Sunday, December 25, 2011

Home for the Holidays

I'm so grateful to be home in Colorado this holiday season.  It snowed a lot on the 21st, so not only was I home, but I had a white Christmas for the first time in a long time!  It's been amazing.

Being a teacher has been incredible this time of year also.  A number of my kids were so generous, giving me money to Starbucks, hand cream and lotions (they must think we wash our hands a lot!), and other goodies.  It's feels so great to be remembered by those families!

Christmas festivities with the family started on Friday afternoon.  I went over to my dad's house to make the traditional sugar cookies.  Frosting them is always one of our favorite activities around the holidays.  This year, we waited until the day before Christmas Eve so they wouldn't all be gone by the time we had people over!  Sam, Cheryl, and I had a lot of fun cutting out the cookies and then frosting them.

I was able to frost a few before I had to leave.  My grandparents on my mom's side were having the family over for dinner.  We had a yummy ham with broccoli, au gratin potatoes, and bread.

Saturday was, of course, Christmas Eve.  For the first time ever, I had a tiny bit of shopping to do.  One of my gifts (that I was giving) had broke, so I needed to buy a replacement.  (You'll see tomorrow on my Pinterest was a vase.)  I headed over to Target in the afternoon and it was PACKED.  I've never had to park so far away.  Luckily the store wasn't too crowded, or else I just wasn't paying attention.  But boy was the parking lot crazy.

At 3:00, my brother, cousin, mom, Rachel, and I went to the Christmas Eve service at our church.  It was absolutely wonderful.  They always play a song to countdown the beginning of the service, but this week it was "Christmas Eve" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It was incredible.  I've never been to a Christmas service at this church, but my mom said that last year they only played one traditional Christmas song, so I was a little worried.  They did not disappoint.

The service started with one of the women in the worship band singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" a capella, later joined by one of the men.  They were standing in the aisles in the sanctuary, which was pitch-black except for the spotlight on them.  Next, they shined a spotlight on the balcony above the stage with one of the drummers.  A little boy who I've never seen perform at the church before then sang "Drummer Boy".  That was mostly what the service was about.

See, "Drummer Boy" tells the story of a boy who went to visit Baby Jesus, but had nothing to give him but his song.  So the pastor talked about praising Jesus with what you have.  You don't need to give a "Lexus-sized gift" (like in the Lexus Christmas commercial), but just make sure you honor and praise the Lord.

We sang some more Christmas songs, like "Hark the Harold Angels" and another one I'm forgetting.  The service ended with turning down the lights in the sanctuary again and lighting candles to sing Silent Night.  With probably 3500 people in the sanctuary, it looked pretty incredible!

After church, Rachel, Travis, and I went my dad's house for the usual Christmas Eve festivities.  Cheryl's (my stepmom) family usually comes over for appetizers, presents, and cookies.  We had a delicious spread (Caprese salad on toothpicks, little smokies, veggies, rolls with crab and cream cheese inside, and more).  My little cousin Riley is the only little kid in the family now at 5, so he wanted to check the Santa Tracker periodically to make sure he wasn't close to Colorado yet.  Luckily, he hadn't even traveled across the Atlantic yet!

We opened presents, taking turns from youngest to oldest.  My siblings and I (and now Travis) draw names, and this year I got Rachel.  I gave her a yellow 'R' as a three-part gift for her and Travis.  Travis got a yellow 'T' and they both got a gray 'M' for his last name, but they opened those Christmas morning.  Their wedding colors are yellow and gray, and I figured it might look cool at the reception, but definitely in their house.  I gave my dad and Cheryl, and Anna and Eric (my aunt and uncle) a candle in a vase that I made.  And Rachel, Travis, and I got Riley two books: Walter the Farting Dog and Pirates Don't Change Diapers.  He loved it.  

I got earrings, The Hunger Games trilogy, perfume (Coach Poppy), and a Khol's gift card from my dad and Cheryl.  Scott, who drew me in the sibling exchange, gave me two pairs of earrings.  Anna, Eric, and Riley gave me earrings and a scarf.  Cheryl gave Rachel, Sam, my dad, and me all a picture of us sisters at a football game this year.  It was perfect!  After presents, we busted out the cookies.  I could inhale those sugar cookies!  We headed back to our house just as Cady, Tristan, Aaron, and Dorian were leaving.

Christmas Tree #1

Eric, Anna, Rachel, & Travis

Eric & Anna with the gift I made them

Cheryl & Dad with the gift I made them

Anna with the gift Rachel made them

Santa Eric, Santa Riley, & Santa Rachel

Riley loved Walter the Farting Dog

Rachel with her 'R'

The silliest Christmas Eve tradition of them all

Rachel, Samantha, & me

Scott, Rachel, Samantha, & me

Rachel got Scott a pair of sweat pants, but since he's so tall, the waist only gets so small...he's like Jared from the Subway commercials!

On Christmas morning, we got off to a slow start.  The older the kids are, the later the festivities seem to begin.  My brother Aaron and cousin Dorian came over to open presents and to have our traditional Christmas morning breakfast.  (We have cream cheese braids, grits pie, mushroom pie, and fruit salad.)  I gave both Aaron and my mom the candle in the vase.  Travis opened the rest of their wooden monogram, and I also gave them the two cans of spray paint I used, so they could use it for their wedding decor, if needed.

My mom gave me a great book about Pauline Kael, a famous movie critic, a new jacket, and a hat.  Travis gave me a sign to hang up that says "He restores my soul" and Rachel gave me some cool handmade things, like a box made out of an orange peel and the letter H on a dictionary page.  She also gave me a pair of jeans.  And I got a bracelet, socks, and lots of chocolate in my stocking.

Christmas Tree #2

2011 Santa

And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care...

2011 Christmas cards

Travis with their 'M'

Rachel read us "The Christmas Mice" while we waited for Aaron & Dorian to arrive

While Rachel and Travis went to his family's celebration, the rest of us went over to my grandparents house were we had roast, potatoes, sweet potato casserole, rolls, Brussels sprouts, and green beans.  When we had all finished eating, we got to open Christmas crackers that Cady brought over.  They're actually from England, and apparently a popular English tradition.  All of the crackers had a paper crown, a piece of paper with a very British joke, and something else.  We all got something pretty fitting for our personalities.  My nephew got a round die, my brother Aaron (the English professor) got a pen, my mom got a picture frame, my grandpa got a small set of screw drivers, and I got a little brain teaser game, which was extra funny because my grandpa has made a few games like that and was torturing me with them all morning!  I can't remember was Dorian, grandma, Jeromy, or Cady got in their crackers, or they weren't as fitting.  But it was pretty perfect and completely on accident!  After lunch, we opened presents.  I gave Cady and Jeromy and my grandparents the same candle in a vase.  My grandparents gave me a fleece jacket.

Christmas Tree #3

Christmas cracker crowns

Cady with the gift Rachel made her

My dad picked me up in the middle of opening gifts to go to my aunt and uncle's house for the annual family gift exchange.  It was so great to see everyone, because my cousins Thomas and Brittany were home and I haven't seen them in years!  In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw them.  Everyone was there except for my uncle's family that live in Oregon, so we were missing Uncle Rob, Aunt Katie, Ben, and Will.  Also, the significant others, like Travis, my cousin Erik's girlfriend, and Brittany's boyfriend were missing.

But we had a great time.  We hung out for a while cooking, eating, and having a great time.  For dinner, we ate at an extremely long table (it would have to be to fit our whole family).  We had assigned seats, so I sat down on one end with my dad, Samantha, and my cousins Brittany and Amy.  We had a great time and great conversation.  Dinner was pretty similar to what we had on Thanksgiving, just with fewer choices.  We had turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes, corn casserole, stuffed mushrooms, probably a few other things, and Amy's husband Aaron made some delicious bread!

After dinner, we went into the living room to open gifts.  Since our family is so huge, we've always drawn a name to gift a gift to.  It used to be the ten grandchildren do one drawing and then the ten adults--when my grandparents were still alive--would do another drawing.  But with all of the kids getting older (the youngest is 14 now), we've combined the two and it's just one big free-for-all!  This year, instead of opening gifts youngest to oldest, we decided to go by birthday, meaning the month and day.  And after we opened our gift, we had to pull a block from a Jenga that was set up in the middle of the room.  That made it a lot of fun and a lot more intense!  The other new thing about this year is that gift cards were banned.  We have a $25 limit, so it eventually turned into an exchange of $25 to various stores and became very impersonal.  So this year we each made a wish list for the person that drew us.  I got Aaron, my cousin's husband, and gave him a micro plane zester.  My cousin Ben, from Oregon, drew me and gave me an apron, a scarf, and a little wallet that goes around your wrist.

Christmas Tree #4

Me & Scott (LB!)

(11 versions of this picture on my camera and all of them are like this!)
Back row: Erik, Amy, & Scott
Front row: Sam, Brittany, Rachel, Thomas, & me

Back row: Erik, Amy, Aaron, Scott
Front row: Sam, Brittany, Rachel, Thomas, & me

Sam, Brittany, & Rachel

Cheryl, Dad, Brittany, Scott, Sam, Erik, Aunt Kathy, Thomas, Aunt Ann

By the time everyone had opened their gifts, we were still going strong on the Jenga, so we continued to play in the same order.  We got through the whole year once more, but then it fell on my Aunt Ann, who has the second birthday in January.  It was so much fun though!  That's definitely a tradition that should stay around for a while.  After Jenga, we played charades, like at Thanksgiving.  It was actually pretty hard because it was on the second to highest level of difficulty, but it was still a lot of fun.  The only thing missing was Uncle Rob's family, but hopefully we'll all be together (all 19 of us) soon!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and made lots of lasting memories with loved ones!  I'm so blessed to have such big families on all three sides...and that almost all of them live so close!  Having traditions and making new traditions is what makes Christmas so special, and I think I appreciate that now more than ever.

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