Random Acts of Generosity and other festive things

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Photo by Erik Scheel.

Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy  weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.

Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one  person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)

I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.

My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.

I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.

I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.

Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.

Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.

For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.

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Sending you actual love, right now.

Free image via pexels.com cabin forest winter night

Hi, Lovelies.

It’s been a busy month for most of us. And cold and snowy for many of us, at least in our area of Ontario.

I also know it’s a really hard month for people. Even for those who celebrate and love the holiday season, it’s hard. Keeping spirits up when there’s so much to do, when expectations are high (especially our own), through the emotional ups and downs of social occasions, anticipation and letdown, hopes and dreads.

I love this time of year, and I find it hard too. I love the music and the food and the family and friends. Gifts are fun too, especially when you get to give gifts to children.

But I still fight depressing thoughts. I worry that materialism and greed will take over my kids, despite our best efforts. I worry about the germs that spread scarily fast in winter. Especially when it’s really cold out, I worry about the people who don’t have someplace warm to be. I feel the emptiness when Christmas ends. And I struggle with the darkness. It makes me dwell on the things that are wrong in the world. It makes them seem overwhelming.

This has always been somewhat true for me. I remember the way it would feel on winter evenings when I was young… I would consciously turn on my warm yellow desk lamp and read an L.M. Montgomery book, to fend off the creeping knowledge that the world is dangerous and violent and dark and cold. I had to deliberately keep these thoughts at bay, even though I had very little actual experience with suffering. I can only imagine how hard it must be for people who don’t have loving families, who don’t feel safe, who spend their days hungry or in pain.

Right now, I’m hoping that you are okay, and have found some beauty in this month.

I hope you have spent time with people you love.

I hope you have also spent at least a little time just for you, doing what you love most.

I hope you felt awe in Nature, despite the darkness – a sunbeam when you really needed it, a bright star, a pink sunrise, the deep hush of a snowfall in progress.

I hope the shortening of nights has been a comfort, even though it’s hard to see.

I hope that if you were grieving, you did not feel alone.

I hope you deeply felt the support, purpose, creativity, and unity you needed.

I hope you’ve had a really good laugh.

I hope you saw – or were part of – generosity in action.

I hope your home was warm, and your candles burned bright.

I hope you’ve felt some true wonder lately.

And some joy.

Today is a beautiful snowy day. (And it’s packing snow, miracle of miracles!) Our tree is still up and smells sweet. Our kids are not completely healthy right now, but healthy enough to play. We have been blessed to visit with all family branches this month. There’s been singing, which is important to me. Also family games and jigsaw puzzles, which I love. Sean has actually had significant time off, which is a treat for all of us. I’m very grateful for all these things.

2016 has been a rough and upsetting year in many ways, but it’s almost done. We in this house are choosing to be optimistic about 2017.

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Dear Kids: For the record, you adore each other.

Our kids are like most siblings: they play together, and they fight together. Sometimes, the screaming is pretty horrifying. And then there are those moments – and those little games and traditions they invent – that warm you right down through to the sub-cockle area of your heart.

{For example, there’s this one funny procedure whenever I give them their vitamins. They have fish-shaped ones and Disney-character-shaped ones – please don’t judge us – and they MUST discuss them every time. They announce the colours they received, and what characters, and what order they eat them in. And then they put up their thumbs in different positions depending on whether their vitamins match or not. I don’t know why or how this came about, but they’re both VERY attached to the ritual.}

Last evening, there was a lot more good and happy play than screaming. (Which I really needed, after three weeks in a row of my Hubbibi on evening shifts.) At one point, they were sitting amicably together in the guest room, having constructed a barrier so each could not see what the other was drawing.

Turns out E was making a present for AB. The next morning there was a note in the advent calendar pocket, which completely turned around a morning that had promised to be very grumpy on her part:

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look in the guest room and you will find a present there

And it led her to this lovely festive drawing…

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Bells are ringing!

And THIS was on the other side.

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I can’t even.

I got a bit teary-eyed and all squeezy and kissy with that boy when he showed me. (Which he doesn’t mind as he is a squeezy, kissy type himself. They’re both very affectionate, even with each other, to the point that staff members at their school stop to watch their sweet little goodbyes in the mornings as a pick-me-up.)

And since we’re looking a wee masterpieces, here’s what AB was drawing at the same time.

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Sort of looks like an underwater scene… But it’s a holiday scene!

The spidery things are suns, and the phallic green-and-brown thing is a Christmas tree (obvs), and the little brown guy is a reindeer, and the swoopy line is a sleigh, and the black dots are buttons on a (non-visible) snowman, and there are also a few flowers and stars sprinkled in there.

So, kids, if you’re reading this and you’ve reached that phase of your lives (because we have to assume it will arrive eventually) where each of you annoys the other ALL THE TIME, please just know that you truly love one another deep down, and you’re a sublime little team when you need to be. We love you kajillions.

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Failure and Gratitude and Christmas Spirit

Hey, lovely Di-hards. And hi, li’l blog. I’ve missed you all.

It’s hard to believe that not only has half of November come and gone since I last wrote, but Christmas has too. There are many who would tell me not to beat myself up about absolutely crashing and burning in the middle of NaBloPoMo, and while I would, in essence, agree, I also count it as a failure on my part. I deliberately set my expectations on the low side, and still didn’t meet them.

Since then, many blog posts have been pondered – and some started – and none finished. Damn inertia, and damn the unexplainable standards I set for myself, and the guilt I always feel on my own behalf.

I’m hoping it’s the stage of life that I’m at. Since having kids, I have handily and necessarily learned how to let certain things fall by the wayside, but now I think I may be a little TOO good at it. I have always had real trouble quitting  or even backing away from things, as a kid and as a young adult, and in my soul I’m still not comfortable with it.

I also don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t feel gratitude during the latter half of November. I thought about it every day, and wanted to tell you about it.

Of course, looking back at November, and even much of December, I can see that there were obstructive factors (read: excuses). They tended to be of a distinctly non-festive, non-literary, laundry-intensive, medical-but-humdrum nature that made me say, “I could blog about this… but who wants to read about the minutiae of cleaning up cat diarrhea or accidentally spraying clarithromycin across the room or doing kid-puke laundry at 1 a.m.?”

I was also acutely aware, as Christmas got closer, of how all those problems, while tiring and time-consuming, were small potatoes. I couldn’t help thinking, very often, of the Neville-Lake family and the Bott family, each of whom lost three children in tragic accidents this fall, here in Canada. Awful as it is to imagine the pain of these families, it makes a parent grateful even for the tantrums and the nighttime wakeups and unending messes – things that, as Sean put it, those parents would give anything to have back.

And, of course, there are the refugees. On December 23rd, I was reading about people working tirelessly to gather desperate Syrians from the seas off the edge of Greece, to make them warm and feed them something. Tears rolled down my face as I read. I felt grateful, not just for my extremely safe and easy life, but also for the amazing work of humans who care about other humans.

I also felt enormously grateful to live in a country that has opened its doors, where folks are excited to be welcoming these people who so urgently need our hospitality. We Canadians, freed from the oppressively bad attitude of our former government, are remembering our long-held tradition of making sure there’s room at the inn for people fleeing persecution. Remembering what real kindness looks like. That is downright Christmasy.

Now, Christmas is past, and the southern U.S. is being battered with scary, deadly weather, and Ontario is bracing for our own storms. I’m so thankful that the Southerners I love are safe and well right now.

It should be mentioned, of course, that in spite of the odds, we have spent happy, fun time during the Christmas season with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins from each of our family branches, as well as many good friends – and, miraculously, none of us was hacking up a lung/crying with earache/vomiting during ANY of those times! (And once again, props and gratitude to my own teacher immunities for helping me stave off icky things, over and over.)

And finally, many thanks to Auntie Emi, who ensured me this block of time to write today by making sure my children were occupied. xoxoxo. I had been feeling sad when thinking of my blog, like it’s an old friend I just don’t see or really know anymore… And now I feel better.

Love to all of you and your beloved people this season.

christmas-refugees-germany
(Photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)

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100 Happy Days – Day 37: Christmas Tree!

 

 

I wish you could have seen how excited the kids were to decorate our Christmas tree. Especially AB – she kept saying things like, “I’m DECORATING THE TREE!” and “Look at this one! It’s so cool.”

Like last year, we got a pre-cut tree from the local Y, which helps to support their Youth programs. And boy, does it smell like beautiful Christmas.

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Happy.
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Focused little decorator.
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As usual, certain lower branches are more thoroughly laden than others.
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Yay!

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100 Happy Days – Day 34: Advent Calendars

This year, we are marking the days of advent LIKE A BOSS. Like a whole FAMILY O’ BOSSES.

That is to say, E still has Auntie Beth’s gorgeous creation which we fill day by day with tiny nifty things. (Except for yesterday, when I broke E’s heart by not having it secretly filled by the instant he woke up, and he cried and insisted, “It gets filled at night! Now it’ll never work again!!!” But then, it magically did work, while he was at school.)

Then, Grandma J got the kids each a classic Santa Claus advent calendar with teeny stamped chocolates for each day – because who doesn’t love a teeny chocolate first thing in the morning? Sean gets all nostalgic about his own advent-chocolate exploits of childhood. And AB was pretty screechy-happy when she found out what was behind those windows.

And this year, I finally ordered “traditional” advent calendars for E and AB – the kind with little pictures behind each window, like I had when I was a kid. Because I love-love-loved my own advent calendar and wanted them to have something similar.

traditional advent calendar
AB got woodland creatures.
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E got the one with the cars (Norman Rockwell).

And then Grammie sent animated virtual advent calendars from (by Jacquie Lawson), and they are very spiffy. Games and puzzles and tree-decorating and pets that follow you around, and new things to explore each day. (My favourite thing so far is the snowflake designing tool, where the six-way symmetry turns whatever you make into a gorgeous snowflake.)

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This is the opening scene of the Edwardian one…
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And this is the Christmas Market one.

To sum up: with this much counting down, there’s no excuse for not being absolutely ready for Christmas this year! Unless the excuse is that we were having too much fun with our advent calendars to do anything else.

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100 Happy Days – Day 23: Party at the Farm

Sunday, November 23rd: Festive Fun at Springridge Farm!

We have a group of friends that do two Christmas parties per year – one for the kids and one for the adults. Our friend K organized this epic outing this year:

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A funny, bumpy tractor-drawn wagon ride…
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Some cookie-decorating…
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With gingerbread people and chocolate candies (AB ended up with just those two questionably-placed candies on hers)…
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(And E was, unsurprisingly, very particular and precise about his…)
springridge farm
We saw animals (chickens, turkeys, peacocks, goats, bunnies…)
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Got lots of fresh air…
hay piles
And climbed and jumped and ran on hay…
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And found mud puddles…
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(to sit in – thank goodness for splash pants…)
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Climbed a big awesome hill…
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And there was general joy for all, including li’l G (whose mama couldn’t be there so the rest of us doted on/photographed him)…
tractor riding
And tractor riding (E’s favourite)!…
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On designer tractors, no less…
tube slides
And there was even some sliding.

It was very fast-paced. There were also mini-pizzas, cupcakes, juice boxes, mural-colouring, and even a wee bit of chatting amongst the parents, when possible.

GOOD TIMES.

Thank you, K!!

P.S. All the photos that look great in this post are by Daddy. The ones that look mediocre are mine.

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100 Happy Days – Day 22: Singing Children

When your kids sing, it makes all the hard stuff worthwhile.

AB wandering around the house, singing a bittersweet, evocative song to the “friends” she’s carrying with her.

And E heartily singing at the breakfast table: “Oh, tidings are covered in joy, covered in joy!”

I just melt.

He sang this refrain yesterday in he car, too, and asked me, “Mummy, are you covered in joy?” I told him there were definitely times when I am. Like that moment.

(I’m afraid I don’t have photos of this, since you have to just love the moment and a pic wouldn’t do it justice anyway… so I’m cheating on the photo-every-day thing. I’ll see what I can do about a singing montage sometime soon, to make up for it.)

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Freezing and Thawing and Partying

It’s been a memorable holiday season. Christmas that was both black(out) and crazily white… So much awesome family… Yummy food and festive music… Gratuitous cuteness….

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The true meaning of Christmas: Cousin R and Baby AB chillin’ with random things in their mouths.
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E with brand-new cousin M.
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My Aunt’s legendary Figgy Pudding on Christmas Eve.
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Artsy Christmas tree pic taken by E.
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Baby AB snuggling.
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Self-selected holiday fashion.
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Self-selected (except for the sleeper) holiday fashion.
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I’m sure y’all heard about (/participated in) that crazy ice storm. My poor parents were without power for 4 days, so Christmas morning ended up at our house! But the TREES. The SPARKLINESS. On Christmas Eve, E looked out the window and started exclaiming about all the new “pretty lights” on ALL the trees; it was the sunset hitting the ice. Amazing.
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I just know there are majorly profound lessons to be taken from the cedars and birches that just bend like this, then (mostly) recover when the ice melts.
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Presents! Here was a fave: mini paleontological dig in plaster for a triceratops tooth.
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So, Mrs. Claus was in Chapters a few weeks before Christmas and found this: a BOY FAIRY. She thought of E, who had recently been watching Tinkerbell and who still wants to wear his fairy wings even though the elastic is stretched all to heck. She took the plunge.
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Then she also got this lovely-and-not-too-frou-frou girl fairy.
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Then she got a daemon for each fairy (baby wolf, baby tiger) and got a bit crafty with a pretty gift box and tag she’d received from a fellow blogger, and made a fairy house. (The door’s in the top because FAIRIES. They fly in.) (And yes. Mrs. Claus has a blog. Pretty sure she’s on Pinterest too.) In case you’re wondering, E did not flip out over the fairies as Mini-Di would have at his age, but he has been enjoying his fairy folk, on-and-off. He was stoked when he realized that his popsicle-stick craft from school makes a perfect deck for them.
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But this present was the real winner. Automoblox Minis. He had one already from his Great-Aunt Suze, so Mommy and Daddy added these – and you can mix and match all their parts, once you have more than one. Seriously, they’re so fun.
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Pillow forts. Baby AB is a fort-wrecker, and also hilarious.
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Treats!
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New Year’s Eve fireworks in the park! E’s first “up-close” fireworks. Damn cold but awesome all the same.
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New Year’s Day open house at Grammie and Papa’s. All partied out.

 Now here we are. Gearing up to go back to school and normal life tomorrow, while also battening down for another storm. Bracing for back-to-school germs, now that both kids are finally almost done coughing and E is getting over his second bilateral ear infection since JK started. Feeling a bit of the blues, but also glad to be getting back to a routine.

And today, my Hubbibi spent the day cleaning house (while I got the kids out of there) so we could all feel fresh and ready for NEW YEARNESS. (Thanks, honey. What a difference.)

Here we go!

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An Unabashed Christmas Post

Now that my li’l family seems to be out of the woods for now, sickness-wise (yes, my kids did trade germs with each other), it’s time to get FESTIVE!

I’ve realized something, as an adult: Christmas to me, now, is all about the season.

It was a fairly gradual shift from being super-duper-mega-crazy excited about PRESENTS (as a kid) to… you know, enjoying presents but being much more excited about other things.

Such as food!

  • Clementines – we only buy them when they’re really good (even though these days they’re in grocery stores well past their peak).
  • Cookies made specifically for Christmas… they’re just specialer. I’ve been lucky to be part of a cookie exchange for several years now – so all the more special cookies!!
  • Egg nog – but ONLY President’s Choice World’s Best Egg Nog. No other kind is as good. (Well, maybe Organic Meadow.) And don’t even get me started on fat-free egg nog… A travesty.
  • Nutcracker Sweet Tea – we can’t find it in stores these days, so my sister kindly smuggled some over the border facilitated an Amazon order for me. It’s heavenly with the egg nog mentioned above.

nutcracker sweet

  • Christmas meals – some are different every year and some are recurring favourites, but I get stoked about them, and I don’t even eat turkey. (Posting recipes soon.) Folks bring their A-game dishes on Christmas.

And music. I could listen to Christmas music nonstop for all of December, but I think I’d drive my Hubbibi crazy. So we strike a balance, I think. As I’ve mentioned, traditional carols are my preference, but I like a lot of non-carols too. Some of my favourite holiday albums to listen to are:

  • David Francey’s Carols for a Christmas Eve – Just simple and cozy and, well… I just adore David Francey. Luckily, so does the whole family. (Good King Wenceslas is my favourite on this one.)
  • Canadian Brass’s Sweet Songs of Christmas – And anything else Canadian Brass does about Christmas. Those guys rock. We saw them live once, and if you’ve never seen a tuba player “melt” while playing Frosty the Snowman, you’re missing out.

xmas canadian brass

  • Les petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal’s Christmas Around the World – It took me a while to get used to the unfamiliar carols in different languages, but now I love them.
  • Kevin Ramessar’s Acoustic Christmas – Beautiful guitar arrangements of Christmas carols (Away in a Manger is my fave). I would love this album even if Kevin weren’t a (wickedly talented) university friend of mine. Ahem-hem.

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  • The Barra-MacNeils’ The Christmas Album – A Canadian-Celtic folk album, with unusual versions of carols – some Gaelic (Christmas in Killarney is my fave).
  • Steve Wingfield’s Sleigh Bell Swing – My mom sent me a cassette tape of this as part of a care package when I was in university, and I still use that tape – it’s worth it. (It IS on iTunes, though. Silver Bells is my fave.)
  • Three Quarter Ale’s Shall We Gather By the Fire – A Renaissance Faire trio with an album that runs the gamut of styles from cheesy to sublime (Ding Dong Merrily on High is my fave).

christmas three quarter ale

Also, there are a few individual songs that make me cry, in a good way. I think it has to do with connecting Christmas and motherhood.

And of course there are holiday movies that must be enjoyed. Our family collection includes:

  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol (including the short with Chip and Dale’s shenanigans in Mickey’s tree)

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  • The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated version with Boris Karloff)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version)

Miracle on 34th

  • White Christmas (the best things happen while you’re dancing)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (still breaks my heart every single time)

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  • The Family Stone (I always laugh out loud, even though I know what’s coming)
  • Joyeux Noël (again with the FEELINGS, man oh man).

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And of course there’s The Holiday and Love Actually – not exactly Christmas movies, but they get an in for being set at Christmastime.

Plus there’s

  • Pretty lights
  • Christmas trees and wreaths and boughs and whatnot (this image – and the design behind it – is from my friend Ardis at Rustic Retrievals)

greenery at rustic retrievals

  • Snow (I hope – it still makes me happy for the first couple months)
  • People singing together (I wish that happened more in life)
  • Wood fires (at my parents’ house at least)
  • Games and silly times with people I love
  • Reminiscing
  • Spending lots of time in pajamas
  • Giving gifts that turn out to be perfect
  • Everything reflected in the shining eyes of children – especially mine.

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