Merry Christmas!

You never know who will be the first person out of bed on Christmas morning.  It might be me or it might be one of the boys.  It's never Ken.  Except this year it was!

He got up early to start making homemade chocolate chip cinnamon for our Christmas breakfast.  I turned on the Christmas tree and banister lights before making my morning chai tea latte.  Gage, who had heard cupboards opening and dishes clanking together, came down and sat on the love seat.  Last to get up this year was KC, who definitely got up on the wrong side of the bed.

How can anyone get up on the wrong side of the bed on Christmas morning!?

Eventually, the dough was set aside to rise and we were ready to open presents.  As always, we start with stockings.  It usually takes two people to get them down - one to untie the ribbons holding them in place and one to hold the stockings so that gravity doesn't win.  Gravity usually wins at least once.  Also, as per usual, not all the stocking stuffers could fit into the stockings.  Ken had a small pile of little gifts sitting next to his chair and was told to pretend he had taken them out of his stocking, which holds frustratingly little. I would replace our stockings but we've had them since we first got married and I just can't bring myself to set them aside despite their small stature.

Once the stockings are done we moved on to the presents under the tree.  Usually the kids' big presents are in the back so they can be opened last.  This year we changed things up a bit and put their "big" (read most expensive) gift in the very front.  Because KC had gotten a new TV and I didn't want to wrap it, we had a clue wrapped up for him in a much smaller box.

We had quite the Christmas haul this year but Ken was pleasantly surprised that, for once, I did not overdo it.  In addition to the stuff I bought for the kids, I got Ken an new coffee pot that lets the user make either a full pot or single cup.  I also got him a new and improved Fitbit to replace the one that stopped working awhile back.

Ken got me a few things off my wishlist, including a new sewing machine and the light kit for indoor photography.  I still need to experiment with that last gift.  I got it out of the box and set up but didn't get much further.

Now, because pictures make me happy, here are some snapshots of our holiday season.

P.S.  I love Snapchat filters.  I have so much fun putting funny faces on people, including myself!

Christmas Through The Years

I thought it might be fun to pull together some old Christmas pictures.

An old scanned photo from when Ken and his sister,
Ronnie, were little.  That's their dad in the front. I'd say this
one was taken in the mid- to late 70s.

Me and my dad.  Mid-70s. Am I crying or laughing?  I bet I'm crying.  
Early 80s.  Pictured here are my mom and dad, my two brothers, and me. I have no
idea where this picture was taken.   

This one makes me laugh!  Let's see.  My Uncle Steve and Aunt Monica
with a few of their kids, my siblings and me, and another random nephew (David).
My grandma is walking into the frame.  I don't recognize the house.  What I do find funny,
though, are the poses my cousin, Jessica, and I are modeling.  She's in the red dress and I'm
in way too much pink. 

From the mid 1980s, if I had to guess, which I do.  Holding the fire truck is
  my youngest brother, Jason.  This picture was taken at our step-grandmother's house.
In the background is Uncle David, my step-mom's brother.

Ken and I were still dating when this picture was taken.
This is our nephew, Andrew, sitting with Santa.

KC in our first house (Cleveland Avenue in Flint, MI).

The first Christmas with all four of us.  Gage was probably only a couple of weeks
old at this time.  KC would be three in just a couple of months. 

This was truly a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  We were days away from moving out
of our first home and into our new house.  There was just too much going on to worry
about getting a traditional Christmas tree that year.  Gage and KC didn't seem to mind.

Gage sitting on Grandpa Heiser's lap while they both admire the Christmas train. 

My boys with their first cousins on my side of the family.  Pictured here with their
Grandpa and Grandma Clifford (my mom and step-dad).

My boys with the Bronners' Santa.  If you're not familiar with Bronners, Google Bronners
in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  The place is Christmas 24/7/365. 

Christmas tree hunting at Windy Hills Tree Farm.  Ken and the boys enjoying the
warmth of a bonfire after chopping down our tree. 

A guitar for Christmas.  I think he played it that day and never touched it again. 

My brothers, sister, and me at the Sherman Family Christmas party.  Yes, I'm the oldest.

My boys posing for a Christmas card photo.  They're such good sports!

The boys and their Heiser cousins.  Yep, there's only the four boys on Ken's side of the family. 

The year we took my dad to see a live production of the Christmas Carol at the Flint Youth Theatre.  

Grandma and Grandpa Heiser (Ken's parents) posing with us in front of our Christmas tree.

The boys with Dexter.  It's crazy how fast these kids grow!!!

Decorating the tree.  It looks like it just needs a bit more garland
and some bulbs.  P.S.  No one enjoys decorating the tree at my house.
Bunch of spoil sports. 

For the last few years we've ventured out on Christmas night to go play games at Ken's
sister and brother-in-law's house.  The kids usually stay home playing their new video games,
but they're welcome to come hang out with their older cousins for a couple of hours.

Christmas 2016.  My dad with all of his grandkids.  

Tomorrow, I'll post a recap of Christmas 2017!  I hope you enjoyed this little walk down Christmas Memory Lane. 

Today's Quote: On Failure

Our society places a great deal of emphasis on success.  We are told in so many different ways that our value as a person is in may ways dependent upon our successes.  Failure, on the other hand, is a shameful act that highlights our ineptitude and diminishes us.

Failure is shameful.

To fail is to feel shame.

This programming begins early.  I would dare say it begins before we even start attending school.  Parents compare notes, measuring their children's milestones against siblings, cousins, and peers.  Oh, your two year old daughter still isn't potty trained?  Mine's being using the big potty since she was 1 1/2.  This type of comparison puts the pressure on parent and child alike, and failure to perform to whatever arbitrary standard results in feelings of frustration and shame.  Why can't little Suzie just go to the potty like her little friend?  Is it Suzie's failure or mine?, the mother wonders. What's wrong with Suzie?  What's wrong with me?

These instances play out a thousand times over but they become even more pronounced as we enter school.  Letter grades become a permanent record of successes and failures, ultimately categorizing students into academic tiers.  Those are the smart kids, those are not.  I think there's something important to consider when contemplating the effect of letter grades on a developing psyche.

From an article in NEA, Alfie Kohn says, "The research quite clearly shows that kids who are graded - and have been encouraged to try to improve their grades - tend to lose interest in the learning itself, avoid challenging tasks whenever possible (in order to maximize the chance of getting an A), and think less deeply than kids who aren't graded.  The problem isn't with how we grade, nor is it limited to students who do especially well or poorly in school, it's inherent to grading."

I think one of the most insightful things Kohn says there is about how kids avoid challenging tasks whenever possible.  Why?  Because the kids fear to fail.  It's as simple and as complex as that.  Fear inhibits them and makes them risk-adverse.

This reality pains me, not because I am immune to the stigma of failure but because I know there's value in trying something even I may not get the results I want.  One of the biggest benefits of failure is in what we learn.   

Let me say that again: one of the biggest benefits of failure is in what we learn. 

So you tried something and didn't work.  Why not?  What went wrong?  Can you do anything to change the outcome should you try again?  If we approached our failures with a more positive attitude, would we succeed more often?

I would like to think so, but sometimes I'm too afraid of failure to find out.

Weekends in Baldwin

A few days ago I wrote about how Ken and I met.  It was on a rafting trip down the Pere Marquette River in Baldwin, Michigan.  In that post I mentioned that my family owned a lot on a little two track dirt road.  On that parcel of land sat a couple of trailers.  Well, I found some old pictures from when we were either dating or just married.  In either case, these are from the 1990s, either early or mid-decade.

This was at a time in our lives when money was tight and our vacation options were limited.  Often, we'd drive up to the trailer and stay for the weekend because it was the cheapest getaway we could manage.  The only thing we had to worry about other than food and gas money was refilling the propane tank before we left and, perhaps once or twice a year, handing over a small amount of money to help cover the electricity bill. It was vacationing on a budget for sure!

At the time this picture was taken I'm fairly confident the trailer had a working bathroom in it.  However, if you look in the woods to the far right, you'll see a small wooden structure.  That's the old outhouse I used to have to use as a kid.  Furthermore, through those woods, behind the outhouse and just a little more to the right there was an old red house with a pump-handle well where we used to wash our hair.  It was like dunking your head in Lake Superior.  Ice cold!  I'd get a headache within seconds and by the time the suds were rinsed out of my hair, I was in a great deal of pain. Brain freeze on a whole different level!

This picture tells me that the old silver camper was long gone.  The shed had been built by this time, which I take as further proof this was taken in the 90s.

Also, can you see the sandy two-track road running through the background?  I can't tell you how many times I traversed that path with my cousins when I was younger.  We'd often go off in search of broken glass we could paint with nail polish.  Yes, kids, that's how mom entertained herself as a child.  I painted pieces of broken glass found along abandoned foundations embedded at the edges of the encroaching woods with nail polish.  What can I say?  It was something to do...

When these pictures were taken I was more likely to be found with a book in my hand instead of one of my aunt's nail polish bottles. 

Also, who just leaves a door wide open?  Hello, mosquitoes!  Come on in and prepare yourself for a midnight feast.  We'll be along eventually.

In true Ken and Krista fashion, I'm reading and Ken is cooking.  As I look at the stuff on the table before him, I'm wondering if he wasn't getting prepping goose roll-ups.  That could be goose or duck meat in the dish.  There's a box of toothpicks.  Bacon.  Seasoned salt.  Yep, I'm thinking goose roll ups for sure.

That structure in the background belonged to a neighbor if you're wondering.  That's not the shed.  The shed is more or less in front of Ken, just out of the shot.

I don't see anyone else in these pictures so I have to think that Ken and I were alone for the weekend.  It seems strange now that we were so often alone, just the two of us.  We don't do a lot by ourselves anymore.  There's always the kids to think of and, if they don't want to join us, we're often with friends or family members.  Alone time is something we don't indulge in the way we used to, at least not very often.  As I think back on this summer's camping trips, I think we camped by ourselves, truly by ourselves with no friends or family a stone's throw away, perhaps two or three times. 

As our kids get older and we're forced to contemplate the empty nest, I wonder if we'll slip back into these moments as easily as we embraced them as a young couple.  I like to think we will. 

My 2017 Christmas Reads

I know a lot of readers like to set aside the month of December for holiday-themed books.  I'm not really one of those readers.  If you were to look at the books I'm currently tracking on Goodread's, you'd find that I'm in the middle of an epic fantasy novel, a literary short story collection, a non-fiction title, and a vampire short story collection.  You would also spot a holiday book on the shelf because I'm definitely not immune to the sentimental pull of Christmas books.

My husband thinks my goal is to cry at least once a day.  It's not a goal, but I'm not opposed to having my heart strings plucked on a regular basis.  

Earlier in December I read The Stupidest Angel Vol. 2 by Christopher Moore and Christmas with Book Club by Heather Woodhaven.  One was funny, one was quaintly heartwarming.  The Colors of Christmas by Olivia Newport is yet another type of Christmas read. Sure, it's heartwarming, but it also touches on some of the less explored holiday emotions of loss and regret. In the first story, Astrid sits in an old folk's home recalling the Christmases of her youth during World War II.  In the second, Angela is tasked with organizing a Christmas extravaganza while still struggling with the loss of her dearest friend. 

My full reviews are down below if you're curious to know more. 

Christmas Book Reviews 2017

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (Pine Cove, #3)The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a sweet, heartwarming holiday tale, this is not it. With his typical irreverent approach, Christopher Moore delivers a delightfully wacky Christmas story complete with zombies raised by a very inept angel. I can't tell you the number of times I literally laughed out loud while reading this.

I love a story with memorable characters. In this book, there's a dopey constable, a mentally ill b-rated actress, a talking bat, a bad dog, a slightly unbalanced biologist, and a stupid angel. The language is often inappropriate, so this is definitely not for the easily offended. Let's just say there are people I'd recommend it to and people I would not.

Christmas with Book Club (Best Ever Book Club #2)Christmas with Book Club by Heather Woodhaven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little book was the perfect feel-good Christmas read I was looking for when I picked it up. As the month of December looms with all its holiday obligations, the ladies of the Best Ever Book Club decide they want to anonymously do something generous and good-spirited for someone. While juggling kids, husbands, and jobs, the ladies manage to find the perfect candidate for their Secret Santa Challenge. This challenge is a minor part of the plot, though. The story really revolves around the relationships between the ladies and their men, culminating in a magical Christmas morning for all.

Colors of Christmas: Two Contemporary Stories Celebrate the Hope of ChristmasColors of Christmas: Two Contemporary Stories Celebrate the Hope of Christmas by Olivia Newport
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked these two novella-length stories more than I expected to and would recommend them to anyone looking for a Christmas read.

The first story, Christmas in Gold, chronicles Astrid's first Christmas at an assisted living community. Having been forced to downsize from a house to an small apartment, Astrid had to say goodbye to a good number of her things. The few things she kept held great sentimental value and perhaps none quite so much as the gold Christmas ornaments she and her father had saved from the rubble left behind by bombs dropped from World War II planes. When Astrid can't seem to find the box containing these precious heirlooms, she begins to recall more and more of those dark days following the loss of the family's home and business. While these vivid memories consume the weeks leading up to Christmas, Astrid is not unaware of her new living mates or the people who take care of them on a daily basis. When she recognizes that her sweet, likable physical therapist is suffering her own brand of trauma, Astrid sets out to help the young woman. Faith, Astrid believes, can see you through any storm and she intends to help Carly discover this truth for herself.

Christmas in Blue , the second story in this book, was perhaps even more emotionally evocative than Christmas in Gold. The holidays can be difficult for those who have recently lost someone they love and this story explores the emotional and mental difficulties the grieving face during these festive weeks.

In this story, Angela's best friend Carole had died earlier in the year, leaving a giant gaping hole in her friend's heart. This loss is even more pronounced during the holidays because Carole had been a Christmas junkie, delighting in making sure their hometown had a holiday festival that outdid itself year after year. The committee that used to help Carole nominates Angela to take lead on this project, much to Angela's dismay. As if this unwanted task wasn't stressful enough, Angela soon discovers a host of troubles that force her to give the town a Blue Christmas festival.

For me, the most emotional moment in this entire book came when Angela attends the Blue Christmas church service. I cried as I read through those pages, wishing I could share that portion of the book with a number of people in my life that have felt the knife's edge of debilitating grief.

View all my reviews

December 2017 Book Club Meeting

Our book club struggles when it comes to our monthly meetups.  Some months we meet, most months we do not.  Life often gets in the way and people have to beg off in order to attend to their family or their jobs.  I'm no exception, either!  There are times I would love to attend, but the day and time proposed just doesn't work in my schedule.

This month I volunteered to host. I wasn't sure how many of the ladies would actually show considering Christmas was a mere eight days away.  Some had family parties to attend, others likely had shopping or baking or decorating to do.  Honestly, I half expected those who had said they were coming to call or text and tell me it just wouldn't work out.  I mean...eight days.

I should probably admit right here and now I was getting some baking in myself before the ladies showed up.  I made chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, peanut butter cookies, and white chocolate Macadamia nut cookies.  I was pulling the last tray out of the oven as my first guest walked through the door.

The house smelled amazing. 

Although many were missing, a few of the ladies did make the meeting to discuss our November read, Truth or Beard by Penny Reid.  Mostly, though, we caught up on each other's lives, checking in with each other about kids, spouses, and jobs.  We laughed a lot, especially after the wine got flowing.

I think we all pretty much agreed the book was cute, but predictable.  I appreciated the fact that this particular heroine had dreams and aspirations that made settling down with someone with such deep ties to the community a problem.  Did it perhaps take them too long to figure out how to make both of them happy?  Was the big family secret not really any kind of secret at all?  Yes to both. Still.  It was an entertaining and easy read, entertaining enough I'd read more in the series for the right price. In fact, I already picked up book #4, which focuses on Duane's twin brother, Beau, because it was on sale for $1.99 in the Kindle store.

Some book club enticements.

When Your Amazon Music is Set on Random

I thought I'd share with you the first ten songs my Amazon player picks when I tell it to surprise me with random picks.

The Hunt for a Tree

Finding the perfect Christmas tree kick-starts our holiday season.  While some families like to have the tree in place and decorated before Thanksgiving, we always wait until December to go on the hunt.  If we go on the first weekend of December, which is my preference, it can sometimes coincide with our youngest boy's birthday.  Luckily, he doesn't seem to mind.

When the boys were little we used to take them to a tree farm complete with Santa, reindeer, hayrides, and a maze made out of hay bails.  We'd hitch a ride to one of the back fields and traipse through the rows and rows of pretty spruces in search of one that wouldn't be too thin, too fat, too tall, or too short.  After Ken finished sawing the tree down, we'd sit by the bonfire and wait for the wagon's eventual return.  After we got back to the big barn/store, the boys would run through the maze, climb on the fence to get a better look at the reindeer, drink hot cocoa, and help us pick out a wreath.  The trip wouldn't be complete though without getting a picture with Santa.

As they do, kids grow up.  Eventually, pictures with Santa are rejected out of hand.  The fascination with the reindeer lessens and the maze loses some of its magic when the children can see over the bails of hay.  The trip to the tree farm becomes more of a chore than an adventure.

While I will always hold those memories of that first tree farm close to my heart, we no longer visit its many acres in search of our Christmas tree.  We've found someplace that is much more reasonably priced.  Instead of paying $60-100 for a tree, we pay only $25.  There aren't as many trees to choose from and there's no cultivated Christmastime ambiance, but this new place suits our needs just fine.

We pull into a driveway and then follow a little two-track path up to a hill where everyone parks.  The owner's dog is often up by the house, but sometimes she comes out to visit the families.  This year she saw Dexter in my lap and jumped on Ken's truck, leaving faint scratches in the paint.  Oops!

The parking area on top of the hill. 
On the hunt for the perfect tree.

We found it!  Of course there's an obligatory picture with mom, boys!

This year we went on a day that was unseasonably warm for a Michigan winter. Snow had yet to fall, which meant there was no need for snow pants or heavy boots.  Hats and gloves weren't even necessary, although most of us did opt to wear gloves.

Forget the hand saw!  Ken remembered to bring his chainsaw.

He's got this.

Mission accomplished!

I am never a good judge of size.  I thought the tree looked a little on the short side when it was still standing in the lot.  However, when we got it home and Ken got it into the tree stand, I discovered that I had to actually trim off several inches of its pointy top.  A few more snips were required to help shape the uppermost branches.

After fixing the angel atop the tree and recruiting my hubby to help me decorate it - both boys were off with their girlfriends by this time - we finally had our Christmas tree in place.  I think it's beautiful.

Christmas tree and some treats. Life is good.