Today was a typical Christmas Eve for us, which means chili in the crock pot, Christmas movies all day, open our gifts to each other, and then drive downtown to see the James Center all lit up!
All the banks downtown line their buildings with Christmas lights, and the courtyard is full of deer! There's a huge Christmas tree, and the main corridor of the Omni has various Christmas/winter scenes.
I don't like to get people gift cards unless there's something specific I know they want or need and that something would be better chosen by the recipient.
This year I got my sister-in-law a UFab gift card to purchase fabric for reupholstering her dining room chairs - how would I choose an appropriate fabric for her home and her taste? One year for Nate's birthday (or maybe it was a random gift of congratulations? who knows) I got him a gift card to a clothing store because he lost a bunch of weight and none of his clothes fit him - but I don't want to pick out someone else's clothes. Unless it's Dave because he lets me dress him still.
Anyway, other than specific circumstances like that, I like to find gifts that just call out to me as perfect for certain people. Sometimes I think about it beforehand and have a vague idea of what to look for, and people sometimes make hints that make that easier. Other times I just see something that yells TAKE ME HOME.
Here is an example of the yelling kind:
One of Dave's friends from work is a very talented balloon artist - she travels all around to parties and local events and makes balloon animals for the kiddos. When I saw this balloon animal ornament in Target I just had to get it for her!
I was going to title this Classy Light Tour because we both like classier displays over tacky ones, but none of our classy house photos came out right.
An exception to my classy-over-tacky rule is this one house on River Road that goes BIG for Christmas. They have a half circle driveway so you can drive through and see all the lights in their yard. There are A LOT of lights. This year (I think this was new) they had a sign with a radio station where the music matched the light patterns.
I also like this new trend of haphazardly throwing lights onto small trees in the yard. I'm OBSESSED with these trees - the messier the better!
We were on our way home when we turned down one last street (Ralston, if you want to check this out), and noticed a car on the side of the road that was all lit up. At first I thought someone got pranked, but when we got closer I noticed a familiar green figure sitting in the driver's seat:
Now that my parents have moved back from Florida, we have twice the family celebrations! Since we will be spending Christmas Eve at home and Christmas Day at Dave's parents', we did Christmas with my family today!
Here's the loot all loaded up and ready to go - I may have gone overboard this year:
Reed got so many gifts I think he was overwhelmed by it all.
He's adorable. And he'll be as tall as me by the time he's 5!
I wanted to bring some Christmas treats to my family on Saturday, so yumyums seemed like the obvious choice. They're easy, cheap, customizable for any holiday or occasion, and a crowd pleaser every time!
Before I type anything here, I want to be clear that this is not meant as a brag or look-at-me-I'm-so-charitable. I'm just sharing 25 ways to celebrate the Christmas season, one of which is helping others.
Every year Capital One has a toy drop-off location forToys for Tots, an organization that works with "local social welfare agencies, church groups, and other local community agencies, to distribute toys to the less fortunate children of the community" (link). All you have to do is bring a new, unwrapped toy to a drop-off location, and the Marine Corps takes care of the rest. It doesn't get much easier than that, right? Here's a link to find a drop-off location near you. I went to Dollar Tree and picked up several gifts to donate and dropped them off this morning!
But, she and any other fan will be pleased to hear it shot right up to the list of favorite Christmas movies! It was so great! It was light-hearted while telling a sad story, the songs were amazing, and Michael Caine is adorable always.
Today we went to see Mockingjay (FINALLY) with the Millers. It was, of course, fantastic although I'm sick of people saying it was boring. Read the books, people! It's half the story - the drama usually happens in the second half.
Anyway, after the movie we took some pics by the hugely awesome Christmas Tree at Stony Point. Then we spent an hour in the parking lot doing what BFF's do - making fun of people and laughing our asses off. #tistheseason
They delivered on the cheap promise. All I needed to buy was a bag of peppermint candies. If I was shameless I'd go to a restaurant that offers free mints after dinner and grab a couple handfuls. But I can't do that.
I suppose they were easy enough. I found some festive, holiday cookie cutters in my baking cabinet and put them on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. I sprayed the crap out of the inside of the cookie cutters with baking spray so the mints wouldn't stick to them. Then I dropped some mints inside each cutter - there will be some open spaces but as the mints melt in the oven they will spread out to fill the entire shape of the cookie cutter.
The blog I referenced said to bake them at 350 for 5-10 minutes, but that seemed like a long time range, so I pulled a chair over to the oven and watched them melt. I wanted them to melt but not disintegrate.
I noticed as they were cooking that the mints were seeping out of the cookie cutter at the bottom. So if anyone makes these, maybe put another cookie sheet on top to make sure the cutters are flat against the parchment paper and hard surface of the sheet?
After 10 minutes I took them out and they looked adorable! But see the seepage? While they're warm I poked a hole at the top with a skewer coated with baking spray.
This one was a total fail - should have put 2 mints standing up in there rather than 1 lying down:
I let them cool for about 20 minutes until they were hard to the touch. Then came the hard part. Taking them out of the cookie cutter. I'm not known for being gentle - and that trait hurt me in this process. I tried to separate the cookie cutter from the mints too fast and they shattered.
I lost 3 of them. RIP peppermint :(
But 1 turned out OK!
W00t! Although you'll notice that the hole at the top closed up. Andplusalso as soon as I tried to add a new hole it cracked in half. RIP 4th peppermint.
So I have no ornaments to show for this 20-ish minutes of my life. Oh well.
I am crazy about movies. But you already know that. Dave is crazy about them too, but when it comes to Christmas movies his list of must-watch-in-December is much shorter than mine - it consists of 2 movies:
My nephew's school held their annual Christmas pageant and it was so adorable to see the kids sing and dance!
One kid even did standup comedy with perfect, dry delivery. So dry that we all looked at each other for a second wondering who gave the kid a mic because it just sounded like he was complaining - here's his best joke:
"Christmas is weird - what's so fun about sitting in front of a dead tree eating candy out of a sock?"
Of course it was mostly chaos up on the stage, but adorable chaos. My nephew's class sang Run Run Rudolph, with drumsticks to use as antlers and for some drum breaks in the song!
sorry for the creepy faces but, you know, other people's kids.
Every year, the Great Big Greenhouse transforms part of the garden center into a Christmas shop with trees, decorations, poinsettias, and general festiveness.
I walked around to see the displays, did some shopping, and almost brought home a poinsettia until I remember they are poisonous to cats (although Zoey's never been interested in eating plants). Also, I kill all things green, so there's no way it would have made it to Christmas anyway.
This year, they also had a huge train display set up by the River City 3 Railers - it was awesome! The pics don't do it justice. So realistic and I kinda want to live inside it.
I came home with 2 garden flags and a Christmas gift for my BFF. I almost bought this cute little pot, but how do you keep the dirt from falling out? Do you line it? Ha. Also, as I said before, I kill plants.
When I found out Illuminate, a drive-through Christmas light show, was $25, I thought MEH. But then I thought I'd regret it if we didn't check it out. SO GLAD WE WENT! We paid our $25, tuned our radio to a local station, and drove along a path enjoying the light show that was timed to match the music. Speaking of the music - it was cheesy and awesome. God Bless the USA with a dance beat behind it? Yup.
If you love Etsy, you'll love this craft show put on by the Richmond Craft Mafia every December. They also host the Spring Bada Bing in, you guessed it, the spring.
I've missed the Handmade Holiday the last few years because of school or other plans (plus it always falls on my birthday weekend when our schedule fills up fast!), so when Bonnie asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday this year I said whatever else happens is fine but I'm not missing the Handmade Holiday! We since decided to go to Gift Wrap Wonderland too, so I got a twofer! :). She's the best!
This year the show was moved to Hardywood Park so there was a lonnnnng line (wrapped around the block) of people excited to get some Gingerbread Stout. We got to skip that line and go right into the craft show - woot!
I only picked one item today but it's an adorable Virginia ornament with a heart over RVA. I'm putting it on my Richmond Christmas tree :)
I love getting Christmas cards from friends and family every year - seeing pictures of the little ones as they grow up, reading brag letters, seeing what style of card people pick out and sometimes being surprised - so fun!
Last year I didn't have as much Christmas spirit as usual so I skipped sending cards, but I'm back at it this year! I have 3 styles, one of which is a little snarky and inappropriate so only certain people will get that one. All three are typography, which I love.
This might show my nerd a little too much, but I save all the cards we get each year. Does anyone else do that? I put them all on a scrapbook, labeled by year, so I can flip through if I'm feeling nostalgic.
Speaking of nostalgia - look how little Reed and Aggie were just 3 years ago!
Dave and I went to Penzeys on Black Friday to pick up some staples, and I spotted this Cranberry swirl coffee cake recipe on a display in the store. It calls for 1 cup of already-made cranberry sauce, so I thought it would be a good way to use up some leftover sauce we had from Thanksgiving.
Here's what you need for the cake:
Here's the finished product (with a powdered sugar/milk glaze on top plus some almonds)...
The Container Store is my heaven. Bins and boxes and organization and tools and gadgets and yay! I freaking love that place. Every year in November they move everything out of the center of the store and set up Gift Wrap Wonderland, where they have tons of stocking stuffers, gift wrap/bags/boxes/tags, and holiday organization.
Bonnie and I took a road trip up to Tyson's Corner today to check out this year's Wonderland, and it did not disappoint!
This actually happened in November - whatever, I'm counting it. It's a Christmas tradition.
Most of my high school memories revolve around 3 girls - Maureen, Cynthia, and Carrie:
We haven't sucked Cynthia into this tradition yet (soon!) but for the last several years Maureen, Carrie, and I have met up for lunch or dinner over 'Christmas break' to catch up. I am terrible when it comes to keeping in touch with people, so the good thing about these girls is that when we're together we just pick up where we left off no matter how long it's been and enjoy each other's company.
This year we moved our Christmas meet-up to Thanksgiving weekend, and met at Garnett's Cafe for lunch.
Yummy food, lots of laughs, and some incredulity at a video of Carrie kayaking over a 16 foot waterfall!
A few Thanksgivings ago, Dave and I were bored after cleaning up from dinner and company so we went out to see how many crazy people were actually out shopping on Thanksgiving Day.
Target was packed. Best Buy was packed. Garden Ridge was open but had a very small crowd, so we went inside to see if there were any insane deals. The first thing we saw when we walked in was a group of Christmas trees in really tacky colors - blue, yellow, red, orange, etc. My first thought was "Who the hell would put up an orange Christmas tree in their house? Tacky! Ew!" but as we walked around the store, and I saw the gold ball ornaments and garlands, the wheels started turning in my mind.
I had the idea to make a purple and gold themed tree to represent JMU's school colors, but Dave was not on board at first. So we went home empty-handed and I could not stop thinking about how cool it could look with some creativity and a little bit of shopping. The next morning I somehow convinced Dave I could make it work and I went back to Garden Ridge to get the tree and some ornaments, and then to Michael's to get some clear glass ball ornaments and paint pens to DIY some ornaments of my own. That sentence had three ornaments. Ornaments.
The end result is this:
Once I enrolled at University of Richmond I decided to make myself a tree, too.
Every year we buy either a JMU or UR ornament depending on the bookstores' selections to grow our collection over time. We have a few school-specific ones on each tree so far, along with some generic ornaments that match the color scheme, like a Virginia-shaped red ornament I got from a local artisan, and a gold glockenspiel to represent my time as a Marching Royal Duke! #bandnerd