Chilling Out for a Better Christmas

Did you celebrate Christmas with small children? If so, you probably saw a lot of faces like this. I know we did! 

This was our fourth Christmas as parents, and I think I am finally starting to understand how to do Christmas with small Children. It was a hard adjustment at first. especially for my type-A, plan-ahead, perfectionist personality. I had to learn how to be ok with my plans being interrupted, or changed all together. I had to learn to be ok with not doing every single family gathering. I had to learn to be ok with a little chaos. Naps get missed, bedtimes get thrown out the window, pandemonium ensues, but you know what? Everyone survives. 

I am slowly but surely learning how to chill out a little bit, and it's making the Christmas craziness a lot more enjoyable. Here are the things that help me the most. 

Lower expectations. We didn't get a family photo Christmas Eve, and that's ok. Johnny got his Christmas pajama bottoms dirty and the kids didn't match on Christmas morning, and that's ok. We were late to all our family gatherings, and that's ok. Trixie was a hot mess during Christmas Eve Mass, and that's ok. Johnny got the stomach flu two days before Christmas. Yes, I was a little terrified of him throwing up during Mass. And yes, I carried a barf bag in my purse all weekend. But everything ended up being ok. I was not expecting things to go perfectly, and so when they didn't, everything was ok!  

Let go of the schedule. Our kids nap at 1:00, and they go to bed at 8:30. Not during Christmas. Naps were squeezed in here and there, bedtime was anywhere from one to four hours later than usual. The kids were a little crabby. Johnny wanted to be held a lot, and Trixie wanted to nurse non-stop, but they did ok! Getting some extra family time in a couple times a year is worth abandoning the schedule for. And our Christmas bonus this year was the kids ended up sleeping in until 9:00 a couple of mornings, which never happens, and which was greatly appreciated. 

Don't try to do all the things. A few years ago I made a homemade gift for everyone in my family. I loved doing it, it was one of the best parts of my Advent and Christmas season. I really wanted to do it again this year.  I started planning on September. I got supplies. I made a secret Pinterest board to plan out my projects. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around I could tell I wasn't going to get all my homemade gifts made. I sulked a little bit, then I prayed for the ability to let it go. And I ended up being a lot happier by not worrying about it. Being present for my family is more important than making presents for them. 

I did get some stockings made for my sister and her husband. And I did get Johnny's train quilt finished in time. And that was enough. 

It's ok to say no. This year we skipped Christmas Eve dinner with my family, and the annual Science Museum trip with Alex's family. We skipped two things, that's it, and it made such a difference. We had just enough time get a little rest, and get a little organized, and enjoy the rest of our gatherings all the more. 

Remember what's important.  It sounds like a no-brainer. But I do have to remind myself why we are even doing any of this. "And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  We made it to Mass. We celebrate the Word Incarnate. We know that God is with us, and that He comes to save us. When I keep this in mind everything becomes more meaningful, and it's a lot harder to get annoyed when parenting conditions are sub-par. 

It is now the fifth day of Christmas and we are slowly getting new toys put away and boxes broken down. Laundry is being caught up on and I finally did some meal planning and grocery shopping again. The kids are returning to their normal sleep schedules and normal chores are being resumed. But the tree is still up, we're still celebrating, and I'm still trying to chill out and enjoy it all. 

God With Us: a Christmas letter

The other day as Johnny and I were making Christmas cookies together, I was thinking about and how engrained with family traditions this time of year is. I was showing him how to place the cookie cutter shapes neatly and closely together, while Johnny would let his cookie cutter fall at random across the circle of dough. I remember doing the very same thing with my mother when I was little. It made me smile to see how I was now the mother, teaching the next generation to make Christmas cookies.

The family traditions extend to all the corners of our house in December. We have homemade stockings hanging up. Our tree is decked with the dozens of ornaments that Alex and I have received from our mothers over the years. There are also a few that I have gotten for our children. We put on the Christmas music that we grew up listening to. Harry Connick Jr. from my family, and John Denver and the Muppets from Alex’s. One of my very favorite, and wonderfully simple traditions is taking off my glasses and gazing at the beautiful blur of the Christmas tree; something my parents and I always did, and still do, together.

While all of these little traditions make us feel warm and nostalgic inside, it’s the way they buoy up the Main Event of the season that make them truly special. Advent, where we take a timeout from the noise of the world and the noise inside our own heads to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. And Christmas, when we rejoice with all the angels that He is here.

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

Emmanuel. God with us.

Do we realize that God is with us? It doesn’t always feel like it. Life tends to move at a dizzying pace and I sometimes forget to be aware of God’s presence in my life.

Alex is in his final year of PA school. He’s in the middle of his second clinical rotation, where he has been doing lots of well child visits and diagnosing lots of pink eye and bronchitis. Most days he says he feels like he doesn’t know anything, but I can tell he’s growing in knowledge. I’m so proud of all the hard he has been putting in the past three years. Twelve months from now he will be graduating, and I am counting the days. We’re both excited to see where he ends up as a PA.

The biggest change this year has been Johnny starting at his amazing school for deaf and hard of hearing children. He attends four full days a week and with the great speech therapy he’s receiving we are seeing his language skills expanding every day. I am well aware of the providence of God in that this school, with only 8 others like in the nation, is just a ten-minute drive from our house. Outside of school Johnny is very passionate about trains, specifically Thomas the Train. He has a Thomas t-shirt that he would wear 7 days a week if we let him. He loves counting things, and his favorite foods include Pop-tarts, ketchup, and chocolate.

Trixie has usurped Johnny’s spot as the difficult child. She is noisy in church and throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. She has both parents up multiple times during the night while she gets ALL her teeth at once. But she is also snuggly and affectionate, and loves to spend time with her family. She also loves to play with toys, mostly her big brothers toys, jump on the bed, and put on and take off socks.

I am teaching 20 piano students this year, in addition to keeping everyone fed and in clean clothes. School drop-off and pick-up adds to the business. And I try to make time for my favorite hobbies of knitting and blogging. Most days my head is spinning from trying to keep up with everything. And so I pose the question again, do we realize that God is with us?

If I’m being completely honest the answer is most days, I forget to even think about it. I have to make myself stop and be quiet before I realize, He is here.

He is here, in the miracle of life that is our two children. He is here, in the fellowship we share with our family and friends. He is here, in the way He provides for our daily needs. And He is here, in the comfort He offers throughout life’s sorrows and sufferings.

He came as a baby into the mess and muck of a stable, and He comes to us now, every day, in the real mess of our own lives. It may not always feel like He is here, with the way the world rages, and with our own personal burdens and anxieties. But Jesus is no stranger to suffering and He is not deterred by yours.

He is Emmanuel, God with you.

So, do you see Him?

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will find the peace and quiet that you need to see the presence of Jesus in your life, and that your New Year will be filled with joy.

7 quick takes vol. 21 christmas edition

linking up with Kelly for some quick takes.

Hi! How are you doing? Did you survive the holidays? I'm only now beginning to to feel like we've stepped off the crazy Christmas carousel. The dust is settling, and we're getting ready for the start of Alex's next semester and regular life to resume. 

But it was a great Christmas. Here are some highlights!


When I was a kid my mom would get me and my siblings an ornament every year for Christmas. The ornaments were reflective of our personalities, or things we had done that year. Some of mine include piano and violin ornaments, glass candy canes (I loved them as a kid), and a horse (yup, I went through a horse phase). Alex's family had a similar tradition. The result was that when we got married we already had a nice collection of ornaments for our tree.

I decided I'd like to carry on this tradition with my own kids. Johnny's first year he got a little green "sweet pea" ornament.  Last year I got him a bus, because he was (and still is) really into buses. This year I wanted to get him a Curious George ornament, but they are really expensive! He also really likes ketchup. Like, really. We use ketchup to get him to try new foods. So when I saw this ornament at Target I knew it was the one.

I had  a hard time finding any "baby's first Christmas" type of ornaments that I liked this year, so I had to get creative for Trixie's first ornament. My favorite local gift shop had this frame ornament. I decided to put a picture of Trixie just moments after she was born in it. And I just love it. I think it was my favorite gift that I gave this year. 


I got some wool socks for Christmas. One question: how have I lived in Minnesota my entire life and never owned wool socks before? What a game changer in the quest for warm toes.  To all my dear friends in the North. If you haven't tried them yet, you don't know what you're missing. 


I dressed my kids in matching clothes.  

On Christmas Eve.

And Christmas Day.

And I'm not going to apologize for it.


One of my December projects was Trixie's stocking. I got it done in time and now we all have homemade stockings. 


Alex made this recipe for our Christmas morning treat.  I always get a knot of dread in my stomach when he wants to make a yeast bread on a holiday because they are complicated and take a long time, and the days are already busy enough. But he really wanted to make this, and I'm glad he did because it was awesome! And so pretty. 


My little brother got Johnny a pair of Chuck Taylors.  Johnny got a lot of really great gifts, but this one was special to me, I think because it was totally unexpected. On Alex's side there are a lot of grandchildren and we have a name draw system, so ever kid ends up with a few gifts. On my side our kids are the only grandchildren, so there's no name drawing yet. I certainly don't expect each of my siblings to get something for my kids (but they did anyway), especially not my 20 year old brother.  I just didn't think buying a gift for a toddler would have crossed his mind. But it did. And it was a gift that totally screams my brother, and becomes Johnny very well.


A few more pictures from our Christmas. Enjoy!


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//embrace the ordinary vol. 3: christmas dreams and christmas realities//


"There's so much I have to get done before Christmas!"

I've said it. And you probably have too.  I really do not like that the weeks, especially the days, leading up to Christmas are so busy. But I get stuck in the muck every year. I want to get ALL THE THINGS done before Christmas. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to do all the baking/gift wrapping/decorating/party planning, but why? Is it going to help me more fully celebrate the season? Or is it just that my own ego wants to have the pinterest-perfect Christmas I see splattered all over every social media platform? Breaking my back to have the "perfect Christmas" isn't worth it if it means I turn into a Grinch making myself and my family miserable. So these last couple of days before Christmas I'm just going to let the to-do list slide. If it happens, great! If not, Christmas will still happen. 

Here's all the things I wanted to do, and what will actually get done. 

Christmas Baking.  The goal was to have enough home made goods to bring a giant cookie platter to each family gathering and a few smaller ones to some friends' homes. So far I have made a couple batches of some no-bake type cookies, (my mama-self loves those!!) and I'm in the process of making rolled sugar cookies.  It's been going on for over a week.  Last week I made the dough and it sat in fridge for 5 days. On Saturday I rolled them out and baked them. And now they are waiting to be decorated. This is the part I used to love and now can't stand. Would someone like to come decorate my cookies for me? There are two other cookies I wanted to make. Maybe for New Years?

Christmas Shopping. I *think* I'm done! But that only happened  a few days ago.  I really admire people who get their Christmas shopping done before advent even starts. I'm going to try to do that next year. 

Gift Wrapping. I love to have presents wrapped and under the tree early, like a couple weeks before Christmas. It looks pretty and I love the anticipation. As of two hours ago I hadn't done any wrapping.  Then Johnny and I did a few before he went down for a nap and I'm hoping between Alex and me we can get it all done tonight. 

The first Christmas Alex and I were married I saved ALL the gift wrapping until Christmas Eve.  We both worked until 3 then had to get home, get showered, and wrap gifts for not just each other but all of our family and get to church by 4:30.  There were words and tears and it was the worst. I vowed on that day that I would never again procrastinate on gift wrapping. And I haven't. But I'm cutting it a little close this year.

Christmas Cards. I started off so on top of cards this year.  I had them ordered and stamps purchased by the end of November. The cards arrived, and then they sat in their box for three weeks. Alex and I started to address them a couple nights ago. I took one batch to the PO this morning. If we finish the gift wrapping tonight we may get to the cards.  Or you may be getting your card from us in the new year.

Handmade Gifts. Because I'm crazy and love bringing stress into my life I decided it would be a good idea to make a gift for every member of my family. Once I got the idea in my head I was obsessed with it and couldn't get it out. I have 3 gifts done. And two days to make four more.

So much yarn, so little time. 

Advent Reflecting. I try to read a book or do some extra reflective thing each advent to try to combat the exact kind of planning-and-doing frenzy that I have worked myself into this year. My goal was to do the scripture readings and spend some time writing in my Blessed Is She journal every day during Advent, and oh, there are so many empty pages in that journal. 

This is where I feel my deficiencies and frustrations the most. Advent is such a holy time of year with all its waiting and mystery and darkness, and I squander it on the flashy, the transitory, and the materialistic.  I don't mean to poo-poo our Christmas traditions, they are fun and if done right can be a means for spreading so much love. But this year they were kind of becoming an end in and of themselves.  

Thankfully the Lord extends His mercy at all times to all people. I still have time to contemplate the Incarnation. Christmas will still come with all it's joy and glory regardless of how many cookies I baked or cards I sent out. Jesus will still come into my heart again, and so I'm just going to sit back and enjoy that fact. 

Have a Merry Christmas! 

linking up with Gina at Someday Saints for Embrace the Ordinary


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// 5 Christmas Albums That Don't Stink (not even a little bit) //

linking up with Call Her Happy for 5 Favorites


I know that the stores and radio stations have been playing Christmas music for a while now. I even heard a report from someone that they heard Christmas music playing in some big store the day after Halloween! Way too early, people. And to make a bad thing even worse, the kind of Christmas music we're hearing for all of November is the most insipid, watered-down, and mind-numbing Christmas music that exists.  Why are we still listening to Johnny Mathis sing "It's Beginning To Look  A Lot Like Christmas?" Haven't we had enough?

We are just beginning to listen to Christmas Music in our home. When it comes to Christmas music not just any radio or Pandora station will do. I am picky. So when I say I like a Christmas album you know it had passed a great deal of scrutiny. Here are my very favorite Christmas albums. Hopefully they will help you out of any musical ruts you may have  fallen into. These never get old. Put them all together for a truly diverse and interesting Christmas playlist.


Harry Connick Jr.: When My Heart Finds Christmas

Do you know who Harry Connick Jr is? If you don't, prepare to swoon. This guy is the Frank Sinatra of our day, a true and dreamy crooner, who also is an incredible jazz pianist and writes a lot of his own music too! This album has been a favorite in my family for at least 10 year. It's full of fun big band arrangements, swinging beats, squealing trumpets, impressive piano solos, and there's a few tender moments tucked in there as well. 


I first heard this album a couple years ago when I was working at our local trendy gift shop over Christmas, and it is delightful.  Tons of familiar carols done with 1940's style harmonies that will remind you of the Andrew Sisters. Put this one on for you holiday cocktail parties and you will instantly feel retro and classy. 


Because, who doesn't love Zoey Deschanel? Well, Alex is not too keen on her, but this is my blog, not his. Zoey Deschanel, of being quirky and having great bangs fame, teams up with M. Ward to create a duo that is equal parts hipster, folksie, and indie, with a dash of class and nostalgia. This album makes a great accompaniment to your dinner party, or your quiet evening curled up writing Chirstmas cards. 


Christmas: the only time of the year that a capella music is acceptable.  Alex and I have been fans of Pantatonix ever since they were hailed The Sing Off champions of 2011. We were a little sore that Afro Blue didn't win (they should really put out a Christmas album) but we have definitely made room in our hearts for Pentatonix as well. I know a capella can be a little cheesy and it's not for everyone. But I encourage you to give these guys a chance.  Every single member of this group has got some mad vocal skillz. Even the beat boxer. And OMG. I just saw that they are coming to Minneapolis in March.  Date night, honey?


The Dale Warland Singers (now just called The Singers) are my favorite choral group ever. Hands down. They are from the Twin Cities, but have been acclaimed on a national level. Lux Arumque is not specifically a Christmas album, though many of these sacred choral works are very fitting for the Advent and Christmas seasons. I love choral music at Christmas time. I don't think there is anything more reverent or divine than the sound of voices. It's the perfect way to quiet your heart and prepare it to receive Jesus. 

And so I will leave you with this song, my favorite off of that album: O Magnum Mysterium 

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

(are you crying yet?)

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