Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking Down The Tree

Without being asked, I began the process of taking down the tree this afternoon. Taking our Christmas tree down is a huge undertaking. You don't believe me? Take a gander at this photo of it fully loaded....

I spent at least an hour on it already and made great progress. HOWEVER, there are still at least thirty ornaments that need to be removed. And...I didn't even put up all the ornaments this year. The truth is, there was another project I wanted to do more but I decided to be responsible and take down the tree first. It's never as much fun as putting it up but it's still worth it because I get to anticipate all the fun I'll have next year when it goes up again.

Oh, in case you're wondering who the person is behind the chair, that's my son - working on his Lego Hogwart's Castle, with very Harry Potter-ish hair. He really needs a haircut, but I can't bring myself to ruin his Christmas holiday by forcing him to get one. Plus, I've never been very concerned about sloppy hair. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black....I try to avoid hypocrisy whenever I can.

I've had a few bouts of melancholy during the post-Christmas ride, but not as many as I would normally expect. Whenever I start to feel a little bit blue, I just pull out the flour and yeast. And here's the really crazy thing...although I'm loving this time with David and the kids...I'm also really looking forward to going back to work. What a concept, right?

Of course, I'm probably just looking forward to finding more victims for my baking experiments.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Home Again

When I was a kid, and we'd arrive back home, my dad would always say: "Home again, home again, jiggety jog." So...whenever I arrive home or think about being back home, that phrase pops into my head. I just looked it up because I couldn't remember the origin - apparently it's a Mother Goose rhyme. I probably knew that at one time, but proceeded to forget it.

Possibly because I've never actually left my house to buy a fat hog.

At any rate, I'm home now - eating leftover tamales and drinking St. Arnold's Christmas Ale while I blog. Could it be any better than that?

I think not.

Once we got home this afternoon, my son immediately found a corner in our living room so that he could put together his Lego's Hogwart's Castle and my daughter went upstairs to listen to music and put away her new Little Miss Mismatched socks and other assorted accessories. I, of course, got straight to baking. My husband was right to be proud of the gifts he'd bought for me - ALL baking-related. I'll be baking bread constantly until I head back to work, I'm sure. Thank heaven none of us has a gluten intolerance.

And I'm hoping my co-workers enjoy bread, because they'll be seeing a lot of it over the next few months.

The best thing about Christmas gifts, in my opinion, is when you get just the right gift from someone you love. It shows you that they understand who you are and value your idiosyncratic qualities. 

I've now got a couple of expensive Williams-Sonoma bread pans and a fabulous new bread-baking cookbook. I'm in heaven.

My husband has a new green laser-pointer (which is awesome because it appears to point through the night sky so that you can easily point to stars and constellations).

Even my dad did well this year. He paid a local leather-smith to make my mom a one-of-a-kind purse.

Good Christmas vibes must have been in the air. I hope all of you had just as joyous a season.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

How My Family Does Gifts


That's all there is to it. It's great, but crazy.  Well, if you want to be sure and actually watch someone open the gift you got them on Christmas morning, it's not necessarily that great - because the chances of you getting to see it are slim to none. It turns into a sort of free-for-all. Compared to how it was when I ws a kid, it's actually sort of calm now.

My husband's family opens gifts slowly - one at a time - so everyone can see what you got. At first I didn't understand that concept, but now I have to say that I appreciate it.

My family has this approach for present exchanges:
1. fill the tree with a completely insane number of gifts
2. start handing gifts out to everyone so that they end up with a crazy-huge pile in front of them
3. tear into gifts
4. if you're a parent, try to carefully pick up gift wrapping trash from the floor in a fruitless attempt to avoid the loss of small gifts among the debris
5. after the gift opening frenzy is complete, spend the next three hours looking for the gift that you didn't even know you got until your mom mentions it in passing and you realize it got into someone else's pile, or is accidentally buried in tissue paper

When my kid brother was just a baby, and still in his infant seat, we lost him one Christmas. I kid you not. Paper went flying (that was the Christmas I got my dollhouse from my grandparents - handmade and decorated by them) and all of a sudden my mom said: "Wait! Where's the baby??" After a few frantic minutes, someone found him buried under wrapping paper, just playing with the colored beams of light that were coming through to him.

Now he offers the strongest resistance to my attempts to SLOW IT DOWN so that we can watch each other open gifts. He's not having any of that nonsense. He spent the whole morning tossing gift after gift to everyone. In the meantime, I leapt over my nephew in a single bound so I could be there to watch my son open his mountain of Legos.

I'm still looking for a gold bracelet my mom gave me. My husband saw it, but I didn't. I know it's GREAT because I saw the identical one that my daughter and the other female relatives received.

I love my family. We're wild, though. We can't give enough gifts to each other, we can't cook enough food (as evidenced by my three pies, and two "other deserts") and we can't tell enough loud stories to each other. It takes a certain kind of patience to tolerate our approach to life. If you know me at all, then I guess you could sort of just multiply me by about 10 and that would give you the idea of what it's like to be around us at Christmas. Thank goodness for David. Somehow he's able to walk through our loud, tissue-filled living rooms with a smile and a great attitude.

At least he gets all the pumpkin pie, spicy pecans, eggnog bread, and hot apple caramel topping that he can eat for his trouble. Maybe that makes it all worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Favorite Ornament


This is one of my very first ornaments. As you can tell from the flattened spout, I used it as a teething toy. My memories of this one are so strong that I can ALMOST remember what it felt like to chew on that spout. The ubiquitous masking tape on the bottom of this ornament indicates that I received it in Christmas of 1972, which means I would have been about 15 months old. Prime teething age.

I remember having tea parties for my dolls with this little tea kettle. If I ever have a bigger kitchen and am able to have a smaller kitchen-themed Christmas tree (one of the few decorating ideas I have) - this will be featured on that tree.

Every year, this kettle shines perfectly when I set it against a lit tree branch. Every January, I wrap it carefully in tissue paper and pack it away with all my other cherished childhood memories.

Tomorrow I leave town so I can spend Christmas with my parents, where I hope I will be creating wonderful Christmas memories for my own children.

And so it goes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Corn Cob Cinderella? Maybe not...

Ok, I'm sure you can tell by now that I tended to think just about every female ornament (that wasn't clearly an angel) was Cinderella. I thought she was because she had a broom and a smile. Who else would be smiling as she swept? June Cleaver, maybe? Again, this Cinderella designation doesn't make much sense since she's wearing a bandanna print.

I took a picture of the back so you can see the identifying masking tape, which tells you that "Jenny" (that would be me) received this ornament during the Christmas of 1975. I was born in September of 1971, so she's clearly pretty old. I'm not sure how much longer the corn cob husk will hold up.

Notice how she has that simple little sweet smile and tiny little dots for eyes? I think there was something about those old-fashioned doll faces that just appealed to me when I was a kid. I've read enough about child development to know that simple faces like that are often the best for young children because then their imaginations can fill in the gaps.

I promise you that was the case for me. I had a very active imagination and played with my Christmas ornaments as if they were dolls.

That could explain the ragged appearance of this one. At least she's well-loved...perhaps even "real."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men


This is another one of Mimi's gifts to me. I would have guessed second grade, but it's become a recurring theme for me to associate most of these meaningful ornaments with second grade. Whenever I do that, I've learned it's best to assume the association is faulty. Clearly, the majority of my ornament collection did not come into being the year I was seven years old. I bet I could date it online, but that sounds like more effort than I want to take on.

There are quite a few things about this ornament that I find tremendously appealing:

  • the ancient-rune-looking decorations along the top of the circle and the fact that it was made to look as if it was old wood (when, in fact, it's Hallmark plastic)
  • the circular shape itself (and how the angel is flying through it)
  • the front/back continuation of the decoration and words
  • the blue of the angel's gown and the fact that she's sporting the EXACT same muffin-top haircut I wore for more years than I care to remember
  • the angel's cute little bare feet
Christmas is right around the corner and I'm down to just two more ornaments I've chosen for this little exercise in self-exploration. Just the other day, I almost pulled another one off the tree...but refrained. 

See? I have empathy for my readers.

Monday, December 13, 2010


I always thought this lady was Cinderella. I can't remember if it's because my Mimi told me she was or if it was just my own thought process. I'm not actually sure why Cinderella would be carrying a calico purse and have a lace collar. Maybe she's supposed to be someone from the 1860's since she has those big bustles on the side of her dress?

It's the strangest thing to be looking at all these ornaments more closely. I hope I'm not losing all the magic with this analysis.

At any rate, she (let's call her Cinderella just for the sake of this posting...) was always one of my favorites. I loved the sweet face and reddish hair. The funny thing is that she sort of has my daughter's features. My girl has light blue eyes and thick, reddish-brown hair.

My daughter doesn't have little pink circles drawn on her face, but this ornament is enough like her that it almost makes me want to rename it in my mind from Cinderella to my daughter's name.

Have I ever told you that I briefly caught a glimpse of my daughter before she was born? I was just in one of those half-awake moments and I saw her clear as day as an older kid. I was surprised to see that she had red hair. Sure enough, when she came out a few months later - there it was. Lucky girl.

Back to this ornament...she's stayed in much nicer condition than most of my other childhood ornaments. Presumably because she's made of wood and yarn. And because I got her after I was past my teething stage. (More on that in the final posting.) I wish I knew where she originated. But... like many other pieces of my childhood, she just sort of showed up and I have no idea what she represents.

Luckily, I like her and enjoy her company. We can't always say that about all of the "ornamentation" from our childhood, can we?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bright Angel

I keep thinking that I made this angel in second grade...but I'm not sure that's right if I also made my Corncob Doll in second grade. This one could have been a church ornament. I definitely remember painting her and I remember that I wanted her to have dark hair (like me). As you can tell, I branded her with a large "J" so that no one would steal her. Because I'm sure she would have fetched a pretty penny on the black market.

Each year, when I put her on the tree, I was always very proud of her. I almost always chose bright colors for my artwork as a child. Clearly, this angel is no exception. 

Interestingly, my son just told me that she looks Chinese. I guess the outfit resembles a kimono and of course there's a certain geisha quality to the white skin and red lips, I suppose. In truth, I was just trying to create an angel that looked like me. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fat Devil-Child

Every year my Mimi gave me an ornament around Christmas. Her ornaments are the base upon which my entire ornament collection is built. That yearly gift is probably a big part of the reason I give each of my kids and my husband an ornament every Thanksgiving Day. (I started that tradition long before I had kids, by the way – my husband has a bunch of ornaments from me. Twenty, I guess.)

She gave me this ornament in 1983. So, if the engraver accurately recorded the year I was 12 years old. (My daughter is almost 12…that’s a little freaky.) I remember when getting items engraved was all the rage.

Check it out – the engraving was done freehand. Nowadays I think it’s the case that computers and machines do the engraving so it’s all perfect. But this brings back memories of watching the engravers at work in those little kiosks in the mall. I used to be SO impressed with them – my handwriting wasn’t so hot as a pre-teen and I imagined that the pressure to write well must have been intense. I also wondered what happened if they messed one up – did they have to pay for it themselves?

Okay, okay. So I tended to over think things just a bit. Thank goodness I’ve outgrown that tendency, right?

I simply must point out a couple of odd things about this ornament which never occurred to me until tonight, when I really examined it. First of all, the kid putting the letter into the mailbox has a rather big butt. It's hard to tell with this picture, but when you see it in person, you can tell they included a butt crack on the outside of his/her pants. So the kid is either fat or is wearing tight pants. Or maybe both.  At any rate, I don’t think those pants are doing him/her any favors in the fashion department.

In addition, I guess this kid is supposed to be an angel because he/she has wings. But the wings don’t strike me as very angelic. They have sharp points. Isn’t that a devilish look? Makes me wonder if there are horns under his/her hat.

I’m kind of regretting taking a closer look at this ornament because now it looks to me as if an unfashionable devil-child with a really big butt is mailing a letter. Guess that’s what I get for over thinking…

I’ll end with a funny story about this ornament. My husband kept trying to steal it from me during our first two or three years of marriage. You see, his sister’s name is Jennifer (she’s just a month younger than me…yet another 1971 Jennifer) and she had an ornament EXACTLY like this. Every time I’d pull it out, he’d say: “Hey, that’s my sister’s. We need to give it back to her.”

Um. No we don’t. Hands off my fat devil-child, dude!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baby Mouse

As I understand the story, my mom made this ornament (and the rest of the matching set) for my first Christmas (or maybe it was just the first Christmas when I was scooting around - which technically would've been my second Christmas...). She wanted ornaments that wouldn't crash when they inevitably ended up on the floor.

This set didn't mean a whole lot to me until I inherited it at the age of 28, when I was expecting my first baby. They've been part of my tree ever since, which probably isn't fair - since I had the first grandchild. I suppose I should have passed them on to my brother at some point since he had babies after I did.

Oh, well.

Knowing my mom, she probably had a set for him also. She's actually really great about that kind of stuff. She was born to be a grandmother and I've never seen anyone get so excited about babies.

I love the way this baby mouse was on my tree when I was in diapers and then popped back into my life when I was getting ready to become a mom. He's stayed in great shape, when you consider how insanely old he is. I guess if I was carefully wrapped in tissue paper and stored in the attic every January, I might be in pretty good shape too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kwanzaa Angel

This is the most modern of my favorite ornaments that you'll be seeing over the next week. She's a Hallmark ornament I bought for myself after I was all grown up, but before I was married. I was dating David at the time so chances are I was of drinking age (although that's not certain - for two and a half years I wasn't...).

I remember seeing her and thinking she was the prettiest angel ever. I loved her sweet face and simply had to have her for my tree. I kept thinking about her for days after first seeing her, and eventually went back to the store and bought her.

At the time, it didn't even register with me that she was a Kwanzaa angel. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I was familiar with Kwanzaa at the time. All I knew was that I thought she was beautiful and peaceful.

This ornament represents the beginning stages of me creating my own home and creating my own kind of Jenn Christmas. And a Jenn Christmas is, admittedly, a somewhat unique creation. We have interesting holiday traditions at our house. For example, just two nights ago my husband pulled out our menorah (which was a Christmas gift he gave me about three or four years ago - no, he's not Jewish in case you're wondering...), lit the candles, and explained the importance of Hanukkah to our kids. He also explained that he was the one who should light the candles because traditionally the head of the household was the one who should do this. (I had to shut down my daughter's lecture at that point or the candles would have been puddles of wax before he finished the story.)  

Anyway - the Jenn (and David) kind of Christmas might seem a little odd to others, but our approach makes my heart sing every year. This little angel reminds me that I can create my own home and my own traditions.

 I can't wait to see what my kids create in their own homes one day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Handmade Corncob Doll

I made this doll when I was a child and was terribly proud of her. I still am, to be honest. 

I believe (although I'm not entirely sure) that I made her in second grade as part of our unit on pioneers. We were given scraps of material and I fashioned this dress and cape out of the scraps. (Yes, that is a dress and a cape.) Bizarrely, that's the original scotch tape holding the cape together. If you were to open the cape (please don't), you'd see that the dress is held together by staples. The kerchief is, of course, Elmer-glued to the top of her head.

I remember coming home with her and proudly placing her on our tree. I'm 39 now. That means I've been putting her on my tree every year for about 22 years. Each year, I'm just as proud (almost) as I was when I was in second grade. 

I remember MANY details about second grade. Out of curiosity, I googled my second grade elementary school (I only attended it that one year) and instantly knew I'd remembered the name correctly from the double sidewalk leading into the building. One morning, when my parents were dropping me off and I was just about to step onto that sidewalk, my dad taught me his trick for remembering how to spell friend. "It ends in 'end'." And another day, during the carpool home, one of my more mature carpool-mates blurted out the truth about Santa. I cried. My mom was mad.

Second grade was rough. I really didn't like that year very much. But... this doll brings a smile to my face every Christmas. I'm glad to have something tangible from my seventh year of life that makes me feel successful.

And really, the whole point of a Christmas tree (in my opinion) is to relive memories from your life. Christmas ornaments are time machines that zoom you back to your childhood, or your wedding, or the first year you left home for college.

This explains why I don't believe in having fashionable, coordinated Christmas trees. You see expensive crystal ornaments right next to a Baby Jesus made out of a toilet roll holder, with yarn for his hair. It's a great look for a tree and, because I'm Jenn, I love putting my history up on the branches for the world to see.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Tree Ornament Countdown

These two houses don't look like much in this snapshot. They look like even less in real life, trust me. These somewhat flimsy houses are cardboard and you might notice that the eave of the red house looks chewed upon. 

And yet, they are two of the most important ornaments I own. Technically, I suppose they aren't "Christmas tree ornaments" because there's no tree-hangin' loop attached to them. As I remember it, they (and possibly some other houses) sat under our Christmas tree when I was a wee girl. I distinctly remember lying under the tree (I used to love it under the tree as a toddler, looking up into the branches) and disappearing into these houses in my imagination. 

I think Momma had more than just these two cardboard houses, but these are the ones that ended up in my home. I don't have a clue where they originated - or where she bought them, but if they weren't under my tree, I wouldn't think it was really December.

I decided to write about my favorite ten Christmas tree ornaments - in part because I've been lax when it comes to including photography in my blog. The truth is that this top ten list won't really be in any particular order. I love Christmas and Christmas ornaments so picking a "favorite ten" feels a bit disloyal - really, you'll be reading about the ten which inspire the strongest memories for me - or which feel important to me.

These houses bring back memories of me as a tiny thing, lying under the Christmas tree, feeling as if I was in a magical village. Whenever I pull these out of the storage box, I remember how safe I felt whenever I was under our tree.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rockin' at Work

I had one of those really, really productive weeks at work. I LOVE it when that happens. Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with my boss and filled up an entire page with things I needed to do, preferably before Monday morning. Since I work part-time Monday through Thursday, I felt a wee bit anxious about my ability to get it all done.

The truth is, my boss is fabulous and would have no problem if I needed to postpone something. But...I guess I was up for the challenge and decided to jump in and work like a crazy woman on Thursday. Lo and behold, I managed to tackle just about everything that needed to be tackled. I think I'm down to just one webpage that needs updates but I pretty much have the information ready - I just need final confirmation from someone else on an issue.

I've only been back at what I consider my "home" for about four months but I've learned a tremendous amount about what I need professionally. Or, truth be told, I suppose I've accepted the truth of what I need.

  • I need to believe that I matter to others and that they care about me. (No need to point out that I shouldn't need that. It may or may not be true, but it's who I am and there's not a darn thing I can do about it. I spend most of my waking hours at work and I'm all about connecting to other people. If I spend that time in isolation, it's quite miserable for me.)
  • I need an opportunity to be creative and offer up my ideas. (I'm looking for every opportunity to write, for example, but I'm even excited when I find just the right clip-art for my presentations. I've also had fun being the "process queen" about things that have been done that way forever and am excited when others are willing to consider my new way of looking at things. That doesn't always work, but boy I love it when it does!)
  • I need consistency. I know - who doesn't, right? But when someone in authority gives conflicting messages or I never know when I might be attacked, I shut down completely. I can't ignore it and I really have a hard time living with it.
  • I love having a short commute. Maybe I could live without it, but it sure feels like a need to me now that I have it again!
Happiness is being pumped up while you check stuff off your to-do list. 

Happiness is picking your kid up after school (I may never be able to do that again after this year, so I'm enjoying it while I can!).

Happiness is realizing you just accomplished something that (perhaps...) no one else could have accomplished.

So...I'm happy. Am I still discontent? Well, sure - I guess. But I'm discontent in a happy way because I believe I'm moving towards great things. 

And, yes - I realize I'm probably the only human on Earth who would say that she's "discontent in a happy way. " Deal with it. It's part of my charm.