Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Gift Giving By the Numbers

If you've seen the movie A Christmas Story, you probably remember the scene when Ralphie's little brother Randy sees all of the gifts under the tree and enthusiastically seeks out the ones that have his name on them.  It's hilarious but also a bit disheartening.  After all, we want our children to be appreciative, not greedy, right? 

I didn't know how to get around this at first but one year I came up with an idea that I think is inspired. Instead of putting names on the gifts, I put numbers.  As I put numbers on gifts, I would create a Master List itemizing which gift belonged to each person.  When the children woke up on Christmas morning, there was no way for any of them to know for certain if #41 was for them or someone else. 

I took it a step further.  We would rotate the person who would choose the first gift and give it to the recipient.  So, for instance, if it was Shira's turn to choose the first gift, she would go to the tree and choose a gift.  She would then read the number aloud and I would go through the list to and say, "That one is for Joe."  In doing this, my intention was to put the emphasis on Giving rather than Receiving.  We would then all watch as Joe opened his gift. There was no rush and we'd all have the pleasure of seeing his delight in finding that perfect something inside. Once he had finished, it would be his turn to find a gift under the tree and give it to the next person. 

And so it would go.  This prolonged the pleasure of unwrapping, putting the focus on giving while also taking the time to focus on the recipient and the gift.  Obviously, this is very different from what I've seen in some movies, where everyone is chaotically tearing off the ribbon and paper, briefly holding up the unwrapped gift while everyone is busily unwrapping their own gift, and not eager to appreciate what anyone else got. 

How can you ooh and ahh over another person's gift when you're still trying to get the wrapping off your own?

By using the numbers to maintain some of the mystery and putting the emphasis on everyone giving a gift, even if the gift itself wasn't from the giver, the children had the time to enjoy Christmas in an unhurried and focused manner.  Mind you, all bets were off when it came to the stockings.  Once all of the gifts were opened, we went ahead took the stockings down from where they were hung and all emptied them at the same time. 

A couple of years ago, I made some numbered tags that are nicer than the ones I've used in the past.  (Confession:  One year I even used Post-It notes. Not very pretty.)  I could make even fancier ones and maybe one year (when I am earning some money) I'll make some very pretty ones with embellishments and such. But this year, I took the ones I had made a couple of years ago and laminated them. We'll be able to use them year after year, continuing to let everyone have a chance to give as well as receive something.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Have a Beary Merry Christmas!

This picture was taken years ago
We don't put gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve night but I didn't want a fully decorated tree with nothing underneath it.  So I started buying stuffed Christmas bears to go under the tree.  Every year, I would buy another pair of bears--some brown, some white.  (This year I realized I never ever bought a same-sex pair.  I regret that oversight.)

Can you imagine the temptation these bears were for poor Romanov?  He would sniff them and think that surely one of these irresistible toys is for puppies.  Snowdoll, never as enamored of toys as Romanov, pays little heed to them.  Holly finds them tempting but, so sweet tempered is she that a simple "no" suffices. 

I love this idea but Rob's family puts gifts under the tree as they come (and are wrapped, I presume).  He likes the bears but doesn't love them.  So this year, I will be adding some gifts under the tree.  I'll put Bibi's birthday gifts under there first. Then I'll wrap and add some of the Christmas gifts.  Why not?  After all, I've already wrapped the gifts we're sending off to his family in Kentucky.  I may as well keep the wrapping momentum going.  Right? 

But you never really think about the implications of merging families until family traditions come forth.  As you have already noticed, in our family we have a lot of traditions. Rob's family did too. None of them overlapped.  He opened one gift on Christmas Eve.  We opened none.  We decorated right after Thanksgiving.  He decorated later.  We opened gifts one at a time, each taking turns.  His opened them all in a flurry of activity. 

So I guess it's only fair for me to concede on such a minor point, don't you think?  Add some gifts under the tree day by day.  Before I do that, though, I have to do some laminating.  Why?  Well, I'll explain that in my next post. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Build-a-Bear Rudolph Winner!

When my children were still at home and working, my one son was working at Starbucks at a mall. As a result, I spent a lot of time at the mall, waiting to pick him up.  As a result, when the mall had a special contest to give away a very large Build-a-Bear Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I was able to enter the contest easily, without really going out of my way at all.

Every day there would be a new trivia question about the classic holiday special.  Every day I would answer the question.  The questions were easy enough.  Name Rudolph’s father, girlfriend, and what did Hermey want to be and such.  Anyone who had seen the show as often as I could easily answer the questions.  Every day I answered and entered.

As you can see from the picture, I won.  In fact, by luck of the draw, I won three because they were giving away more than one.  They could only give each person one so I only came home with one.  But you know, having three would have been perfect because then I could have given one to each of the children.  It’s still perfect, though.  I can give Bibi the one.  Maybe she’ll be able to find someone to fix the battery pack so Rudolph’s nose will light up again.  Not that Rudolph’s unlit nose never stopped me from dragging it out each year as part of our holiday decorations. 

My Rudolph makes me very happy.  And it makes Bibi happy, as you can see. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Specials Are Still Special

I will never, ever outgrow Christmas specials.  I watched most of them when I was a child at other people’s homes but, when my children were little, we had a television so we would all gather around the television and lose ourselves in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and any and every other special that came along, falling love with some and horrified by others. 

Then one year, one of my children tried to convince me that Christmas specials are for little children.  I told all three of my children that they can’t outgrow them until I outgrow them.  At least, they couldn’t so long as they lived under my roof.  Now that they are scattered to the winds, I don’t know which, if any, they watch.  I don’t know if they look to see what new specials are airing and make time to watch them in hopes of finding a new treasure. 

Here is what I do know.

I know that A Charlie Brown Christmas is Marc’s favorite and that he would stand up and dance whenever Schroder, instead of letting the pageant rehearsal continue, started playing music.  And that, even when he’s too old to watch them all, he’ll probably still find time to watch this one every year.

I know that there are some charming Christmas specials that aren’t available on DVD and I wish someone would re-release them.  (Hint:  For Better or For Worse:  The Bestest Present and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.) 

I know that Joe says his favorite is How the Grinch Stole Christmas and that I was surprised to learn that nobody has given Bibi the book.  I think it’s one of those things where everyone thinks someone else will do it or has already done it so it never happened. 

I know that Rob loves Christmas specials as much as I and we go out of our way to watch the new ones.  We don’t necessarily watch them all.  We don’t necessarily watch them all the way through.  But we take great pleasure in finding a new one to make our ho-ho-holidays just a little brighter.

So tell me, do you ever watch holiday specials?  If you do, which ones are your favorites?   

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree

Once upon a time, my mother bought a Christmas tree.  Not a real one.  Anyone who lives or has lived in New York knows that closet space is a commodity on par with an apartment is to begin with.  Imagine storing a large Christmas tree box plus the ornament boxes plus the lights plus the plus the plus the . . .

You get the point.

When I was 12 or 13 my mother put up a Christmas tree, and we never took it down.  It was no longer a Christmas tree but an every-day tree, our year round tree, our always there tree.  And you know what?  You know those people who say that Christmas every day would spoil the magic, would make what is special merely ordinary?  Well, those people are so WRONG!  I loved having our tree up every day, and I never ever felt cheated out of the experience of decorating the tree.   We would turn the lights on occasionally but most of the time we just enjoyed the many colorful, mostly handmade ornaments every day. 

And I still had the pleasure of waking up on Christmas day to a tree surrounded with gifts, beautifully wrapped, and mostly for me.  My mother was partial to tissue paper and would use thick yarn to make bows.  Pink paper with purple yarn or white paper with layers of red, purple, and red.  The gifts were rarely perfectly color coordinated in the Martha Stewart ideal but they were still coordinated, a gypsy rainbow that was simple and dazzling.

So having the tree up year-round didn’t compromise the magic of Christmas.  Not at all.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Holiday Buffet Part Two

The Holiday Buffet is a day-long affair and around 10 or 11, we pull out the cheese, cold cuts, a shrimp platter, deviled eggs, and other proteins.  This year I’d like to make some “caprese salad bites”—a grape tomato, mozzarella cheese, and a bit of fresh basil on a toothpick with a drizzle of balsamic dressing.  Simple but yummy. 

All of the food from earlier in the day is still out on the table but we add more protein and savory foods.  To be honest, we probably should start with this and shift to the overflowing sweetness because by this time we’re in a sugar coma.  Still, it’s nice to have some protein to enjoy. Marc loves deviled eggs and Rob loves shrimp.  And who doesn’t love cheese? 

In the meantime, we also have waves of drinks to enjoy.  Naturally, there’s coffee which can be served with eggnog or plain ol’ half and half.  We also have a hot chocolate bar which will be extra special this year.  We’ll have milk and cocoa which can be sweetened with sugar or honey or sweetener.  And in the past we’ve had peppermint and whipped cream and such.  This year, however, we will have everything that is featured in this wonderful infographic I found online. Yes, even dried lavender.  And yes, I’ll be indulging in some floral yumminess!

When it comes time to have dinner, we usually start making hot hor d’oevres.  Meatballs with dip.  Mini eggrolls.  Bruschetta.  Okay, bruschetta isn’t hot but it’ll be brought out later in the day.  I would love to have some steamed dumplings too.  We’ll see how it goes.  And usually there’s some mini-pizza something as well because we love love love pizza.

I also love Amaretto Di Saronno so we’ll have a bottle of that.  I add it to my eggnog and sometimes to my coffee.  And my daughter loves fruitcake. Seriously.  I know everyone says that nobody likes fruitcake but she does. So we buy a small fruitcake for her every year.  This year, in addition to her fruitcake, we have a stollen type bread with a some marzipan in the middle.

You’re probably thinking this is a lot of food. And you’d be right. But do the math.  We start with me and my husband. Then there’s my son, Marc, who will be in town. Then Joe will be over with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter.  My daughter is spending the night with them so she’ll arrive with them and their roommate Matt will also be with us for most of the gift giving. During the day, at least two people will drop by.  We’ve had years where six people have come by at some point, sometimes with a date, sometimes with a child.  You just never know.  So we are prepared, for anything and everyone.

You’re invited.  After all, if you’ve read this far without running off to eat something, the least I can do is offer you a little something to eat. I'm sure you'll find something delicious to eat. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Holiday Buffet Part One

When Shira was an infant, I realized that between Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the holidays feel more like an endless bake-off.  Think about it.  Thanksgiving is turkey and stuffing and so many sides and dessert.  Christmas, at least in my former husband’s family, is ham and different types of Christmas cookies and more.  Then New Year’s Eve we did roast beef with potatoes and a decadent dessert to ring in the new year.  And then there are the gifts baked and made.  Everything from scratch.  It’s a lot of work.

After two years of this, I realized it simply wasn’t worth it.  So I made a decision that, going forward, we would do a buffet.  Now I won’t go into the details of the many ways that the buffet has evolved; I will, however, describe to you what we will have for our Holiday Buffet this year, give or take a few changes.  If you haven’t eaten yet, I suggest you come back and read this when you no longer have an appetite.

For the days leading into Christmas, Rob and I will be baking cookies.  Bonus:  No sugar added!  These cookies are so good we actually have people asking us for them as gifts.  We always make sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, and chocolate chip cookies (using bittersweet chocolate chips).  We also bake some “marzipan” biscotti.  Why the quotation marks?  Because we start with a sugar-free almond biscotti recipe.  To this, I add a bit of rosewater giving it a subtle marzipan flavor.  These we send to my step father, although we save a few for our own buffet.  This year we will probably make a second batch of biscotti, although I don’t know what flavor, because we’ll have so many people here to celebrate.

And this year I want to add some gingerbread cookies because I recently learned that Queen Elizabeth I introduced the idea of gingerbreadshaped as people so I feel a stronger desire for these cookies than ever before.  Whether we make these sugar free or not will depend on Rob’s preferences.

In addition to the cookies and biscotti we have petit fours which we order from Swiss Colony.  This is quite the luxury, I admit, but we love them.  Rob loves them too so we order some “sugar free” ones for him.  I make sure to buy enough to make everyone happy so that nobody feels they could indulge in and enjoy their favorite flavors.  (Hint:  The ones covered in white chocolate seem to be everyone’s favorite.)  This year we ordered some of the coffee flavored petit fours but not all of us are coffee drinkers. Only Shira, Marc, Erin, and I love coffee so we’ll happily monopolize them.  Muahahahaha!

In addition to all of the sweetness we have some mixed nuts, fresh fruit (apples, oranges, pears, bananas, and grapes).  Okay, yeah, that’s not much of a break from sweets.  But this is where the buffet begins. There’s more to the buffet.  Much more.   Unfortunately, this is where this post ends.  I'll share more of our buffet details with you tomorrow and maybe again tomorrow.  And if your tummy is now rumbling after reading about all the yumminess, don't blame me.  I warned you!