Friday Five: Year in Review

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

I get giddy for the end of the year, mainly for all of the Top Ten lists. You know I love lists. I like rehashing the best, the worst, the funniest, the saddest. A lot can happen in a year and it’s nice to sit back and appreciate all the last 12 months held for us.

I have a lot of favorites from this year: Book? Three-way tie between And the Mountains Echoed, Gone Girl and The Interestings. Movie? Catching Fire, but I haven’t seen Anchorman 2 yet. Am I the only one who wasn’t blown away by Gravity? And, as someone who loved Monsters Inc., why did Monsters University disappoint me so much? Best Music? Since Brandi Carlile didn’t release an album this year, I’ll give it to the ironically-feuding Civil Wars. TV Show? Downton (Duh!) and Dexter. Trip? Revisiting Baltimore after so many years (and introducing Joe to Peabody) was pretty awesome.

For today’s Friday Five, the last of 2013, I give you the most defining moments of my year:

5. Goals….check!

I set out in January with the goal to be more selfish, in a good way. I needed to give back to myself, read more, spend more time taking photos, cooking, writing, blogging (!), going to the gym….and I can check every single goal off the list. That’s an amazing feeling and I feel like a whole new person compared to who I was last year. New Year’s resolutions can be cliché, but only if you let them. A new year is a fresh start—what a gift. Seize it. (And eat every slice of cake life brings your way.)

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4. Jump the Broom!

March 2014 will welcome an addition to our family when Bryan and Robbi tie the knot! I’m looking forward to celebrating with them, seeing family, eating Mexican food and gaining a sister-in-law! (Not in that order.) I’m happy for my Hotrod.

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3. Movin’ on Up

I don’t know if this is part of the best or worst of the year, but moving from Virginia to Utah was no joke. The stress of it nearly did me in (and fueled a very persistent Diet Coke addiction I had to break cold turkey), but we are so happy here, winter and all. The best part was definitely spending an entire summer with our BFFs Sean and Wallis. It’s been a great move *har har* for us.

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2. Lil’ Linc

Man, oh man. Just when you think your heart is already bursting with love for your favorite littles, a new one comes along and BAM! more love. Even though I haven’t yet held him in my arms, I’m pretty smitten with this handsome guy. And his big sister’s love, affection and protection of her baby bro is pretty much the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’m pretty sure Booh never felt that way toward me!

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1. Pops

There isn’t a more life-altering, heart-altering event than the passing of my Pops. Two and a half months later and I still deal with so many emotions. It was a beautiful gift to be able to hold his hand in those last few days and it has since given me strength to really embrace life. And embrace those dear to my heart. The best thing we can do to honor his memory? Love, love, love.

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Here’s to 2013, to 2014, and all of the life, love, calories and laughter along the way.

# CEG

Today I’m on a bus headed to San Diego, so I may be without access to phone, text or email….but I have something very important to say:

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And I may not be the first to say it this year, but this has got to be the cutest way to do it. How adorable are my Mimi and Gramps? I’ve seriously got the best grandparents in the world. (Special thanks to Angie for posting this great photo!) Thinking of my Jackson family and our lovely {competitive} holiday tradition. Love you!

Friday Five: Christmas Baking

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

I’m late with this post. I had 50 pages left of a book that sucked me in hook, line and sinker. I couldn’t put it down to save the band. Book nerd problems. On top of speed-reading, I was making a pan of peppermint bark to take to an Egg Nog party tomorrow. I’m also making Buckeyes tomorrow–it’s a no-oven-required menu for me.

For someone that’s as obsessed with food and traditions as I am, it’s hard to not be “home” for both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same year. My mom has been taunting texting me photos of her baking endeavors. All of my favorites: cinnamon rolls, chocolate peanut butter fudge. It has me hankering for all of the foods I love during the holidays. We’ve already decided to do a big “holiday” meal(s) for New Year’s, when we’ll be bowl-gamed out, and hopefully less stressed. I’m dreaming of Ebelskivers and cookies, Joe of Dr. Pepper Beef and brie. Mmmmm

Until then…here are my top five Christmas foods I’m missing this year….

5. Cranberry Orange Cookies

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A cookie tray staple since I was a little girl, these babies are my aunt’s specialty. I’ve been making them the last few years and they remain one of my very favorites. They just taste like Christmas to me.

4. Baked Brie

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I haven’t gone a year without having this and I don’t intend to start now. Usually this is a Thanksgiving treat, but Joe and I can throw back a brie wheel like no one’s business. I think it’ll be perfect for a New Year’s Eve celebration. Brie is the new black-eyed peas.

3. Panini(s) and Soup

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I love my Dad’s tradition of a build-your-own panini bar, along with homemade soups, for his Christmas dinner. We always dig in before listening to the Christmas story and exchanging gifts. Last year, though, for some reason we had a ridiculous amount of cheese side dishes. Two different types of queso, cheese balls with crackers…it felt like it was all we were eating, and that was fine by me. Cheese for President.

2. Cinnamon Rolls

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Man, picking which food got #1 or #2 was really hard. I adore my momma’s “Sninny Rolls.” They are a Christmas breakfast/snack/dessert tradition that I love to make when I’m away from home. Luckily, I think she’s bringing me some to California so I’m spared the possibility that the altitude could mess them up. They are so decadent, so delicious, so comforting. I can’t imagine a Christmas without them. Ever.

1. Sugar Cookies

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Typical. Sugar cookies are the quintessential Christmas cookie, am I right? Joe’s not a huge fan of them in general, which is sad, because I can’t justify making an entire batch for myself…too much time, too many cookies, and too many miles on the treadmill. But, I love them–specifically the recipe we’ve been making since I was a baby. Earlier this week, Joe and I had lunch at a local bakery and they had gorgeous, hand-decorated sugar cookies. I tried one…mmmm….nope. It didn’t come close to our recipe. And, even though I paid $3 for the sugary tree, it made me happy to know that nothing can beat Old Faithful.

What are your holiday treat traditions? Anyone up for a sugar cookie throwdown?

# Project Winter Runway

I’m not any kind of authority when it comes to winter fashion, or any fashion for that matter, but I feel the need to discuss our winter wares with you…only because the amount we’ve collected in a few short months never ceases to amaze me.

But first, a history…

Growing up in Oklahoma, I encountered a stray snow storm here and there, mostly ice though. We had winter coats, boots and mittens whose patterns would appear in the cold snow for these instances. Clearly, I was always on the cutting edge of fashion when we went outside to play.

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I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I still strike that pose when coming in from the cold, and, no, you can’t have these coats. Sorry – they’re vintage now and a little too small to boot.

Plus, these coats would have nothing on my Lands’ End dream coat—a Christmas gift when I was 13. I introduce to you “Old Blue.”

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If you can believe it, I wore this coat for over 15 years. Allll the way through high school, alllll the way through living in Baltimore, and alllll the way through grad school in Cincinnati, whose winters were much fiercer than anything I’d encountered before. And, in full disclosure, I still own the coat and sometimes wear it when I’m home for Christmas—usually just to get a few eye-rolls.

When we moved from Florida to Virginia, I was fully prepared to take Old Blue with me. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve kept it clean and in good shape…and the fact that Lands’ End STILL makes the same coat, in the same color, I find it hard to believe it looks *that* outdated. But Joe gently encouraged me to get a warmer, higher-quality coat from the Columbia Outlet when we moved. After all, we were going to freeze our buns off after so many years in tropical climates. And we did. It felt bitter cold all winter long, even though it only snowed on us two, maybe three, times TOTAL over two years. #wimps

Needless to say, when we found out we’d be moving to Utah, we went into panic mode. You’d be amazed at the amount of clothing and winter accessories we’ve acquired since last May. Here’s just a sampling:

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We’ve got…his & her bomber hats • his & her snow pants • below-zero gloves for her • fleece-lined mittens • tech-touch gloves for him • Yak-Trax Pro (for walking on ice/snow) • pant covers for walking in deep snow • new Columbia trench coat with omni-heat (a gift from Joe when I told him we could move to Utah, haha) • multiple pairs of Columbia base layers • fleece-lined pants for her • wool socks (and lots of ‘em) • omni-heat stadium coat • winter boots for her (found at the Columbia Outlet on Spring Clearance for $24, originally $200 – amazing) • winter boots for him (NorthFace Outlet) • face guard for walking the dog and looking scary as hell

And this isn’t even everything! Most of these items we found at Columbia Outlets, or were gifted, and can now all be found next to our back door in a crazy heap. It might look crazy, but when it’s actually negative 14 degrees and you’re standing outside waiting for a dog to pee, you want to put on anything and everything you can.

Speaking of Bells, we’re not the only ones with new winter gear. Our friends told us about these MuttLuks boots that have worked perfectly in keeping her precious paws clean, dry and salt/snow-free. How much do I want to put her in one of these snow-suits? She’d hate my guts, but she’d be #totesadorbs.

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It wasn’t always a walk in the park, though (no pun intended). Here she is putting them on for the first time.

Don’t be concerned by those long locks. She had to wait to get a hair-cut until her sutures were removed and healed. This has since taken place:

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Here she is exploring the snow last week. Welcome to our Winter Wonderland.

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So, the moral of the story is this: As long as we’re living in Utah, we encourage each of you to buy stock in Columbia. I’ll be sure to give you a Martha-Stewart-wink if anything changes.

Friday Five: Christmas Music

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

After three weeks of playing non-stop holiday gigs, I thought it would be nice to have a break and clear my head…and not shovel snow off my car at 11pm in negative-degree temperatures. But, I miss it.

The music. Not the snow.

I’m a Christmas music fanatic, normally hitting play on my various homemade mix CDs long before Thanksgiving arrives. I’m the one who’s ecstatic there’s a Christmas Radio Station, who doesn’t tire of Barbra’s out of breath jingling bells or Dean and Frank’s campy marshmallow world. I can’t help it.

I realize I’m in the minority here, but my music’s too loud for me to hear you complain.

Here what I’m listening to:

5. The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece falls quickly in the eyes of most musicians. A typical Nutcracker gig can mean weeks of performances between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve—devouring a pit dweller’s holiday in one sugar-plumed bite. I’ve managed to escape the perils of these gigs, choosing to keep my holiday repetition free and my love of this score intact. Until this year. It was only five performances, but I feel like I survived and came out on the other side loving this music even more. I still was covered in goosebumps upon hearing the melodies I’ve grown to love. My first Nutcracker performance, after all, was when I was three months old. It’s in my blood. I heart you, Tchaikovsky! Here are two of my favorite numbers (neither great recordings):

The only down side to our performances was the over-zealous fog machine in the beginning of the second act. This photo was captured by our trumpeter friend, Max, who wasn’t trying to breathe/play/see/remain conscious through the smoke. Lucky him.

Nutcracker fog in pit 4

4. The Wild Cards

Not every Christmas album is an entire hit. Actually, there are very few whose every track I adore. Just because you can rock out some Fa La La La Las, does not mean your Caribbean Silent Night works. Here are some singles that survive my track skipping:

Mariah’s All I Want for Christmas
Ella’s Sleigh Ride
She & Him’s The Christmas Waltz
Bobby’s Jingle Bell Rock
Vince Guaraldi Trio’s O Tannenbaum

3. The Classics

If you were competing on Family Feud and Ray Combs (NOT Steve Harvey, please) said “someone who sings Christmas Carols”…who would you say? I’d go with Bing. How could you not say Bing Crosby? (If the round came back to me again, I’d say Andy Williams.) These are the quintessential tunes for the season. I could listen to these albums all day (and have).

Suggested listening:

Bing: The Voice of Christmas
Andy: Complete Christmas Recordings

2. The Crooners

Somewhere around high school, I fell for the dulcet tunes of Harry Connick, Jr. It began a total infatuation that’s lasted half my life: I love old-fashioned crooners. The style has evolved slightly, but it’s these crooners that make me swooners:

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Christmas with the Rat Pack
Michael Bublé

1. Brass

If I can’t hear the words, I better be able to hear brass. You can go the traditional route, like with The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, but I like my Christmas with a side of jazz. Stan Kenton, actually. His original Christmas album is incredible, but we tend to prefer The Capital Bones’ version.

Suggested listening:

A Stan Kenton Christmas by The Capital Bones Big Band
Kenton’s original A Merry Christmas
Philly’s Festival of Carols

Whatever you like, just crank it up and sing along. ‘Tis the season for that to be okay.

Any albums/singles you think should’ve made the cut? Any artist you wish would record an album? I’m lookin’ at YOU, Brandi Carlile. #prettyprettyplease????

# tree trimming

Yesterday was my first day off in almost two weeks, not counting Thanksgiving. It was incredible to catch up on some sleep, unplug from the world and just spend some quality down-time with my two faves: Joe and Bells.

After we ate dinner, I was just sitting on the couch looking at our Christmas tree and had a sudden urge to pull out my BGC, which had been sadly packed away for a while now. Taking photos inside at night is never easy (but great practice!), so I accepted the challenge to show you guys our decorations—new and old.

Our tree is still the $20, 6-foot fake one we bought at Wal-Mart for our first Christmas in Miami. I can’t believe it’s still holding on, but it remains a good size for us since our living room is so small. Lots of people like the delicate, flashy ornaments that are all the rage, but I prefer old ones, ones that tell a story. And there are a lot of stories going on with this tree.

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When I was a child, our Christmas tree was covered in soft ornaments from a company called House of Hatten, which no longer is in business. My aunt worked for them, and unbeknownst to us, she bought extras of all the ornaments we had and when Krista and I got married, she presented us with bags of the ornaments we knew and loved. It’s one of my favorite gifts ever and I enjoy these ornaments the most.

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We also have lots of horns everywhere…

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And a cute candy-snowman couple we bought our first year in Miami…

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Handmade gifts from Lily…

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And an ornament tree-topper that perfectly captures the holiday in one word.

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There are also lots of reminders….reminders of childhood…

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Reminders of our love for each other, and of s’mores…

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Reminders of family…

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Reminders of Bells, our fur baby…

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And, just reminders…

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And, of course this little guy, who is a replica of my family’s most-treasured ornament: The Mouse in the Thimble. (A Hallmark classic from the 70s.) We would actually have contests (who, us?) to see who could find it first every year. It was all fun and games until Booh and Bryan realized I would hide it in my room all year and then have it in my pocket when it came time to decorate. #outforblood Never underestimate a middle child. Just sayin’.

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And here’s our mantle! In an ironic twist, we actually don’t have a fireplace in Utah, so we just used our huge music cabinet that was too big for our study and now resides in our living room. I think it worked out well, though and I’m thrilled to have STOCKINGS for the first time ever. (Don’t let those “grellow” walls scare you…they aren’t normally so glaring. Thanks, artificial light.)

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You might remember this post about the childhood stockings from my past. I’m so delighted with how my new stocking looks. Helen Andrews of HelenHolidayWorkshop on Etsy did a wonderful job, if anyone’s in the market for a Bucilla stocking that’s pre-made! (She does such a great job, it appears she sold out her shop for the season!)

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Joining our stockings are little vases I filled with tiny ornaments we don’t use on the tree anymore, as well as our first Jim Shore Santa! I think he looks very dapper up there.

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This is also the first year we’ve used the items I found at Pier 1’s Christmas Clearance sale last year. We have these new glittery jingle bell stocking holders and a fun, plush Santa tree skirt that Bella’s miraculously staying away from. My bet was on those pom-poms being the first casualty.

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That’s the Christmas Decor tour for 2013! What are your own  decoration favorites? Any special ornaments or stockings in your collection?