here are a few other people's lists to get your juices flowing:
The Culture Beat
Listmania! Ultimate Christmas Movie List
Lots of Christmas Movies
Reel Reviews
Christian Christmas Movie Reviews

What are your favorite Christmas movies?
Any classics that it's tradition to watch?
How about new ones - are any of the holiday movies made in the last 10 years any good?
What's the absolute worst Christmas movie you've ever seen?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Making Christmas: Gifts

This is a tricky one to address. Many of us are disgusted with the commercialism and consumerism around the holidays that takes away from the reason for the season. And hey, I'm in that boat. Avoid malls, avoid toy stores, avoid too much Santa, try to find meaningful Christian ways to celebrate. However, that said, I love, love, LOVE to give gifts! I don't really mind getting them, either. I guess it's one of my love languages - I think it is for most of us Younces.

Now that we're grown, we choose names for sibling gifts in both the Younce and Hickman families. It would be my great pleasure to give Christmas gifts to everyone, but it's just not financially feasible, so we rotate, which works well. But there are always spouses, kids, and parents to give to. And then there are other people, like friends, neighbors, and teachers, if applicable.

What I'd really like to do is have everyone throw out their gift ideas for different people, but we don't want to spoil any surprises. So instead we can talk about gifts and gifting in general. For example, every magazine this month has a gift guide of some sort. I love looking through these, though most of the stuff I would never buy for anyone. I just like the window shopping. I tore out one page of cool ones to mention on here but Ginger ripped it up beyond recognition. Sorry. Friends and neighbors usually get consumables - one year I made chocolate peppermint biscotti, this year I gave homemade hot chocolate mix or Trader Joe's Orange Cranberry bread mix and my holiday mix cd. I love one year Tona gave neighbors fresh bread or baguette and a little dish of homemade flavored butter, like orange honey or basil parmesan. I don't have kids' teachers to think about yet, but having worked in schools I know what they want - gift cards for classroom supplies, anything handmade by the kids, and baked goods will never be turned down.

This brings me to one of my favorite gift ideas - handmade things. Food is going to be the next post topic so here we're talking about nonedibles. This is a potentially limitless genre, and with so many creative ideas out there, handmade does not have to mean subpar. I remember one year at Kat's over-the-top holiday dinner party she made star stained glass ornaments for each guest as favors. Last year I took Hazel to The Painted Pot and she painted a mug and picture frame for gifts. For awhile I enjoyed making earrings and necklaces for gifts, but the beads have been packed away since the little ones came along. Even if you don't knit, paint, bake, sew or otherwise "craft", custom gifts are still an option. I myself am a big fan of photo gifts - puzzles, tote bags, post-it pads, magnets, note cards, calendars, etc. Drag, drop and a few clicks of the mouse, voila! ReadyMade is one of many good sites for "making stuff", and check out responses to Todd Oldham's call for DIY holiday videos.

What other awesome gift ideas have you used, seen or heard? What's at the top of your list? What's your approach or attitude toward holiday gifting?

Fresh ideas on wrapping gifts is also welcome!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Book List

Here are all the book recommendations, compiled, alphabetized and linked for those of you building a Christmas collection. Thanks to our contributors: Jen, Kat, Maren, and Tona!

The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda (see picture)
Cajun Night Before Christmas by Trosclair
The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado or The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck, illus. by Mark Buehner
Christmas Eve: The Nativity Story in Engravings, Verse and Song by Carole Taylor and Lezle Williams
Christmas Eve: the Joy of Giving by Lisa Sferlazza Johnson and Tucker Johnson
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and P.J. Lynch
The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere
Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Clima
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Kingfisher Treasury of Christmas Stories by Sian Hardy
The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
Night Tree by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt and Tim Jonke
The Tall Book of Christmas by Various

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Making Christmas: Activities & Community

As you can imagine, New York does Christmas BIG. The iconic tree at Rockefeller Center represents New York's whole attitude on the holidays - do it up (and rake in the revenue.) Two years ago we went downtown in December to see the tree, Macy's windows, and other holiday sites. Walking down 5th Avenue I honestly heard a fur-clad woman saying on her cell phone, "I just left Gucci, I'll meet you in Cartier." We considered visiting FAO Schwartz but ditched the idea when we saw the line out the door and down the block. We had a chicken soup lunch in a tiny deli instead. Needless to say, this barely scratches the surface on holiday activities in New York City.

Last Saturday we went to breakfast at a hip little local diner and I had gingerbread pancakes. Then we bought Hazel some mittens and on the way home we passed a Christmas tree seller set up by the grocery store. On a whim we bought a little 4' tree and stand. We don't go to Colorado until Christmas Eve, and with this blog series I've been especially into the holiday spirit this year, so I was stoked to get a real tree - our first - for our home. It was awesome to set it up and decorate it with our small ornament collection.

Next week we're hosting a playgroup with Hazel's friends where we'll make graham cracker gingerbread houses. I saw at the store gingerbread flavored graham crackers so I guess we'll get those, and I'll do an internet search for stiff frosting recipe.

There's a neighborhood in Brooklyn near us that is famous all over the city for the house decorations and lights. Here's a photo gallery to give you an idea. (And here's another, which appropriately calls it a "decorgasm.") Tour buses bring people from every borough to gape at the gawdy outdoneness, and we ourselves have learned to enjoy this tradition that is costing these people unnecessary thousands in electricity bills and hired help.This season some people participate in Messiah singalongs or school concerts. They see "The Nutcracker" or go to the movies as a family. Maybe go see Santa at the mall or do the 12 Days of Christmas for another family. I knew one (rich) family who for 15 years while they lived in the San Fransisco area, took their kids and one friend each to stay in a downtown hotel on the 23rd and 24th to shop and see a special train show. Some people just make to-do lists and hope something gets done.

What activities have you done this year or past years that were great? What family traditions have you developed or hope to, for the month of December? What's something special that happens in your community this time of year?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Making Christmas: Cards

On top of everything else, Christmas is card season! I do know a few families who send out their annual greetings at Easter or end of school year, but for most of us it's a perfect time to wish friends and family happy holidays and additionally inform and update on ourselves. This adds to the expense and time consumption of the season, but to me it's worth it.

We just started sending out Christmas cards 2 years ago, after Hazel was born. We went the easy route - picture card from shutterfly. A nice one-liner and you're done. But last year I so enjoyed the family letters we got from friends that I decided it's time for us to step it up. I also realized that I strongly preferred pictures that had all family members in them - not just the kids! As a parent who's put on some pounds - and wrinkles - over the years I definitely understand the preference to stay behind the camera, but come on, people! It's so fun to see my old friends, whatever condition they're in, and not just their kids who I've never met! So taking my own advice, this year we are sending out a regular family picture and a one-page letter. What I'd really like to do is send out something classy like this, but it will have to be another year.

Now the list. Ours is on an excel spreadsheet with 2 pages - Family and Friends. Family has all immediate family, all aunts, uncles, grandparents, and some cousins. Friends has three columns - the A, B and C lists. Each year names get shuffled among these, based on priority of new additions, returned cards the year before, how well we've kept in touch, etc. All said we're looking at about 90 going out this year - a number which surprised both me and Ed when we added it up. We know that many people? Guess so. When we reviewed the list he was also surprised - and disturbed - that most of the Friends were actually my friends, or friends we both had in Colorado. He does a terrible job of keeping in touch, and regrets it. So he racked his brain for high school, mission or work friends to track down and add to the list. We'll see how fruitful that exercise is.

Like almost everything else this year, I ordered my stamps online, so while I wait for them to arrive I've spent my evenings addressing envelopes in front of the TV. Friday night Ed came home at a reasonable hour so we divided up the list and stacks and got them all ready to go. When the stamps come in out they'll go.

Finally, what do we do with all the cards that come in? I love devoting a little time to each of my old friends as I read their updates or stare at their pictures. It's a great way to feel connected to people from the past, and also the present. But then what do you do with them? This year I bought a ribbon board to display the cards as they come, so we can look at them more than once and Ed can see what's come in when he comes home late at night. Eventually I'd like to get a nicer card holder, but that's another thing to plan on but put off. I read in a magazine of someone who cuts pictures from Christmas cards to make gift tags for next year, or to make Christmas books or collages with their kids. You hate to just throw them away, but you can't keep them around forever, either. I think I still have a stack from last year. What do you do?

So, that's it - what are your thoughts, habits, preferences, opinions on Christmas cards?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Making Christmas: Stockings & Books


As mentioned in earlier comments, our family has a stocking tradition. Grandma Younce made felt stockings for us kids, decorated with appliques, sequins, beads and ribbon. When Tona (our oldest) married Don, he was immediately embraced by our family, and just to prove it Mom made him a stocking so he'd fit in. It was of a skier whooshing down the slope (Don is a big skier.) Since then, each of us girls have made stockings for our husbands and kids as they come along.

Not being as patient, creative or skilled as the rest of the Younces, this was an intimidating task for me, but important for some reason. So I've stuck with the tradition but recruited some help with each one. Mom helped me with the design and materials for Ed's stocking - it's a red-haired shepherd boy sleeping on the ground with sheep, elk, mountains and a bright star in the background. Sorry I don't have a picture. When we get it out of storage I'll post it. Bless Kat's heart, she painstakingly sewed Ed's name on the stocking in thin gold cursive, when I had given up.

I designed and made Hazel's stocking pretty much on my own, but Tona helped with finishing touches - the "icicle" fringe and binding around the top:During Mom's visit in October we bought the materials and designed Ginger's stocking. I delegated the entire fireplace to her, and she did a super duper job. The name, cookies and milk were me. I feel like I've cheated, using iron-on varsity letters for the name, but I couldn't help it, I just wasn't up for more cursive. Over Thanksgiving we put it all together - thanks so much for your help, Mom!

I know this is the tradition, and I do enjoy designing the scenes for stockings, but I've seen so many beautiful stockings in stores lately that I kind of wish I had an excuse to buy them. Since I don't, I feel it is my duty to inform others there is no excuse for ugly or boring stockings!

In our family, stockings are filled with toothbrushes, lip balm, life saver storybooks, safety pins and other small notions, with a clementine in the toe. This year Hazel and Ginger are getting mittens & tights, I don't know what else. I don't feel obligated to fill them up.

What do you have for stockings and what do you put in them? (I need ideas.)

Tona requested a topic on Christmas books. I hadn't thought of it since it's not a big part of our family culture yet, but I would love her list and anything others have to say on this topic. Last year Mom gave us all The Tall Book of Christmas. This was a book from our childhood that I had forgotten about until seeing it again - a flood of memories rushed in, I love that. I guess it was out of print and then came back. And this year I got Hazel a Christmas book called Christmas Eve: The Joy of Giving. It hasn't arrived yet but the reviews were promising, suggesting it has a smooth incorporation of the Nativity and Santa, with catchy rhyming text and a profound message. Hope so.

"Treasures of Christmas" is a homemade book my Mom created when we were very little - a gold spray-painted 3-ring notebook with cardstock pages containing glued-on pictures from Christmas cards and handwritten text of the Christmas story at a young child's level. It was inspired because it has become one of the most beloved Younce Christmas traditions. The original is cherished because the pictures are from 60's and 70's Christmas cards and are so fun to look at. Mom has since made one for all of us, with the same text and gold notebook, but of course different pictures. At the end of the book is our family's Christmas card pictures from every year - those are so great to look at each year and add to.

What are your Christmas book traditions or discoveries?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Making Christmas: Decorations

Our holiday music usually gets us in the right mood to break out the trimmings. This is a topic of great interest to me. Certain decoration memories are the first to pop into mind at the thought of Christmas. My parents didn't deck the halls with everything Christmas, but a few festive pieces made the month memorable for me. First, the jewel tree - a framed, velvet-backed tree made from old brooches, earrings and other jewelry. It also had red lights poking through. Hard to describe. Maybe I can get a picture of it. But I loved it. Also that German tiered, candled carousel thing - please, family, help me out here. The Christmas tree advent calendar - how I loved pinning a new ornament on it each day. And perhaps my favorite was when we went to Grandma's house. She wrapped her stair banisters & railings with thick pine boughs and white lights. A totally simple decoration but convivial beyond description.

This is our seventh Christmas together, and we have always spent it with one or the other of our families. Somehow not spending Christmas at home has also meant not really decorating for it. Our first Christmas married my Mom sent us a full-size tree skirt she had made. We had no tree so I went over to McGuckins and bought a 2-ft artificial tree with lights in it. Every year since then, we pull out the pathetic little guy, on which ornaments are disproportionately huge, wrap the tree skirt around twice, and top with a lopsided star. That same first Christmas my mother-in-law gave us a white porcelain nativity set. Since then we got a sign from my Mom that says, "Dear Santa, define good," and another nativity set I fell in love with last year. This year I searched on ebay for a hanging advent calendar, thinking Hazel is old enough to enjoy counting the days that way. I was looking for a tree like my Mom's but ended up unable to resist this Santa.

It's not much but it's a start. This year we are spending Christmas with the Hickmans in Colorado, but starting next year we will do Christmas in our own home. I want to make it meaningful, memorable, and - an ultimate goal I always seem to fall short of - classy, even though I lack a natural gift for decorating. We'll get a real normal-sized tree, and ornament it. Maybe hang lights and make popcorn cranberry strings. A holiday centerpiece.

When we were in VA for Thanksgiving I snuck out one night for a solo trip to Target. I got a few things on my list, then wandered slowly through the aisles, savoring the luxury of browsing. I spent a long, long time in the holiday aisles, admiring the modern decorative pieces, from stocking holders to swags to trees, daydreaming about a home decked out holiday-style. I did go to our Target here for some things today, and with this post on my mind, I spontaneously sprung for a wreath kind of like this one, but more berries & less green. It's pretty, and hanging on our door to greet us whenever we come home. I've also taken note of pieces and ornaments I've seen that I like, and plan to check back at the stores and websites after Christmas to see if I can take advantage of post-holiday sales. After all, things get expensive, and I don't need anything else for this year anyway.

Mention of ornaments brings us to the final subtopic here - the tree. I had an interesting discussion with Dave & Michelle last year about decorating it. Like my family growing up, they have a hodge-podge, eclectic ornament collection and Dave felt it looked too messy so he bought some ornament sets to bring a little cohesiveness to the look. I agree that a tree looks beautiful with coordinated pieces, but if it's too coordinated it doesn't look homey. Every year my Mom sends us an ornament-of-the-year of her own choosing, so I figure we can use those for the variety, and buy some sets for some aesthetic harmony.

What I hope to eventually achieve is a merry but peaceful atmosphere with all holiday decorating, a place that feels special for a special time of year. I look around and see I have a long way to go.

How do you decorate your home? What have you seen in other homes or stores that you like? How do you decorate your tree? What have you seen that you liked?
Have you seen the most awesome ornaments anywhere this year (that I should look into?)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Making Christmas

Happy December!
I've been thinking about Christmas. It's a holiday rich in traditions and celebration, and like most other people I love it. I love the music. I love to plan, select, make, wrap and give gifts. I love the smells of gingerbread and pine. And I love to quietly stare at a nativity scene in the glow of Christmas tree lights and imagine the miraculous night the Savior was born. This leads to considering His divine mission and life, and how He truly was the greatest gift ever given.

And now that I'm the Mom around here I've been thinking about how I want to lead my family in celebrating Christmas - what traditions should we continue or begin? How can we enjoy the magic of the season while keeping our thoughts on Christ? I've already decided my kids will always know Santa isn't real. We can still enjoy the legend but there's another, more important, real person who loves children that I prefer to focus on. Beyond that, I'm still thinking about how we want to celebrate it as a family.

So in December there will be a "Making Christmas" series here on DMTotW, touching on different aspects of seasonal celebration. I beg you to chime in, sharing your own thoughts, ideas, activities and hopes on each topic. I'm curious what other people do, and looking for ideas to steal. So please, if you read, post.

Making Christmas: Music

Christmas is a multisensory experience. It's the combinations of sensory input that make it so enjoyable for most of us. "Silent Night" plus hot cocoa? Nice. How about "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in candlelight outside in the cold?

My favorite lite rock station in Denver plays continuous Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas, and amazingly I don't get sick of it (though there are a few songs that make me change stations, like Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree!) It made my commute so fun for that month. When we lived in Boulder I used to go to Barnes & Noble and listen to lots and lots of holiday CD's, choosing one each year to add to my collection. Christmas is the one time I really badly wish I had a 5-disc CD player. I get tired of each cd fast, but if they were all on shuffle it would be a festive acoustic delight. A few years ago I downloaded a bunch of good holiday songs from iTunes and made a Christmas mix of my favorites. Since then I revise the mix each year, keeping the best and adding new ones.

Here are the Christmas CD's I have:

A New Age Christmas - Carol of the Drums
A Windham Hill Collection - A Celtic Christmas
Harry Connick, Jr. - When My Heart Finds Christmas
Jake White - Christmas
James Taylor - At Christmas
Jim Brickman - Peace
Loreena McKennett - A Winter Garden
Maybe This Christmas (compilation)
Rankin Sisters - Do You Hear...
The Chieftans - The Bells of Dublin
The Roches - We Three Kings
Voice Male - Jingles 2

And here are the songs on my mix this year:

Deck the Halls - Aly & AJ
Who Comes this Night - James Taylor
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Jack Johnson
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan
I Pray on Christmas - Harry Connick, Jr.
Go Tell it On the Mountain - James Taylor
The First Noel - Leigh Nash
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Jim Brickman
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - BYU Men's Chorus
Wassail Song - Liz Story
Baby, It's Cold Outside - James Taylor & Natalie Cole
For Unto Us a Child is Born - The Roches
Carol of the Bells - Voice Male
Do You Hear What I Hear - Rankin Sisters
Joy to the World - Aly & AJ
O Holy Night - Tracy Chapman
Song for a Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan

My favorite Christmas hymn in the church hymnbook is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." (Though the version on the church website could stand a little jazzing up.) I love the tune's rise and fall but even more is that I love how the words are in first person. It's a personal internal journey in 5 short verses. And I've always loved the phrase, "A voice, a chime, a chant sublime..." in the last verse. I just love it.

So, what are your favorite holiday CD's and songs? What do you recommend I add to my collection this year? Any other thoughts about holiday music? (Like, Caroling: is it still done?)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Wish They Made...

It has happened to all of us, right? You run into some kind of obstacle in a project or daily life, and can't find just the right solution. You know what would do it, but it's just not out there - the book, the product, the service. You tap your chin and say,
"I wish they made ____."

Then one of two things happen - you eventually discover that they do indeed make it, or you don't. If you do, you're thrilled and proud of the person who thought like you and made it happen. If you don't, you either start a business doing it yourself or just live without, settling for whatever you can pull together.

Last week Hazel had a bad cold and spent several days in terrible coughing fits. I told my mom I wished I could give her a cough drop for some kind of relief but knew it was a choking hazard and didn't want to risk it. I gave her things to drink and some nighttime cough medicine but felt terrible listening to the hacking all day. Then my friend Kelly mentioned in an email her kids were sick and she'd given her cougher Vitamin C lollipops. LOLLIPOPS! Now somebody's thinking! I went up to Rite Aid and got them - Runny Rhino Cold Relief Pops with Zinc and Vitamin C. Hazel thinks they're candy, and while I know they're not exactly nutritional, they do give her some benefit and relief when the coughing gets bad.

People often tell my friend Corey that she "stole" their long-sleeved bib idea. Instead they should be grateful somebody finally made the thing we've all been needing. (Look for the food smock in Baby Talk's Dec/Jan issue - congrats, Corey!)

I'd love to hear what everyone else "wishes they made." Or what your million dollar idea was that someone else "stole."
What's missing from the market out there, or what's genius in it?

*Photo courtesy of Maren - Torin eating first birthday cake in food smock.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Right Back Where I Started From

As some of you know, we have been looking for a new job for Ed. Our 3 years with Citi will be done in the summer and we've decided to exit New York and investment banking. We've been in the search - apply - interview process for a few months and are happy to announce Ed has accepted a position with Relativity Capital, a private equity firm in Arlington, Virginia.

Your next question is, "What will he be doing?" or "How is that different from what he's doing now?" Please be patient with me. I watch Noggin and fix PBJ's every day. Ed has explained investment banking, private equity, venture capital, corporate development, and hedge funds to me hundreds of times but they remain abstract, barely relevant to anything I do except as a source of income. But here's a simple explanation:

Investment banks advise companies on financial decisions and help companies raise money to follow through with those decisions, such as mergers, acquisitions and divestitures.

Private equity firms raise a fund through investors, use that fund to buy companies, and generate a return on the investment by various means.

That's the best I can do without dropping a lot of financial jargon. Click on the wiki links to learn more, or just email Ed. Basically it is a related field, still in the realm of business finance. Relativity is a new firm, with only a handful of employees split between the NY and Arlington offices. Ed and another new hire will bring the Arlington headcount to six! Because it is small and new, it will be quite different from Ed's office life now, but he is really excited to work in PE and so closely with the firm's founders, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field.

As for me, my feelings are equally excited but more complex. I was born in Arlington Hospital. I spent my first 18 years in Fairfax, VA, and when I left I did not expect to ever return for more than a visit. I was sick of it and wanted to explore all the places where I hadn't grown up. I was also anxious to leave behind a small collection of adolescent demons associated with the place, and start over fresh, as an adult.

Now it's 15 years later and after living in Provo, Boston, Toronto, Boulder, Denver and Brooklyn, I'm returning. But rather than a homecoming, it feels surprisingly like another fresh start, with the bonus benefits of knowing my way around and being close to my family. We went to my parents' house for Thanksgiving weekend, and while driving around the area, I frequently checked the emotional barometer. I was delighted to feel a new relationship with the place, and a comfortable eagerness to bring my family there.

People complain that the DC metro area is crowded, expensive, and traffic is terrible. Luckily we're coming from New York City, from which reference point anything is an improvement. My heart flutters at the thought of all those parking lots.

Over the weekend we spent a little time examining maps and exploring neighborhoods to get a feel for our housing options. We hope to live as close to Ed's office as possible, which may mean living as close to the orange or blue metro lines as possible (the office is at the Rosslyn metro station.) We don't expect Ed's hours to be as long as they are now, but we've learned to make a short commute a high priority. That would put us in Arlington or Fairfax counties; beyond that, we don't know exactly where we'll be. I've learned more in the last 2 weeks about northern Virginia geography than in 18 years growing up. But keep in mind only 2 of those were driving years...

The timing is a little unfortunate in that we'll miss Dave & family, who are moving to England in the spring, by only a few months. But hopefully they won't stay over there forever, and we can get the next generation of cousins together for some formative years. And "Nana & Bobba" (my parents) aren't going anywhere - it will be great to be close to them. Of course we also look forward to reconnecting with friends that are still, or newly, in the metro DC area, and hosting visitors.

So that's the news - post any comments, advice, ridicule, threats, etc. below.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ex Libris, Part II

I have always had a lame vocabulary. I didn't realize it until standardized testing hit, and my verbal scores consistently came in low, year after year. On the SAT and years later on the GRE verbal was at least 200 pts below math. The inaptitude turned out to be interlingual, when, after 27 college credits of Spanish, my oral examiner gave me high marks in every area except vocabulario. Same for my ASL tutor. More recent evidence was produced when my blog received an "Elementary School"* readability rating (thanks a lot, Mr. Genius.) I did invest in a hefty dictionary-thesaurus set to see me through college and grad school, but I admit I only used it for writing, almost never for reading.

Like everyone else, I was taught by my English teachers to use context when I came across a word I didn't know in literature. But this technique's limitation is the context itself! For example, I can glean that delft is a color, but what color? Erysipelas is obviously a disease, but I know nothing else about it. My vocabulary is not expatiated by using this method alone because I don't learn the words well enough to reuse them in my own language, and certainly not the multiple times necessary for lexicon incorporation. I suppose some people actually keep a dictionary nearby and look up new words, but that's too disruptive for me. My reading windows are small enough - if I looked up all the words I don't know, I'd never get anywhere. Instead, I just gloss over the obscurities and continue in ignorance. I don't understand how other people do it.

Ex Libris essay #2 is called The Joy of Sesquipedalians. Anne Fadiman grew up in a highly literary family - she and her brother used to compete to find the longest and strangest words. So she was both thrilled and horrified when, as an adult, she read a book** that contained 22 words she had never even seen before. She wrote them down and ran them by her family, then made a quiz to give to colleagues and friends. She also looked them up and used as many as she could in the writing of this piece, providing definitions for the others at the end.

About 15 pages later, I was having the same experience with Ex Libris, minus the thrill. The horror turned to frustration and embarrassment as I read page after page of words I didn't know, stuck in with a few I did. So I decided to follow Fadiman's example. I wrote down the words and you shall now be polled. Below are the 56 words I did not know in 140 pages of prose. They're in alphabetical order, followed by page number. As you look through the list, keep in mind that I'm starting off at 0, so if you even know 1 you beat me - and you don't even have context like I did! And if you do think you know one, look it up just to make sure. Ed, the king of fabricated word pidgins and near-homophones, took a look and said, "You don't know what provenance is?"
"It's provenance, not providence," I responded.
"Oh. Well what about patency?"
"Patency, not potency." Et cetera.

accreted 150
acolyte 13
alluvium 42
antients 109
bibliolatrus 37
bibliomane 57
bravura 60
captious 81
caroming 69
chrestomathy (back cover)
concatenation 92
dactyl 133
declivitous 147
delft 115
distaff 50
doppelganger 90
ectomorph 140
eidetic 67
eland 74
elegiac 13
embonpoint 97
emendation 137
enchiridion 155
erysipelas 146
frisson 64
gewgaws 52
hegemony 59
hortatory 47
hubristic 81
ichor 91
kerf 117
lapidary 33
legatees 128
lissome 77
lucubrations 117
necrosis 34
paean 148
palimpsests 41
parity 73
patency 56
peroration (back cover)
perspicacity 82
pettifogging 81
probity 141
prolix 93
provenance 88
ptomaine 98
purdah 89
salacities 128
schist 67
soidisant 33
spoor 93
spurious 58
turpitude 98
umber 44
villanelle 117

Ok, let's have your numbers. And any other recent new words you've learned. And how you learn and keep new words. And anything else you want to say about it. And let's hear from you ghost readers on this one, too - I know you're out there! Hmm, maybe we can play some kind of blog Balderdash with these...

Ex Libris has inspired me to read more, write more, learn and use more words, and do more to pass a love of reading and learning to my children. Thank you, Ms. Fadiman. It has been a fructiferous read.

*Upped to "High School" after this post - imagine that!

**The book was The Tiger in the House by Carl Van Vechten. The words she didn't know are: monophysite, mephitic, calineries, diapason, grimoire, adapertile, retromingent, perllan, cupellation, adytum, sepoy, subadar, paludal, apozemical, camorra, ithyphallic, alcalde, aspergill, agathodemon, kakodemon, goetic and opopanax.
I knew grimoire from Outlander and alcalde from Zorro, the Gay Blade.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ex Libris, Part I

It all started with the reconnection with my old missionary companion Kim ("Kimmie") Petersen. Somehow we hooked up with each other's blogs and profiles - I saw that she is an avid reader, and she saw that I had a book by Anne Fadiman in my favorites list - The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (highly recommended.) Kim told me that the name of her blog, exLibris Lady (also highly recommended, especially for book suggestions), is based on another book by Ms. Fadiman, and I should read it. And so I have.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a small, very entertaining, book of 18 personal essays recounting the author's lifelong love affair with books, language and all things literary. Reading it made me feel both confidently clever and dolefully dense - clever for the experiences and passions with which I could relate, and dense for the heaps and mounds of literary references and 50-cent words with which I could not. I recognized (but not necessarily understood) probably less than 5% of her allusions and references. Ms. Fadiman is a seriously well-read woman. I am not. But I enjoyed it so much all the same.

This post is Part I because it's an intro and book review. Part II will be a more personal post inspired by one of the essays, so watch for it. And have your dictionaries handy!

I was thinking I'd give a quick one-liner about each essay, maybe a quote as well. I didn't realize until I just now counted that there were actually so many - it doesn't feel like eighteen! So instead here are some highlights:

#1 Marrying Libraries - On the solemnity, and complexity, of combining her and her husband's book collections. "After five years of marriage and a child, George and I finally resolved that we were ready for the more profound intimacy of library consolidation."

#5 Never Do That to a Book - On the ways that people treat books and why. "...just as there is more than one way to love a person, so there is more than one way to love a book. The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy."

#8 You Are There - On the practice of reading books in the places they describe. "For example, reading Steinbeck in Monterey won't do; we must read him on Cannery Row."

#10 Insert a Caret - On her and her family's compulsive proofreading - hilarious to anyone who has the same tendency. "Once, when I ordered a chocolate cake to commemorate the closely proximate birthdays of my three co-Fadimans, I grabbed the order form from the bakery clerk, who had noted that it was to say, 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY'S,' and corrected it. I knew my family would not be distracted by the silver dragees or the pink sugar rose; had I not narrowly averted the punctuational catastrophe, they would have all cried, in chorus, "There's a superfluous apostrophe!"

#13 Nothing New Under the Sun - On quoting, referencing, intellectual property and the fine line of plagiarism - written with footnotes ad nauseam to reference almost everything she says or thinks. "In the incestuous world of cookbookery, there seems to be no such thing as plagiarism. Add a sprig of rosemary and the recipe is yours. In literature - or so goes the conventional wisdom - the rules are a bit stiffer. I have long been fascinated by the sea-change through which an aggregation of words, common property when scattered throughout a dictionary, is transformed into a stealable asset."

And you don't want to miss #12 The Literary Glutton, on figuratively and literally devouring books; also culinary descriptions in literature. "The art critic Eric Gibson once told me that one of the most frustrating experiences of his life was reading the description of chicken-and-sausage stew in A Moment of War, Laurie Lee's memoir of the Spanish Civil War, while riding the Washington subway, at least a half hour's ride from his kitchen."

Anyone who loves to read will find something of themselves in these pages, and enjoy the reading as well. It is a lovely balance of familiar and new, written by a true master of the English language. It especially highlighted for me the difference between being literate (me) and literary (her), but I've just taken my first step.

This book receives 4.5 out of 5 disco balls:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Happy Birthday to Maren!

Here at DMTotW we're a family show, and that means if Dave gets a birthday crossword, well so does Maren. And that's right, Tona, you will get one too. Today is my next older sister Maren's birthday and it's time for everyone to get to know her, or show off what they already know. She's educated, she's traveled, she's a great mom, and accomplished in so many ways. Happy Birthday, Maren - hope it's the best yet!
7. In high school Maren was active in the drama program.  
In which play did she bring the house down with her leading role?
The Man Who Came to Dinner
10. How far apart were Maren’s college graduation and wedding?
One Day
11. What will Maren’s children answer if she asks them,
“What do you get when you whine?”
12. In what city did they live when Torin was born?
Middlebury (VT)
13. What is Maren’s degree? (hint: not a B.A.)
15. Maren has always been wonderful on stage.  
Where was her very first performance?
Disneyland - at a magic show when she was like 4
16. How many times has Maren lived in California?
17. What is the name of the apartment complex where
Maren lived off-campus at BYU?
19. What is Maren’s degree in?
21. What was always the first part of Maren’s tennis
shoes to wear out?
Big Toe
23. In which neighborhood of Cambridge did they live
during Quinn’s first Harvard stint?
Porter Square

1. Our Dad has an absolute favorite picture of Maren
when she was about 3. In it she’s wearing a coat –
what color and what color trim?
Blue, White
2. In what city did they live when Laurel was born?
Palo Alto
3. What was Maren’s first car?
Chevy Malibu
4. In what city did they live when Sonja was born?
5. Maren has lived in three foreign countries.
In alphabetical order, what is the second one?
6. At what BYU freshman activity did Maren meet Quinn?
7.  In alphabetical order, what is the third foreign country
Maren has lived in?
8. What is Maren’s middle name?
Edna, after Grandma Younce
9. What classic recipe did Maren try over and over and
swear she could not make (until recently)?
Chocolate chip cookies
14. When we were little girls and shared a room, we used to
make up dance routines and perform them for the family.
What song was my favorite done to?
Rio (Duran Duran)
18. How old is Maren today?
20. In alphabetical order, what is the first foreign country
Maren has lived in?
22. Who was Maren’s first boyfriend?
(First and last name; I believe she was in 7th grade.)
Brian Nanto, the stud

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

7 Things You Never Knew (or tried to forget) About Me

My sister-in-law Camille has "tagged" me, supposedly requiring me to disclose seven interesting things about myself. I'm taking it a step further, trying to make it things most people don't know. As I was thinking of them, I kept coming back to embarrassing moments, since because of their nature I haven't flaunted them as much as, say, the fancy letters after my name in "Kari Hickman, M.A., CCC-SLP." But I also tried to come up with some that aren't extremely painful to admit. Here they are (drumroll):
  1. My lifelong sugar addiction began early with a childhood candy corn habit.
  2. My first boyfriend asked me out by getting on one knee and saying, "Will you be my lawfully wedded groove chick?" (Unfortunately there were no photos of the joyous occasion.)
  3. I would like to learn to play the banjo.
  4. In 1995 at a BYU dance I dislocated my knee doing, yes, the Electric Slide. I got an ambulance ride to the ER, a leg brace, and weeks of physical therapy, all of which came with numerous chances to tell the tale. Beyond embarrassing.
  5. Around age 15-16 I went a year and a half without shaving my legs. At EFY people asked if I was European. At Robinson people knew I was just Kari Younce.
  6. In 2000, I ran over my neighbor's cat, who had been taking a nap under my parked car. I was so traumatized that I had some guys I know come clean her up, and when my neighbor got home I told him she had been hit by a car. I never told him it was me. I still feel terrible about it.
  7. My hugely intense childhood celebrity crush was on...Huey Lewis.
It was only after writing these 7 things that I read on Camille's blog her 7 things, all of which are about her now (not in the past), and all of which received at least a paragraph in explanation. Since Ginger has been sick and not sleeping well for several nights, I lack the mental energy for such thorough self-analysis, so I shall let my 7 stand.
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