Wednesday, December 13, 2017

More Holiday Goings-On

Today I'm linking up with Alexandra and Shea who have organized a second month of the Live Your Best [Holiday] Life challenge. Technically the link-up is to talk about Advent Calendars, but I have to admit that we packed ours away for the year on December 3rd. We were doing chocolate and small toys but it seemed to be creating less delight and more demand. I'm going to try again next year with more activities and a giving-back/kindness approach. So today I'm just going to share some other holiday goings-on that have been more successful.

Last weekend on Saturday I took Swede to a gingerbread house event at church. We decorated a little A-frame graham cracker cabin and a frosted sugar cone tree. It was really fun - Swede kept telling me "This is so fun!" - and really well organized and low-key. Also on Saturday we helped my parents decorate their Christmas tree and baked molasses sugar cookies (which are my #1 favorite holiday cookie).

On Sunday I took Swede to The Nutcracker for the first time. I thought she might be too young and was prepared to leave early but she loved it! I love the ballet and have seen The Nutcracker many times over the years. It's not my favorite ballet (Swan Lake!) but it feels like a holiday tradition and I really enjoyed sharing it with Swede. We have been reading the story at bedtime for the past couple weeks which I think was helpful as she knew what was going on. In the photo below we have a very serious Swede at the concert hall before the ballet started. The dress she's wearing was handmade by my grandma for my mom and I also wore it when I was little.

Speaking of my grandma, this is the first Christmas since she passed away at the start of 2017. I have been thinking about her frequently lately especially when decorating the Christmas tree as so many ornaments were gifts from her over the years. We hadn't spent the holidays together in a while but I have so many fond memories of Christmas at my grandparents' house all the years that I was growing up in Southern California. Here are the ornaments that she gave to me when I was one year old (left) and to Swede when she was one year old (right).

I have been enjoying another month of the Live Your Best [Holiday] Life challenge. Some of the prompts I've done so far are having (several) hot chocolate dates with Swede, starting a new holiday tradition with our first REAL Christmas tree, having a gift wrapping party (just me and Elf on Friday night but it still counts!), making the gingerbread house, and my impulse buy was a $5 holiday mug from the grocery store. We've also been reading all the books and singing all the songs and wearing festive attire whenever possible! There have definitely been a few holiday melt-downs but overall I feel like we've been finding a good balance.

That's all! How is the holiday season going for you so far?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reading Roundup - December 2017

Book Day! As usual I'm linking up wit Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books.

Here's what I read last month:

1) Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson. 3/5 stars. You may know that I love ballet, so generally I am interested in books about ballet, and this book was no exception. It goes back and forth between the late 1970's in the heyday of the Russian influence on the New York ballet scene (which was a fascinating glimpse into a rather seedy backstage) and the present day as the main character comes to terms with her past. There are a couple characters/relationships that I did not love reading about though.

2) Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson. 3.5/5 stars. I heard about this book from the Risen Motherhood podcast. As with all self-help, some of the chapters in this book resonated with me and some did not. The main premise of this book is that the stress and anxiety many of us feel to do and be all the things all the time, and perfectly, is the result of pride. Finding the peace and rest we all seek begins with the humble recognition that WE ARE NOT GOD.

3) Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. 3.5/5 stars. This book is a little strange. The plot meanders along without much happening. That doesn't mean it's boring though. It's like life, I guess. You love your spouse and kids with all your heart and they drive you crazy at the same time. You aren't quite sure how you ended up here. Things happen that are funny, boring, tragic, bittersweet, ironic, and beautiful. It's a very close observation of the big and little details and idiosyncratic foibles of those around us.

4) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. 4.5/5 stars. The book starts in Ghana in the eighteenth century with two half-sisters - One marries a British officer; the other is sold into slavery. Each set of chapters thereafter follows the next generation of descendants from the sisters. I felt like almost every chapter could have been an entire novel and often I wasn't ready to move on, but overall it comes together well. This book is very good, very powerful, and also very sad and difficult at times for me to read, especially in the early chapters detailing the horrors of the Third Passage and slavery.

That's all! What have you been reading lately?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas Tree Weekend

Every Christmas for the past three years Jonathan and I have promised each other that next year we'll get rid of the falling-apart hand-me-down fake tree we've been using and start the tradition of buying a real Christmas tree. The same thing happened this year, except that when Jonathan went into the garage to get the fake tree to decorate on Sunday, he remembered that we threw it away last summer during an ambitious clean-out-the-garage project. So after a moment of panic I went down to the grocery store to pick out a nice-enough tree and now... Voila! Honestly I'm glad that we were forced to buy a new tree. I prefer real trees in general and the house smells so nice!

I had a really nice time decorating the tree with Swede. She enjoyed unwrapping all the ornaments and directing where they should go. The pink sparkly doughnut was the first ornament to go up! Abel is less interested but at least he's not trying to pull the ornaments off the tree like he did last year.

Other festive weekend events included a hot chocolate date with Swede, baking red-and-green M&M cookies with Abel - I decided it was time for him to be included in the weekly baking projects - and Jonathan and I went out to a nice dinner at Ken & Sue's. Also I watched The Family Stone and finished up my Christmas shopping.

I've also been reading lots of Christmas books with the kids - And let me tell you about this Christmas miracle! - I have read The Night Before Christmas to them together for the past three nights without any fighting. It feels really special and make me so happy!

That's all! Do you prefer a real tree or a fake tree? Have you decorated for Christmas yet? I don't do any decorating other than the tree and stockings but I love having that one festive corner.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Big List of Ideas for Holiday Fun

Please note I want to emphasize this is a list of IDEAS. It's easy to become overwhelmed and stressed with all the must-do holiday activities, but I do want to keep it FUN, so I hereby waive my obligation to do any and all (OK, most, because obviously some of these are non-negotiable) of the activities below in the interest of family harmony and mental health.

     - Decorate the Christmas tree!

     - I love the tradition (which I also incorporated for Halloween this year) of new Christmas pajamas & books for the kids on December 1st.

     - Do the Advent calendar - I keep it simple with M&Ms every day.

     - Sing Christmas carols.

     - Read lots of Christmas books.

     - Watch our favorite Christmas movies - Swede likes The Polar Express, Charlie Brown, and the Grinch; I like Elf and The Family Stone.

     - Holiday Baking! I'd like to give cookies this year to the kids' preschool and Sunday school teachers. Also I bought a cute plate on sale last year to do cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.

     - Go to the Christmas Eve church service.

     - Have our traditional Christmas Eve fondue dinner at home.

     - Ride the Polar Express! I went with Swede last year so Jonathan will go with her this year. We'll probably start going as a family next year.

     - I'm taking Swede to see The Nutcracker! I was planning to wait until she was a little older for this but a friend and her daughter offered us tickets to go with them. I hope it goes well but we can always leave early if needed.

     - Go to the preschool Christmas party (and meet Santa).

     - Go out to a nice dinner with Jonathan at our favorite restaurant.

     - I'm excited for the inaugural Blogger Pen Pal Christmas Exchange!

     - I'll be in Denver for work in mid-December and have planned a trip to Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Garden.

At Blossoms of Light in 2013 when Swede was one month old!

     - MAYBE: Make a gingerbread house. There's a church event for this that I might go to with Swede, otherwise I'm not brave enough to make one at home.

     - MAYBE: Go to the Festival of Trees.

     - Things I am definitely NOT doing: Elf on the Shelf, any Christmas craft projects, or much decorating besides the tree.

That's all! It seems like so much but it's really just books/movies/songs with the kids, baking, and one fun activity per weekend, so hopefully it's not too overwhelming. 

What are some of your favorite new or old Christmas traditions?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017 & Abel's 2nd Birthday

On Thanksgiving we had a pancake breakfast with Jonathan's parents and Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. Logistical difficulties prevented me from running the Turkey Trot which was very disappointing. Maybe next year! I say that every year, but I really do want to (re)start the Turkey Trot tradition sooner than later. My grandpa was visiting from Denver though, so it was good to see him, and the food was all very delicious. I contributed Creamy Butternut Squash Casserole. We made an excellent decision to avoid mealtime chaos by have dinner while Abel was napping. 

Abel's birthday was on Friday! It's hard to believe this little man is two years old. He is obsessed with construction vehicles so I thought this shirt was appropriate.

My friend Ashley was in Durango visiting her mother-in-law for Thanksgiving and she was able to spend the morning on Friday with me - Hooray! We had a nice time playing with the kids. Her baby Hugo is not-quite four months old. We went on a walk too because the weather has been unseasonably warm.

On Friday night Swede and I went downtown for Singing with Santa, a community event to kick off the holiday season. We sang Christmas carols, shared hot chocolate and a cookie, and watched the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

On Saturday we had a birthday brunch for Abel with my parents and grandpa. My mom brought over her delicious homemade cinnamon rolls and I made my favorite Breakfast Casserole. The rest of the day was low-key. Jonathan and Swede went to the park and the library in the afternoon while I stayed home with Abel, mostly playing with his new Lego digger truck.

On Sunday we went to church, watched the Trolls holiday special (twice), and I made a miniature Thanksgiving dinner. Our actual Thanksgiving dinner was less traditional so Jonathan and I were still craving our favorite classics. We bought a rotisserie chicken and I made mashed potatoes, dressing, and green bean casserole. Swede and I also started the holiday baking extravaganza with The Perfect Soft Peanut Butter Cookies.

Whenever I show the highlight reel from a holiday weekend it looks really fabulous, and there were definitely many special moments, but I feel it would be a little fake to not also mention that it was a pretty difficult weekend overall. Mostly because the nature of holidays equals family togetherness time, but the kids seem to be at an all-time high of not-getting-along-well. [I think one of the culprits is competition over all the new birthday toys.] Plus Abel has been super grumpy - I blame his two-year molars - and Swede can only be described as "wound up." I'm not saying she doesn't have good cause! Celebrating two birthdays and Thanksgiving within one week is very exciting, but also very hectic. Which I'm going to keep in mind as I put together my list of fun ideas to celebrate the Christmas season. Hopefully I can strike the right balance between having fun and staying (relatively) calm.

That's all! I hope that you (Americans) had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Swede's Birthday Tea Party (& Weekend)

We had the best weekend celebrating Swede's 4th birthday!

On Saturday I planned a tea party theme birthday shindig at our house. We had 18 people over which seemed like exactly the right size. My parents and Jonathan's parents were there, of course, plus we invited over three of Swede's preschool friends (and their parents and younger siblings). Swede had a fabulous time!

Let's talk about the food! I had a fun time planning the tea party menu. I made mini strawberry cupcakes and mini key lime pie cookie cups and mini scones with raspberry jam, plus egg salad and PB&J tea sandwiches, fruit, veggies with cucumber dill dip, and punch. I'm not too into decorations so I ordered some tea party theme plates, napkins, and decorations from Amazon and called it good.

The kids all loved the strawberries cupcakes and the adults all loved the key lime pie cookie cups. I didn't plan many activities other than setting out some toys and art supplies but we didn't really need much else. Swede received a stamp set and Play-Doh set from her friends which we opened up and all the kids enjoyed, plus they all played in the back yard for a little while since it wasn't too cold.

As for the rest of the weekend... On Saturday night we had Swede's requested birthday dinner of baked feta with tomatoes and peppers, and then both kids went too bed pretty early - They were exhausted from all the excitement! 

On Sunday afternoon Abel took a really long nap so Jonathan and I had a while to play just with Swede after her quiet time. It was really special and fun! We played birthday party with Swede's stuffed animal friends, played a game of Mermaid Island, and completed her new 100-piece puzzle.

Swede also received this new doll from my parents, which she named... Swede! Swede-the-doll has been joining us for story time every night.

In other non-birthday news, I made slow-cooker Buffalo chicken meatballs for dinner on Sunday. You may know that I love all things Buffalo but these were extra good!

That's all! I'm so glad to have spent FOUR year with this funny, sweet, clever, creative, and all-around FANTASTIC little girl.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Live Your Best [Holiday] Life

This month I have been tagging along with Alexandra and Shea on the Live Your Best [Holiday] Life project. Here is the list of daily prompts that they set up to help encourage and inspire us to have a happy and healthy November:

I've been skipping around through the ideas rather than following along day-for-day but here are the ones that I've done so far.

#1) Daily Gratitude Log. I've been doing this (most days) in Instagram. Some of my gratitude photos so far:

New Toms / Yoga / Peppa Pig
The boys / Date night / Storytime
Swede / Abel / Gumball

Often at bedtime I'll ask Swede what the best part of the day was or what is something that she's grateful for, and this month I started writing down her funny and sweet answers in a little notebook. I think it will be great to look back on when she's older.

#4) Make pumpkin waffles. We made gingerbread waffles instead of pumpkin but I think they were adequately festive!

#7) Schedule 30 minutes of reading. I read for 30-60 minutes pretty much every night before bed but I'm adding it to the list anyway!

#9) Let go of an obligation this month. I had the best answer for this that I decided not to do photo Christmas cards this year. But then I saw an offer on the Shutterfly app for ten free cards that I couldn't pass up! I ended up ordering the freebies with photos that we already had. So I guess the obligation I gave up was the stressful (and most likely futile) attempt to get the perfect photo of the whole family together in the perfect coordinated outfits. I do feel a sense of relief from that (ridiculous and self-imposed) burden, so a huge thank you to Alexandra and Shea for giving me the light bulb moment of permission that I-don't-need-to-do-this.

#10) Treat yourself to a yummy candle. I picked up this one last weekend! I think the design is so cute. I'll probably wait until December to light it as it feels more Christmas-y. We are still enjoying "Leaves" and "Hello Fall" this month.

#11) Clean your fridge to get it holiday ready! I was not looking forward to this at all but I knew it needed to be done. I hadn't even mentioned it to Jonathan but one day when the kids and I came back from visiting my parents it was done!

#14) Start a holiday gift list. Not only did I make a holiday gift list but I have purchased everything except two small items! The past couple years I have tried to be mostly done with Christmas shopping by mid-November which makes the rest of the season so much less stressful.

#18) Take donations to a thrift store. DONE! We've had a couple bags of clothes to donate in the garage for at least six months so this was a nice push to take them in.

#20) Allow yourself a small indulgence today. I picked up my favorite caramel brulee latte from Starbucks this week. The holiday cups are so pretty this year!

#24) Reminisce over old photos. I love my Shutterfly albums - I've been doing one annually since 2014 - and I look through them frequently, but I have been doing so this week especially as we approach Swede's 4th birthday!

One week / One year
Two years / Three years

That's all! Have you been doing anything special to celebrate the holidays this month?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reading Roundup - November 2017

Book Day! As usual I'm linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books. 

Here's what I read last month:

1) Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. 4/5 stars. This is a very unorthodox memoir, filled with humorous observations and poignant musings on everyday life. A decade ago I loved Amy's first unorthodox memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and recently I have enjoyed her children's books. This book has encouraged me to notice and appreciate the everyday blessings in my life, especially in light of the fact of Amy's death earlier this year at age 51 due to ovarian cancer.

2) How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. 4.5/5 stars. This is #9 in the Chief Inspector Armande Gamache mystery series. If I didn't know there were - thankfully, because I'm not ready to be done! - four more published books in the series I would have thought this was the last one. It is a very dramatic conclusion one of the major ongoing plot lines throughout the series. I could not read it fast enough to find out what was going to happen to my beloved characters!

3) The Wild Woman's Guide to Travelling the World by Kristin Rockaway. 4/5 stars. No, I do not think this book is as good, objectively, as the two preceding it here, which also received 4 stars, but I think it's very good for what it is: a cute little chick-lit novel about travel and romance. I enjoyed reading about the different travel destinations. I thought the characters were likable and (mostly) believable.

4) The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti. 3.5/5 stars. Often I get sucked into reading books in the suspense-with-twist-ending genre but I rarely love them. I didn't love this one either, but it's probably my favorite that I've read in the genre so far. The main character, Zoe Whittaker, is living a "charmed" life, but a dark secret lurks in her past...

5) The Reminders by Val Emmich. 3/5 stars. I picked this book up on a whim from the library New Release shelf, which I rarely do since GoodReads came into my life. It was a sweet but forgettable (which is ironic, given the title) story about an unlikely friendship between an eleven-year-old girl with an incredible memory and a TV actor mourning the unexpected death of his partner.

6) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. 5/5 stars. I reread this book in the new illustrated version and, of course, loved it. This is one of my favorites in the series and the illustrations are gorgeous.

Swede's book of the month is the very funny and interactive This Book is Full of Monsters by Guido Van Genechten

That's all! What have you been reading lately?