Decking the Halls with Holiday Insanity

So here we are, in the midst of another holiday season. Some were early this year, some were late.  Some are still waiting. The whirlwind of the season is exhausting, exhilarating and exciting. Half the time, I enjoy all the hullabaloo, the other half of the time, I wish it was over already. I like to shop, but with a deadline and a lot of people on my list, it isn’t as enjoyable than “I feel like buying a new dress” shopping. Not to mention that it’s killer on the feet!
Actually, one thing about this season that’s worked in my favor is the fact that I am still unemployed. When I was working, I would take a day off, usually a Friday, and start at 9:00, hit every mall in the area (and if you live in Bergen County, you know that’s a LOT of malls), plus a few stand-alone stores, and wrap it up close to 5:00. I’d manage to cram in just about everyone and have only a few leftover to pick up on shorter excursions. This year, I’ve been able to spread it to one mall a day, with a couple stand alones here and there. So there is that.
But there’s still lots more to be done. In our house, we did away with the real Christmas tree several years ago and bought a really nice artificial. We were so tired of lugging the tree, trimming it to fit, vacuuming several times a week, checking the water, and so on. Ugh. This artificial tree looks just as nice, plus it’s pre-lit, so it’s easy in that regard. Only have to hang the beads and ornaments. Years ago, when we had a cat, tinsel and tinsel garland were out of the question because she used to munch on it, which is very very bad for cats. So we used strings of beads, all different shapes and sizes, in gold. And they look really really pretty.
I also set up a Christmas in the City village on my bay window, complete with fake snow and a bunch of people. I even have the Brooklyn Bridge on a side table to lead the way toward Ebbets Field. My kids like that part the best, and I have an assortment of Santas that adorn the dining room table. It makes the house feel festive.
We also bake cookies. I make all kinds – toffee bars, pecan pie squares, chocolate-drizzled sponge squares, raspberry ribbon cookies, and so on. This year, unemployment is again taking a load off for me – I don’t have to make nearly as many as I usually do, since I always brought a giant platter of them to the office to share with coworkers and thank them for all their support.
And don’t forget the holiday cards! Must make time to do that.
As far as Christmas, it has always worked out well for us. My husband’s family has always had their big celebration on Christmas Eve, with the traditional Italian Seven Fishes dinner, though I think we’re down to four now since some of the items on the menu in years past were made specifically for certain people, who sadly are no longer with us. It’s always an enjoyable evening, and the kids just keep the excitement level at fever pitch. Of course, we must be home in time for Santa to come. My little guy is still a believer (I think), though I suspect those days are almost over.
Christmas Day has always been my family’s traditional gathering day. My parents host and it’s fun to see everyone who doesn’t live close. Again, kids are crazed, but by the time we have dinner, they are calmer. Plus, A Christmas Story marathon is on, and everyone at one point or another ends up seeing the whole movie, even if it’s not sequentially.
I like keeping the traditions alive, there’s a comfort in them, a familiarity as we move through the season that makes everyone smile (usually). Of course, there are the usual school concerts, other holiday parties and the like in the midst of all of this. It’s no wonder we all drop like stones in the water on December 26.
Still, each one of those traditions has evolved a little each year as the kids get older and can do more things. My daughter spends New Year’s Eve with her friends now, instead of us, the cards have changed from going for a holiday portrait to taking our own and using Vistaprint and having them pre-signed, cookie recipes have been swapped out for newer ones, things like that. So as much as it’s the same, it’s also different and new, which adds to the fun. Or is it more like insanity?
So what are your traditions? The best, or the worst? Have they stayed the same, changed, or disappeared altogether? I’ve got a few things we don’t do anymore, but never fear, I will always wear my reindeer antlers and giant jingle bells. In the spirit of the season, I’m giving away a goodie bag of swag and some things from my prize chest, as well as a few books. So tell me about your holiday traditions and you could win a present from me!

What Do You Buy for the Guy Who Wants Nothing?

Literally. My husband is THE most difficult person to buy presents for. Um, well, not quite. My mom is worse because she just buys herself whatever she wants whenever she wants. *waves* Hi Mom! 😀
Anyway, now that the holidays are upon us, it’s time for the phone calls from various family members, usually his. “What does he want?” “Does he have one of these?” “Do you think he’ll like this?”
And I never know what to say. I never know what the hell to get him myself, and I have the double pleasure of having to buy him something from the kids. I’m usually pretty easy – I always have a list of “love to have” things that I can tell people to pass along to those who ask. But my husband just refuses.
“Just get me a shirt, it’s all I want.” I just want to smack him sometimes. No one wants to buy him a shirt, not when he already has 879 of them! I try to explain there’s a big part of holiday gift-giving that focuses on the giver, and the thought they put into getting something they hope you’ll love. Asking me to tell them to just get him a shirt just kind of spoils it for me.
Even harder, is with his family, we pick names, and everyone is expected to spend a certain amount on the person whose name they picked. A shirt that will cover that amount will not be a shirt my husband wears.
Every year, I try to come up with something interesting. Something he might have fun with. Bought a tabletop casino game – blackjack, poker and craps. We like to do AC and gamble, so I thought he’d like that.

It’s in the closet. Has been for about six years now. Think we used it once.

The three teams in our house are the NY Rangers, the NY Giants, and the NY Mets. I’ve gotten jackets, calendars, mouse pads, framed prints of big moments. But you can only buy someone so much sports-related paraphernalia before it becomes just clutter. Though the 360 degree view picture of the Garden the night the Rangers won the cup in ’94 (we were there in our regular seats!) is in full view in the family room.
Tools often work, but he’s picky about what he wants and says he really needs. Again, I remind him holiday gifts are not about needing (though I’d be thrilled with a new microwave this year. Maybe a dishwasher? And we desperately need a new car), they’re about making someone happy. A shirt isn’t going to do that – not from his perspective anyway. If he was a woman and enjoyed clothes as I do, I might think he’d have a point. But I’ve seen him open shirts before, he gives it a nice perusal, says thank you with a kind. happy smile and puts it away.
I’m sorry, but when you open a Christmas gift, the reaction should be “Oh cool, this is really neat! Thank you so much! I love/wanted this!”  I try to pick gifts for people that will bring that reaction, because there’s nothing better than giving someone something they really would like but probably wouldn’t buy for themselves. When he stands in front of something and admires it, I know that’s something that he’d yell at me for spending the money on, but be thrilled I got if for him. I have had to tell him on several occasions to “STFU and just be glad I know what you want and took the time to get it for you!”
But anyway, here we are again. Here come the phone calls and the emails and my daughter cornering me to remind me we have to get Dad a “good” present. I know. I dread this about as much as I dread his birthday because it causes such stress, when all he has to do is just find me something he wants, no matter how frivolous it seems to him. Look in the catalogs, check the sale flyers and emails. Surely there’s got to be something to tickle his impractical side! No one wants to be practical with a holiday gift (though if someone wants to pick me up that microwave, I have no objections!), they want to please your inner child.
Maybe that’s the problem. He’s forgotten how to be a child. Good thing I haven’t! Not that it’s helping me much as I plan my shopping missions.

Happy Holidays!

The holidays are upon us! Really – if you aren’t already celebrating, you will be in a few days. The Christmas Spirit is alive and well in my house – how can it not be with a 15 year old and a 7 year old bouncing off the walls?
Personally, I do like this time of year – everyone is happy, generous, smiling. People say thank you and wish you a happy holiday. Most of my shopping is done, so I haven’t had to deal with too many irritated shoppers – I take a day or two off every year in early December to do marathon trips, and this year, I was extremely successful on both trips and knocked just about everyone off my list. Everything else was purchased online.
The tree and Christmas City are set up, the cookies are baked, presents are in the process of being wrapped. Christmas songs, both traditional and modern, are being played most of the time. The Chipmunks are heavy in the rotation – with kids, what do you expect?
I haven’t been this organized in several years. It feels weird. I’m used to having to run around for days for the one person who I can’t figure out what to get. Scrambling to assemble plates of cookies to give, ship or bring. Making sure the kids have holiday clothes that fit for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We celebrate both days equally – and the festivities begin after church on Christmas Eve.
With my husband’s family, we do the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Although, since certain people who were the only ones to eat certain dishes are no longer with us, a few of the fishes have fallen by the wayside – like the octopus cooked in its own ink. I still remember that first Christmas Eve with his family, when DH, who was only my boyfriend at the time, brought me into the kitchen to show me. His grandfather was the only one who ate that. I couldn’t even look at it – and I’m a daring eater. I’ll try/eat just about anything. Except spinach. And peas. But oddly, I love pea soup. Anyway….
After dinner, we all gather around and open our presents, then go back for dessert and packing up the mountains of toys the kids have accumulated. Get home around midnight, spend a few hours playing Santa and setting up, then fall asleep before we are awakened before dawn to see what Santa left.
After breakfast, we head out to spend the day with my family. My mother, being Irish, has her own take on the Feast. We call it the Feast of the Seven Potatoes. She makes mashed, candied sweets (though that has now become my responsibility), au gratin, and boiled. It’s not really seven, but it’s become a running joke in our little corner of the world. We could add fries, and maybe has browns, I suppose, but that would be overkill. Or maybe not. I’ll have to bring that up and see how it’s received. Of course, Mom serves lots of other things too – her Merlot sauce to accompany the filet roast is to die for, and she makes really awesome stuffing (to go with the turkey breast – there’s a lot of us).  
When it’s all done, and we’re crashing back at home, it’s hard to believe that for all the weeks of prep, it’s over in two short days. You think back, and realize what a blur the month of December has been. The kids’ excitement level lowers considerably, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s is spent in a fairly calm manner. I especially like the fact my company shuts down every year for that week, so it’s easy to recharge the batteries then.

In honor of this giving season, my gift to you is a copy of one of my titles – tell me about your traditions and you could win one of your choice. 

I wish you all a joyous holiday season and I hope you enjoy every moment with lots of love and laughter! And I hope the upcoming New Year brings lots of success and happiness!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I both love and loathe this time of year. I love it because for the most part, people act human, and it’s such a joy to enjoy all the sights of the season. Plus my kids’ excitement is infectious, so you can’t help smiling or laughing with them. I loathe it because it also brings out the worst in people – rudeness, stupidity and a total lack of all human decency. I spent an entire day on a marathon shopping spree, and for the most part, people were nice and helpful. But there were a few I would have loved to have clocked with my armloads of shopping bags.

The other reason the season grates is that there’s so much to do. Between all the pageants and concerts and plays, I feel like I spend a huge chunk of time in churches and school auditoriums. Not to mention the shopping – though with online shopping it is much easier than it used to be. But then there’s the tree to put up, my Christmas in the City houses that need to be put out, lights to put on the house, cookies to bake, and endless presents to wrap. Another dilemma facing me is hiding the kids’ gifts. My daughter is 14, so she knows who Santa is, but my 6 year old son is still a believer, and had quite a list to present to Santa when we visited this year. And my hiding places are growing more and more limited each year.

But the tree is up (not without some drama from above-mentioned 14 year old), the houses are out (with some heart-stopping moments from the 6 year old who insists on playing with the people!), lights are bright and cheery on the house, and the cookie ingredients are ready (I’ll be bringing some to my critique group holiday gathering, so get ready ladies). So I guess I’m ahead of things this year, which is unusual. Of course, my house looks like a few dozen bombs went off since yesterday, so there’s the downside. There’s always a downside, isn’t there? Overall, though, we had a lot of fun

But the point is, I really am feeling the season this year. Definitely more love than loathe. Last year, I had foot surgery, so everything was rushed and then I was disabled and couldn’t do much of anything, making it a “loathing” year. So I’m really enjoying even the maddening moments this year. The Ipod is loaded up with holiday songs that I’ve been playing every chance I get. And walking the malls was a lot less painful too.

What about everyone else? Are you ready? Close? What fun traditions do you have for the season, that really make it feel like holiday-time? Anyone expecting any lumps of coal this year? 😉 Hard to believe that a month-plus worth of prep is all over in a day!