My Favorite Christmas Music of All Time

Recently, the Washington Post did a small feature on Pentatonix. I was thrilled, because we love Pentatonix. I discovered them two years ago, and promptly shared them with the children.

These guys could probably sing a Taylor Swift song — maybe even a Bob Seger song — and I would willingly listen to it.

Anyhoo, That’s Christmas to Me debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 — IN OCTOBER. It’s the highest charting Christmas album since 1962.

Flora likes it because, in her own words, “They turn ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’ into a rap!” (Note to self: expose the children to actual gospel music.) Highlights for me include “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Mary Did You Know?”

Two mis-steps, in my opinion: They do a mashup of “Winter Wonderland” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” — which if you are a child of the ’80s is a deathly ear worm. But the kids love it, so I grit my teeth through it.

They also do a tune called “White Winter Hymnal”, which is terms of Christmas music is an odd little ditty. My searching for the origins of this song turn up a lovely single from Fleet Foxes from 2008. It’s better done by them, in my opinion. The Fleet Foxes can do dark and pretty; Pentatonix are mostly just pretty.

Pentatonix do a version of “Little Drummer Boy” (which is not on That’s Christmas to Me) that actually makes me like the song. For the longest time, it’s been my absolutely least favorite Christmas carol — coincidentally, LDB was covered by Bob Seger on A Very Special Christmas. So.

Also, I know that we are all over “Let It Go” from Frozen, but I got chills listening to the version Pentatonix does. I just think any thing this little group can do with five people is pretty amazing.

Case in point: “Carol of the Bells.”

What carol would you love Pentatonix to make fresh for you?

The Nearly Perfect Christmas

First off, here are three reasons Christmas 2013 was not absolutely perfect:

1. With Christmas falling on a Wednesday, and having taken a bunch of time off to travel at Thanksgiving (which was still the right decision), I had to work a half-day Christmas Eve, and return to the office the day after Christmas.

2. Because we decided not to run around on Christmas Day (due to the fact that it was in the middle of the week), I did not see my parents and my brother and his family that day. We decided not to leave the Compound, and a good decision it was.

3. Christmas Eve was too rushed. We rushed over to my ILs for 5 p.m. dinner, Dan had spent the day running around finishing up his stuff, my SIL and her family had to run at 6 p.m., and the girls and I had to run shortly after. The food was delicious, but I don’t feel we really got to sit and enjoy the time and company.

However, I did leave Dan to clean up so his mom wouldn’t run herself ragged. So that worked out. (Thanks, Dan!)

Next year, if we are going to do Christmas Eve church, I think we may have to rethink Christmas Eve dinner.

It’s funny, because I’m of two minds regarding this post. Part of me wants to brag on the husband, because he did a good job of picking out gifts for me and helping the children pick out gifts for me. But the other part of me is a little more reflective than that, and is thinking about other things regarding this Christmas season.

For one thing, the priest at my Mass made a claim that I just had to research, and I think he got it wrong. He asserted that only 49% of people (or at least of people polled) believed that Jesus’ birth story was true. I think he was riffing on the “War on Christmas” that Bill O’Reilly is always trying to ignite. The Pew poll that I found says that most Americans believe in Jesus’ birth of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem. So. I’m going with that.

I also have to say that the children, in particular Kate and Flora, outdid themselves in terms of behavior yesterday. They seemed happy to just be hanging out at home; they didn’t squabble over gifts — they got a 3DS to share, complete with rules from “Santa” (a co-worker of mine who is also a genius). There were a couple of dust-ups regarding the Nerf guns from the nanny (don’t ask), but we smoothed those over. They were grateful and excited about everything.

M did well, too, but was clearly overwhelmed, overtired, and underfed. I was not able to get him into real clothes on Christmas Eve, which is why he stayed at Bella and Tadone’s after dinner. At one point on Christmas day, he declared he wasn’t going anywhere. He took some convincing — and a ton of patience. But he did eventually put on real pants, a Christmasy shirt, and left his toy tool bench behind. (He could not be parted from the drill, hammer, and “see-saw” though.)

Finally, we didn’t have to go anywhere aside from next door Christmas Day, and that was such a boon. We had coffee, opened presents, sat around, even cleaned up a bit. Dan and I had a little time to ourselves thanks to to children being occupied with brand! new! toys! We went to my ILs around 1 p.m.; I helped put out some food; and then we pretty much talked, ate, and played the day away. It was *nice*, low-key, low stress. We do a gift exchange, and I ended up with a waffle iron, which was an unexpected bonus. And then the party just kind of puttered to an end around 8 p.m., with everyone heading off to their respective homes, so we didn’t even have to tussle to gather up the kids and get them home in bed.

Everyone was tucked in by 9 p.m. Kate fell asleep with Fluffy, her new blue bear, and M put his head on his “Tow Mater” pillow pet and was out. Flora started on her Roald Dahl book collection with James and the Giant Peach.

And to all a good night, indeed.


Okay, since you’re all dying to know, here are what Dan and the children bought for me:

M got me earbuds and argon oil (a hair product; I will have to purchase my own flat iron);
Kate got me a pretty wallet;
Flora got me The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Dan bought me a lovely coffee, Tanzanian Peaberry; a set of curry spices from Penzy’s; and a Kindle Fire HD. I am trying to temper my excitement over the Kindle, but the truth is I could have spent the rest of the day figuring out what I wanted to do on it. I am unabashedly hiding it from the children. It’s MINE.

Dan got a Soda Stream, a Survivor Strap, and a set of Ray Harryhausen Blu-rays from me; a Wii game from Flora; and hat and gloves from Kate and M. We also got a new set of dishes for the house.

My children were spoiled by Santa and us, plus a friend of ours in Chicago, Dan’s business partner, our nanny (she bought them more than we did, frankly), and our families. They handled it with a lot of aplomb. (For real: not one whinge. No, “I didn’t get XYZ.” XYZ in this case being a dog or a Samsung tablet. They thanked everyone sincerely. They cleaned everything up without asking. And they played together nicely… mostly.)

I felt very blessed this year, spiritually and materially. I have a good marriage to a good man; my children are quite delightful, even if they occasionally test us; I have loving friends and family. There’s really nothing more I can ask for. Gifts are the icing on the cake, a sign that my husband and I have jobs to support us in a rather nice manner.

What was the best part of your Christmas Day?

Random Thoughts: The We’ve Almost Made It Edition

Here are the things that did manage to happen over the weekend, through a lot of effort on the part of myself and my husband:

1. Salted caramel, shortbread cookies, oatmeal cookies all made. The batch of granola I attempted got burned, so I gotta try that again. Frozen tomatoes thawed and peeled for sauce. Made blueberry syrup.

2. Cookie mix jars made for our family grab bag. I goofed and got two 1-quart jars instead of 1 2-quart jar, but I think it’ll be fine. Typed up recipe today. The grab bag will be cookie mix, Sarris candy, and a small jar of salted caramel.

3. I am afraid I scorched the caramel, too. But I bet it’s still going to taste excellent over vanilla ice cream.

4. House, cleaned.

5. Gifts wrapped.

6. Tree purchased, put up, and strung with lights (three cheers for Dan!).

Things that need to happen in the next two days (really, tonight and… well, tonight).

1. Make marinara sauce.

2. Make another batch of granola. (Theoretically, I can do this Christmas Day.)

3. Finish wrapping presents.

4. Decorate tree.

5. Buy beer.

So, despite my bitching and stress, we’re pretty much where we need to be. The children have mostly been awesome (exception: M refusing to put on jeans Sunday — or any day, really. He’s decided he HATES jeans), very helpful, and not too whiny. We even got in a holiday party (Friday night), a social visit (Sunday afternoon), and wine drinking + nail polishing (me, Sunday night, with @mattieflap).

What’s left for you?

This. Week. Continued.

Dan and I went down into the Dreaded Basement.

It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be. A family of mice had clearly used one of the bins for a nest, and we had to toss stockings, the tree skirt, and a couple of other things. But most of our tree decorations seem fine, and the ceramics that were pooped on can be washed.

Also, we have six or seven nice bottles of wine down there, including two bottles of sparking wine. That was a pleasant surprise.

So we brought up a few things to clean. I hung the wreath on the front door. We have outdoor lights — Dan says he may still put them up. Hey, it’s supposed to be ridiculously warm this weekend, so it could happen.

So, here’s where we are: Dreaded Basement, not so Dreaded. Will need to replace stockings and tree skirt. Tree will have plenty to go on it if we get one.

Tonight is the Violin and Band concert. The girls are very excited. This is Kate’s first concert. Now, if we could only find Flora’s violin.

We got invited to a holiday party on Friday, and as much as I really want to say, “Nope, sorry! Can’t find a sitter!” — it’s my family. And I love my extended family, and don’t get to see them much. Plus, I can get a sitter. I just don’t necessarily wanna. Am feeling very torn about it.

BECAUSE, if we do go, that means Thursday becomes “shop for Daddy” evening. Plus the night I pick up stockings and a tree skirt. Oh, and classroom treats. Gah! Home schooling is sounding better and better.

And I have to order groceries for Saturday so I can actually bake that day. And have food for the following week. And gifts still need to be wrapped. I’ve been staying up to about 11 p.m. this week to fit all this stuff in, and as a result my 6 a.m. workouts are taking a hit. Fortunately, it’s snowed enough that I’ve had to shovel. If you do that right, you can get in a good quad workout plus cardio.

So, which wine should I open first, the Barbaresco, or the Cade?

This. Week.

If you follow me on Twitter 1. I apologize for the yelling; 2. Thank you for your sympathy and/or not yelling at me for the yelling; and 3. You know this weekend was a tough one.

This happens every year, and I really have to learn to LET IT GO.

“This” being: I want the house to look nice and be decorated for Christmas. The girls purport to want to decorate, yet provide very little cleaning even with repeated requests; and Dan says he likes waiting until the last minute. So in short, I get very little support for, “Come on, let’s decorate today!”

The thing is, I can barely keep up with daily cleaning (and mail opening, apparently. That became painfully apparent as I went through FOUR BOXES of mail on Saturday. Some of which is unopened mail from six months ago. What is wrong with me??). Doing the heavy lifting of decorating (sometimes literally) is too much for me to take on. So the girls bug me about decorating, I bug Dan, I have the girls bug Dan, and Christmas Eve rolls around with no tree.

Dan’s take is “Let’s decorate Christmas Eve!” But my take is: I work DAMN hard to be done well before Christmas Eve. I chip away at gift buying and gift wrapping because I don’t want to be up past midnight on Christmas Eve. I intend to come home next Tuesday, exchange gifts with the nanny, eat dinner at my in-laws, put the kids to bed by 9 p.m. (okay, maybe 10 p.m. for the girls), put gifts under the tree — er, wait for Santa — and go to bed. I’m not spending my Christmas Eve figuring out why a string of lights is not working.

I stayed up past 11 p.m. the last three nights, mostly cleaning and wrapping gifts. I bugged Dan endlessly on Saturday and Sunday about going down the basement (henceforth to be known as the Dreaded Basement) to see what we had in terms of decorations. Dan helped with cleaning — as I have said, Dan is a better cleaner than I, but I do it daily, and he does it weekly. Yesterday, I went out alone to finish up my shopping (almost done! Dan sprung a surprise request on me that I have to pick up). Dan asked what I wanted him to accomplish while I was gone. I told him. He went next door to help his parents finish covering their dining room chairs. And then went to the Hobbit movie with a couple of my cousins.

Aside: there are pros and cons to the fact that he went to see the current installment of the Hobbit without me. Pro: I can wait to watch it with him when it comes out on DVD, and don’t have to sit through it in a theater. Con: Three-plus hours spent not decorating.

In the meantime, I had a panic attack in Target. Then I woke up today at 4 a.m. and thought about all the stuff I was going to do instead of working out this morning: take out garbage; vacuum; sweep kitchen floor; venture into the Dreaded Basement to assess damage from last year’s flood — this one more than anything kept me awake about an hour. I DON’T WANT TO GO DOWN THE BASEMENT. I hate it. Oh, and empty the dishwasher. Instead I fell back to sleep around 5 a.m., and didn’t hear my alarm, and thus didn’t wake up until 7 a.m. I’m lucky I got the kids fed, made coffee, and got the girls to school on time.

So, this week:
Tonight: GNO, a good thing; however, like Dan going to the Hobbit movie, time I will be having a good time and thinking about the house-related stuff I should be doing.
Tuesday: Bath night.
Wednesday: The girls’ school Christmas concert. I opted not to hire a sitter, so, HA, good luck with that.
Thursday: Bath night.
Friday: I *may* take the kids out to shop for Dan. If I don’t do it that evening, I don’t know if/when it’ll get done.
Saturday: My in-laws are taking the children out for their Christmas outing. I plan to bake/cook the afternoon away.
Sunday: Social thing. Finish up what’s not done.

I expect some late nights (i.e. 11 p.m. or later) this week. Or early mornings.

Just, please, not both.

Are you ready to snap at people who ask if you’re ready for Christmas? Or are you mellow?

That Time of Year

Twitter is super interesting today. I had to switch my phone off to meet my deadlines.

So instead of the bitching post — not the bitchin’ post, mind you, I don’t have one of those right now — I was going to write about how, invariably these last couple of years, the two weeks before Christmas visits disasters* on Dan and me, usually with stressful financial consequences, you get something else today.

First, a repost from 2009 regarding religious and secular Christmas. Read the comments, and the following post too (linked below), because I think it’s a really good, civil conversation. Similar to the conversation on Twitter, it seems that many people who have secular Christmases do so because they do love the traditions, the togetherness of family, and ideas of peace and goodwill. So, my question has largely been answered, but if you’d like to see what I was thinking a few years back, or would like to weigh in, see more below.

Second, a strong post from a friend regarding “girl toys”. The upshot of which is that any toy can be limiting. Why not just let our kids play with what they want to?

Stay warm out there!

Do They Know Why It’s Christmas
Repost from RPM, 2009

I risk ruffling some feathers with this post, and I risk offending people whom I really like. But it is… not bothering me exactly. It’s truly something — like my Santa issues — that I wonder about every year right around this time. And that’s the spirit in which I am posting. To hear others’ points of views, not to offend.

I am genuinely curious about something: if you are agnostic or atheist, why do you bother with Christmas at all?

I don’t mean to denigrate a person’s decision to practice goodwill towards fellow men and women, or celebrate some winter downtime by hanging out with family and/or giving gifts. It’s just that I read over and over again about the stress of baking and shopping and decorating and spending time with family, and how so many people dislike the holidays, yadda, yadda, yadda, and then some are like “I don’t even believe in God.”

Well then why all the stress?

The thing that keeps me very centered this time of year is my faith. (Obviously, it keeps me centered most of the year, but I lean on it particularly around now. Focus and all.) Christmas is very much about the birth of Jesus Christ, who I believe is the son of God. Christmas is a celebration of the fact that God “so loved the world He gave his only Son”.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the trappings of the season (to an extent): the lights, the food, family, presents. I love driving down the road with my children yelling, “Lights!” from the back seat over and over again. I also completely let myself off the hook this time of year: I do not bake just because I’m supposed to (I don’t bake the rest of the year either; it’s definitely a mom-type short coming). We do not put lights up outside (oh, how I would love to… but I just can’t take it on). Although I love to host, I cannot this year because of my work schedule. I (try to) keep spending and present-buying in check. I do not send Christmas cards. I work firmly within my limits.

But it seems to me agnostics and atheists have the perfect excuse to step away from the madness. A simple, “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t believe Jesus was the son of God” should suffice. They don’t need to be mean about it, and they shouldn’t be treated rudely for their beliefs (I have complicated feelings about proselytizing, but we can all be civil at least, right?).

I read somewhere about how a mother told her children that Jesus was a very wise man, and that he is why Christmas is a holiday, which is all well and good, but isn’t really the whole story. The reason behind the season is not that I believe Jesus was pretty smart — I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I celebrate his birth in a unique way. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. was a wise man; the presidents were wise men (arguably); there are even some pretty wise women out there who should be feted. But we’re not giving gifts and putting up trees for their birthdays. There’s no Advent before Lincoln’s birthday, you know?

Again, I don’t mean to be insensitive or non-PC. I am sincerely curious about this. Baffled. I am not angry or pissed off; I don’t believe there is a true “war on Christmas” like Christian fundamentalists do. Has the “cultural norm” somehow overridden the religiousity? Is it “doing it for the kids”? Shouldn’t we celebrate differences? Or is that just easy for me to say?

Read the comments here, and my follow-up post here if you’d like.

*Usually of a flooding basement kind of thing. This year, his office in Crafton has some, uh, plumbing difficulties. Sigh.

The Thing I Didn’t Tweet About

Last Friday, Dan, the children, and I headed to Erie to celebrate Christmas with my parents (aka Nonna and Pap-pap).

On the way, feelings of intense grief began to surface.

I reached for my phone to tweet something about it. Something like, “Suddenly really missing Gabriel.”

And then I didn’t.

I put my hands back in my lap, and let the feeling engulf me. I cried a little. I turned to my husband and told him the way I was feeling. We held hands. I said, “I would think I would be over this feeling by now.”

I didn’t mean I would be over being sad. I’ll never stop being sad or missing Gabriel.

The grief continued on and off throughout the weekend. For the first time in a long time, it wasn’t just feeling a little sad that my first son wasn’t with us. It was grief, painful and sharp, keener than it’s been… probably since Kate was born.

I didn’t tweet about my grief for one reason.

It wasn’t because I felt I would be ignored, that my grief for my son would fall on deaf ears. My followers are in many cases my friends as well, and they wouldn’t let me down. They would reach out to me (virtually) in my time of grief. Of this I have little doubt.

It wasn’t because I wanted to hide my grief. That I didn’t want to talk about my baby loss (as Dan termed it this weekend “baby sadness”) at what is supposed a joyful time of year — about the birth of a baby. It wasn’t because I thought I would be raining on people’s Christmas or holiday parade.

I didn’t tweet about my grief because I needed to be with my grief. And I needed to be with my grief with my small group, primarily my husband, of course, but I did talk about the way I was feeling with my parents after dinner on Christmas Eve.

I don’t know what factors contributed to the resurgence of my intense feelings, whether hormones, exhaustion, or stress, or why some of the music I heard made my sentiment well (“Coventry Carol” and “Gabriel’s Message” from A Very Special Christmas album were definite triggers, as well as a couple of tracks from A Christmas Together – John Denver & The Muppets). Although I consider myself very blessed in my marriage and my other three children, something about Michael being a year old perhaps made me feel Gabriel’s loss more keenly.

And, let’s face it, what I love Twitter for (besides my tweeps) is the immediacy of the medium. You have a thought or feeling or question, and you can just shoot it out into the ether and be done with it. And then you can check your @’s obsessively to see if anyone agrees, disagrees, or has the answer. It can be used for conversation, for soliciting good prayers and thoughts (something I had just used it for the day of Michael’s ear tube surgery), for checking in with other tweeps. I have never made any secret of my fondness for Twitter, but it’s not necessarily for dwelling on things.

I had to do that with my grief. I had to sit with it, share it with the people who were physically present to me, work through it. By Christmas Day, I really felt much better — not just because some of the external factors were resolved. I had had a couple of nice days with friends in Erie (and beer), and with my kids and parents, and I was more rested.

I also processed my grief, recognized and acknowledged it. It surprised me in its timing and intensity. I thought those high waves were far behind me; clearly I was mistaken. And that’s okay.

I hope you all had Merry Christmases and Happy Holidays. And if you had grief, I hope, like me, you had the time and space — or took the time and space — to go through it. Many well wishes and happy thoughts for you all.

Santa Conundrum No. 3: Why Do We Donate Toys?

As a family, we make a number of charitable contributions this time of year. Flora’s school had a Toys for Tots drive, and I had the girls pick out a new toy when we were shopping to donate to that.

One of the other things I did was donate gently used toys to a charity called Play It Forward Pittsburgh (this link goes to the Facebook page). One Friday, before I dropped Kate off, we stopped at the house in my neighborhood that was collecting the donations.

When I got back in the car, Kate said, “Why are you giving our toys to this house?”

I said, “They are collecting used toys to give to kids who won’t get toys at Christmas.”

“Why doesn’t Santa give them toys?” Kate asked. “Because they are bad?”

Oh, shite.

“Nooo,” I said, trying to think fast. “Sometimes Santa needs help getting more toys to give to more children. If kids have a lot of toys that they don’t play with, Santa likes us to give them to him, so he can give them to children he knows don’t have lots of toys. He knows the toys will get played with that way.”

This explanation, brought to you by the seat of my pants, seemed to satisfy Kate quite well.

I just wish I had dropped her off first, *then* donated the toys. It’d would’ve made my morning a little less stressful.


Speaking of donating toys, check out what readers of helped Michelle do this year. Wow, is all I have to say.