The Search For The Perfect Christmas Tree

Few things can be as dividing in a family as the selection of The Perfect Christmas Tree. Battle lines are drawn, weapons are deployed, and the winner takes all. One can smell the blood lust in the air (around this time of year, blood lust smells like those scented cinnamon pine cones).

My family was (and still is) firmly entrenched in the “Real” camp, so every year we took the annual pilgrimage to Frank’s Nursery and Crafts to find The Perfect Christmas Tree. My memories of picking out Christmas trees have pooled into one collective memory: it is dark outside, and very cold. Gusts of wind slice through our coats, hats, and mittens. No one is happy. It is not fully snowing, but there is moisture of some kind- maybe sleet? frozen rain?-in the air. (Note to all the southern readers: Yes, snow is beautiful for the first six hours, and then it turns into a grey sludge. It is not amazing. It is not fun. It is cold and wet and makes a huge mess and turns everyone into the Worst-Driver-The-World-Has-Ever-Seen.)

In the Midwest, it is dark by 4:30 in the afternoon around Christmas time. As picking out a Christmas tree is a family activity, we would go in the evening to accommodate my father as his boss insisted he work during the day and not ride around, picking out Christmas trees. Now that my sisters and I are all grown up, he no longer has to attend the Annual Pilgrimage. (I totally blame him for the demise in the quality of my parent’s trees.)

In the dark, all the trees look the same. In the cold, wet dark, no one cares what the tree looks like anyway. I can remember going outside, looking at the same damn tree over and over again (to be fair, it might have been several different trees. But, seriously, who could tell?).

Once we reached a quorum of family members with numb extremities, we would go inside to defrost and ‘look at ornaments’. I think my parents thought that we would be better behaved due to hypothermia, but we were not. If anything, we saved energy by going into a sort of hibernation mode, much like bears do in the winter months. As soon as we would defrost, all of the energy would hit us, like a shot of adrenaline. I remember running through aisles as fast as I could with total disregard for the numerous delicate- and highly breakable- ornaments on display. (I also remember eating lots of candy canes, which I am sure contributed to the perfect storm of overly excited children surrounded by breakable things.)

After a few minutes of running around, we were warm enough to again brave the elements, and so we headed back outside and repeated the cycle of staring at the same trees from different angles trying to determine if it was, in fact, The Perfect Christmas Tree…

Six On Sunday, Version 27

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So Amazing

1. Nespresso Machine.  The Nespresso is the Bentley of coffee machines. The Kuerig, while great (from what I understand), are not even in the same ballpark. They are Chevy Cavaliers decent, but not amazing. For Christmas, our best couple friends gave us a Nespresso machine. It has literally changed my life.  I do not like coffee. At all. Honestly, the only way I can tolerate drinking coffee is when healthy amounts of Frangelico are added (and whipped cream). I never understood Starbucks… until last week.   I have had espressos,  cafe lattes, and cappuccinos at least once a day for the past week.

Aeroccino Plus Six On Sunday, Version 27

Aeroccino Plus. I MUST HAVE YOU!

2. Frother. As I am learning, the key to any successful fancy pants coffee drink is the milk froth. I desperately want the Nespresso frother, and I am doing my best to convince Thomas that it is worth every single penny. As he is also having his own ‘coffee rebirth’, I am optimistic.  He has always been a ‘serious’ coffee drinker- in almost ten years, I have yet to see him use cream or sugar. The fancy coffee machine is opening his eyes to fancy coffee, complete with flavored syrups and froth! It is truly a Brave New World at our house.

3. Glitter. I packed up all of my Christmas decorations last week (YAY!!). After all of the decorations were safely packed away, we deep cleaned. We scrubbed the house to remove all the pine needles, glitter, small pieces of scotch tape, and stray ribbons that  come along with Christmas. How is it that I am still finding glitter every where?! Judging from the amount of glitter on my floors, my decorations should, for all practical purposes, be totally naked.   And yet, I am confident that the decorations are quietly oozing yet more glitter in their boxes, waiting for next year.

4. Gel Manicures. OMG! Life changing. As you loyal readers know, my toenails (and my daughter’s) are ALWAYS PAINTED. It should not be very surprising to learn that my finger nails are also always painted. Even the worst of circumstances when Emma was a newborn, and not sleeping EVER NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER and crying ALL THE DAMN TIME, my fingernails were manicured. It might not have been the prettiest job, but they were painted nonetheless. Keeping my nail polish from chipping is a huge pain (and a total first world problem, but whatever). Before we left for Christmas, I decided to treat myself to a gel manicure. Also, Groupon had a deal for one. Best. Thing. Ever. I did dishes for HOURS on end with no chips. Now, I just needed to find someone who is willing to support my new habit… because $600 a year on nails isn’t in my cards. (If anyone is interested, you can email me: Julia@juliasmath.com!)

5. Wimpy Winter Gear. The day Emma and I landed in St. Louis, the high was 27. Twenty freaking seven. Our winter gear did not even begin to cut it! My gloves were too thin and made from stretchy cotton, my coat was actually more like a jacket, and we did not have hats. I have lost my cold weather tolerance and common sense. I remember wearing flip flops in the snow in college- our justification was that we would only be outside for a minute at most, running from the car into house. Today, I cannot go outside without at least two pairs of socks… when it is below forty. However, I am totally OK with my loss as I hate cold weather and am thankful to only have to deal with it once a year!

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Thanks Honey!

6. Driver of the Year. This award goes to my husband, who drove 1800 miles in five days. And didn’t bitch AT ALL. Yay Thomas! (Atlanta to St. Louis to Chicago to St. Louis to Atlanta)

Candy Canes Are So Overrated

The Candy Cane is a universal symbol for Christmas. Well, maybe not universal but definitely recognizable. I love the idea of candy canes- a refreshing, yet sweet treat that reminds us of Christmas. However, the candy cane does have one fatal flaw… they are a nightmare to eat.

Any enjoyment of this treat is destroyed by the thick slime that is created when spit collects in the plastic cellophane wrapper and smothers the candy, creating a goo that has the adhesive properties of super glue and is just as difficult to remove. This goo sticks to fingers, clothes, and stray, flyaway hairs with a fierce tenacity. And, worst of all, this goo ruins the rest of the candy cane. Once the goo attacks the virgin candy, it is ruined; un-eatable.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, the candy cane manufacturers (“elves”) believe that Bigger Is Better, and therefore produce the most massive candy canes imaginable. These beasts are truly ‘canes’ as they could double for a real cane in a pinch, like when Grandma comes to Christmas dinner. No one in the history of the world has ever finished one of these monstrosities. Frankly, I don’t think anyone actually wants to eat all of that sticky peppermint. Even if someone WANTED to attempt to conquer the ‘cane, the spit goo would eat the lower two inches of the cane anyway!  There can be too much of a good thing… Sure peppermint is great (especially with chocolate- Andes Mint anyone?).  However, Andes mints aside, there is a reason that peppermint is a limited, time-of-year treat- without its chocolate compliment, it is just not that good. Peppermint also does not lend itself well to other candy marriages. Peppermint Twix? No thanks. Peppermint SweeTarts? Not so much… I spotted some Christmas (peppermint flavored) Peeps at Target the other day… in the clearance section, marked down 90%. No takers. The take home message is that  some treats are meant to be seasonal (sweetheart conversation hearts, I’m looking at you), and some are amazing year ‘round (let’s hear it for Snickers and M&Ms!).

In my opinion, the mini candy cane is a more desirable option, as the goo is not a factor and it is a more enjoyable size. Although these are almost always broken, I still think they are better as they are much easier to eat than the larger ones. The straight part is easy- although accidental stabbings do occur- the bendy part is a nightmare. It is impossible to fit it into ones mouth comfortably!

Candy canes have nothing to offer me, really. Emma is convinced that she loves them, but she is also convinced that pink zebra tutus are the must-have accessory of the season. You all enjoy your candy canes; I am off to find the Christmas cookies!

Six On Sunday, Version 26

1. The Flu. We had The Flu at our house. Thankfully, I had gotten my flu shot and I wasn’t down for EIGHT DAYS like my husband. When I asked him why he hadn’t gotten his yet, he said “because you didn’t tell me to yet”. So, everyone listen up: GET YOUR FLU SHOT.

2. Freakishly Warm Weather. I hate cold weather. Hate it. However, I hate bugs way more. We have not had a ‘hard freeze’ in Atlanta in over a year and the bug situation is out of control. I could not even talk to my neighbors in the yard today because the gnats were dive bombing my face, specifically my mouth. I am trying to up my protein intake, but I am not convinced that eating bugs is the way to go. Also, it is hard to get in the Christmas spirit in shorts.

3. Christmas Cookies. Every year, we have our world famous Cookie Party. This year, the stand out cookies were the Cookies & Cream… they were amazing. Life changing, maybe.  Also good were the caramel apple cookies! All of the cookies were amazing, and we hope our guests had half as much fun as we did!

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Cookies & Cream

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 cup butter, softened 
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup white sugar 
1 (4.2 ounce) Cookies ‘n Creme pudding dry mix 
2 eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 cups white chocolate chips 
15 Oreo cookies, very coarsly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars, add pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking soda with a whisk then add it to the butter mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and Oreo cookies. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven until cookies tops barely have a touch of brown. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

4. Sugar HIGH.  Emma consumed her body weight in sugar at the party yesterday. Just kidding (hopefully). I always set up a cookie decorating table for kids, so Emma and her friends had unfettered access to sugar cookies, icing, M&Ms, and sprinkles in her playroom. The dining room held the various trays of cookies, and there were cheese and crackers scattered around the house. The cookie party is the Best Day Of Her Life every year, and this year did not disappoint.

5. Glitter. It’s everywhere. On everything. I think we are even eating copious amounts of glitter. (Glitter is extra fiber, right?!) Gotta love the holiday season!

6. Christmas Shopping. I haven’t even started thinking about it. For me or for anyone else… why is it that on almost any day of the year, I can give you a list of twenty-five things I am dying to have, and as soon as someone actually WANTS that list I have no idea what to ask for? So Annoying.

Thanksgiving Is Different In The South (And Brunch Was a Good Idea)

When families and friends sit down for their Thanksgiving meal, it is usually at dinner time; hence ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’. Growing up, that is all I thought I wanted (for Thanksgiving anyway. A brand new BWM and and all expenses paid Spring Break trip to Europe wouldn’t have hurt my feelings.) I thought I was totally missing out on something, because my family hosted a brunch every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until high school, when I was invited to my boyfriend‘s family Thanksgiving Dinner that I actually got a true ‘Thanksgiving Dinner

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It’s not too late Dad… although it would be tough to fit a carseat in there…
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The older I get, the more I realize that my parents were not the stupid idiots I thought they were in high school; they are actually brilliant. I have realized the error of my ways, and now wish for the days of one Thanksgiving meal where all of the guests came to me. I live six hundred miles away from my parents and my sisters (and their husbands), so popping in for a mimosa isn’t really going to happen.  Thomas has a wonderful family that has more people in it than I could have ever imagined possible (although, to be fair, the bar was really, really low as my extended family is a grand total of nine people).  More people means more responsibilities, so if anyone has any experience in being in two places at once please leave directions in the comments section below.

The spread that Thomas’s family puts out for Thanksgiving is impressive. What is even more impressive is that I could only identify one out of every five dishes the first time I attended Thanksgiving! Southern Thanksgiving, it turns out, is very different from its Northern sister. 

dressing Thanksgiving Is Different In The South (And Brunch Was a Good Idea)

Dressing source

In the South, you will find dressing instead of stuffing and sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin. Southerns prefer their beans grey instead of green; but you can find plenty of green in the Jell-O salads. No one makes my mom’s waldorf salad, but you will find my mother-in-law’s mac and cheese.  For my calories, I’m going stuffing and pumpkin pie all the way. Before I met my husband, I had never had homemade mac and cheese before (I never had the Kraft kind either as my mom was weirded out by the orange cheese powder.) My mother-in-law’s Mac And Cheese is literally life changing, so that was a definite upgrade!

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Stuffing… subtle difference but a difference nonetheless.
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If only they had quit while they were ahead…

Thanksgiving Brunch Just Didn’t Cut It

Thanksgiving. In theory, it is the most brilliant holiday we have. (Other than the national holiday that is My Birthday). Show up, eat delicious food, visit with the family, go home and take a nap. To be fair, there is a tremendous amount of behind the scenes work required to execute a successful Thanksgiving  dinner.  However, unlike Christmas, preparations take hours, not weeks, and dishes are far easier to clean up than messy Visa bills…

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You Are Everywhere I Want To Be… And That Is The Problem…
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Both of my parents are only children, and were transplants to the St. Louis area (my grandparents lived out of state). When it came to family holidays, we had five people total, meaning that the absence of even one of us meant the party was twenty percent smaller. (This concept totally blew my husband’s mind as his ‘small’ family parties have thirty people). Needless to say, holiday celebrations were not the long, drawn out, sometimes painful  wonderful, all day experiences so many people have.

My parents have a wonderful network of friends, who became our adopted family. Like every other family, we wanted to all celebrate the day together. However, all of our “family” also had real relatives of their own, and were therefore booked for dinner. My mother is resourceful (if nothing else) and a wonderful hostess, so the idea of not having a party for Thanksgiving never occurred to her. She simply moved the “dinner” to a “brunch”.

At our house, Thanksgiving turkey was actually Turkey Tetrazzini casserole, and pumpkin pie was actually pumpkin cheesecake (which is so amazingly life changing, by the way).  Our “family” came over around eleven and sipped mimosas and bloody marys instead of bourbons and red wine.

While I appreciated the great party, fantastic food, and the chance to visit with family, the older I got the more bitter I became. I wanted a roasted turkey with all the trimmings! I wanted my pumpkin in a pie, not in a cheesecake! And, I wanted to have Thanksgiving when it was dark outside, like everyone else!  I finally got my wish in high school, when I started attending my boyfriend’s Thanksgiving. (Although I have lost touch with him, I still make his family’s Party Potatoes every year!)

Six On Sunday, Another Monday Verison

1. Pinterest.  I am proud to report that I am not a full fledged addict and that I am using Pinterest responsibly.  Also, how freaking cute is this?! Thanks, Pinterest!

 

baby pics Six On Sunday, Another Monday Verison

still on family room floor but you get the idea

 

2. Pumpkin Pie. I love love love pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin pie and Chardonnay is my second favorite meal (as loyal readers know, my first favorite is champagne and petit fours). Every year, I have the same conversation with myself:

  •  I won’t make pumpkin pie this year. I just end up eating half of a pie in a day and then I’m mad.
  • I will make pumpkin pie and have just a taste. Or a really small piece.
  • I will go the gym extra tomorrow to make up for the amazing goodness that is pumpkin pie!!

 

3. Hungry Girl.  For those who don’t know, Hungry Girl is a gal named Lisa who has all kind of recipe swaps to make foods healthier. This Thanksgiving, we tried the Save-The-Day-Stuffing and the Too-Good-To-Deny-Pumpkin-Pie. (The pie was an attempt to trick myself. It didn’t work. I totally ate the real one AND the healthy one.) The stuffing was great. The pie probably would have been great, but it was served next to the real pumpkin pie and therefore at an unfair disadvantage.

 

4. Sleeping in. Emma decided to sleep in until eight every morning! Yay Emma! She gets a pony for Christmas! Except for Sunday, when she was awake at 6:38. It was a Long Day.

 

5. Sick Toddlers.  Sunday was also the third day of Emma’s cold. She was feeling miserable, and as a parent it was so hard to watch her suffer. She even told us her nose was “cranky”! However, by Sunday, pitiful had changed to whining/crying/demanding/moping/howling. It took a lot of Mommy Reserves to remember to be patient and that she didn’t feel well and therefore wasn’t being a pill on purpose. A lot of Mommy Reserves.

 

6. Uniforms. Emma has moved up to the preschool class at school, which means that she will now wear a uniform. I wore a uniform every day of my life until I went to college, so to say I am a big fan is an understatement.  (I did have a crisis when I got to college because I had no idea how to dress casually. When I wasn’t wearing my uniform, I was in comfy clothes- yoga pants and tee shirts- or ‘go out clothes’- cute jeans and uncomfortable shoes, so getting dressed for class was a nightmare. I didn’t even have casual clothes- I remember part of my college shopping included items like long sleeved shirts and casual sweaters!) Uniforms made getting for school so easy and so quick…. thanks to the rules. When Emma started school, I think the front office thought I was crazy for asking about things like uniform shoes, socks, and hairbows. Emma is “asserting her independence” these days, and getting dressed is a huge production, even if we lay out her clothes the night before. This morning, she happily got dressed in her uniform and practically skipped down the hall to breakfast. 

Stalin’s Halloween… Why I Send My Mother My Therapist’s Bills Every October

After we came home from Trick or Treating, my sister Jennifer and I were stuffing our faces with our Halloween candy as fast as we could; with the fervor of starving children who were in danger of having their bread and water taken away.

bread and water Stalins Halloween... Why I Send My Mother My Therapists Bills Every October

The fervor was TOTALLY JUSTIFIED because my mom would TAKE ALL OF THE CANDY. SHE TOOK IT AND DUMPED INTO TO A COMMUNITY COMMUNIST BOWL.

I KNOW.

All of that hard work, the valiant ‘soldiering on’ through the elements in pursuit of just one more Snickers, for nothing. All of the careful sorting, the answering of tough questions- are Sixlets chocolate? What about chocolate Necco wafers?- and nothing to show. All of the hard own victories on the Trading Floor- three rolls of Smarties for one Butterfinger  is totally fair- rendered hollow.

In the history of Unfairness, this is the Most Unfair Thing Ever.

UNfair Stalins Halloween... Why I Send My Mother My Therapists Bills Every October

Even the UN couldn’t save us…

My mom explained that this was the Fair Way.(To this day, I do not know who died on Halloween and made her the Fairness Fairy. She certainly wasn’t the Fairness Fairy the other 364 days out of the year.) Laura (our youngest sister) did not get as much candy as Jennifer and I did (because she was a pansy  because she was younger than us), and we all needed to have a fair share to the good candy; that it wasn’t fair for Laura to get stuck eating the waxy peanut butter things while Jennifer and I enjoyed our Now & Laters, Snickers, and Fun Dip. Even at eight and six, that seemed pretty fair to us- Laura did not trudge through sleeting rain, freezing her bunny tail off to get the goods… so she shouldn’t get the same candy.  Of course, Laura sided with my mom.

sleet Stalins Halloween... Why I Send My Mother My Therapists Bills Every October

Once the seizure of the candy occurred, my mom would dump it all- no respect for the careful sorting of each piece- into her large wooden salad bowl and put it on top of the refrigerator, where it would sit and taunt us. After dinner, she would lug the bowl down and with all the empathy of the KGB , would allow us to pick one piece of candy. ONE PIECE. And? We had to rotate who would go first. My friends would have Halloween candy in their lunch boxes for weeks. I had fruit. (Today, I am on board with this choice and credit my love of fruit to my mother. However, a piece or two of candy in my lunchbox would not have killed me.)

KGB Stalins Halloween... Why I Send My Mother My Therapists Bills Every October

looks like her sorority?!

This week, I reminded my mother (as I do every Halloween) how much her Communist style approach to Halloween has scarred me. I will be sending her my therapist’s bill, as I do every October.

Mom I love you.

Laura, mom might have turned you into a commie, but you are not a pansy. I love you too.

How My Mom Turned Halloween Into Red October

Note: Mom, I still love you.

I am still mad about the sharing Stalin style Halloween rules.

So is Jennifer.

(I’m pretty sure Laura is still a fan.)

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Julia, Jennifer and Laura. Clearly Jennifer is still really upset about it.

Sure, dressing up for Halloween is tons of fun. So is the actual Trick or Treating. For me- and I suspect most children over the age of six-, it became a Mission. I had to get as much candy as possible. I was like the Post Office- no amount of rain or snow would deter me from my Mission. (Growing up in Missouri, it was always cold enough to snow. All costumes had to be designed with a snow suit in mind.)

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Standard Halloween weather

Personally, my most favorite part of Halloween (credit my OCDo level of commitment to organization) was the post Trick or Treat Sort.

 

My husband grew up on a farm (which, by definition is in the middle of nowhere), and his Trick or Treating career was far different from mine. (In fact, until Tuesday afternoon, the man had never even carved a pumpkin!) and looked at me blankly when I referenced “The Sort”- the categorizing and the trading of the evening’s spoils.

sorting candy How My Mom Turned Halloween Into Red October

Some people used broad categories- Chocolate, Non Chocolate, and Gross Peanut Butter Waxy Things (I actually tried those a couple of years ago, and they are pretty good- no joke!). I was always far more detailed in my sorting (shouldn’t be too surprising), and used subcategories as well- Butterfingers in the Chocolate pile, SweeTarts in the Non Chocolate pile.

 

Once the candy was sorted, the negotiations began. Said negotiations were fueled by an unholy alliance of too much sugar, overtiredness, and bloodlust. It was not pretty. These negotiations always included my sister Jennifer, who is two and a half years younger than me. (My other sister, Laura is five years younger than me and therefore was always too young to go and get her own candy.) My mom was concerned that I would dominate the negotiations because I was smarter older, but, Jennifer could hold her own. She always preferred the Non Chocolate to the Chocolate, so many trades were made.

NegotiationBootCampCover3 How My Mom Turned Halloween Into Red October

As taught by kids geeked up on sugar on Halloween

Perhaps all ambassadors should be required to trade Halloween candy with a ten year old prior to assuming their post. They would learn a lot in both negotiations techniques and how to function in a combative environment(all of it above board, of course).

 

As soon as the Final Bell rang on the trading floor, Jennifer and I would shovel as much of the candy down our throats as we could. We ate the candy with the fervor of starving children who were in danger of having their bread and water taken away.

 

We had to. The candy was about to “redistributed”…

Six On Sunday, Version 24

1. Bangs.  Right after Emma was born, I got bangs. I had been wanting bangs for quite a while, and clearly was not going to commit to them while preggo. I loved them for about six months. I HATED them for the twelve months it took to grow them back out.  I recently sent my friend Caroline some old pictures.  After she received them, she sent me a text asking why we had ever allowed her to have bangs. The great irony is that one of the main reasons I got bangs was because they looked so cute on her! I maintain they looked cute on her regardless of what she says!

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2. Getting Gas. I hate hate HATE getting gas. In the nine years I have known my husband, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gotten gas if he is in town. It’s awesome, and a reminder that chivalry is not dead.

 

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GO MARKERS!

3. High School Mascots. I saw a bumper sticker this week that boasted of the Terriers… When I hear ‘terrier’ I think little yippy dog.  This image does not strike fear in the heart of any opponent… however, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.  My high school mascot was The Marker… short  for The Hallmark of Excellence.

nerinx hall Six On Sunday, Version 24

4. No more free weekends. We are currently scheduling into January.  In case anyone is interested in plans… Every year, right after my birthday, things get crazy busy- the holidays, family visits, etc.  It is great to be in such demand, but a little frustrating at the same time.

 

julia how big Six On Sunday, Version 24

forgot to use this on my birthday post and it is WAY TOO CUTE to not use… so enjoy!

5. My Birthday. I finally had to accept that my birthday is, in fact, over.  We decorate our mantle with cards as the occassion arises- Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc .  I took down all of the cards (and put them in my card box in the attic. I have every card I have ever been sent, including cards my mother received when I was born). Now my mantle is bare =(

bday cards Six On Sunday, Version 24

6. Gangnam Style. How can you not love it? Emma LOVES this song! One of the reasons I think she loves it so much is because her father is AMAZING at replicating it! Enjoy!!