Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Adventures!

Well, we made it to Portland! We weren't sure we would.

They have been socked in with a record-breaking snowstorm for two weeks. My parents have been stuck up on their hill and were unable to prepare for our impending visit.

After the airport was closed for multiple days and my mother-in-law couldn't manage to fly up there, we started getting creative with our trip plans.

We had planned to drive up there in one day, to maximize The Hubby's days off. We then offered to extend it to a day and a half in order to detour over to my mother-in-law's to pick her up and drive her up there with us. Then things started getting crazy and The Hubby and MIL decided to drive straight through, timing the trip so that we do the Oregon portion during the day.

Meanwhile, I began to stress out that we shouldn't be going at that point at all, because we would be running the risk of getting stuck 60 miles outside of Portland, with six people in our car, and how much would that suck????

I was outvoted.

We left Monday night at 8:45 pm or so. We arrived in San Jose at 2:00 am. My MIL had been sleeping in her comfortable bed, so she got in and immediately took the wheel for a 2am - 6am shift so The Hubby and I could try to get some sleep (the quality of sleep in a car leaves much to be desired, even for the kids).

We were in Oregon at about 8:00 am Tuesday. The snow in the higher elevations was beautiful! Blue sky, sun, snow-covered mountainsides and trees!

Aside from the million straight hours in a car and the exhaustion from crappy sleep, the car trip went well until the last 60 miles. That's when we hit the snowy, icy, rutty roads and the slow going. My fears were coming true.

The Hubby tried to put chains on, even tried to pay the guy to help, but they were too small and wouldn't go on. He drove around, trying to find more chains to buy (all stores were sold out), almost getting stuck in the snow on the side roads.

Just guess at my mental state at that point. Just guess how the kids were doing, already in the car for 16 hours.

There was no way that even if we made it to Portland we were making it to my parents' house, without chains, and since my parents had no supplies it would be kind of rude of us anyway. The plan was to go to my brother-in-law's place.

There was more drama around the fact that my mother-in-law was supposed to be going to my other brother-in-law's house and we were trying to arrange a meet-up somewhere with him (he lives way on the other side of Portland). There were many cell phone all made to try and arrange that. MANY CELL PHONE CALLS.

Then Big Girl started having severe pain behind her knee, causing me to freak out. None of us could take much more.

Freeways were closed, the meet-up was impossible, we had no chains, but we made it part way down my BIL's snowy street and walked the last short distance to his house!!!

After 22 hours in the car, we were in a house! A house of loving relatives including my 15-month-old niece! The kids were ecstatic, and I didn't care what happened from there, I was not in that car anymore!

We ate, played, and collapsed in bed.

The next morning, we all felt like new people. More snow was falling, and the kids went outside to play! What a heart-warming sight that was for me.

The Hubby got the chains on the car, with BIL's help. He thinks they were smaller since they were colder.

After such rejuvenation, we were feeling up to visiting a grocery store (Christmas Eve crowds - that's okay) to restock my parents' house, and attempt the drive up the hill.

It wasn't long until we were with Grandma and Granddad! What a happy reunion!

We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with them, and Santa came in the night.

Christmas morning.
Children discovered the surprises he left for them, even better than they had expected, presents were opened and enjoyed.

More snow began to fall and we all went outside to play and build a snowman!

For a bunch of Southern Californians, it truly was a Christmas Day to remember!

The Hubby and I are now, Christmas night, babysitting our niece. It's BIL's birthday today and he's got NBA tickets. His babysitting plans fell through and we were happy to step in as our birthday gift to him.

We'll soon have to try to get back up that hill, so hopefully we won't be stuck down here with our kids up at Grandma's... We're cautiously optimistic about that!

Handmade for Christmas

This year, I actually managed to do the Christmas baking I always hope to do! In general, I had to cut way back on our gift-giving this year, regretfully so. However, there were a few people (The Boy's teachers, the moms who bring Big Girl home from school...) who I really wanted to thank in some sort of Christmas-giving way.

So I made Christmas baking a priority!

I baked Maple Pear Pies, Zucchini Bread, and three kinds of cookies (candy cane, ginger snap, and sugar puff). I also bought my current holiday obsession from Trader Joe's, Candy Cane Joe-Joe's.

I wrapped up the cookies I baked and the Trader Joe's cookies into one package, and affixed a note: "Some sweets to enjoy now, and some to save for later when you need a little Christmas!"

So I had the cookie packages, the Maple Pear pies, and the zucchini bread loaves, as well as some custom return address labels I designed and printed for people. I hope it spread a little of the Christmas spirit and conveyed my feelings of thanks!

The girls also got into the spirit of handmade gifts!
For their best friends, they made bread dough picture frames. Here they are baking in the oven for 2 hours:

And here they are after baking!

We added some touches to highlight that they were handmade and personal!

After sealing the frames, we added a photo of the friendly pair to each frame.

We're all very pleased with them!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Home Tour

I have emerged from hiding to participate in JenontheEdge's Holiday Homes Tour!

Welcome to my house!

It's a good thing I bought the poinsettia garland and the wreath last year. We had to pare down our Christmas quite a lot this year, so no new decorative items this year!
Where I live, we have to put decals on the windows to see snowflakes!

Come on in!

The first thing you'll see is the Christmas tree! (It's real - a Noble Fir.) It's a bit smaller than usual, so we put it up on a pedestal of sorts, and I found some fabric in the basement to use as a makeshift three skirt.

We have a six-month-old male kitten in our house. He is presciently named "Turbo." He is not allowed outdoors at this point. All of these things add up to:
No ornaments on the bottom portion of the tree! No breakable ornaments on the tree at all this year (those we left in the storage box)! And still, I have to put portions of the lights back on every day. A Christmas Tree is like Disneyland for a kitten!

Here is my new ornament for this year. Luckily, it was purchased in Quebec City in June, when The Hubby and I visited for our anniversary trip-without-kids ("luckily" because that was before I knew we'd be having a moratorium on unnecessary expenditures)! Ah, Quebec City, one of my favorite places on Earth!

In that picture you can see part of last year's new ornament. It's the retro toy ornament - what Fisher Price's Little People looked like when I was a kid!

The Christmas Tree is located in our living room, to the right of the front door. We have windows on either side of the front door, so you can see the tree and its pretty colored lights from the street!

Also in the living room is the mantle, an important location for Christmas decorations!

The stockings are all handmade. Mine was made for me by my great aunt when I was a baby; all of the others were handmade by me!

The Nativity was given to us by The Hubby's Grandma when we were newly married. Several years ago, the angel's hook broke and she fell and her wing shattered. So my Nativity has a fallen angel (actually, technically, a missing angel). What do you think that means?

The Hubby's Grandma gave us a set of, like, ten Christmas bears one year. Each year I find them someplace to inhabit during the Christmas season. This year, I put some on each speaker.

The sofa table against the wall has my son's birthday cards. His birthday was Dec. 14, and he turned four. It was a highly successful fourth birthday. So successful I didn't manage to blog about it!
The accent table has the card holder. I love getting Christmas cards! I have a few friends who write their Christmas letters in poem, which I love. I have done that myself in previous years - but I haven't written a letter in a few years. Just a photo card, and I'm lucky to get that done in time. This year, it looks like people will be receiving ours on the 26th.
In addition to the card holder, we also have toy Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Reindeer. Fisher Price Little People, as a matter of fact!

This is my formal dining room. The chair covers are great, aren't they? The Hubby's Grandma gave a set of four to everyone in the family one year. So we go to each others' houses, and we're greeted by those same chairs! They really Christmas-ify the place in a hurry! You can also see the children's school Christmas crafts on the door. I love those and keep them from year to year to add to the door!

My mom made that table runner out of some fabric she had left over after making my daughters some Christmas dresses a few years ago.

I put the Christmas Checkers here this year:

Hanging from the china cabinet knob is a reminder of what we should be doing during the Advent season:

Here's the breakfast table: placemats made by my mom, a candle centerpiece made by Big Girl in Kindergarten, and a little train candle holder.

Next to the breakfast table, greeting us in the morning? Our countdown and The Boy's advent chain!

There are no Christmas decorations on the second floor, except for these stockings I put up on the landing.

Here's a recipe for you:
Take one hallway shelving unit, full of family photos.
Stick the Christmas figurines The Hubby's Other Grandma gave us in front of the family photos, and tuck silk poinsettias and holly in every available spot.

The earth-toned decorations went in the bathroom this year. A little scene in the corner of the counter, and a Santa pulling a sleepy reindeer in his sleigh on the wall shelf.

The counter top decoration is a snowfamily of five. "Count Your Blessings." As the mom in a family of five, I love it!

This little hand towel goes well in this bathroom.

In the family room, we've got the kids' decorations. A little tree they can decorate to their hearts' content, a toy Nativity set (Fisher Price Little People again!), and matchbox music boxes! Oh, and a paper 3-D snowman Big Girl made today!

We can't let you leave without noting our doorway decorations! We've got Rudolph and friends over the dining room door,

slip-sliding reindeer over the family room door,

And mistletoe over the living room entry way! Caught you, now I've got to kiss you! (((smak))))
The neighbor boy and his dad went fishing over Thanksgiving, climbed into a tree to collect mistletoe, and then the boy and his sister packaged up the mistletoe and sold it for $1.00 each. (But they gave us ours as a gift.) Cute, huh?

As you leave, you see the front door again, and the window on this side with decals the kids put there. So the front door windows have the tree on one side, the decals on the other.

Bye! Admire my kids' art on your way out!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

And now that we're back outside again, I see that the lights have come on! I put some around the front door, and some on the ground along the walk. Cheery!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A beautiful pack-up job

As I unpack the Christmas decorations, ornaments, and lights, I am struck by what a great job I did last year of packing them up. Really, truly, it's a beautiful pack-up job.

It makes me feel like I could never get them packed back up so well this year. And even if I could, the thought of doing it makes me feel oh, so tired.

It makes me want to leave them packed up and forget it this year.

But I won't. Out they come!

The things I do for this family! ;-)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Music

It is our tradition to queue up our Christmas songs while we are putting out our decorations, and pretty much all the time from then on until Christmas.

Right now I'm listening to the Barenaked Ladies' Holiday CD , "Barenaked for the Holidays." (It has some Hanukkah music, including one particularly lovely one called "Hanukkah Blessings.") It is such a fun collection, I couldn't pick just one song. The Barenaked Ladies know how to put together some sweet harmonies, and their use of guest artists Michael Buble and Sarah McLachlan is inspired. Go to iTunes and give it a listen!

We have kind of an eclectic collection, starting with "Now That's What I Call Christmas" and its mixture of classics sung by the likes of Gene Autry, Johnny Mathis, Burl Ives, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin, to newer favorites like "Happy Christmas", "Do They Know It's Christmas?", The Carpenters, Kathy Mattea, Bruce Springsteen, and Harry Connick, Jr., to recent pop tunes I could do without (Britney Spears, N'Sync). We also have jazzy CDs, Vince Guaraldi ("A Charlie Brown Christmas"), and "Christmas with the Rat Pack."

One of my favorite new tracks is Shawn Colvin singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Go listen! Right now! And then come back!

I don't have this one, but I think Clay Aiken's "O Holy Night" is my favorite version of that song. His voice is amazing.

I'm thinking of buying a new one this year: "The Hotel Cafe presents: Winter Songs." It's got KT Tunstall, Sara Barielles, Ingrid Michaelson, Colbie Caillat, and Fiona Apple, among other talented women!


And, on a separate note but still on topic, my church choir will be performing in our annual Advent Concert tonight. All of the choirs get together to share with each other, and the parish as a whole, some music of the season. This year, the school choir will also perform, so my oldest daughter will be participating as well! This is making it a million times more special for me. I'm looking forward to sharing the performance experience with my daughter tonight!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It's been ... TWELVE DAYS since the last time I came here to write, which is way too long in and of itself, but the scariest part is that it feels like MONTHS.

Big things going on.

I was planning to do a Thanksgiving post of just pictures - you know, where they speak for themselves? But then I kept forgetting to TAKE THE PICTURES (hello) and most of the big things I need to talk about don't have pictures.

So, I'm turning it into a wordy post instead.

We had family here for Thanksgiving for the first time ever! My mom flew down from Oregon, my mother-in-law drove down from the Bay Area, and my brother and his wife live in L.A. now - so they came over and stayed the night to be ready to do the cooking. Yes, my brother did most of the cooking! My Brother the Food Snob, as I have referred to him before. YUM YUM YUMMY YUM.

(My Mom made a special mid-day snack platter for the kids!)

(My Brother the Food Snob had a very attentive audience while he was cooking. "This is better than the Food Network!")

(I captured the table before dinner - looking so nice - but then while we were eating, my brain became soaked in gravy and I forgot my own name, much less the fact that cameras had ever been invented)

In the few days after Thanksgiving with our visitors, the grandmas took the kids to see High School Musical 3 (AGAIN!), and we all went out to the beach to do some walking (and found an arcade!) and eating.

And what did The Hubby and I do while everyone was at the movie?

Had a big financial conversation.


So, having determined that we have no money left this year for Christmas (and that we will have to change our lifestyle even in "normal" months), we decided exactly what to get the kids and started researching deals.

I don't shop on Thanksgiving weekend, but I did lots of online research.

Compounding our finances-related stress are some things that, well, came at a bad time:

The oven broke on Friday (the repair was completed today)

Our annual clean-the-roots-out-of-the-main-sewer-line preventative maintenance

Vet bills, vet bills, vet bills, ongoing vet bills...
(work, work, damn antibiotics)

(This is The New Kitten as of Monday's vet visit. Like I said, ongoing vet bills...)

The Boy's fourth birthday is in ELEVEN DAYS. I had to figure out how to throw him a party on our (non-) budget: when? where? who?
After phone calls, online research, and some cursing while using Evite for the first time, it's scheduled for Saturday the 13th. At our house. Entertainment? Provided by Mom. Cake? Mom. The best news? It's just what he wants.

And tonight is the girls' Christmas Concert! Let the insanity merriment begin!