Wednesday, December 31, 2014

We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Here we are in the buzzkill days between Christmas and New Years Day, when everyone decides Christmas is over even though technically it is just starting.  You know that the 12 Days of Christmas start on Christmas, right?  It seems that most people forget that fact and throw their trees to the curb as soon as possible after Christmas.  The cute commercials and Christmas music stop and boring storage bins and cleaning supplies and the early Valentine's day merchandise start to take over the ransacked Christmas section at Target.  I admit that we will be taking our tree down tomorrow, New Years Day, because Justin will be home to help.  I will miss it's glow in the window but not the ornaments strewn about the house even though I constantly am putting them back. 
Our Christmas was good this year.  We visited the fam and were able to stay two nights at each house instead of packing and unpacking frantically.  Here are some highlights:
Christmas Eve:  My mom and I and Tessa headed to church, which started at 5:00 p.m.  We arrived at 5:02 p.m. to find that it had already started because there is a new minister this year and she apparently means 5 when she says 5.  Imagine that.  The church was full, the overflow folding chairs were full and the balcony was full.  As a consequence, we had to sit in the front row.  Well, the second row.  The front row was where the acolyte girls were sitting.  Yes, the front row is the last place anyone wants to be for some reason.  But it wasn't that bad.  The minister actually looks over you when you are in the front. 
Here are Tessa and I in our church clothes. 
Christmas morning:  Santa came and Ben got the bobcats he asked for!  He received the one shown below and also a smaller one.

Christmas night:  Tessa and my cousin's daughter Lauren had an adorable shared bath. 

After that they posed with my neice Claire and the huge Grumpy Cat plush toys that my brother gave them.  There is a third that was already packed in the car. 

Here is Tessa with the stocking my mom made.  A few months ago my grandma, who made these stockings for her kids, their spouses when they got married, and then all of her grandkids (8 total) was telling my mom that she didn't know what to do with all of them since she never hosts Christmas anymore and my mom had the idea of putting the new generation of kids' names on them. 

On Dec. 26th we headed to the lake.  On Saturday we opened gifts where Tessa proved that the cliché about babies loving the wrapping more than the gifts never goes away. 

I was excited for this gift opening because I made my niece and nephew quilts! 

The A is because her name is Adalyn. 

Spencer here loves vacuums so I made him a vacuum quilt.  No, they are not sailboats.  There is a cord stitched on each square too but it is hard to see here! I am proud of these because they are my first attempt at applique.  Believe it or not, a vacuum themed sewing pattern is a very rare thing to find so I drew this myself.  So if you ever year of someone needing one I guess I could share!  Haha...
Sunday morning:  Santa showed up with a bag of gifts for everyone! 

Yes, I said everyone, not just the kids.

After he left, I found Ben looking kind of forlorn and he quietly told me he was sad because he wanted to see the reindeer.  I told him to watch out the window but he probably couldn't see them because they had to get back to the North Pole really fast so Santa could start working on toys for next year. 

My age showed this year in the gifts I gladly received, which included snow boots, real Sorel negative temperature rated and water resistant snow boots similar to the ones I loved to hate in elementary school when we rural bus route kids weren't allowed on the bus without them on our feet and a memory foam pillow.  I also got some cordless headphones which I am enamored with after a few uses at the Y.  I always knew a day would come where I wouldn't have to spend time untangling a pesky cord every time I wanted to use headphones! 

Tonight we may actually go out and socialize because we have been invited to two parties!  They are kid friendly parties so the kids will be with us but that is OK since they had a babysitter last night.  I personally haven't gone out to do something fun on New Years Eve since 2009/2010.  In 2011 there was a blizzard and the next year I was pregnant and it has been all downhill from there as far as New Years Eve partying goes (I don't really mind, going out on New Years Eve was always kind of a taxi cab fiasco) so this will be pretty big. 

See you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

And Glory Shone Around

Here it is, December 23rd.  As the adult cliché goes, Christmas sure came fast.  I can't believe the day has come when I think Christmas comes too soon.  I remember the days of my childhood when I thought it would never get here.  The days after Thanksgiving and before Christmas took FOREVER.  The links on the paper chain, the days on the advent calendar, and the weeks of school crawled along.  Of course the reason is because kids don't have any responsibilities and just get to do all the fun stuff. 

I actually think a lot of the responsibilities are fun.  I love shopping and wrapping and decorating.  When you have no free time those things are hard to get done though.  And of course, there is always Christmas music!  Ah, yes, the often maligned Christmas music.  I remember at my old job we had little portable radios to listen to because we couldn't bring our own devices into the room and I asked which station played the Christmas music and all the men in the room groaned in disgust like I wanted to watch "The Bridges of Madison County" or something.  My favorites this year span a wide continuum of artists and styles.  Here are my recommendations:

Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens:  If you like show tune-y Christmas music you might not really like this.  If you listen to this guy sing you will think you are listening to some sort of folky, hippyish beatnik with dreadlocks down to his shoulder blades.  He is actually a clean cut guy who happens to be a talented folk singer but listening to his rendition of traditional Christmas songs will make you feel like you are attending a Christmassy version of the older sister's wedding on the show "The Wonder Years".  I couldn't find a good still image but imagine long flowey dresses, some sort of Indian guru as the officiant and lots of dancing and singing while standing in a circle and all of the women wearing flowers in their hair.  "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" is one of my favorites even though it's a general interest hymn and not specifically a Christmas song.  I couldn't really specify why I like this so much but when I thought about just now I think it is because it is so simple and spare and it makes the listener relate to Mary and Joseph and the common conditions of Jesus's birth.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra CD that I got from the Dollar Store: 

 This music is the opposite of Sufjan.  It is loud, triumphant and full of trumpet fanfares.  I guess it is just what it says:  royal.  The full choir sings in a heavenly manner.  The songs are sung the way I remember from church at our traditional Lutheran small town church I grew up attending in that each verse is given a different arrangement.   That organist (she is still there) can make each verse sound completely different with the middle verses hushed and last verse full of joy (imagine "Silent night, holy night, SON OF GOD, LOVES PURE LIGHT!") 

Church pipe organs have fallen out of favor these last few years, and they have been replaced in church services with modern snare drums and guitars and electric pianos and organs.  I kind of felt the same, but I have grown to appreciate them more.  My friend from law school studied classical organ and at an auction I purchased organ lessons from him and I learned a big about the stops and how to play with foot pedals. I also tried out the foot pedals in high school a few times.  A pipe organ is quite a fascinating instrument when you think about, with all those different sized pipes.  And, although you don't often hear their full power at church, it is the LOUDEST instrument you can play.  You can play four octaves at the same time.  It's crazy. You could rattle windows with one of those things without even reaching half of the full volume.  And this makes sense that they would be placed in churches traditionally since they are a very valuable instrument and they were offering their most joyful and rare music to god.

Ok, back to the music.

The song "Sherburne" from "The Sacred Harp":  I became interested in Sacred Harp music a few years ago when Bruce Springsteen used a sampling of an old 1950's recording of a Sacred Harp song on his track "Death to my Hometown".  It was strange and sounded like chanting so I looked it up and discovered that Sacred Harp singing is a traditional American form of music that originated in the South.  It is also known as "shape note singing" and the songs are all included in the book "The Sacred Harp" which is a historically important music book that has been around since 1844 when someone published the collection of songs that had been sung by common American protestants(probably members of churches that couldn't afford pipe organs!) since the 1700s.  The songs are sung, not for the purpose of entertaining an audience or congregation, but for the joy of singing and music and praising god.  For that reason, the singers sit in four parts arranged in a square facing the middle and they take turns leading. The leader keeps the tempo and the singers first sing the tune in "fa so la" syllables so everyone gets it and then sing the lyrics.  It is still done today.  There are lots of videos on Youtube.  It is very interesting and if you care you should look it up because I could talk about it for a long time.  It awakens the former music student in me.  Yes, I forget it myself sometimes but I still have a researchers brain.  Sherburne has simple lyrics: 

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace,
Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease.

If you listen to it being sung it sounds much deeper than these simple lyrics because it is a "fuguing tune" which is like a round that starts in unison and splits into four parts.  This song is really obscure but I have listened to it constantly lately.  I know, it's weird.  If you want to try some Sacred Harp for yourself, I recommend "The United Sacred Harp Musical Assocation" CD (are they still called CDS?) on iTunes.  It is a recording from the 1950s.  The songs "The Last Words of Copernicus", "The Better Land", "Redemption" and "Saints Bound for Heaven" are a few of my faves.  Just FYI, this music is strange and people will think you are weird but once you get used to it and give it a chance it is very beautiful and you can hear how modern music was influenced by it.

The actors from the Broadway show "Jersey Boys" singing Christmas songs: 

Here are the showtunes!  This is the most mainstream and socially acceptable thing I have been listening to as far as Christmas music goes.  Wait, I take that back.  I have listened to some Amy Grant as well.  It's not Christmas without her!

OK, I have to go.  Tessa is awake and demanding my attention and I have to pack for Christmas!  We leave for "home" tomorrow!  I was worried about finishing all the preparations because last week my sewing machine broke as I was sewing a present.  Remember those projects I said were going smoothly in the last post?  Yeah, after that my sewing machine broke to the extent that repairs cost the value of the machine.  Ugh.  But I finished with my old machine, Justin and I wrapped all the gifts, and I even baked this afternoon!  Speaking of that, I better package the cookies before Ben wakes up and sees them.  Now we just have to pack and straighten up the house in preparation for the gifts that will be showing up in a few days.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Often Has The Christmas Tree Afforded Me the Greatest Glee

Our Christmas tree has been set up since the week after Thanksgiving and I had planned on posting about it after I had rearranged the dining room a bit and done some nicer decorating on the chandelier and the table next to the tree.  Well, that hasn't happened and the view of the tree is partly obstructed by the pile of Amazon boxes and sewing materials piled on the dining room table (yes, I took on sewing projects for Christmas, and so far I am on schedule and don't regret it...imagine that!) and Tessa is making sure the tree is getting plenty of attention.  So I decided that this is how it will be this year and nothing is looking any better and in fact is looking worse and Christmas is nine days away.  So here it is!

I have had a loose theme of blue ornaments in the past, tied together by a box of very cheap generic balls and stars that my mom bought me at IKEA back in my apartment days.  It kind of missed the mark compared to other themed trees though, because I had green and red beads.  Last year I bought light blue beads on clearance and I really like the look this year. 

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we helped put up the tree at my parents' house and Ben was enthusiastic about it so I knew he would love our own tree.  He hung his ornaments in little clumps around the tree and then spent several days taking them down and re-hanging them again. 

I still have my cute little desktop tree from college and this year I put it in his room.  He likes it.  It's like a nightlight! 
Of course like most Christmas lovers, my favorite part of the Christmas tree experience is rediscovering my old and new favorite ornaments.  Although it made me sad, I kept a few of the more special and breakable ornaments off the tree this year instead of risking losing them.  I want them to be around for years so I thought it would be best to keep them safe this year!  Between a one and two year old and Allan nothing is safe this year even ornaments hung on the high branches. 
I have several favorite ornaments and some of them are new and commemorate our first house and the babies' first Christmases.  Allan even had a few!  But here is my old favorite that I have liked for many years.

I think this one has been feature in the past but the background of it is simply that I remember being at a year round Christmas store in the lakes country of MN and getting to pick out an ornament and my aunt helped me pick this one.  And that's it! 

Tessa has been gradually ransacking the bottom of the tree, if you can call a ransacking gradual, and usually is grasping one or two ornaments as she toddles around the house.  The IKEA cheapies can be found strewn about most rooms of the house and she also discovered a metal Christmas tree with a bell attached that she loves. 

Tessa's damage cannot compare to the mess that nine month old Ben made of the Christmas tree back in 2012.  Here is a classic photo to help you remember:

He caused the whole bottom 1/3 of the tree to be bare that year.  Also, notice the cluttered and crowded look of the higher branches as we tried to keep the ornaments safe.  I think it helps that our tree is now in the dining room instead of right where we hang out all the time in the living room.  Also...that I miss house plants!  One of these years I will be able to have a plant again...

"Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, thy candles shine so brightly!"

Friday, December 12, 2014

Return of Snow Village

My grandmother had ( and still has a smaller) house filled with shelves of collections.  She enjoyed nothing more than building collections for us,  her grandchildren.  She loved to give us items that we would have for years instead of crappy toys which wasn't always a popular philosophy when we were kids (and don't feel bad, we still got toys from her too).  I know a lot of people in that age group who are this way.  I believe, through my own unscientific analysis, that enjoying having pretty and unnecessary items that have no purpose except being seen and loved is a direct result of being children during the depression.  I tried to think of a widespread equivalent for my own age group (I say wide spread to be general because I know there are people much less fortunate than me) but there is none because we have always had everything we want and excess has never been lacking in our lives.  Actually, we have the opposite problem of having childhood rooms that were too messy and still struggle with closets that are too full and storage that is always at capacity.  I know I have struggle with this and it's pretty stupid.

When I was in middle school my mom told my sister and I (not my brother for some reason...hmmm...) that she and my grandma had the idea of starting a Department 56 Christmas Village collection for me and my sister so we could get a new piece every Christmas and for other special occasions.  That Christmas was when I received my first "Snow Village" piece.  It was a starter set called "Saturday Morning Downtown" and it had two stores, a few people, a car with a Christmas tree on the room, and a fake street.  When I was confirmed I received a church and Sunday school building and after that I can't remember when I got what.  The collection grew and soon I had a few houses, a John Deere shop, a Ford dealership, and a pub (Happy 21st Birthday!).  There is a corner drugstore with a big Coke bottle on the sign and a little shop with a Christmas tree lot attached.  This thing takes up a lot of space and soon the space under my bed was packed with the boxes for these houses and I said I didn't want anymore until I had more space.  This was in college.  Last year or the year before I said I would be open to more pieces and my mom gave me a house that is "grandmother's house" to represent me having a baby. 

It has been years since I set this up since I just haven't had room for it.  I set up a few buildings at my apartment in law school one year but since then I can't think that I have.  And then, chaos, AKA Ben, came into my life and I wouldn't have let that little furniture moving maniac anywhere near this my Christmas village.

This fall the whole set came to live with us now that we have that "bigger house" I've been saying I will get all these years and also because of the old farm house being vacated and my old bedroom ceasing to exist.  I once again wasn't going to set it up due to the risk of breakage and a lack of several hours of time alone to set it up and arrange it but the piles of boxes were out in the open because of unpacking the rest of the Christmas decorations and Ben zeroed in on the "tractor house", the John Deere shop, in it's box.  He wouldn't stop talking about it so I set up a small version with a house, my newest house which has never been out of the box, the church, a store and the "tractor house". 

It sure looks cute all lit up even though I left out all the extra accessories like people and cars (that would have been asking for breakage).  There are lots of Christmas villages that you can get out there but I think the fun part of the Dept. 56 ones (and what makes them cost what they do) is all the little details.  For example, that church as a real little bell in the tower even though the picture doesn't show it. 

This new house shows how really detailed they are getting with real wreaths and garlands. 

And check out the little trees in the window box on the side!  These have been very tempting for Ben and I made a huge deal about "it's not to touch, it's just to look!"

And, the ultimate cuteness...there is a real tree in the house and you can't see it but there is a fireplace decorated with a tiny Christmas village of its own in there.  Yeah for real. 
Out of curiosity, I looked at the Dept. 56 website to see what was happening in the Snow Village world this year and came upon this: 
Does this house look familiar?  It should.  It's the Griswold house from "Christmas Vacation"!  There is a Christmas Vacation series this year.  It includes Eddie's RV,
Todd and Margo's house,  
and even Todd and Margo themselves!
Margo doesn't really look like Julia Louis-Dreyfus but oh well, maybe they couldn't get permission for that. 
I set this up on my dining room buffet cabinet and so far, after about two weeks, nothing has been damaged.  The "tractor house" is the main attraction and Ben even put an extra tire up there. 

Sometimes he just stands on a chair and lines up a bunch of other junk next to it.

In this picture he was giving the tractor more Christmas trees.  It's actually pretty cute although unsettling. 

One of my favorite pieces is the Ford dealership because it has a turntable with a spinning car inside the main window and it actually spins.  I knew it would be too much temptation though.  Maybe next year.  Maybe one year I will be able to make one of those grand displays I saw on the Internet last night.  On Pinterest I even saw a board you could make that had holes for hiding cords.  Cord management is a major issue with Christmas village display.  In the past I have stacked some books under the fake snow to make some hills. That is as creative as I have been.
Last night we had pizza with Justin's darts friends and it was warm out so I stopped at our neighborhood "Griswold house" on the way home.  This house is only a few blocks from ours and they encourage people to get out and walk around their yard and take pictures.  They even have a Facebook page.

That's Ben if you couldn't tell.  I was sad to see that the arch walkway on the left was mostly turned off.  Those dang cheap Christmas lights!

This, if you couldn't tell, is a ski lift with stuffed animals riding in the chairs. 

This is a ferris wheel.  I tried to get a picture of the room with the glowing balls.  They used a lot of plastic cups around lights this year to create some neat effects. 

He looks terrified but was really just captivated!

Choo choo!  I love when people do this stuff!  Yes, it's tacky and obnoxious but who cares. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Santa 2014

Last night we observed the annual Christmas tradition of visiting Santa.  Our Santa's special helper of choice is at the main mall here.  This is a good option because he is a good quality one with a real beard.  It is a bad option because they ban you from taking your own pictures and then charge an exorbitant amount for prints.  The cheapest package, which consist of two 4x6 prints, cost $23.00.  And no digital copy!  I think they should at least include a digital copy because that's the way most people want to share pictures now.  But, I guess that included a $10 Shutterfly coupon, so...I just learned that the older, more desolate mall in town has a Santa where you can take your own pictures but he's not as realistic looking.  And, one of these years I hope to take them to my hometown's Santa visit at a old fashioned log cabin where Santa is always played by someone I know.  I wish I had a picture scanned of the year back in the 90s when my dad was Santa!  We won't make it there unless the Bison stop making it to the playoffs.

They look indifferent in the picture but both were actually smiling at certain times during the session.  Ben told Santa what he wanted (Bobcats) and even gave him a hug.  Then he wore his "elf hat" all around the mall. 

Today he kept talking about going to see Santa when Daddy got home.  I guess we can always go without taking pictures.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Baby and Her Socks

Since this is my second baby, I have realized that little kids can love to play with things that are not the usual toys.  I think everyone's baby loves remote controls (the real one, not an old one without batteries, phones, computers, and any other expensive piece of technology that you wouldn't want them destroying.  Ben really used to love plugging the cord of an old phone charger into this keyhole in our antique TV stand.  He also loved carrying around these two novelty rubber wine bottle stoppers for several weeks.  And of course there was the phase where he carried the instruction booklet for Tessa's new car seat around the house with him like it was a book and laid in bed with it and "read" like it wasn't just a bunch of boring words in three different languages. 

Tessa has recently taken a shine to...socks.  She finds single and clean folded up pairs of socks and carries them around the house and puts them in containers.  Sometimes she puts them where she can't reach and I find her straining and screaming as she tries to get them out.  She finds them in laundry baskets and duffel bags and there are already single socks all over the house for some reason so now there are REALLY socks ALL OVER THE HOUSE.  Remember the post about how Allan brought adult socks all over the house?  He's still doing it.  It's insane around here.  There are socks all over the place. 

These pictures have been taken this week since Monday when this all started. 


It's actually really funny.  At least socks can't break and they don't hurt when you step on them. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Buzzkill

Thanksgiving was nice.  There was parade watching, cousins, food, and even some Black Friday shopping.  Justin and his stepdad actually went to Cabela's at 5:00 a.m.!  I lost my mind and decided to go to Jo-Ann Fabrics and ended up waiting in line at the cutting counter for an hour while everyone in front of me bought MOUNTAINS of fabric.  It was insane. 

We headed home on Sunday afternoon and there had been a few inches of snow while we were gone so Justin started shoveling right away.  I brought Ben and Tessa in and it didn't take me long to realize that something was not right. It felt pretty cold inside (it was frigid outside) and when I touched the wall to balance while taking off my shoes it felt really cold.  I looked at the thermostat and it was 40 degrees.  WHAAAAT?  Of course, on a holiday weekend, on one of the coldest days of the year so far, something was malfunctioning with our furnace.  Justin called the heating and cooling company that we use (our thermostat malfunctioned last year the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I think there is an unpleasant trend happening...) and some wonderful on call employee showed up in twenty minutes and found the problem, which was a worn out part in the igniter.  But he didn't have one with him and had to hunt one down.  Meanwhile, I turned on the fireplace and the temperature started climbing one degree at a time into the mid 40's.   Evidence indicated that the heat stopped soon after we left because of how cold the house was and also how cold the woodwork and floors remained even after the heat was on.  A few boards of the laminate floor even had split apart (they went back together after heating up.  Most upsetting, I was going to make a pizza for supper and realized the freezer was defrosting.  The repairman said the cold could have caused the refrigerator to stop working (I don't remember the part that was affected) and it might start working when it warmed up but it might not.  Justin had to leave for a trip for work at 4:00 a.m. the next morning which would leave me alone for the week to eat out of coolers and the deep freezer in the garage while trying to obtain a new one. 

We cleared out the freezer and fortunately it started humming again soon after that.  So at least I was able to clean it while it was empty!  Yayyyy...but seriously that was a huge relief.  Through this two hour ordeal Ben and Tessa were OK.  We bundled them up although they did not want to leave their outdoor clothes on and Ben, the little polar bear that he is, didn't seem to care at all. 

We tried to get him to wear mittens but he wouldn't.  I am so thankful for those people who work on call for these situations!  Everyone gets really upset about retail workers working on holidays but people forget the many other people who do.  Allan seemed fine even though he spent the weekend in colder temperatures than he has ever felt in his life.  When we arrived home it was around 5:00 so at the end of the sunniest part of the day where the house heats up just from the sun regardless of how cold it was so it was most likely in the 30s at night.  Poor guy. 
By the time we went to bed the house had heated up to 65 degrees which normally would feel cold but by that time felt so so wonderfully warm! I am still very grateful for the refrigerator every time I open it and am monitoring the freezer. 
I had planned to put up the tree that evening before Justin's trip but it was postponed until a later time and I got to it yesterday.  There are still boxes and packing material and other decorations that need to be organized so I will not show the finished product.  But here is a preview:

He hasn't changed.  This happens every year.  He spent most of yesterday climbing it but he hasn't bothered it today unless it happened when we were out of the house this morning.