Archive | December, 2017

Our Sentimental Ornament Tradition

20 Dec

IMG_4331Longtime readers of this blog already know that Brian and I absolutely adore Christmas. It was a love we shared early in our relationship which is largely why our tree today is covered in sentimental ornaments we’ve collected or made together over the years. It all started when we visited the Newport Mansions all decked out in holiday grandeur on a date the first winter we were together. As we were leaving one of the mansion’s gift shops, I spotted a little roly-poly penguin (I LOVE penguins) with little shoes attached with springs that I just had to have. He’s one of the more random ornaments, and special for just that reason. He’s been gracing our Christmas tree ever since and our ornament tradition was born.

We don’t grab an ornament on every outing, but anytime we travel or do something special, we keep an eye out for something unique. It doesn’t necessary even have to be an ornament. On a trip to DC with Brian’s parents and grandparents, I couldn’t find anything I liked so I just grabbed some postcards. A few ornament hooks later and ta-dah: the perfect memento from our trip. Likewise, on our “Babymoon” back in 2015, we selected a beautiful, very delicate ornament made entirely of seashells. It doesn’t have “Sanibel Island” or “babymoon” emblazoned anywhere on it, but that makes it that much more precious and important to talk about with our daughter so she learns its significance and can share in our memory of what that trip meant to us as we excitedly awaited her arrival.IMG_4344To commemorate our first trip to Martha’s Vineyard together the summer after we got engaged, we picked up this lighthouse ornament. And to remember a trip in to NYC to see the tree at Rockefeller, we chose — what else — a glittery Rockefeller Christmas tree ornament. I think we found this one at one of the Christmas market stalls in Bryant Park actually.
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I like to write on the backs of the ornaments too, so it’s like a walk down memory lane each Christmas as we unpack our decorations and dress up our tree.IMG_4338

Once Emilia arrived, there wasn’t a question that she’d grace our tree in some fashion, so I started turning each year’s Christmas card into an ornament through Shutterfly. It was probably one of my more brilliant ideas for a number of reasons, but mainly: doing Christmas cards is a LOT OF WORK. In addition to figuring out the photo to use which more often than note requires booking a professional, there is coordinating everyone’s hair and outfits, finding tights and shoes, then finding the perfect card design, and finally, getting the address list prepped for a marathon envelope addressing session. Finally, there’s the postage.

Suffice it to say, if I’m going to all the trouble to craft this magical piece of post for our family, I am going to splurge and commemorate each year’s card with an ornament. I also love to see how our collection (and our family) has changed through the years.
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Some of the secrets to our success with a toddler and a tree: start them young. We’ve never had to gate ours off or move to all plastic ornaments because we just taught our daughter from a young age that she can only touch the ornaments “with one finger” and that she can hold absolutely anything she wants, but she just needs to ask Mama or Daddy to get it for her and to not pull it off the tree herself. We also wire the tree to the wall and I secure anything delicate or precious using a little loop of floral wire so it’s really stuck on there. And I hang the more fragile breakables just out of her reach.

For her second Christmas, when the tree was endlessly fascinating for her, I actually kept a selection of her favorite ornaments in a basket just underneath the tree or her to look at, play with and place on the tree if she liked. It worked out well — she got to play with the ornaments she loved, like a little puppy figurine that belonged to Brian as a kid — and I didn’t have to hover around her anytime she approached the tree.

IMG_4324I must really love this one design because I’ve just realized in putting together this post that I’ve used the same design for three consecutive years without realizing it. Oops!
We also make a point to gift at least one special ornament to Emilia each Christmas, too. This year, Caroline, will join in on the fun. Here is the sweet glass snowman I chose for Emilia last year. I usually try to stay away from glass ornaments because why risk the heart ache of a broken treasure, but I couldn’t resist this one. As a Christmas color traditionalist, the colors are giving me major Tiffany’s Christmas catalog vibes and I love the slightly wistful, nostalgic nod with the retro-looking snowflakes. I feel like this ornament is the embodiment of Christmas spirit actually? Look at that little snowman face. Adorable. IMG_4330

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One of my favorites is this ornament from our first family trip to San Diego. Emilia was just about to turn 7 months old and officially crawled for the first time at our hotel there. She was such a champ on the flights and was the BEST companion to explore with. IMG_4333And finally, here is one of my favorite ornaments of all that my parents gave me when I was growing up. I was in the music program all through school and performed at both Symphony Hall and Tanglewood with my high school orchestra. It was incredible to have that experience as a kid! When I graduated, one of the most bittersweet moments was my final performance of Hallelujah Chorus in the Christmas concert with the full orchestra. Unwrapping and placing this particular ornament always reminds me how luck I was to have been involved in that program.

I made a LOT of ornaments when I was growing up too, so some of those also grace our tree in addition to ornaments that Brian was gifted as he grew. A few years ago, Brian and I filled some clear glass ornaments with paint for a fun, swirled effect, and last year, I did salt down cut outs and hand prints with Emilia.

I’m still looking for this year’s ornament project inspiration, but so far, I’ve already thought to scan a piece of her artwork and have it printed to an ornament and will likely turn some of her “school” projects into ornaments as well. She did the cutest little reindeer handprint complete with a red pom-pom nose that is just begging to go on the tree.

I think as the girls grow older, I’ll let each select an ornament for the other each year to fill out the tree that is in Emilia’s room now. Right now, it’s just decked out with a felt ball garland.

Merry-almost-Christmas, everyone!

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Kid-friendly Backyard Planning

13 Dec

We had our first snow over the weekend, so, naturally, I bought Emilia her first swing set. As we head into winter here in New England, it might seem counterintuitive to buy it now, but the fact is, it’s long overdue. We fully intend to set it up as soon as it arrives, too, because we know Emilia will LOSE HER MIND. She LOVES the playground asks to go now matter the weather. Plus, with the mild winter we’re predicted to have, thanks to La Niña, I feel pretty confident that we’ll get a lot of use out of it this winter.

The picture above isn’t a swing set obviously, but it was discovered while I did some swing set reconnaissance, and it might have inspired an entirely new direction for our ongoing yard rehab project this summer. But more on that later.

For a while now, I’ve had it in my head that we needed to grade (level) our backyard because it’s actually pretty uneven all over. Since our first summer in the new place, it’s been on our To Do list to grade and re-seed the lawn. We had a few hurdles to get past before we could even tackle it though — like grinding the stump just past our patio and chopping down a very overgrown and messy looking hemlock.

The next step SHOULD be repairing our fence (we have a few poles leaning into our yard), grading, and seeding, but I just can’t deprive my child of a “playground” any longer. The poor kid points to every swing set we pass on our walks in the stroller and sadly says: Mama, I want one of those. It’s heart shattering I tell you.


I started to really look for “the set” around Thanksgiving, after many months of stalking Craigslist for a deal on one of those wooden sets. Specifically, a cedar one. But then after a lot of soul searching — and even wrangling my brother in to pick up the pieces of one— I realized that those wood sets with the little club houses just aren’t used as hard as the plain old metal swing sets.

My mom gave me that advice early on in my search and remembering back to when my two siblings and I were growing up, we had a set with two swings, a glider and a little two seater deal… and it was awesome. That really helped focus my search. I want the set to be something Emilia can enjoy right now, but I also want it to be something she can grow into, too.  Right now, the only things she likes to use at the playground are the swings and the see-saw.

After reading through hundreds of reviews, I was a bit surprised to find a really affordable one by Sportspower. I’d assumed a good set would be at least $800 or $900, but the majority of reviewers for this set which is under $500, confirm that although it’s incredibly difficult to assemble and there were a few issues with missing pieces, nearly all of them lead with: My son or daughter LOVES this set. I can stomach the risk, but I’ll just be incredibly careful with who we purchase from and we will just be meticulous as we unpack the boxes. There is a great variety — multiple swings, a glider which seats two, plus a saucer swing which I’ve NEVER seen before AND the trampoline which we know she’ll just go nuts over.

I added a bucket swing for Caroline although Emilia technically does still favor them. Hoping a swing set in the backyard will encourage her to branch out!

outdoor chalk
Anyways, all this backyard planning has reminded me to revisit my ongoing quest to solve the problem of: how to make all the backyard “kid” stuff look a little more presentable. This lead to my looking for backyard inspiration, which resulted in my finding about 10 other backyard projects I now want to take on, not limited to the above AWESOME outdoor chalk board, the tree fort I added at the very start of this post, and finally, the mud pie making station below.

mud pie kitchen

I’d wanted to set this up for her last summer actually but I’d just had Caroline and couldn’t get it together before summer ended. I should mention that Emilia comes from a long line of mud pie-making women. Her Nana was quite the mud pie baker and used to feed them to her German Shepherd. I love the design of the station above. I bet it would be really fun sourcing all of the pots and pans and “supplies” for her to use too — think, rocks and acorns and different leaves and grasses for all her creations. I can’t wait!

Will keep you posted on the setup of the swing set. The reviewers suggested we purchase the anchoring kit, but I didn’t after once civil engineer’s comments to try an alternate option. Going to Home Depot to investigate that soon. Wish us luck! And I’d love to hear what you have for your kids in your backyard.

 

Simplifying Christmas

6 Dec

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It’s just 20 days to Christmas and I think we actually out-Christmassed ourselves already, if that’s even possible. It started back in early August, when I was already thinking about our Halloween costumes. (We did our first family costume inspired by the film Moana.) We wore them to a local Halloween parade a whole WEEKEND before the actual day. We even Boo’ed some family and neighbors. Around this time, the Christmas tunes were already playing on Brian’s iPod and I was actively pinning holiday window box decor, but we do that year-round, respectively. Let’s be honest.

Then, things snowballed when we prepared an abbreviated version of Thanksgiving with just our favorite dishes — including a 23 lb frozen turkey — a whole week before turkey day. In my defense, it was $0.32/lb — how can you pass that up?? You can’t I tell you. I also did the bulk of my Christmas shopping for the girls in early November.

Next, we visited The Christmas Place  which is the largest Christmas store in New England the weekend before Thanksgiving. (It was incredible. You HAVE to go.) Finally, we rounded out our weekend at an adorable local Christmas tree farm where we ate mini-apple cider donut holes while we hunted for the perfect fraser fir. We had our tree selected and standing in our living room with lights well before December 1st.

Phew.

Reflecting on all the fun things we did, I’m a bit sad they’re behind us. But the thing is, that is exactly the reason we tackled our unofficial fall and winter Christmas bucket lists so aggressively early this year. There is just so much fun holiday stuff to do, especially with kids.

I can acutely recall the FOMA (fear of missing out) I felt last year, which was the first fall I’d consider Emilia was probably really ready for trick or treating. I didn’t realize there were so many costume-wearing potential options and had a major #momfail by not having her Madeline costume ready in time for them. (We all know what a procrastionator I am — the last threads for “Madeline” were sewn as we headed out the door last year.) I vowed to start thinking “Christmas” on November 1st then and there.

Still, as much as we want to experience all the season offers, spending a very rare and unusually quiet Thanksgiving at home helped me remember that it’s the impromptu gatherings with family and friends that I most crave around the holidays. My time is so quickly eaten up trying to tick all my To Dos, from cookie baking to designing “the perfect” holiday card.  It’s often easy to dismiss simple things, like bundling the kids up in the car to look at Christmas lights or getting together at a friends’ for dinner when out-of-state friends happen to be in town the week of Thanksgiving.

In fact, two of my favorite memories from the fall weren’t even holiday-specific. In early October, E and I had a one-on-one “date” into Boston to visit my sister. She’d planned out a morning of arts and crafts and we all just hung out in her apartment. Actually, my sister sent me to relax in her living room with a stack of magazines and instructions to raid her cabinets if I wanted while she and E got messy with paint and glitter in another room. It was such a fun morning for everyone and E still talks about it.

The other was a play date with my college girlfriend Shawna and her kids. She’s on maternity leave at the moment so I realized I should take advantage and get together — with mimosas. It was such a fun morning with all our kids that I’ve looked forward to planning the next one ever since.

I’d felt like all this should be building to some grand wrap-up but the truth is, this new perspective is such a shift from how I have always viewed the holidays that I feel a bit out of my comfort zone in loosening up my expectations. Not that spending time with friends and family wasn’t the main event, but rather, prioritizing it over all the OTHER holiday stuff that occupies my thoughts — like how I’ll decorate the house, what my wrapping inspiration will be, and how I’ll decorate my sugar cookies. It’s daunting, but also thrilling at the same time.

grace

I still value a beautifully decorated tree and would love to get my window boxes actually finished, but it’s OK if they’re not Martha Stewart perfect if it means I can snuggle on the couch with my daughter so I can answer ALL her questions about A Muppet Christmas Carol. Really, it’s more about being present, appreciating the moment and not holding the holidays (and myself) to an impossible standard.

My mantra for the season will be Emily Ley’s: I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. I wish the same for all of you too.