Musings from Home

Archive for December, 2011

Holiday Homes Tour

This year I am participating in the fourth annual Holiday Homes Tour, hosted by my friend JenontheEdge. When you get through our house, go on over to her site to see her home all decked out for the holidays and then check out the other sites on the tour (links are on her page).

I’m so excited, so let’s get started . . .

My family’s Christmas decorating philosophy can be summed up by the phrase “if it doesn’t move, put a decoration on it”. 🙂 We tend to go for color, fun, and whimsy.

As you enter our front door, you’ll be right in front of the stairway. The railing is wrapped in garland, adorned with red bows. Just in front of you hangs a kissing ball instead of the traditional mistletoe. We love it. It fits well with our whimsical side.

To your right as you stand in the foyer, hangs a playful snowman, a gift from my mother-in-law that we treasure.

In front of you to the left of the stairs, is a hall table. Several years ago, I designated this table as Emerald’s to decorate as she saw fit. At the time, she was quite little and her style was to put all the figurines she liked on the table in a big clump. This usually consisted of all of the angels, a Santa or two, and maybe a reindeer. As she has gotten older, she has become quite artistic and likes to arrange things in patterns. This is her design this year:

The elf on Santa’s lap has moved on to other perches. The football Santa is one she found at Wal-Mart and just had to have.

Since Emerald has had her table to decorate for several years now, I gave Sapphire her choice of shelves on the Baker’s rack in the kitchen. She chose the middle shelf, as it is the perfect height for her. She picked out all of her favorite decorations and arranged them just the way she wanted. She selected the Hawaiian Santa while Christmas shopping with me this year. Like Emerald’s football Santa, it was her “must have” decoration of the year.

I decorated the other two shelves of the Baker’s rack with the “leftover” figurines. Sapphire made the cotton ball snowman last year and like the other handmade decorations in our home (some on the tree, others peppered throughout the house), it is among my favorites.

Other kitchen decorations include the centerpiece of the table, made by Emerald when she was in preschool (another personal favorite), and a paper chain the girls and I made a couple of years ago, which is hung around the “windows” between the kitchen and the living room.

In the dining room, we put a festive tablecloth on the table and made a fun centerpiece with colorful ornaments of different sizes in a crystal bowl. You’ll notice that the dining room also becomes the room of pictures during the holiday season (there are two more tables also piled with pictures), as the pictures from the mantle and the hall table are displaced to make room for festive figurines. The dining room table is also where the girls’ wooden Advent calendars reside from December 1st until the 24th. They have been moved for the taking of this picture so you could see the centerpiece.

As we move into the living room, we’ll start with the pièce de résistance, the Christmas tree. When it comes to trimming the tree each year, Jim puts the lights on the tree (as many small colorful lights as he can get on there) and the girls and I put the ornaments on. We love, love, love ornaments in our household. That’s a good thing, because we have a lot of them. About 15 years ago or so, Jim’s mom divvied up her ornament collection between Jim and myself and his sister and her husband. Some of these ornaments were made by Jim’s grandmother. Others were collected by their family through the years, so not only do we have a lot of ornaments, but many are sentimental to all of us. We have also added to them each year.

For the last couple of years, we have alternated between putting an angel and a star at the top of the tree. Emerald has a sentimental attachment to the angel that had been on the tree since before her birth. Sapphire prefers the star, which she herself picked out two years ago when she decided that every Christmas tree had to have a star on top.

We all think this may be our prettiest tree EVER. Of course, we probably say that every year.

Moving on to the mantle. This is probably the most traditional part of our holiday decor. We hang our stockings here and this year, it is also the place for the Jim Shore statues my mother-in-law gave us last year (and we all dearly love), as well as a nutcracker and a few other things.

When you turn around to look at the coffee table, you’ll see we have a mix of the traditional with more whimsy. Sapphire loves this Playmobil Nativity Scene. We also have quite a few musical plush toys in our holiday decoration collection.

There are more plushies on this end table.

Remember that I said that our approach was to put decorations on anything that doesn’t move? Well, I need to amend that. Sometimes we decorate things that move, too:

That’ll about do it for our decorations, with the exception of a small Christmas tree in each girl’s room, a small gold tree on the hall table upstairs (which you might be able to catch a glimpse of in the stairway picture), a few lights on trees and bushes outside, and of course, the traditional wreath on the front door.

I hope you have enjoyed our segment of the Holiday Homes Tour. If you’re interested in seeing more, go right this way to continue on the tour.

Happy Holidays from our home to yours!

Except

Yesterday as Jim, Sapphire, and I were on the way home from running errands, we got stopped in traffic. The digital sign said “Paving Ahead” and then:

I apologize for the glare; it reads “Except Delays”. Jim saw it before I did, laughed, and told me about the sign. I thought he said, “Accept Delays”. While I found that a little rude, it would be ironically and comically so. But “Except Delays”? Does that mean that there is only paving if there are no delays? One could only wish. As I mentioned, we were stuck in traffic and as we got further up the road, there was paving work occurring at the time.

No, I’m assuming that the intention of this sign was the usual “Expect Delays”, but for some reason the typo is still flying. Ironic? Funny? Sad?

I’ll let you decide. I think I may find it a little of all three.

Tomorrow I am taking part in JenontheEdge‘s Holiday Home Tour. Tune in to tour (virtually, of course) my family’s home all decorated for the holidays.

Trimming

Have you ever wondered how the phrase “trimming the tree” came to be? For some reason I started thinking about this last week and what popped into my head first when talking about “trimming”  was cutting. But of course, that’s not what we mean when we “trim” our Christmas tree. I wondered how long that use of the word has been around and where it came from. So I looked it up and thought I would share what I learned. ‘Tis the season after all.

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “trim” can be traced back to the Old English words trymman, which means to strengthen or make ready and trum, which means strong, stable. The latter is thought to come from the Proto-Germanic (prehistoric ancestor of all Germanic languages) word trumaz. The use of “trim” to mean to make neat by cutting can be traced back to the 1520s. “Trim” as in to adorn or decorate (as in “trimmed with fur”) was recorded as far back as the 1540s.

So now you know. 

I find all of this so fascinating. 🙂

Stop.

I had a lighthearted post all planned for today, but then something happened this morning on the road that got my blood boiling so much that a change of plans was in order.

I was second in line at a stop light, waiting to turn left onto the on-ramp of an interstate. An ambulance with its lights flashing and its siren sounding approached the light from the off-ramp to my right. Just as it got to the light, the arrow for my lane turned green and without pausing even a second, the blue pickup in front of me raced for the on-ramp. A couple of cars going straight at the light, in lanes next to me, also proceeded through the light the instant it turned green. The ambulance had to wait.

After the ambulance had been let through the light by more polite drivers (and I might add, the light was still green), I pulled onto the on-ramp only to discover that the pickup was only halfway up it. In fact, I drove the next five miles to my exit directly behind that truck. His rush at the light didn’t gain him any distance at all.

Now I have been in an ambulance with a loved one being rushed to the hospital. And I have seen firsthand the disregard of those lights and that siren. I even commented to the ambulance driver that I couldn’t believe no one was pulling over for him, and he replied that this happens all the time. I was furious then because those minutes that he had to weave through traffic and stop behind other cars were precious moments in my loved one’s life. Moments that could have meant her life.

I am certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I do not always obey all traffic rules and my reflexes are not always the fastest, but I always, I’ll say it again, always get (or stay) out of the way for emergency vehicles with their lights and/or sirens on.

We’re all busy. We all have places we need to be. I have also heard stories that emergency vehicles sometimes turn on their sirens and lights to get through traffic even when there isn’t an emergency. I don’t know whether they do or not, but I am not willing to take the chance that by not stopping, I am increasing the danger for another human being, whether I know that person or not.

So the next time you see an ambulance, police car, or fire truck with its sirens blaring and its lights flashing (or just one or the other), I ask that you please think about what you would do if the person having the emergency were a loved one of yours and what you would ask others to do. And think about how those few minutes are needed more by that person than they are by you in that moment. You’ll likely make up the time (and if you don’t it’s probably “a little deal” in the grand scheme of things), but these could be someone else’s last few minutes to get the help he or she needs.

I’m stepping off my soapbox now. Thanks for reading.

Merry Everything

As I have gone about the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas this year, I have taken note of a relatively new discussion, both on Facebook and in “real life”. There has been quite a lot of talk about putting Christ back in Christmas. And while I certainly understand the roots of this, I have also noticed that it is often linked with the statement that we should not use the “PC” greeting “Happy Holidays”, but insist on “Merry Christmas” instead.

In fact, while I was waiting in line at the post office last week to mail a Christmas package, I overheard a postal employee helping a customer fill out some forms at the table to the side of the line. When the employee was done, he very cheerfully said, “Happy Holidays.” The woman replied in a rather snippy tone, “You have a Merry Christmas!” She was apparently offended at being wished the more generic greeting.

I confess. I am a “Happy Holiday” sayer if I do not know which of the many winter holidays you celebrate. I wish my Christian friends and family a Merry Christmas. I wish my Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah. If I knew any families who celebrate Kwanzaa, I would wish them a Happy Kwanzaa. But to the store clerks, restaurant workers, postal employees, and anyone else with whom I interact during this season, I say, “Happy Holidays.” Happy whichever holiday is near and dear to your heart.

It is only this year that I have given it much thought and I am slightly horrified to realize that I have sent my Jewish friends “Merry Christmas” cards. But not once in my entire life have I received a “Happy Chanukah” card. I can tell you with certainty that I would not be offended if I did, but I would probably be surprised, mostly because it hasn’t happened before. But then I would likely giggle because it serves me right.

This past weekend, our family received a card from Jim’s boss and his wife, who are Jewish. The card was the postcard variety with a beautiful picture of the couple’s little boys. And down on the lower left corner in red and green ink was a greeting that I momentarily mistook for “Merry Christmas,” which I’ll admit struck me as a bit odd, given that the senders do not celebrate Christmas. But then I actually read the words: “Merry Everything.”

I couldn’t help but smile. In my opinion, this was the perfect greeting to send to everyone, regardless of their faith or practices. While my cards this year once again read, “Merry Christmas,” I will be sending out special Chanukah cards to my Jewish friends for the 2011 holiday season, but next year and every year hence, I just may steal that wonderfully uniting greeting, “Merry Everything.” There’s nothing PC about that, but everything wonderful.

And I Call Myself a Scientist

At least I don’t call myself a teacher. But I guess I am one of those, too. And I find myself having to explain things I have never imagined would come up in conversation. But they do . . .

Last week, as Sapphire and I were in the car coming home from her preschool, [it seems all of our deepest conversations occur in the car when I am driving and unable to look anything up], we started talking about pierced ears. You see, it was “J Share Day” at her preschool, which is the day on which the kids bring in an item that begins with the letter of the week. Last week was “J Week” and Sapphire had taken in her American Girl Doll, Julie. Julie has pierced ears. Sapphire does not. I have set the age at which my girls can decide to get their ears pierced (or not, if they wish) at 8. Emerald decided to get hers pierced at 8 1/2; she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to when she turned 8. As you know, Sapphire is not yet 8.

Sapphire looked at Julie’s earrings and asked why she had to wait until she was 8 to get her ears pierced. I know many people believe the answer to such questions should be, “because I said so”, but Jim and I believe in answering our kids’ questions, just not debating our decisions with them. So I told her that I think a child should be able to make that decision when she is old enough to understand that it may hurt to have her ears pierced, old enough to keep the new piercings clean, and old enough to take responsibility for her decision if the piercings become infected, as they may.

She didn’t argue with any of that. She just asked what “infected” meant. So I answered that question, too, mentioning that an infection is usually caused by bacteria.

That’s when she said very sweetly, “I wonder what bacteria are.”

Well, I didn’t get my Ph.D. in Microbiology/Virology for nothing. I know what bacteria are — and can explain it — or so I thought.

After my explanation, my precious girl asked if bacteria were bad. I told her that I guess you could say that some types were “bad” as in they could make us sick, but some were very helpful. Perhaps I should’ve stopped there, but alas, I did not. I went on to explain that there were some very helpful bacteria in her (and everyone else’s) tummy and I explained how they are beneficial and what happens if there aren’t enough of them.

Then came the question I didn’t expect: “Is my tummy scary?”

“Is it scary? No, not really.”

“Are they scared in there?” Oh!

So then I tried to explain that although they were alive, they were not like animals that have eyes, etc. I told her I doubt they feel scared.

I tried to liken them to plants, but I quickly felt out of my domain, trying to differentiate living things to a 5-year-old.

Luckily, she let it drop. I think she lost interest, or at least didn’t have any more questions. And so far, no one has asked for my Microbiologist badge back. I’m hoping that they won’t. In a few days, I may even feel comfortable enough in that to venture out in public again, without looking over my shoulder for the science instruction police. 🙂

And then I’ll just hope that Sapphire doesn’t ask me about viruses for a while. That could be really embarrassing! 🙂

Perhaps I’ll learn to keep my answers very short and not give her information she didn’t ask for. Who am I kidding? That wouldn’t be me; I try to give complete answers. I just don’t have the imagination and perspective of a very bright 5-year-old. But I hope I’m learning.

I bet Sapphire never realized that she is also a teacher.

Have you ever had to explain things you thought you knew very well to little ones? How did it go?

Peace

 As you know, I started my Christmas shopping early this year. I thought that if I finished everything early, I would relax and enjoy the season. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but in recent years, I have been so busy and stressed. The last couple of years, the season has passed by me in such a rushed, stressful blur that I haven’t really had (or taken) the chance to really enjoy it.

I was sure this year was going to be different. I no longer have a work schedule that takes up all my time when I’m not actively engaged with the kids (which seemed to always get busier over the holidays). I started (and finished) shopping early. I started wrapping gifts early (and storing them on — you guessed it — the dining room table). Sapphire and I bought our tree (our prettiest yet) the other day. We are all set to decorate it and the entire house this weekend. The gifts for out-of-town relatives who won’t make it to our house this year are wrapped and boxed up to be mailed today — a full week before I normally do it.

It’s only December 7th, 18 full days before Christmas. I am in great shape. So why do I feel like I’m running out of time? There’s still the decorating to do. I still have wrapping to finish. I haven’t planned out our holiday meal or reserved the cut of meat. I haven’t had the kids make their crafts for their teachers (which have to go to school next week in Sapphire’s case and the week after in Emerald’s). I haven’t sent out Christmas cards (although I do have them. All I have to do is print out labels, put stamps on them, and mail them — another thing for this weekend). And the list goes on.

Today I started reflecting on why I’m so stressed and starting to feel grumpy. [Yes, I said grumpy at this time of the year. Shameful! This is the time of the year that I’m usually my most cheerful.] As I  thought about it, I started to wonder if part of my problem is that I did start so early. I started before the Christmas season really began, before the spirit could envelop me as I shopped. I also ordered most of the gifts online (as I have for the last several years) so I’ve missed out on the holiday decor and music as I perused the aisles. I also hadn’t yet turned on the Christmas music in my house (until yesterday). I always wrap presents and trim the tree with Christmas carols blaring in the background.

As I tried to figure all this out and talk myself into being more in the spirit, a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook and on her blog.

That did the trick. I definitely needed a Silent Night/Holy Night and to remember what the season is all about. I could feel the tension seep out of me as I watched this. Thanks, Ali! My plan is now to watch it every day until Christmas.

I’d love to hear what you do to keep yourself in the mood of the season at this time of year and all the year through.

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