Category Archives: Holidays

A Big Year, a Small Christmas

Oh hey there.

A few notes up front: It is December 19, and we do not (yet) have a Christmas tree. I did not make Christmas cards, something I normally love. (I’m hoping for New Year’s cards.) We put no decorations on the outside of our house. We are not hosting a Christmas party.

One might think these are indications that we are just not into Christmas this year. While this is partially true – with a late Thanksgiving, Christmas has snuck up on me like woah – it’s mostly the result of me meeting the holiday where I am as a person, and where we are as a family. A friend sent around a lovely post about expectation vs. reality during the holiday season, and I found myself nodding along emphatically.

2019 has been a huge year. It was a year filled with travel, and new adventures in cooking, and the shedding of a few outgrown habits. Jason and I celebrated ten years of marriage. I turned 40. Hollyn is headed off to the University of North Florida in January. Tyler got his driver’s license. Hazel started kindergarten.

2019 has also been a year of lowering expectations. We did a few projects around the house, but most of our home improvement money was spent on un-fun things like tree removal and replacing duct work. I didn’t write much, here or anywhere else.

The most meaningful project we did was fixing the World’s Most Awkward Toilet. Our house has a tiny half bath on the first floor, and the placement of the toilet in that room was….a choice that an actual person made.

We got quotes from a few plumbers to rotate the toilet 90 degrees. The estimates ranged from NINE HUNDRED to ELEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS. For that kind of money, I’ll sit side-saddle, thankyouverymuch.

Then, my brilliant and long-suffering husband had the idea to turn the toilet a mere 45 degrees, which not only makes it look very dashing, but only cost us the price of a new wax seal.

As a bonus, we get to keep the tile floor and walls, which are suddenly fashionable again.

2019 was the Year of Vehicles. Jason, who has patiently driven a selection of older hand-me-down cars for the last few years, finally met the car of his dreams, a three-year-old Subaru Outback. And after many years of faithful service, I was able to turn in my minivan for a gently used Honda Accord.

We also bought a camper. I know.

After years of complaining loudly about all the primitive tent camping we had to do with the Cub Scouts, I find myself the owner of a pop-up camper we bought off Craigslist. I call her the Dawn Treader. Her maiden voyage was last weekend, to Falling Water State Park, and it could not have been more different than the aforementioned tent camping. We were warm! And dry! And comfortable! How novel!

I am actually – gasp! – looking forward to camping again in the near future. Not as much as Hazel, though. She definitely has her father’s camping enthusiasm.

I hope that you are able to meet the holiday where you are, and not where you feel you ought to be.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking back….

Joy. I decided that the word of the year for 2018 would be Joy. I think I did as well as I could on this one. This year ended up being kind of tumultuous – Jason changed jobs, from a big firm to a small boutique, and his base-salary-plus-commission income has been a bit of a rollercoaster. I’m still getting used to it, but it’s completely worth it. He is much happier being more in charge of his own time and workload. We took the kids on a nice vacation to Chicago in June, and it was a joy to re-discover my love for exploring new places (and eating new foods!). I became a certified hospice volunteer and have been working there about three times a month. It seems a bit odd to find joy in such a setting, but working at hospice has been such a gift. I finished all the work related to my mom’s estate, which was a monumental task. And I published my book on the anniversary of my mom’s death. Friends and strangers alike have enjoyed reading it, and it’s been a joy to be able to connect to others going through the same experience.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. I had to do any number of small, hard things – like finally deleting my mother’s contact information from my phone. Hollyn, the oldest, turned 18 and decided to live exclusively at her mother’s house – although we made lemonade from that particular lemon by turning her bedroom back into a study/office/writing room. Jason and I started attending a different flavor of church over the summer, which has caused a great deal of strife for this lifelong member of the PCUSA.

Books. I set myself a goal of 50 books, and read 68. Eleven of them were non-fiction, two or three more were historical fiction in the vein of Erik Larson (heavily reliant on primary sources). My top five for 2018:

  1. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
  2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  3. The Emperor of all Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  4. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
  5. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders

Things. I know we’re not supposed to be in love with things, but there were a few everyday objects I bought this year that added tremendously to my happiness.

  1. Wacoal unlined underwire bras. They fit perfectly, they’re all-day comfortable, and the straps don’t slip. I’m in love.
  2. Yogalicious leggings. I have long ones for lounging and cropped ones for the gym. The fabric hits that sweet spot between soft and slick, and the length is great – I’m 5’7″ on a good day and these actually cover my ankles.
  3. Proper running shoes. After years of simply buying what was on sale at Shoe Station and then crying over my plantar fasciitis and chondromalacia patella pain, I went to the fancy running store and got properly fitted. The good news is that I’ve been wearing the right size and brand, so I’m not a total spaz, but they found a model that works wonders.
  4. Heel inserts. See #3. I now have plantar fasciitis inserts in as many shoes as I can get them in, and my heel pain has decreased to nearly zero. I can run 3-4 miles several times a week with no pain. NO PAIN. I can’t tell you how awesome this is.
  5. Running belt. Jason refers to this as my fanny pack. GOOD. LET HIM. It holds my phone and a key while I’m running (or hiking, or whatever) and it’s thin enough to wear under my shirt. No more shoving my phone into my waistband or an armband.

And now, looking forward….

I think the word for 2019 will be finish. I am great at dreaming up projects, large and small, but terrible at completing them.

One thing that will help me finish tasks is to put my damn phone down. My phone has started sending me a report of my screen time usage on a weekly basis, and it is sobering to see how much of my life is being sucked away by that device. I had my screen replaced last week after cracking it, and was without my phone for a whole hour. It was the longest hour of my life. I couldn’t even tell what time it was. Pitiful.

I also need to get out of my own head. I am a worrier, a planner, a fretter. Being busy keeps me from dwelling on insignificant minutiae, which helps me stay mentally healthy.

Let’s do this thing.


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Saturday was prom night for several high schools here in Leon County. Hollyn has a boyfriend, so going to prom was kind of a given for them. They decided to go alone, because most of her friends from the crew team attend another school.

When I was in high school, I had a very stereotypical prom experience. I bought a dress, I got my hair done at a salon, I bought a boutonniere, all that jazz. Both my junior and senior years, I went with a group. I think we rented a limo. It’s all very hazy now. My favorite prom memory was going back to my friend David’s house after the dance, where his mom made us a huge delicious breakfast in the middle of the night.

And all of that was fine.

A couple of weeks ago, she asked me if I would help her with her hair, because “you’re crafty with hair.”

Excuse moi? Crafty? With hair? Have you seen my head lately? I recruited a friend to help me help Hollyn, because I do not even own hairspray. Since I have finally learned how to apply eyeliner, I also offered to help her with her makeup. What could possibly go wrong?

I did feel comfortable volunteering to take pictures of Hollyn and her date, and I offered to help her make a boutonniere, because good grief how hard could it be? A little flower, a little greenery, some hot glue and a ribbon, and voila.

We started with the boutonniere. Hollyn and I cruised the yard, cutting rosemary, boxwood, and ligustrum, and then we ran to Trader Joe’s to pick up an inexpensive bouquet.



I gathered my supplies, and Hazel climbed up on her stool to supervise. I told her we were making a boutonniere for Josh. A few minutes later, one of the other kids walked through the kitchen and asked Hazel what we were doing.

“We’re making a…..” she searched for the right word, “butt-chugger. For Josh!”


After I stopped laughing and got my glue gun heated, it took about two minutes to arrange the stems and wrap them in twine, securing the ends with hot glue.


It looks substantially similar to this one, which would have cost $13 with shipping. Hollyn reported that Publix sells them for between $10 and $20. Ours cost pennies, and looks (dare I say it?) rather high-end. As a bonus, I stuck the rest of the bouquet in a vase and have been enjoying it ever since. Everyone wins. 


Once the butt-chugger was done, it was time to move on to makeup and hair.

(Cue scary music.)

It wasn’t that bad! Hollyn and I worked together on her makeup, which looked lovely, and then it was time to break out the hot rollers. WOOOOOOO.


After they were cooled, we cracked our knuckles and sharpened our bobby pins. Hollyn wanted a fairly straightforward updo involving a bun and two French braids. My hair helper Alison suggested adding flowers to the ‘do when we were done, and the result was delightful.


The shoes went on, the date arrived, and we headed outside for photos.


Not pictured: a peanut gallery that included Hazel, Butterbean Sparkleface, Jason, and Josh’s parents.


We sent them off for an evening of dinner and dancing, and then I made us some celebratory mojitos.


I am just tickled that Hollyn resisted spending a bunch of money on her prom experience. You know I love to save money, but if she’d asked for anything I didn’t feel I could handle, I would have called in professionals. Instead, we listened to good music and had fun getting her ready in a relaxed atmosphere. It made the whole experience more meaningful (to me, at least). I wish I’d had an experience more like that when I was in high school – but my mom didn’t do hair or crafts. It would have been miserable and stressful for her. This just happened to intersect with some of my skill sets.

Finally, many thanks to my good friend Alison, who arrived with hairspray and a surprising amount of hair know-how to help me tame Hollyn’s mane. I couldn’t have done it without you!





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Halloween Crafts with Toddlers: A Primer

Doing crafts with toddlers is one of those things that sounds sweet and wholesome in theory, but in practice is aggravating and messy.

Nevertheless, I decided this year that Hazel possessed enough rudimentary motor skills to attempt a couple of cheap, easy Halloween decorations. Now I will share the wisdom of my experiences with you.

Step one: Wait until 5:00. Pour yourself a drink. This makes the toddler crafting process 100% more bearable.

Step two: Pick something simple. I chose this ghost windsock and this candy corn garland. They’re so easy that there aren’t any instructions. Hamsters could pull off these projects.

Step three: Be flexible. Your project will look little, if anything, like the pictures. Embrace the abstract imperfection of it all.

Step four: Repeat step one as needed.

We started with the candy corn garland. I had to buy cheap white paper plates (about $2) but already had orange and yellow craft paint and twine. Hazel and I each painted a few plates and let them dry overnight.

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I cut each plate into eight wedges and hot-glued them to a long piece of twine. Hazel supervised. I hung one string on the stair rail and short strings over the windows in the kitchen.



Done and done. Next up: ghost windsocks. I didn’t have any tin cans, but I did have some empty toilet paper rolls. GOOD ENOUGH. I had white craft paint, and bought a roll of crepe paper streamer for about $2.


First we painted the toilet paper tubes, then drew ghost faces on them. Then I glued some 12″ lengths of streamer inside the bottom, and hung them up on the porch using fishing line.

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I find Hazel’s (on the left) to be far creepier than mine.

I also attempted some DIY decorations of my own. This Boo sign turned out substantially similar to the one I spotted on Etsy:


There will be MOAR Halloween to come, including the return of the bats. I’m psyched.


Filed under Holidays, Home, Kate the Chicken, Projects

Hippity Hoppity

We went to Jacksonville for Easter, partly so the kids could use the Chamblin’s gift cards they got for Christmas, and partly so we could attend my extended family’s annual Easter gathering.

There was a lot of eating.

On Saturday, Hazel had an appetizer of baby toes.



Saturday night, we went out for dinner with mom and then out for ice cream at the Dreamette, a legendary Westside establishment.


Sunday we had a giant breakfast at the Metro Diner, and then it was time to squeeze into our church finery. Whoops.


We did all right.


And here’s where I get on my curmudgeonly soapbox.

We do not consider Easter to be Christmas II. We do not give our kids toys, games, electronics, or wheeled things for Easter. Everyone gets a small basket of candy, because OH MY GOD WE JUST DID CHRISTMAS THREE MONTHS AGO AND I CANNOT DEAL WITH IT AGAIN. Some years we throw in socks and underwear, just for fun.

I can only stomach one quasi-religious gift-giving holiday in a year, it turns out. And while I enjoy “commercial” Christmas, with its festive holiday beverages, songs about snow (whatever that is), and strings of lights, the increasing commercialization of Easter really aggravates me. Maybe it’s the weather – in the middle of winter, we can all use some cheering up. But Easter falls right in the middle of spring, when temperatures are rising and things don’t look so bleak.

I think it bothers me as a Christian, which is a hard and awkward thing for me to type. Christmas, as most of us know, celebrates the birth of Jesus. Which, yeay, but everyone gets born. It’s a nice excuse to have a party and give gifts and whatever,  but it’s not ultimately that big of a deal.

Easter, to those of the Christian faith, is the biggest effing deal of all. It’s the culmination of Holy Week, which should possibly be re-named Week of Unending Horrors. If you’re paying attention at all, you come through Holy Week feeling a bit battered, and by the time you get to the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, there’s a deep sense of stillness, and darkness.

Instead, most of us are like, “All-you-can-eat deviled eggs? Yeah! Pass the ham!”

I’m not so much of an Easter grinch that I want the Cadbury creme eggs ripped from the shelves, or a bonfire made of wicker baskets, but I do want to push back against the rising tide of consumerist frenzy that seems to get higher every year.

I love Cadbury creme eggs. I love ham at family lunches. And I love little kids with baskets.


But my wallet, and my sanity, can’t level up to Pinterest-worthy door wreaths and accumulating boxes of decorations to be hauled up and down from the attic.

We’ll be keeping our Easters small and simple.

Except for the creme eggs. I could eat like a hundred of those.






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True story: Jason doesn’t like Halloween. I adore Halloween. He doesn’t think it’s a holiday. I don’t either! But I think it’s a lot of fun. And I don’t hear him complaining as he’s crinkling his way through a bag of leftover candy. AHEM.

We agree to disagree on Halloween.

Last year, we hosted a big Halloween party. This year, we were too busy.

Friday night was Trunk or Treat at our church. A group of young adult members wanted to put together a series of Seuss-themed trunks. We had the Lorax, the Grinch who Stole Christmas, the Cat in the Hat, the Sneeches, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Hazel was roped into duty as the fish in a bowl from the Cat in the Hat.




I made her costume using a red t-shirt, red remnant fabric (felt and velvet), a red bandanna for the hood with black and white felt for the eyes, and a posterboard on which I painted the fish bowl. Total cost: $8.87 and about two hours of time.

Saturday was Halloween. Jason and Tyler went to the FSU game while Hazel and I made chili and pumpkin cream pies for a party that night.


Hazel wore a hand-me-down Tinkerbell costume, which was perfect because it was 85 degrees outside.


Despite my repeated prompting, Tyler failed to come up with any clever costume ideas, so he recycled a mask from last year and that was that.

I’m glad we had a breather this year, but I hope to put a bit more effort into Halloween next year.


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Mischief Managed.

This year, we did something very different for Christmas.

We didn’t buy any presents for our kids.

Gasp! Horror!

Instead of spending time and money at the mall or on Amazon, we surprised the children with a 4-night, 3-day vacation to Universal Studios. I found an sweet package deal for an amazing Harry Potter-themed adventure.

All three of the older kids have watched the Harry Potter movies and read the books, and love the stories. (Let’s face it, Jason and I are huge fans, too.) We knew that this vacation would be a perfect gift for them. It was unbelievably hard to keep the trip a secret, but we managed to wait until they returned to us at noon on December 28. We sat them down and handed each of them an envelope. Inside was a letter (bearing the Hogwarts crest) explaining the trip, a packing list, some spending money, and maps of the parks. They FREAKED. Hollyn cried!

We left that afternoon and arrived in Orlando by dinnertime. Our package included early admission to the parks, so we hit the hay.


Monday morning we entered the gates just after 7:00 a.m.


We made a beeline for Diagon Alley.



After breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron, we spent the whole day exploring Diagon Alley, riding the Hogwarts Express, and wandering around Hogsmeade. In short, we TOTALLY GEEKED OUT.

Tuesday we went back to Universal Studios, where we explored the rest of the park. We started later in the day and went back to Diagon Alley at night, which was a different (but equally cool) experience. Wednesday we devoted to Islands of Adventure, and on Thursday we came home.

The trip was outstanding. The kids are old enough to spend a whole day on their feet without losing their minds. They loved the Harry Potter worlds, and rode a ton of rides. We loved being able to give them an experience, rather than things that they will outgrow and cast aside.

Hazel was an angel the entire trip. She was happy to go wherever we went, as usual. Like her big brother, she’s a delightful traveling companion.


I can’t say enough good things about the Harry Potter attractions. They are truly immersive experiences, and it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into each detail. I am not the biggest fan of theme parks, but I was blown away. If you’re a fan of the books or the movies, it’s worth a visit.

Happy New Year!



Filed under Holidays, Tyler