Every year as I put all the decorations away and clear the clutter, I try to go over the last month and a half and take inventory. This year I am posting my holiday reflections here (so that I know where it is next November) and I invite you to join me and recount the hits and misses of your holiday season too. I participated in a reflection exercise this fall and I want to repeat that over and over again this year. It feels so good to go back over entire seasons and take note of what works and what needs to change.
I love holidays, all the holidays. I enjoy the planning. the preparing, the work and the experience of the one day a year when we eat a certain thing, read a certain story, remember when things were different. Things have changed over the years and this holiday season came together as one of the most peaceful we have ever had. We set out on purpose to focus on the people we were with and added things to our lists that enhanced our time together.
Our Thanksgiving Season: November 2018
We don’t have one way to celebrate Thanksgiving except to gather with others. In 2017 we hosted several students and I made Thanksgiving style Kentucky Hot Browns with all the fixings. I love to cook and I love to try new things and complicated things, but for Thanksgiving they always revolve around Turkey. This year we really needed to visit Ed’s parents. With all our busy-ness and travel it had been a while since we had really visited and spent time with them. For many years my Mother-in-Law has put on an impressive spread of roasted turkey and more sides than can fit on one table. This year was different because of some health issues, she was struggling with her eyes and that was just too much work, so we promised to come only if she ordered all the food instead of cooking for days and days. I have to admit I was not looking forward to industrial food made for masses of people. It is just never going to be the best meal you could eat, but a feast is about more than the food. Sometimes a feast includes amazing food, but it is not necessary. The thing that is required for a memorable feast is the company at the table.
So the food was fine, not the best, but also not the worst and the visit was just what the doctor ordered.
The games we played:
We played an old favorite game along with a new game and it seems I am the last person to play it.
Wits and Wagers – This game has been a hot game for a few years. I have heard it advertised on the radio and now I know why. Anyone can play, but knowledge is rewarded.
Qwirkle – is a family favorite. When we all get together we combine our sets to make one game big enough for us all to puzzle over as we play. We also have the cube version that adds a fun twist to the old game.
Since we were getting all the side dishes and desserts with our catered dinner, I decided to make a few easy things we could munch on through the morning as we needed a snack. I sliced cheese for a cheese tray and added fruit, made a pumpkin dip for a cookie tray then put it all together with cookies and crackers from Trader Joe’s. I brought some gummy snacks and fruit leather for the kids as a fun treat. It is fine not to make everything homemade. I am learning that little by little.
The Food We Ate:
Well, as I have said the food was fine. But the gravy was a complete tragedy. When you are getting a pre-cooked turkey not to mention the dressing and potatoes, you really do need a good gravy because it is going to be a little dry. If the gravy had been the right texture and flavor, that meal would have been so much better than fine
The things we forgot:
I forgot to grab my super cute napkin rings and paper napkins and place cards. It was going to be a nice way to jazz up the table, but I set them down to run upstairs and grab something on my way out and grabbed the thing and left the other things. But I have them for next year and Ill just add as a reminder to myself that they are in the left craft cupboard so that I can find them next November. We still had cute place cards and napkins from my Mother-in-law’s vast collection of craft supplies. I just fee bad that we were scrambling at the last reason because I forgot.
The Christmas Season: 2018
Christmas is so much more than a day! Now that both girls are in High School things are different and there is a lot more help. They are more independent. We used to block off a Saturday and split up with each of us taking a kid to different stores to buy gifts for the others not with us and then meet for lunch and switch to do the same with the next kid. It was so exhausting and if I am honest, not that enjoyable because I was trying so hard to make a good memory. Have you been guilty of that? Saying to your children through gritted teeth, “We are going to have a great time today, even if it kills us!” Well, this year the children announced that they were going out shopping on their own and they did and I stayed home and read by the fire and we actually all had a great time. That is what this Christmas felt like this year: everyone doing what they enjoyed and it was so peaceful. Everything felt manageable and the whole thing did not rest on my shoulders.
The Meeting of the Minds and Setting Expectation
We had a meeting early in December and we all said what we wanted the break from school and work to feel like. What snacks, treats and special menu items would we miss if we did not have them? A clear pattern emerged, we were going to take it easy in the kitchen, have just enough food and not too much, play lots of games and watch some movies. We kept the routine that fits for us: a big dinner on Christmas Eve, a nice brunch on Christmas day and then left overs and a nap. From now on we will start all our Decembers with a meeting to align our expectations.
We decorated two real trees this year. One was our full size snowman tree in the bonus room and one was a small tree in the living room downstairs that was a remembrance of our trip to England last Christmas. We usually get one real tree and put up a few artificial trees, but next year I think we will get two full size trees and make one a travel tree to remember all the wonderful places we have been as a family. We have been to some wonderful places and I think it will be fun to pull those pictures out and frame them and reminisce as were decorate and abide in its glow for a month.
The Movies we watched
We are a read aloud family, but we are not doing much of that at this stage in our lives. We can manage to have a movie night about once a week though with a robust discussions about stories and characters. So I am not going to spend a lot of energy being sad about my kids growing up. This is our new normal and having a huge selection of movies to watch this time of year is treat. They don’t all have to be Oscar worthy.
The Games We Played
We played a lot of board games! There is only one that goes in the miss category. These are the three we got for Christmas that we can’t stop playing:
Coup – a game of strategy and bluffing. It is really fast to play a round and tons of fun.
I think the expansion pack, Coup Reformation will be showing up at my house very soon! That’s how much fun we have had playing this game.
Macgyver: The Escape Room – This really does replicate the escape room experience. There are physical puzzles and mental puzzles leading you to the final solution. The web site keeps you on track, times you and gives you hints. We started watching Macgyver after we played the first round and the girls fell in love with him, as we all did.
Rollers – a super fun dice game similar to Yahtzee, but adds a little more complication with rounds of play and money changing hands.
Masterpiece – This is a game that helps you learn art as you bid on famous works by masters and live with consequences of paying millions of dollars for a forgery. We have played the 70’s version of this game with the grandparents. I ended up with our version from the 90’s by trading a bottle of essential oil for it, when a friend was cleaning out her game cupboard. You want to keep your eyes peeled at the thrift store for this one.
The Dinner Parties
We did a lot more entertaining this year. We are usually running from one end of town to the other going to this and that. This year we had someone over for dinner and board games every week of December. It was so fun! We are going to do more of that all year in 2019. We tried a few new recipes we have added to them to the repertoire. I’ll be posting the recipes with changes I made, but until then here are the links:
Orange Jello Salad– this is my husband’s favorite from his childhood.
This is our favorite overnight french toast, that we have
The Gifts We Gave
Gifts were not that stressful this year. I got a lot it done before Christmas even came. It helped to take gifts for cousins at Thanksgiving and send the packages in two batches as I got them done and that was so much easier than waiting and hauling them all in at once and hoping they get there in time. We gave my mom her gift before she left for a big trip to Budapest to shop the Christmas markets. We decided for us that we would give three gifts. Mostly because I found a super cute picture of three gifts wrapped as snowmen on pinterest. We got family fit bits (most of us anyway), PJ’s and a board game. Three gifts and a stuffed stocking, that is going to be my new normal! They will probably wrapped like snowmen, because it was awfully cute!
The Cards We Will Send
I thought Christmas cards were dying. But this year we got more cards than ever before. I think we are pushing back on the digital age and we crave the real and tangible over the virtual. I am a horrible failure at getting Christmas Card posted before December 25. Then when I don’t get them out before Christmas, I feel so stupid going to the post office after. It just lets everyone know that I am clearly in over my head! Well this year, we are sending New Year Cards. We will send them with our thank you notes for gifts and then both things are done! This is my plan from now on. The week after Christmas is the perfect time to be addressing envelopes and remembering the long list of people you love. Then there is the bonus that everyone who sends you a card, gets a card and you don’t have that awkwardness!
The Music We Listened To Over and Over
I found two new Christmas albums that I love and song that everyone knew but me. I played it for everyone who came over like it was a revelation and they all said, “Oh yeah, I love that one too.” My favorite new Christmas song is this version of Bring the Torch, Jeanette Isabella by Callie and Colette. They are a family that sings old songs with beautiful harmonies. They have a Christmas Album that is so wonderful, and lots of other albums for the rest of the year. My other favorite is this Yo-Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy & Peace.
The Places We Went
After living in the Raleigh area for 15 years we finally went to the Chinese Lantern Festival this year. Why did it take us so long to get over there? I will never miss it again!
The things we did not get to
I did not make every special request from my family happen. I still need to make a batch of homemade granola for my oldest and now I feel like this is going to be a thing. You know the things that grow and grow over the years. She is going to be able to weaponize it by bringing it up like this: “You remember that Christmas when we all sat down and made a list of what would make Christmas special and the only thing I put on the list was your homemade granola and you never made it for me?”
The games we played
We had a lot of fun with the games this year, but I made a huge and I mean “YUGE” error when I picked this one. You see I got it for my daughter to play as a family and it is clearly marked as 18+. Goodness Gracious, that first round was interesting. We all learned something new. Mostly the girls would lay out their headlines and then say, what does that even mean? Then once the rest of us had to ask the 17-year-old what does that mean? And she knew. It was ok as far as games go, but if you try not to say sentences with words like pole dancer or adulterer to you children then this game is going to be a problem for you.
The road trips
We ended up making a last-minute plan to meet my mom halfway between our houses and have lunch so she could give us all presents she bought at the Christmas Market. Why was that a last-minute plan? We need to build that into the plan for next year.
The New Year 2019: Equal parts hit and miss
There has never been a more low-key New Year celebration than ours. And that makes it a hit and a miss. We will do a little more next year, but not too much more. I would love to find an app that lets you celebrated around the world as the New Year comes to each time zone. Is there such a thing?
We had family visit. We got some take and bake pizzas and wings and veg and called that dinner. Then we played games and snacked until midnight. That was wonderful, but I missed the ball drop in Times Square. Next year I want to find a fun count down and make a bigger deal of that moment.
And now here we are taking everything down, putting it all away and planning for what we will keep doing next year. I would love for you to join me in a reflection on your holiday season. Comment below or if you have written a blog post reflecting on your lessons learned this season please link it below so that we can all visit and learn from each other.