Category: christmas

Celebrating Christmas 25 Ways

The holidays are a busy time of year for me. I’ve written posts about that in the past, and this year will be no different. We have a whole slew of traditions to follow through on, decorations to put up, and lifelong memories to make. (No pressure, right?) So I would have to be really imbalanced to want to add a monthlong routine to the mix.

And yet that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.

The Mormon church did something like this last year, and they’re bringing it back this year. A campaign for Christmas, where they’re encouraging people to take time each day (from today until the 25th) to think about giving and doing service for others. It’s called the #LightTheWorld campaign, and they’ve got handy calendars that help you get ideas for each day.

Up today? “Freely ye have received, freely give.”

To act as a hook for the concept, the church did a bit of a social experiment last year, setting up two vending machines outside its temple in Manhattan. One was your typical “buy stuff from a vending machine” rig. The other allowed you to buy stuff for other people. Donate clean drinking water to a village, or a goat to someone on another continent. And the one that let you donate to others became way more popular than the standard setup. Here’s the video, which I really enjoyed:

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to stay on top of it. I like the program in theory, but I know how easy it is for me to get swamped with things that have to get done this time of year. So I’m committing to do at least this much: have a conversation about the topic each day with my kids. Discuss it over dinner. Maybe read the scripture that inspired the theme, and talk about how we do as a family living up to that principle. If I can incorporate an activity into the mix, so much the better.

Why do I want to do this? Because I think it’s important to get outside myself. Because when I take the time to do things for other people, I’m a happier person myself. And because as much as I love the season of Christmas, I know I have a tendency to get bogged down in the commercial side of it. I would love to do a better job avoiding this, and I hope this idea helps.

Wish me luck.

In Search of New Christmas Movies

I have a high tolerance for watching the same movie over and over and over. (See: Groundhog Day) But for some reason this year, as I look over my Christmas movie collection, I’m just not finding anything I really want to watch. It all feels like stuff I’ve just watched a bit ago, and so I end up giving up on Christmasy stuff and go with something else. (Right now Denisa and I are working our way through The Crown, which we’ve really enjoyed so far.)

So I’m going to turn to you for advice. Are there any Christmas movies you love? Which ones? To cut you off at the pass, here are the ones I’ve already considered and passed over:

  • White Christmas
  • Holiday Inn
  • Elf
  • The Santa Clause
  • Christmas Vacation
  • Christmas Story
  • Christmas Carol
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Gremlins
  • Die Hard
  • Shop Around the Corner
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • Love Actually
  • It Happened on 5th Avenue
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Mr. Krueger’s Christmas
  • Scrooged
  • Christmas in Connecticut
  • Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
  • Charlie Brown Christmas

There might be a few I’m forgetting as well, so apologies in advance. Looking over that list, I think something might be wrong with me. I know they’re all good, fun movies, but they just feel like things I’ve watched too recently. Why watch them again when there are so many new things out there I haven’t seen?

Probably this is just a phase. I didn’t feel like watching the movies the other night, but I’ll get over that. (It’s a struggle, I know. Life is hard for me.) But as I had the feeling, I wondered if there were some really good ones out there that I haven’t seen, and crowd sourcing seemed to be the way to go.

So have at it, crowd. Suggestions welcome! And thanks in advance.

When Christmas Trees Attack

I’ve had better days in my life compared to how my day went yesterday. A few worse ones, of course. But it’s not often you have a day that you’re pretty sure you’ll remember for quite some time, and for all the wrong reasons. I’ve had better ways I’ve responded to stress, too.

The day started out innocently enough. An average work day, though I was still getting over being sick. Nothing bad, but a lingering fatigue. You know how it can be. I’d come home and worked on writing, and all was still more or less on track. Then I got news that my step mother’s cancer had taken a sharp turn for the worse. (Believe it or not, I try to avoid talking too much about family on my blog beyond Denisa and the kids. And there are some things I just don’t mention. I only bring this up now to explain how the day went from fine to awful so quickly.)

The news shook me a great deal. It still has me unsettled and off balance, and this is now almost a whole day later. But Denisa was at work still, and I needed to get things moving with dinner and family activities. Mikulaš was supposed to come last night, after all. And that meant the kids needed to find their winter boots and clean them, and we wanted to decorate the Christmas tree on top of that.

I came downstairs determined to have a good evening. In retrospect, this was the wrong attitude to start with. I was Clark Griswolding the holidays. I’d put the movie clip in (from National Lampoon’s Vacation), but the language is too strong for me to feel comfortable. Here’s the edited quote I’m referring to. It comes toward the end of the movie. Everything’s been going wrong with the trip, and Clark’s family wants to bail out. When they suggest giving up on the vacation, this is his response:

I think you’re all [frakked] in the head. We’re ten hours from the [frakking] fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much [frakking] fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes! I must be crazy! I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose!

This scene plays in my head whenever I go overboard on something. Usually in retrospect, of course. The same as it’s playing now. But I definitely feel obligated to have fun sometimes, even when it’s just not happening.

So I was stressed last night, and I was more stressed by the thought that we had to have a FUN night, and that made me snappy. I barked the kids into order and got dinner going. I managed to seriously upset one child to the point that they left the room completely, right before decorations were supposed to be going up. I sifted through Christmas tree lights and got them onto the tree, and then I plodded through the motions of what was supposed to be going on.

And then I realized what I was doing and backed off a bit. That was a good thing. The child rejoined us, apologies were extended, and it seemed like we might pull through that evening without too much damage.

Then I got an email about something at work that had to be taken care of right away. Fine. Everything seemed to be in order, so I headed up to work on a revision of a document that needed to be turned around ASAP. Halfway through the revision, DC came to the room, her eyes wide. “Mom needs you,” she said. “The tree fell down.”

Yeah.

I rushed downstairs to see the Christmas tree we’d spent an hour or two decorating, sprawled on the floor. Ornaments shattered. Needles scattered. Water everywhere. This was a first for me. It felt so . . . strange to see that tree like that. Like it was dead, honestly. Somehow we’d put too many decorations on one side, I think. Or else I’d pulled at it when I was putting on the lights. In any case, the tree had been imbalanced, and it toppled at last. Thankfully no one had been there to get hit when it fell.

Denisa and I scrambled to dry the floor and right the tree. Meanwhile, I still had that ASAP work assignment, so once the crisis had at least been patched, I headed back upstairs to finish. I got it done and sent back, and then I headed downstairs again to redecorate the tree.

It was a late night.

But it’s in the past now. The best thing about bad days is that usually things can only get better. Here’s hoping it’s all up from here.

Anyone else have a Christmas tree topple on them? I can’t be the first . . .

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

It’s Christmastime again, and we’re down to a week or two left of actual shopping time before things get way hectic. And so I thought I’d take a moment to go over a few of my favorite all-time gifts that I’ve given or gotten, and give you all the chance to do the same. I know I start to scramble for ideas some years, and so it can be really helpful to me to hear what other people have had good success with. Ready? Here’s the quick rundown:

  • By far, the gift that went over best last year was the Blendtec. I got it for around $200 refurbished, and my family uses it at least once a day. Usually twice. Everyone in the family loves the shakes and smoothies it makes. It’s easy to maintain, easy to use, and worth every penny I paid.
  • Speaking of food, this pressure cooker continues to see regular use in our household as well, five years after we got it. Denisa really appreciates how easy it is to use. Two thumbs up.
  • Our Apple TV has been a favorite, and it’s especially great if you have other Apple products. It plays all my music, puts up family pictures as a screen saver, lets us watch Netflix, etc. Great stuff. I haven’t used the new one yet, but I have nothing but good to say about the old one.
  • Rocksmith 2014 continues to chug along for me, three years on. Great game to learn guitar on.
  • Kindle Paperwhites are a favorite for both Denisa and me. Easy to use, and great for reading at night so we don’t keep each other up. They’ve also been a book to helping us fall asleep easier.
  • Rainbow Loom was surprisingly popular with both TRC and DC. Go figure. Cheap, and hours of entertainment. A good combination.
  • Seven Wonders is a favorite game to play with three or more. Hanabi is easy and cooperative. Pandemic is great (and I’ve heard great things about Pandemic Legacy, though I haven’t played it yet).
  • Our Kitchenaid Stand Mixer is still chugging along, ten years or so after it was a Christmas gift. We got the 6qt professional.
  • My favorite remote control of all time is easily the Harmony Smart Control. Operates tons of devices easily and effectively. And you no longer have to point the remote at the device you’re trying to control. I’ve set up 4 of these puppies, and they all just keep working.
  • Our family started a handmade Christmas present challenge a few years ago, and that continues to do well. We exchange names, and the one requirement is that whatever you give the other person has to be handmade. Great way to make things less money, and have it be more about love than stuff.
  • A Minecraft account does wonders for a child. Not kidding.

That’s a good start for ideas right there. No idea if what I’m getting the fam this year will end up being as good as those. I’ve certainly given some duds over the year as well. But such is life. Ideally, you find a gift that ends up making a real impact on someone.

Any good pointer from anyone else out there? I’ve finished my shopping at this point, but I’m always looking for new ideas. (Pro-tip: I keep a private Amazon wishlist, and any time I come up with an idea for a present, I add it to the list. Buying gifts becomes a million times easier when you do that.)

Choosing the Right Christmas Tree

Denisa and I have used a fake tree for . . . pretty much our whole marriage? Can I admit that in Maine without getting lumberjacked in the middle of the night? We received a very nice one as a gift back when we were first married, and we’ve been using it ever since. It’s just seemed easier to go down to the basement and haul it out each year. But over the years, it’s gotten older and older. Strings of lights are harder to jury rig back to working order, and last year I never could get one strand to function.

15 years will do that to a thing.

So this year, we decided to go with a live tree. (Well, a “recently deceased” tree, at least.) And yesterday was the big day. We went out with some friends who showed us the ropes of selecting a live tree and cutting it down with a saw. Which doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult, but was still very nice to have some help in the process.

Of course, presented with about 1,000 more or less identical trees, I go into decision-lock mode, unable to make a final selection with anything resembling confidence. (Do the trees have user reviews I could check out, perhaps? Reliability ratings? What do those brown needles in that one spot mean? Is it good or bad to have pinecone residue? Maybe there’s a website on this that I could check . . .)

Really, if it weren’t for the fact that our friends were there (tree long since selected), staring in wonder that two grown adults could have so much trouble picking one single tree that would only wither and die over the course of a month anyway, I think I’d still be out there, wandering among the tree rows, trying to remember which of them all were my top 5 choices, and wondering where my children had scurried off to.

But peer pressure saved the day, and the selection was made at last. We had the tree shaker thingy shake all the tree bits off it, bagged it in that plastic stuff, and tied it to the roof of our car. Then came the exciting drive home (did we tie it down enough? Would that twine hold? If I braked fast enough, could I weaponize the tree?)

We usually put the tree in our living room, but it had all of MC’s toys in its spot, so I hauled all those toys and dumped them in my room in one big pile. (It was that sort of day.) And now the tree’s up and happily standing in our house. Better yet, I didn’t have to get the old tree out from the basement, which is usually a real pain in the back. So that’s nice.

It certainly smells better too.

All in all, a fun adventure for the day. I think we might do it again next year.

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