Stockings

Swistle’s post on stockings was going to result in the leaving an eight paragraph comment, so I thought I’d just pontificate about stockings over here.

So the evolution of our Christmas is that I went from wrapping up EVERY SINGLE THING I COULD FIND and putting it under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning to attempting to spread this stuff out.  We open a few presents ahead of time in a treasure hunt, and then we open family presents on Christmas Eve, and then Santa brings a few large things on Christmas morning and he fills the stockings.

So whereas in years past I have gone and bought $100 worth of random crap and funneled it from my Target bag into the stockings and then into the junk drawer, now I put actual present type things into the stockings – just stuff I’ve picked up out and about but that doesn’t get wrapped up and put under the tree.

When Amy and I were shopping in Sur La Table the other day (or is it Le?  I can never remember, and quite frankly I don’t really care), and I was remarking on all the things Santa might put in MY stocking, she paused and said “Wait. Do you buy your OWN stocking presents!?”  (Apparently she cracked my very stealthy code.)

The answer is yes, I do buy most of my own stocking presents, and quite frankly, it really works out for the best that way. I get what I want, no one looks askance at me for buying myself fancy lip gloss two weeks before Christmas, and Mr. E doesn’t have to go fight his way around Cost Plus to buy a bunch of crap I don’t want anyway.

Erik, DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS POST. THANKS!

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Anyway, here’s some of our stocking stuff this year:

For Me: pajama pants, some Tarte lip stuff,  a new bathmat (some of this stuff is just Things We Need and It Happens to Be December), a 2012 Sacramento Gardening Calendar (seriously, this thing is the BOMB), a wall mounted bottle opener because I’ve always wanted one in my kitchen, a little internet passwords notebook, a new peeler because ours is tres awful, new sewing needles, mints, film for my old school camera, a reusable bag that smooshes into a little strawberry, and hopefully Manda is making me a t shirt scarf and I will stuff that in there! (no pressure Manda!). I would normally add some fun jewelry but I haven’t found any I liked yet.

For Katie:  a little book, an Elmo doll, a flower headband crown thing, some diaper cream, a little hat and mittens from the Target dollar bins, a hello kitty necklace, a little airplane toy, some pajamas and some tights.

For Eli:  (this is where you will now begin to realize how spoiled this child is:) A Gertie ball, a hex bug, a giant peppermint lollipop, socks, paints, soap, math flashcards, underwear, a reusable water bottle, toothbrushes, matchbox cars, paintbrushes, pipe cleaners, and a solar flashlight.

For Mr. E: Clancy’s Fancy Hot Sauce, a new long sleeved t shirt, a finch feeder (it’s really the stocking of SUCH A GIANT NERD), an itunes gift card, Aveda shampoo, razors and socks.

This is where I realize that Santa might not be bringing Mr. E quite enough things.  Anyone got any ideas?

 

Advent Day 12, 13, and 14

Advent Day 12 was “Decorate Christmas Cookies.”

We decorated gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies. I made the gingerbread men the night before, from this recipe.  Normally I am not a huge gingerbread person, but once a year I get this CRAVING and I must have a soft spicy made from scratch gingerbread man, and that recipe is my favorite.  In fact now I’m kind of wondering if I might need to make another batch.

I have a gorgeous copper gingerbread man cookie cutter that I once paid waaaaaaay too much money for at Williams Sonoma, and every time I see that gorgeous expensive lovely cookie cutter, it makes me happy in a way that all the crappy Target cookie cutters in the world do not.  Although I also can still remember being horrified at the shocking amount of money I was spending on a cookie cutter.

I made the sugar cookies from a bagged mix, because last year by the time I was done making the cookies from scratch, I was SO NOT IN THE MOOD to decorate them with the help of a wee one.  And I am not a huge fan of sugar cookies anyway, they are always too crunchy for me, so it makes no difference to me if they come from a bag.  Also, the dough that the bagged mix makes tastes really disgusting, but the cookies themselves? No discernable difference between them and a from scratch sugar cookie.

I really really HATE that frosting in a can, though. HATE.  So instead I used Trader Joe’s boxed frosting which I really really do like, and I tinted some red and some green. I decorated the gingerbread men in white using a pastry tip, and Eli smeared green and red frosting all over the sugar cookies and then poured “glitter” all over them.

Does anyone else feel disgusting by the time they’re done with this kind of cooking? I always feel like I am covered with grease and sugar and like I need to take a shower and I never want to look at another baked good for as long as I live.  Ick.

Here are the cookies.  This was Eli’s attempt at “throw your arms out and show me ‘look at all these fabulous cookies I made!'”

Then we packaged them up and delivered them to the neighbors, which was actually the most fun part of this activity.  I have this…strange issue where I HATE aimless walking. It just doesn’t work with my personality.  But if I have a project to accomplish while walking? I am good.  Delivering cookies was an excellent project walk.

Day 13 was Make a Snow Globe.  Let’s not even talk about Day 13, ya’all.  Only THIS CHILD could ruin pineapple and ham pizza.  However, we made that snow globe, yes we did.

Day 14 was today! “Open and Read a New Christmas Book.”

Now, let me just say, I worked in children’s book selling for many years and it is my personal opinion that essentially, there are no good children’s Christmas books.  And I’m just not going to buy “Barbie’s Hot Pink Christmas!”, I’m just not.  I worked in a giant book warehouse and we had a long row of Christmas books and almost all of them were terrible.  However,  we do have three of four that we REALLY like:

Santa Calls.  This is a longer book, with more text, but it is my favorite Christmas book OF ALL TIME.  So wonderful.  Really. SO WONDERFUL.

The Polar Express.  Let’s ignore the creepy movie.  The book makes me cry EVERY SINGLE TIME I read it.

Take Joy! A Tasha Tudor Christmas.  Also for an older child, and be prepared to feel VERY inadequate regarding your own Christmas as soon as you read this.

The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  A big hit last year, not so much this year.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Also for an older kid, but one of my very favorite books all on its own, Christmas or no.

So this year I wasn’t really sure what book to buy for our new Christmas book.  There are a lot of nice stories about Christmas trees, but Eli is not a huge book reader, and I needed something to hold his interest.  In the end I went with The 12 Bugs of Christmas, because I like David Carter and his work and Eli loves bugs.

This book was a hit, although it should be noted that when I paused “Kung Fu Panda” and told Eli that we were going to open and read a Christmas book, he looked right at me and said “Womp womp. That’s NOT FUN.” The little ingrate.

Also, you will note that I mentioned that I worked in children’s book selling for MANY YEARS.  This means that yes, I have heard of Robert Sabuda.  I know all about Robert Sabuda.  I met Robert Sabuda and stood around talking to him in the back room of a bookstore for 2 hours while he signed store stock.  I basically am Robert Sabuda.  In other news, I AM WELL DAMN AWARE OF ROBERT SABUDA PLEASE DO NOT RECOMMEND HIM TO ME HIS WORK IS NOT MEANT FOR A FOUR YEAR OLD.

Sorry. Just had to get that out there.

 

Advent Day Eight, Nine, and Ten: The Lull

Dear Christmas:  You Can Suck It.  Love, Elizabeth

I believe we have officially entered what shall heretofore be referred to as the Dreaded Christmas Lull.  Or just the Lull for short.

I’m not sure how to explain this Lull, exactly. It will probably take all of my most fancy tricky writing.  Luckily fancy tricky writing is really what I am best at, so it’s all good.  Hold on to your hats, ladies.

Right around this time every year I have all the Christmas presents ordered or bought or mailed off.  I like to get that shit DONE, yo.  But when I click that last “buy it now” button somehow I think the joy of Christmas really starts to wane for me.  I am a self confessed lover of gift giving and somehow the buying is almost the best part.  I love it when I hear that someone just loved something I sent them, of course, but I also love the anticipation and the brainstorming and the clicking around the internet, the shopping at shiny lit up stores and the last minute impulse buying and the wrapping and the guessing and all that shazam, I just love it.  When it’s over and I can’t cram one more thing into my overburdened budget and I’m really and truly done, and yet nothing much from anyone else has shown up  at our house yet, there’s this strange let down, and I try to temper it with hot chocolate and parties and cookies but it still feels like I’m already past the balled up wrapping paper and the scattered bows, convinced that nothing fun and wonderful will ever happen again.

I think I envisioned these advent activities as a shield against that feeling, but unfortunately forcing your sreaming children and your absentminded husband into Target at 8 am on Sunday morning to pick out a new Christmas ornament doesn’t really put the shine back on the thing as much as you might hope.  I try to absorb the message of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but part of me is too beaten down by a teething 18 month old and a caged wild  beast of a 4 year old to feel much enlightenment.  I wish I were better at feeling holidayish.

Some of you might wonder why I do these advent activities at all, if they’re just going to stress me out, if I’m just going to end up wishing I’d gone and picked out ornaments by myself, and the answer is that dammit, my family will participate in these goddamned Christmas activities with me even if it kills them!

Ha ha no, kidding. Sort of.

Mostly I do these things because I still remember this stuff from when I was a kid, and it’s important to me that my kids have that too.  I can remember the gingerbread house my baby sitter made when I was three years old, but that we never had one of our own. I can remember every single christmas decoration my parents brought out every year – the orange dala horses, the angels made from cardboard ice cream boxes and spray painted gold, the felt root beer magnets that only went on the refrigerator in December.  I can remember the muddy trip to get the tree and the times I saw the Nutcracker and ice skating and hot chocolate.  I am sure not all kids remember these things in such detail, but I did, and I do.

The other reason that I do these advent activities, the reason that I made Merry Christmas chalkboards and the reason I make glittered acorns and I swag my front porch in fir garland is because I want to do it.  Some of these things are not for my kids, but you know what? I COUNT TOO.  The Christmas I want to have is also important.  The things I think are fun, I get to do those things if I want.  Christmas is about spoiling kids, sure, and it’s about buying that extra large peppermint lollipop for $15.95 because you know it’s going to BLOW YOUR KIDS MIND when he sees it sticking out of his stocking on Christmas morning, but it’s also about me.  I may be a mom and there may be more toys under the christmas tree than diamonds  but still.  I COUNT TOO.  What I want matters, even though I have kids.

Which is to say – we bought ornaments, we watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we saw Santa, I asked for a break from teething and some new perfume.  I might try to forget that dismal trip to Target and the screaming on Santa’s lap, but I’ll remember forever my afternoon with Amy and the homemade marshmallows at Ginger Elizabeth’s and that endless pink frilly glittery dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Today we’re going to decorate cookies, but we’re also going to go to Target and I’m going to buy the reddest damn lipstick in the store.  Some times, some things are just for me.

Christmas Menus

A’Dell beat me to it, dammit!

Santa Picnic:

We’re going to see Santa this Saturday, and I think since it’s at 11 and it’s outside, we’ll have a little picnic, which will consist of whatever looks delicious in the refrigerator case on Saturday morning at Trader Joe’s.

Cookies:

Last year we did No Knead Bread and Pear Jam as neighbor gifts, this year I think we’re going to make lemon bars and easy toffee bars.  There’s a metric ton of lemons on our lemon tree and I can get Erik to make the lemon bars which works out well for me because I don’t like non chocolate desserts anyway and I’m about as interested in baking them as I am in eating them.

Christmas Eve:  We’re going to do fondue for Christmas Eve with the fondue set that Erica sent me, because she is awesome.  I have three fondue recipes from Janssen but I’m thinking that the premade stuff at Trader Joe’s looks really really easy.  Anyone have any opinions on that stuff?  We’ll probably dip bread and veggies in the cheese fondue.  I’m having a hard time thinking of things to dip besides bread.  Then we’ll have chocolate fondue for dessert with fruit and marshmallows and graham crackers.  Dried pears sounds good.  Mostly I intend to eat champagne.

Christmas Morning:  We are going to stuff our faces with dim sum.  I am already excited.

Christmas Dinner: I am going to make a big vat of Riesling slushes, because pink and frothy just seems like Christmas to me.  I might have a few random appetizers (crab stuffed mushrooms and Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts, maybe?) sitting around for people to nibble on (and by people I mean me) and then I am going to make roast beef, salad, mashed potato gratin, maybe macaroni and cheese, maybe rolls.  (The frozen Rhodes Rolls?  Throw some butter on there and bake em up and they are the BOMB.) If they have a Buche de Noel this year at Trader Joe’s we’ll have that for dessert, otherwise we’ll probably just have whatever random frozen chocolate cake they always have.  At $6.99 it’s cheaper and more delicious than anything I can make at home.

Here’s my Christmas dinner Pinterest board, just in case you feel like having an emotional breakdown over the fact that no matter what you cook you don’t have floating ivory pillar candles hanging over your dining room table.

 

 

Advent Day Six and Seven, Otherwise Known As How Mr. E Tried to Ruin Christmas

Advent Day Six was “Watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  The deal was that the three of us would watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas after dinner was over and Katie was in bed.  I made a delicious dinner of chili and cornbread and salad (that I grew myself!).  I semi successfully tried not to lose my mind as my kids threw cornbread all over the floor, and even though I was really not in the mood I dealt with a flurry of emails and did bathtime and Mr. E got everyone into their Christmas pajamas that St. Nicholas brought and he made some very delicious hot chocolate without even being asked! (Although as god is my witness next year we will be having that hot chocolate in some vintage Santa Claus mugs, oh yes we will.)

Then, we had a little…let’s say…incident.

I finally closed the computer just in time to hear Erik say that he had told Eli that he could play car racing on his Ipod instead of watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I’m sorry, but what? WHAT? Have you…MET ME? In THIS lifetime? Did you actually just tell our child that he could play video games instead of spending time doing an advent activity with his parents? HA HA HA NO.

I mean, seriously? I love all these people with my whole heart but sometimes it just gets tiring being me.

Anyway, after I reminded everyone of the MOTHER GRABBING WONDER OF CHRISTMAS, we sat down to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas and I GASPED OUT LOUD IN HORROR as soon as it was revealed that Erik had not in fact recorded the beloved animated classic version of the Grinch but rather the wretched pile of dreck known as the live action version of the Grinch starring JIM CARREY, one of my least favorite people ON EARTH.

Blargh.

Luckily we also had a copy of Charlie Brown’s Christmas in the can, and although that is a strange and unusual little piece of animation, I do enjoy it, and we all had fun watching it, and it was short, and it does not contain any appearances by one Mr. Jim Carrey, although I am sure sometime in the future he will find some way to ruin that too, because that’s just what he does.

Anyway.

Advent Day Seven was “Make A Gingerbread House.”

Yesterday I walked in the kitchen, and Katie was sitting on the kitchen counter with a bag of noodles in her lap.  Penne pasta, I think, to be specific, and as Eli ran streaking back and forth in front of her, she reached into the bag over and over and whipped noodles at him as fast as she could. Girlfriend has quite an arm on her.

It will most likely come as no surprise when I tell you that we waited until naptime to build our gingerbread house.

I used a kit I bought at Target for $8 dollars, and I would like to take this moment to tell you that while I am fan of a great many modern inventions, things like washing machines and moving pictures and frozen meatballs, I am absolutely positive that nothing holds a candle to the invention of the Gingerbread House Kit.  As someone who once attempted to follow the directions in the Joy of Cooking to make my own from scratch and still shudders at the memory of cracking gingerbread and failing icing, I urge you – do not under any circumstances attempt this project without a kit.

Our deal is that I build the house, squirt as much frosting on the thing as one small cookie house can hold, and Eli sticks on the candy, eating approximately half of it in the process.  (FYI, the candy is disgusting and old tasting but the frosting is DELICIOUS).  And honestly, so far this year, I think this is my favorite advent activity.  It always work and it turns out beautifully and it’s a great team effort.  And if I were doing this by myself I would be over in a corner for hours petting the thing and trying to make it look EXACTLY as it does on the box and stressing over every tiny squidge of icing slightly out of place and wondering if you can buy gingerbread furniture on Ebay.  Instead the four year old is gluing four doorbells to the front of it and so I can let that all go.  It’s so far from perfect and yet so perfectly perfect that I just don’t care that it looks nothing like the picture on the box, and the fact that at least this particular activity is BETTER because I am doing with WITH Eli – well, I just love that. I really do.

 

Advent Day Five: Leave Your Shoes Out for St. Nicholas

When I was a little girl, I was always SO jealous of other people who did the St. Nicholas shoes thing.  I would NEVER remember to do this without the advent calendar, so it’s paying off already, because I LOVE this tradition. It’s a little introduction to Christmas and where the idea of Santa Claus comes from, all wrapped up into one.

We talked about St. Nicholas earlier today, although Eli does call him Mrs. Ticklas.  We talked about who he is a patron saint of, and Eli said “I’m the children” when we got to that part.  (I left out the part about prostitutes, maybe we’ll save that for next year).  Then I told him that we’d leave his shoes and his sisters shoes by their bedroom door, and maybe St. Nicholas would leave candy or presents in the shoes, and sometimes he leaves coins because in the olden days St. Nicholas would throw bags of coins in people’s windows.

When I was done with this fantastic history lesson, Eli stopped me and said “Is HE going to sneak in our house? And then break our windows?”  That’s when I suspected that the story of St. Nicholas had gotten away from me.

Anyway, here are the shoes.  If nothing else, this endeavor meant a trip into Sees for me, and I think we can agree that any activity that leads to Sees is a winner.

 

 

Advent Day Three and Four: Get and Decorate the Christmas Tree

First of all you should know that the fetching of the Christmas tree is a total and complete emotional minefield for me.  When I was growing up in Oregon, we always cut down our Christmas tree, mostly from Christmas tree farms but one time from an old lady’s front yard, after my mom marched up to her front door and told her that her trees really needed thinning and she’d be happy to do it for her.  True story.

Anyway, in my family, growing up, we ALWAYS cut down our Christmas tree.  Now my mom has moved back to Vermont and she’s raising chickens and she cooks bear on a wood stove and she got a chain saw for her birthday.  I have no idea where she’s getting her tree this year but I’m guessing she’s doing it in the most vermonty manner one can possible get a tree.

Like by sleigh.  Horse drawn sleigh.  Yes.  Probably that.

Erik and I have cut down our fair share of Christmas trees, but then we had two kids and we just got tired.  We wearied of paying $65 dollars for a tree that we had to cut down ourselves while everyone else on our street had perfectly lovely trees they’d gotten at Home Depot.  So now we get our tree at Home Depot, and it costs $25 dollars and it’s a two minute drive and it is a nice tree and so easy.  And plus my kids are 4 and less than 2.  They won’t even remember this.  When it counts and they can remember, maybe we’ll go cut up the mountains and cut down a $65 tree, but for now, I take the easy and cheap way out.

It doesn’t matter though.   Every year my mom asks about our tree  and every year when I have to tell her we picked it up in the Home Depot parking lot, I cringe.  A lot.  This year I think my cringing was coming across loud and clear on the phone because she actually said to me “Hey, you don’t have to justify it to me.  Just because you’re a complete sell out.”

So yeah.  Too lazy and tired to go cut down the tree, but still emotionally manipulated into feeling like a jerk about it.

Obviously, the tree fetching was a total disaster.  It was so terrible I honestly felt like I was living a cliche as it happened.

Katie had been up all night long the night before, and collectively Erik and I had gotten about three hours of sleep.  She slept all day, ruining all our plans to get the tree early and go out to breakfast, and she was still in a terrible mood when she finally woke up and she cried all the way to Home Depot, all through the parking lot, and all the way home.  I still had delusions about what a wonderful time this was going to be, so I insisted that we stop off at Starbucks on the way there so I could be sipping something delicious as we meandered happily through the tree lot, and I brought Eli in with me and VERY CLEARLY explained that I was getting Katie a cake pop and that he could get a cake pop too OR something else but he could not have both, and so of course he chose orange juice, and then spent the entire time we were picking out our tree LOSING HIS DAMN MIND over the fact that he didn’t have a cake pop and his sister did.   Erik almost had a throw down with some lady who had chosen the busiest Christmas tree getting day of the year to buy five trees, throw them down in the middle of the parking lot, and declare herself “in line”, and at various points through out the experience Erik and I had fights about when to go, what the kids would wear, who would drive, whether or not to go to Starbucks, what tree we should get, who should take what screaming kid, how to unwrap a christmas tree, where the line was, how to get the tree on the car, why that weird dude was giving us weird looks (can’t imagine), how many pointsettias to buy, citrus tree fertilizer, white lights, and whether or not we should just call off Christmas all together.  Blargh.

Oh, it was a terrible day.  A really terrible day.  Here’s a visual representation, for you non verbal learners:

Decorating the tree on Sunday was better.  Erik finally wrestled it into the World’s Worst Christmas Tree Stand and put the lights on and when I got home from shopping with Amy, the second I walked in the door there was Eli, screaming “We can decorate the tree now! Mom’s home!”   This was the  most excited I’ve seen him for any Christmas thing ever.  He actually helped hang ornaments on the tree, and he’s never wanted to do that before.  It wasn’t quite the “hot chocolate popcorn christmas carols” extravaganza I have in my head as the Christmas Tree Decorating Ideal, but it gives me hope that we’ll get there, someday.  All the low branches with the three ornaments crammed onto the ends are pretty adorable too.  Eli is VERY proud of his ornament hanging, and in fact at the end of it told me, thoughtfully: “Hmmm. Mom, I am much better at this than you are!”  Awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

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