Spreading A Little Christmas Cheer

This Flash Mob dance routine to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” made me smile!

Dean College Flash Mob

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12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 3 – Spinning my Wheels

The clock is winding down, and I am getting more frazzled each minute. So frazzled, that I missed my Day 4 post altogether. Oops!

Well, instead of drafting a blog post, this is how I spent yesterday evening. After dinner was done, and 1st grade homework squared away, I decided to run” a few last-minute errands:

  1. Home Depot: This had nothing to do with Christmas, but rather a home renovation project. I had picked out some tile do a kitchen backsplash and wanted to make sure I purchased a full supply, lest I go back next week and find that it’s sold out. While there, I picked up a gift for the office Yankee Swap. Two birds killed with one stone. Off to a good start.
  2. Dunkin Donuts: Picked up gift cards for my children’s teachers. I hope they all like coffee and munchkins!
  3. The Liquor Store: I arrived there 5 minutes before closing time. Just enough time to buy a nice bottle of Scotch for my boss, and a bottle of Baileys for me. Three stops in 45 minutes, I was doing well.
  4. Target: It all went downhill from here. On my list were slippers (for my daughter to wear to her preschool, Polar Express pajama party today), a few stocking-stuffers for the kids, some gift bags, and gift cards for the folks at work.
    When I left, I had all of those things, plus: a plastic toboggan to go under the tree, a gift for my kids to give their Dad, a lovely set of gloves, scarf and a hat for the kids to give to me, gifts for the Aunt and Uncle we will see on Christmas, candy canes for my son’s classmates, candy for the candy dishes at home, and a bunch of socks and underwear for the kiddos.

Target sucked the life out of me last night, but I have a feeling I’ll be back for more before the shopping season is over.

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 5 – A Wilting Poinsettia

I’ve done it again this year. We made a family trip to the local nursery during the first weekend of December and picked out our tree, and a couple of big beautiful poinsettias to decorate living room. And as sure as Christmas on in the 25th, my Poinsettia began to wilt with a week to spare.

If there is an opposite of green (purple? Brown?) then that’s the color of my thumb. I have purchased, and subsequently tortured and killed numerous house plants. For a while, when we first bought our house, I would buy plenty of petunias each spring to add to the garden bed. For the first fee years, I did a pretty good job tending to them, until July anyway, when I would lose the battle to weeds. Now, with two children running around, the weeds begin to rule shortly after Memorial Day.

I don’t even bother with indoor plants anymore! Except at Christmas. For me, Poinsettias are nearly as important as the tree. They add color and life to our home just as the temperature is plummeting outside. Every year, I spend plenty of time, maybe too much time, perusing the greenhouse full of every variety of poinsettia. I look for one that has full, bright foliage, and no signs of wilting. I’ve learned to park close to the door, and to quickly get my plant into a warm car, lest the New England cold air choke it before it reaches my living room.

I try to follow all of the “caring-for-your poinsettia” tips I’ve picked up over the years, even though they are sometimes contradictory. Nevertheless, every year I either over-water or under-water, and by Christmas day I am sweeping up fallen wilted leaves throughout the day – hoping my guests won’t notice the sorry state of my Christmas flower.

If nothing else, I think I’ve learned to resist the urge to grab a poinsettia on the first weekend of the Christmas Season. Next year, poinsettia shopping with be on the 23rd!

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 6 – The Christmas Pageant and the Reluctant Shepherd

My first grader participated in his first Christmas Pageant yesterday at our church.

I was a little surprised that he volunteered for this gig. As of late, he’s been pretty vocal about how shy he is. (That actually seems like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it?) He announced that he wanted no part of Christmas caroling with his Cub Scout Pack over the weekend, as it meant singing in public and no six-year old in their right mind would want any part of that. When I take him to Mass, at the Sign of Peace, he refuses to greet anyone he considers a stranger. I’ve seen him stare down one or two senior citizens who have offered their hands. One afternoon, as he and his sister were belting out “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in the back seat of the car, I suggested that they sing it for Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas. “No way Jose!” He promptly announced that he would not sing, if his sister sang, he would hide in his room until her little concert was over.

So when on Sunday morning, he got up bright and early and was ready for Church on time (and was even pretty chipper about going off to meet his Religious Ed. Class), I was pretty proud, but a little surprised.

Alas, his sunny attitude was short-lived. As he was lining up with the other shepherds to make their way into the church, I saw him start to get a little antsy. He was even more edgy when I told him I needed to leave to sit in the audience. I crossed my fingers.

Mary and Joseph reached the altar first, followed by the cows, the shepherds, the angels and the Magi. About 20 children assembled in front of the altar, sweetly singing Christmas carols. My little boy sang too, or at least I saw him mouth the words. That is, until I pulled out the camera.  Once he saw me, I had no chance of getting a photo of a smiling little cherub this year. Instead, I got this:

Reluctant Shepherd 1
"Mom, do you HAVE to take a picture?"
The Reluctant Shepherd 2
Maybe if I just move behind Joseph over here...
Reluctant Shepherd 3
The Full Disappearing Act

Oh well, I’m sure there’ll be more photo-ops next year.

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 8 – Let the Parties Begin

Let me start by saying “Oops!”, this post is a day late (and at least a dollar short, I’m sure). As is always the way during the holiday season, the sand ran out of my clock long before I could finish this post.
 
But, my tardiness was worth it. With eight days to go, we spent much of the day at the first of several family celebrations. It was the first party of the season for me, which translates to the first afternoon of indulging in copious amounts of crackers and buffalo chicken dip, crackers and Brie, Christmas cookies and plenty of pie. It was the first gift exchange of the season, I this case it was a gift change just for the kids – our children and their cousins. Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit more than watching my kids, and my nieces in nephews waiting anxiously in front of the tree, waiting for the first gift to be handed out. 
 

 

Only a fraction of my large family attended this party, with less than half of my siblings there. Still, we represented six states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, and Washington) – not too shabby.
 

With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I have to say – it was nice to relax for an afternoon, and take a break from the lists, the errands, the chores, and simply enjoy the company of my extended family. 
 

The party season is clearly off to a good start!
 

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 9 – Potluck Preparation

The Holidays mean plenty of get-togethers, and often times, family get-togethers take on a potluck theme. I love potlucks. They relieve the host or hostess of some of the stress of preparing a big meal for loads of people. They also lend themselves to serving dinner buffet-style, much less stuffy than the formal Christmas Dinner. It also gives the guests the opportunity to contribute to the meal, and to try out some of their own favorite recipes.

Tomorrow, we are going to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for our family party. My contribution: Roasted Carrots and Butternut Squash, seasoned with a little nutmeg and balsamic vinegar. (I confess – I am adapting this recipe from one that I found on “The Perfect Pantry” blog. This blogger has some wonderful recipe ideas – please check it out!)

Roasted Carrots vie The Perfect Pantry
Roasted Carrots from The Perfect Pantry

This got me to thinking about how many great potluck recipe ideas there are out there, but when I usually need one, I find myself racking my brain for something tasty to bring.  So here are a few Holiday Potluck ideas to keep in reserve:

  • Homemade Macaroni and Cheese:  What better example of comfort food than this? Everyone has their own favorite recipe. (I like mine with a mix of several cheeses, including parmesan, cheddar, and cream cheese.) The great thing is that you can make batches that are as large or small as you want. It’s easy to wrap in foil and a casserole plan, so it travels well – and the leftovers are just as tasty the next day!
  • Tangy Kielbasa in the Crock Pot: Just throw a couple of pounds of kielbasa and a couple of cups of grape jelly and ketchup into the crockpot and heat it until the kielbasa is hot. A co-worker made this a couple of years ago and it was great! (Just about anything you can make and serve from a crock pot could be a great potluck idea – though I’d stay away from anything too soupy, unless you are prepared to bring soup bowls to the party.)
  • Chicken and Pasta Salad – I made this for a potluck baby shower last year, and I wish I had made more of it! There are so many variations of it, as well. For me, I poach about a pound of chicken and then pull it apart. After cooking pasta (rotini, bowties, take your pick), I blend the pasta and the chicken with my own blend of creamy chicken soup, milk, cheddar cheese, frozen veggies (I like broccoli), and some sauteed mushroom and onion. After adding it to a lasagna pan, I top with breadcrumbs and bake.

Of course, desserts are the staple of any holiday party. My eyes are bigger than my stomach when it comes to preparing all of those creative holiday dessert ideas like peanut butter reindeer cookies, and Santa lollipops. I so want to spend an afternoon preparing batches of these with my kids, but I never seem to have an afternoon to spare. 

That being said, there’s no shame in rolling out the store-bought sugar cookie dough, and letting the kids go to town with the red and green sprinkles and cookie cutters.  Bring those to your next potluck, and you’ll have nothing but an empty plate to bring home!

Baking Christmas Cookies
Let the kids bake the cookies!

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 10 – Time to Clean!

The first wave of Holiday Hosting begins this weekend. My cousin is arriving on Friday, and my brother and his boyfriend are coming for a visit on Saturday evening. I am looking forward to seeing all of them. Of course, the only downside to this is that I have to clean the house, or at least straighten it up enough so that it won’t be featured in an episode of “Hoarders.”

This year, our cleaning chores are complicated by the fact that our two-family home is undergoing some serious renovations. We are in the process of moving from the upstairs apartment to the larger downstairs apartment, and are renovating a few rooms, in particular the kitchen. In fact, at the moment, our main kitchen is completely gutted while we await the installation of new cabinets and appliances. (That’s where the visit from the cousin comes in – Thank you Billy!)  Fingers-crossed, the kitchen will be completely functional by the time Christmas arrives.

Kitchen Renovation - During
Who needs a sink or appliances anyway?

While I am as excited as a little girl on Christmas morning (really) at the prospect of a new kitchen, the constant cloud of dust from the ongoing work makes cleaning a challenge. Thankfully, our house guests are family, and won’t be performing any “white-glove” tests while they’re here!

Cleaning Snowmen
Think I could hire these guys or a little light housework?

12 Days of Christmas Countdown – Day 11 – Managing the Gift Lists

With just over 10 days left until Christmas, it’s time to get serious about the gift list. I’ve made at least one list, and I’m checking it twice. Naughty or Nice? I guess it’s not really a relevant question. If they’re not nice, they don’t make the list in the first place.

Right about now is when I start to panic about the list though. Do  I have everyone covered? At this point, I’m not so worried about the kids, or even my husband (though he’s a tough one). I worry about those folks who sit in the “outer circle” of gift-giving: the in-laws, the boss,  the teachers, the babysitters, co-workers, the interns.

Each presents me with a slightly different question: What to give? How much to spend? What did we give them last year? And then there are the folks who sit on the cusp of the gift-giving circle, those people with whom we don’t THINK we’re exchanging gifts. Should I have a backup gift, waiting on the sidelines, ready to be presented at a moment’s notice?

Christmas Gift List
Oh No! I think I forgot the dog!

The added challenge here is that I don’t actually have 11 days to square these things away. After all , Christmas is on Sunday, the 25th; school and work finish on the 23rd, and some people are leaving for their holiday before that. So for the teachers, babysitters, and the boss, I’m really left with only about 9 days. Nine days to fully prepare my stash of gifts for classroom celebrations, office get-togethers, and holiday parties over the next week.

Thank goodness I finished those Christmas Cards yesterday!  Well at least I almost finished them … Maybe I’ll just make a big batch of cookies…