Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I'm The Happiest Christmas Tree: Simple Smile-makers at Christmastime

I'm the happiest Christmas Tree 2012
 It's the most wonderful time of the year.  No, seriously.

I won't go so far as to say that I live for Christmastime, and I won't claim to be fully on the "nice" list, and I certainly am not going to assert that every day in the last week and all of December will be a darned good day, but apart from my undying love of summertime, I really do believe Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

I have so many pictures I've taken lately (and over the past several months), in anticipation of a blog that never got written.  I've gotten over the guilt and the feeling of total sloth, because, frankly, I'm so busy sometimes my head spins.  But despite being busy with life, there are a few things that I always take time out to do at this time of year - alone, with my family, or with friends.  They could easily each be a blog post on their own, but for the sake of brevity I've condensed and pictorified.  Here is a list of them - my top-ten Christmastime smile-makers. Ho ho ho. Hee hee hee.

*  *  *
10 Reasons to Smile this Christmas
*because we all, like it or not,
actually do make time for the things we love,
no matter how busy*

Roman's magical snow globe

10. Christmas Cards / Mail in generalI am a mail addict.  I love sending letters and cards and getting them in return.  I always spend an inordinate amount of time doing our Christmas cards and choosing the right photo, and hand-stamping the envelopes.  One year I even wax-sealed each one with our monogram.  Not this year!  I bought pre-made cards, wrote minimal messages, and let Roman do most of the stamping (sorry Aesthetic Gods!).  But I loved sharing that experience with him.  He drew pictures in several of the cards (he remembered doing it last year and was excited to do it again) and asked all kinds of questions about why we send cards and what they mean.  He also loves getting all the packages in the mail and is slowly being driven insane by boxes that I've told him are actually for him but he can't open. One of the perks of being a grown-up: slightly larger amounts of patience :)

9. Christmas Parties / Cocktails / Get-togethers
This is the first year in a loooong time that I am invited to Matt's office Christmas party.  I am super excited because I feel like these little get-togethers, while they may seem trivial, actually really bring people together.  I love meeting and getting to know the people my husband spends most of his time with during the week.  And the food and booze is usually really good :)  One particular amazing party in NYC with deep-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with homemade mozzarella comes to mind.  Meeeeeemories....

The globe and my favorite Santa
8. Snow Globes & Trinkets Galore
I don't know why but I've always found snow-globes really magical.  I bought one for Roman last year as a present at Home Goods and he absolutely loved it.  This year it was the decoration he was most excited to see come out and without fail he goes up to it every single day, turns it over, winds it up to listen to the song and watch the snow fall around Santa.  Then he says - get this - "Happy Christmas, Santa." *melt*

I also love the trinkets and decor I've amassed throughout the years - random Santas from Goodwill and that people have given me, special table cloths, gigantic wreaths that can only be used once a year, and my very, very special nativity scene that my mom gave me (Roman is annoyed that Baby Jesus hasn't shown up yet :)).

7. That Creepy Little Elf: Finksy
I know this is a semi-controversial part of Christmasnowadays.  Some consider The Elf on the Shelf a commercial cop-out / scam and think he's creepy looking.  Some think it's the best thing since the naughty-nice list, and well, just talking about theoretical elves.  I am somewhere in the middle.  But what I can say is that it definitely captivates.  My son, who cannot, to save his own life, remember to feed our fish Frankie on a daily basis, wakes up every single morning and promptly goes scouting around the house looking for his elf Finksy and what kind of mischief he has gotten up to.
So far he has eaten our marshmallows, dangled from the chandelier, peered at us from above the fridge and played with Roman's favorite toy cars.  It's a fun tradition that I'm glad we adopted.

6. Hot Choco-latty & Martian-mallows
Roman's favorite drink ever.  I make it with Mexican Abuelita Chocolate, Ancho-chile powder and fresh Mexican cinnamon.  I use Maseca or corn starch to thicken it slightly and serve it with copious amounts of martian-mallows (as we call them).  Guaranteed to get even the grinchiest in the Christmas mood.

5. Christmas Lights
Or, I should say, "LIIIIIGHTS!!!!" as that is what we scream in my family every single time we pass a house with lights.  It was a game we played our entire childhoods and I have so many sweet memories of driving through neighborhoods with my sister and cousins, screaming our heads off, delighted at the handiwork of many a dedicated husband / father.

Intense blue LED glory
Matt tried his hand at outdoor Christmas lighting for the first time this year, not without grumbling about renters insurance and light bills going up.  Baptized by LED, my not-so-little Grinch is now both a believer and a serial light-clip hoarder.  And I quote: "I freaking love efficiency."

4. Cookies, cookies, cookies!
Jesus loves me, this I know.  "How?" you ask.  Nope, not the bible.  It's because somewhere along the way he allowed my secret-ish chocolate chip recipe to come my way via Bon Appetit magazine.  I started making these chocolate chip cookies 7 or 8 years ago, and I still cannot think of a single recipe that I've tried or tasted and like better (sorry Ben's Cookies).  These cookies are a gift from heaven above.  And so is the fact that my husband is a bona fide cookie monster.  It makes baking them all the more satisfying to watch Matt gluttonously gobble them up. :)

The best chocolate chip cookies ever.  Period.

Which brings me to my not-so-secret confession: I HATE Gingerbread.  I don't just dislike it.  It's one of the few things I find positively not-yummy.  Ironically, Roman LOVES gingerbread cookies.  So every year now, I have adopted a new tradition: making gingerbread men.  I usually try one every year just to reconfirm that, yep, I still hate them, but watching him decorate them is worth the somewhat unrewarded baking effort :)

Roman's little Ginges.

3. Good-Smelly Things: Dried Orange Ornaments
This year I wanted a more rustic, natural looking tree set-up.  So I decided to actually make one of the many crafts I'd pinned on Pinterest: dried orange slice ornaments.  So easy and so beautiful.  My house smelled like oranges for a whole day and it really adds a special touch to the tree. Totally recommend.

2. Dedicated Christmas Music Stations
I am one of those people who turns the Christmas music on the day after Thanksgiving.  I never get sick of it either.  The other day I put the regular radio on and as soon as I heard Niki Minaj switched back.  Too blasphemous.  Not holy or choral enough.  And certainly NOT ENOUGH JINGLE BELLS UP IN THEA'.

My favorite Christmas song this year comes from a Christmas compilation Carla made me last year post-xmas after I bugged her about not having the Carpenter's Christmas CD we grew up with.  I had never played it until a week ago because, while Christmas music flows uninterrupted throughout December chez moi, it is NEVER played outside of the season.  Roman loved it from the moment he heard it, and I must admit, so did I.  Check it - and thanks Caaaa :) -  "I'm the Happiest Christmas Tree" by Nat King Cole.

1. Christmas Trees of the Fresh Variety
Maine spoiled me in many ways. I now can't stand not having fresh Lobster available to me for under $10/lb.  I have been converted to full-bellied clams and can't go back (this is a disaster of epic proportions living in Colorado).  I have intense and rage-inducing oyster cravings at very random times.  And, of course, I now judge people who have fake Christmas trees.

I grew up going fake my entire life.  Don't get me wrong - the convenience and monetary factor are not lost on me.  But once you've cut your own tree, smelled the smells, seen the sights - you just can't go back.  We didn't cut our tree down this year (long story) but we did get a fresh one at our local grocery store (another long story) and it's actually almost nicer than the super fancy self-cut, self-chosen one we got in Maine last year.  Full, tall, majestic and pinier-smelling than a Bath & Body works candle.  UH-MAZING.  Decorating it with 3 year-old Roman this year was a half-success.  Only 1 ornament was broken (Matt's fault, just sayin'), and we got a new reindeer / elk ornament to commemorate our first year in Colorado.  Nothing beat when Roman started reminiscing about the ornaments we had from all the places we've lived.  He's only 3 and already the memory-making has begun and become meaningful. 

It's a wonderful life, people.   Merry Christmas.

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