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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.
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.
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

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!


Simplifying Christmas

6 Dec


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.


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.


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.

Halloween 2017 Costume Reveal

21 Oct

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t always a huge fan of family costumes until recently. They always felt a bit… forced. Dressing up our 7 month old like a kangaroo for our own enjoyment two years ago was one thing, but more often it feels like parents pushing their own interests onto their children — I mean, the cast of Stranger Things? Really? Do your three and seven year old watch the show? I bet dressing up as Mom and Dad Tiger from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood would be happening if we were being a little less vain here, people.

Moana quickly became E’s favorite last winter so there was hardly even a discussion that we’d be going as Moana, Te Fiti, Maui and Pua — Emilia assigned us our costumes in February. I just wish I’d been able to pivot her birthday party theme to Moana because I think her obsession was at its peak just in time for the Frozen invitations to get out the door. Naturally. But that’s another story for another.

I was just relieved she didn’t want me to be the crab, Tamatoa, so I leaned into Te Fiti hard. I was going to do the moss wig, I’d make the heart with some green flowers. I even grabbed some green body makeup to make it really come to life. My goal was to make it happen on a budget, so I spent months hunting down all the pieces we’d need to pull it off. Here’s one of my inspo pictures above. I was excited because Emilia was so excited.

Then we had a major kitchen floor renovation fiasco and all of October was shot and I found myself scrambling to pull the pieces together. Above, you’ll note Brian in a “leaf” grass shirt made of a dollar store table cloth. [I’d envisioned sewing some gorgeous felt monstera leaves using my felt stash and hand shaping Maui’s shark teeth necklace using salt dough and twine. You know, as one does.]

Thankfully, both friends and family pulled together to help us source what we needed (and reminded me that it didn’t need to be perfect) and we made it to the local Halloween parade outfitted as Moana and crew.

With all the controversy about cultural appropriation after the release of a culturally insensitive “Maui” costume, I was nervous to even attempt a Moana family costume. But after reading so many articles, including this one, about the board of Pacific Islander scholarly advisors that Disney consulted with as the movie was being developed, I realized that we could pull it off respectfully by not donning tattooed muscle suits and painting culturally symbolic designs onto play clothes.

The message of Moana and the strong female main character obviously spoke to our family, (and my daughter), but I made a point to take some children’s books out of the library about Polynesian culture to read with my daughter too. No offense to Disney, but there is only so much that an animated movie can provide context for, so we enjoyed reading about the social lifestyle of Pacific Island cultures and how family and community are very much intertwined and celebrated through traditional music, dance, and food.

Although Hawaii is just a part of Polynesia, it’s especially close to our hearts because we celebrated our honeymoon there. As a child, I also read about Queen Liliʻuokalani, the first queen and last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Later, as I became interested in quilting, I learned that she’d also been an accomplished quilter herself.

Anyways, here is the breakdown on everything we put together for our costumes:

Maui Costume DIY

Since we weren’t going the muscled Maui route, I just cut out and had Brian iron the letters M-A-U-I onto a Jo-Anne’s t-shirt I’d purchased for another project (cost: > $5 for the fabric). I also grabbed a green table cloth at the dollar store for some leaves. Brian’s parents found a green grass skirt and a matching “teeth” necklace and bracelet and my mom found a sword that we fashioned into a hook using cardboard, duct tape, prayers, and tears. Hah! No, it was twine and an old shredded white sheet remnant I saved in my fabric stash for years, waiting for this day when it would come to the rescue of some crazy project I’d left for the last minute. It delivered.

Moana Costume DIY

There is a Disney version of Moana’s costume that is actually pretty cute, but I like to sew and it’s important to me to make my children’s costumes as much as I can, versus buying something off the shelf so when my mom found a long, two-piece, skirt and tank set on clearance at Target over the summer with a slightly “Moana” feel to it, I decided to work with it and make things a bit easier on myself. I found some rope-y looking trim and twine, grabbed the hand shaped, yellow plumeria hair clip I bought as a souvenir on my honeymoon, and dusted off the embroidery floss necklace-making skills I honed in elementary and middle school, and quickly fashioned Moana’s blue shell necklace using an actual seashell, some twine, and some pearlescent white beads. Brian drilled a super fine hole into the top of the seashell using a teeny tiny drill bit. A little paint and some shimmer dust, and we had a necklace that only elicited 4 or 5: “But where is the heart, Mama?!” Whoops. Sorry, E. I’m not that good. The shell necklace isn’t going to open up to reveal the heart of Te Fiti, my bad. If I’d had more time at home, I’d planned to paper mache

Hei Hei Candy Bucket

My piece de resistance.