Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Traditions

We live more than 1000 miles away from our parents.   However, when both sets of parents live in the same county, married children don't have to alternate spending Christmas with one side on the odd years, and with the other side on the even years.  We are lucky that we can see everyone.

Sometimes it's a mixed blessing because we're in the car a lot.  Driving back and forth isn't too bad when there is no snow, and we are certainly lucky to be able to see everyone in one trip.  While we're unable to keep every tradition for both of us, I like to think we've done a decent job of blending them together.

Christmas Eve my family goes to Mass at 5pm.   It's the Children's Mass, which used to be absolutely adorable with children processing holding animals, telling the Christmas story (complete with giraffes in the manger) and singing many carols.   It's changed a bit and now a lot of kids are still there, but are no longer performing.  Going with Michael now guarantees we will hear a male voice singing Christmas songs, which is rather lovely!

Michael's family always eats lasagna for dinner on Christmas Eve.   Theresa and Ray join us (Theresa always makes the best salad!), and ML provides the peppermint dessert.  Basically chocolate, graham crackers and pink mint ice cream.  Yeah.  It's delicious.   Most years (at least since I've attended, starting in approximately 2002), we play a game.   My favorite part of the game playing is when my father in law shouts "Julia is on my team!"  I also enjoy when our team happens to win, as was the case this year.  Check out our enthusiasm, especially Mario's thumbs up- we couldn't have done it without Theresa and Michael.  

2011 was particularly lovely because for the first time since 2008, Marissa was home for dinner, along with Howie!  And Mario's parents were there too, making the table full with 10 chairs!

Christmas morning, in both our homes, always meant lots of presents.  We now spend the night at Michael's parents' house, open gifts in our PJs, eat a big breakfast, and then head over to my parents' house for small family presents, followed by dinner with at least 20.   Among other items, this year, dinner included ham and turkey and cheesy potatoes!   Midwesterners will know that this ridiculous dish of frozen hashbrowns, cheese, campbell's soup, and cornflakes is both ridiculous and amazingly good.   It should be consumed annually, though I don't remember the last time I had it...  Erica and I did a little dance when we saw it on the buffet.

Every year we take a Lasky cousin picture.   This is our photo from 2011 and FINALLY Anthony and I (the tallest 2) are not sitting on the darn floor.

The entire day is quite the raucous time.  We have dinner, open gifts, chat, eat snacks and appetizers, play games, sing Christmas carols around the piano, and enjoy everyone's company.  At times, the decibel level is at least 80!   And we wouldn't have it any other way

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sing We Joyous All Together

While we're on the subject of all things holiday (see also: It's a Wonderful Life, The Nutcracker) why not talk about music?

For me, Christmas music is as much a part of the holiday season as the tree or the gifts or the online shopping.   Unlike my local radio stations, which begin before HALLOWEEN, I don't start to play Christmas songs until after Thanksgiving.  On the way back from South Carolina, I revel in my freedom to play 6 hours of Christmas music.  Poor Michael.

I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod that includes approximately 36 hours of Christmas music.  I have another Christmas playlist that is instrumental only, appropriate for dinner or times when you don't want to sing along.   I don't know when this time would be.  As a child my dad often would say "Julia, no singing at the table"   For this reason, it helps to have instrumental music whilst eating.   Yet another playlist is labeled Christmas Run and includes all the peppier songs that are appropriate for a jog around the neighborhood.   When you live in the Sunshine state you really can jog outside in December.  It is lovely.  And confusing.

My favorite Christmas song of all time?   That's easy.   Silent Night.  Do you know the story of Silent Night?   I do, mostly because on A Christmas Together John Denver tells the story before he sings Stille Nacht with the Muppets.  Beautiful song, beautiful story.

My favorite Christmas album?  Whoa boy.   That is a toughie.

1) James Taylor at Christmas

Does this require an explanation?  Anyone who has ever heard JT sing knows he is amazing.  Every song is expectedly wonderful.  Even Jingle Bells, which I find a bit tedious at times, is enjoyable thanks to his bluesy interpretation.
Favorite song on the album: Who Comes This Night

2) Amy Grant (all 3, plus the EP, don't judge me)

Amy Grant is awesome because her albums are always a mixture of fast and slow, religious and secular songs.  No matter your mood, Amy Grant will have a song for you.
Favorite song on all albums:  I have 39 Amy Grant Christmas songs.  I cannot choose!  Mister Santa is my least favorite.... how's that?

3) The Time Life Treasury of Christmas

This collection features all the old classics sung by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, etc.
Favorite song on the album: This is so hard!  White Christmas.  No, Home for the Holidays.

4) Kenny & Dolly's Once Upon a Christmas

Classic singers, a wonderful mix of original songs and standards.
Favorite song on the album: With Bells On

5) Sugarland's Gold & Green

This is a new one, but as with Kenny & Dolly, I love the mixture of original songs along with their interpreting old favorites.
Favorite song on the album: Gold and Green

6) A Rockapella Holiday

Did you watch Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?  Remember the theme song?  Rockapella sang it! This is a legit group that has been recording for years.  And they are awesome.  Some new members over the years but fantastic a cappella singing still reigns supreme.  I have all 3 albums, this is their newest, out in November.  In fact, we are seeing them in concert (again!) on Thursday in Tampa!  So pumped
Favorite song on the album: Christmas All Together

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Movie Feature

I had been planning to write an homage to my favorite Christmas movies.  There are several, but my favorite Christmas movie ever also happens to be my Favorite Movie Ever.

It's a Wonderful Life

This movie and I go way back.  I don't remember the first time I saw it, but it was almost certainly on TV in the 1990s.   You see, my parents always went to the Company Christmas Party in mid-December.   Always on a Saturday, it was the fanciest night of the year.  Mom wore a glittery dress, Dad a jacket and tie!  When your Dad works in the steel industry, these items are not frequently donned.

Initially this night meant a babysitter.  Nene or Auntie or sometimes a neighborhood girl.   But when we were young-ish either they couldn't find anyone or they trusted us because Al and I were left Home Alone!   (Another favorite movie for another time)  Our stay-at-home evenings were very exciting.  I made macaroni and cheese for dinner, which is still a requested item when my sister and I are together at home.  We ate in the family room (!) and watched It's a Wonderful Life on TV.   I am sure I had seen parts of it before, but the first time I saw it start to finish was on a Saturday in December with my sister.

Like clockwork, every year, on that same Saturday as the Christmas party, NBC aired It's a Wonderful Life.  I laughed and cried and my sister laughed at me.  She claimed to like Mr. Potter best.

While it's a Christmas movie, the movie is about so much more than that.  Family togetherness, true friendships, the importance of each individual to so many people, and above all, that life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.

It's a simple film and these messages remain universal.

There are so many 'wonderful' components to this movie, that I encourage you to hop over to The Pioneer Woman's contributor post and get his take.  It's well written and sums up why the movie is still enjoyed by so many.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Waltz of the Flowers and Sugar Plum Fairies: A history

Ah, December.   For me this crazy month means the usual holiday mayhem, but also two family birthdays (hi Al and Dad!) and, since 2001, a Nutcracker performance

Regular readers will recall that in 2001, Hannah, Ashley and I took a trip to the Nutcracker.  You see, Pannie received a ballet subscription from her parents earlier that year: two tickets to several different shows.  Being the trio that we are, we traded in the 2 Nutcracker tickets and paid the difference in order to get 3 together.  We were in the very back row of the top tier at the Kennedy Center.   Not ideal seats, but a lovely show with friends.   I had never seen the show so it was all amazing to me.

In 2002 we planned a repeat evening.  All three of us would see the Nutcracker and take a break from studying for finals, thus beginning a college-long tradition at the holidays.  Only it did not happen that way.   Ashley's grandpa became very ill, and she had to fly home to Missouri just before our show.  Much to our dismay, Pannie and I went without her (my boyfriend, now husband, Michael took the 3rd ticket).

Sadly, Ash did not return to school the following fall.   Pannie and I continued our ballet tradition, though it was not quite the same.   I believe we decided to get slightly better seats, in 2003 and 2004, however.   You can only see so many consecutive shows in the top tier before you start to wish you could see their faces a bit better.

Upon graduation in 2005, we both got jobs in DC, and thus continued our tradition.   Between 2001 and 2007 we saw performances by the Bolshoi, Kirov, Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and The Washington Ballet.  All are lovely in their own unique ways, though Pannie and I have a soft spot for ABT.

In 2008 tragedy struck.   I moved to Florida in May, which meant No! Nutcracker! Performance!   I tried to soften the blow by sending Pannie nutcracker ornaments but it did not work.   We had broken tradition and it was sad.

In fall 2009, soon after getting married, I received an email from Pannie.
In other news: I think you need to come visit this fall/winter.  We need some roommate bonding time--I am in withdrawal.  I'm starting to receive info about this year's Nutcracker performances, and I must say, it rather sucked not to enjoy holiday festivities with you last year.  I'm just throwing that out there for your consideration.

She sure knows how to twist my arm.  The good thing about traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that airfare is rather inexpensive.  Relatively speaking.  Bonus points in 2009: Pannie had a new job and got FREE tickets to the Washington Ballet.

Last year, as you know, we were in Ithaca, NY.  It was cold.  But Michael finished finals the week before the Nutcracker performance, thus requiring us to make a slight diversion to DC before ending up in Ohio for the holidays.   Note: I think we both look exhausted in this photo, but I cannot figure out why!  Anyway.   We are cutest when we do not look like we've been up 3 days in a row

As we are back in the Sunshine State, once again in October I got an email from Pannie

Apropos of nothing...Nutcracker tickets are on sale today.  
Just throwing that out there.  :)

I checked airfare and things were not looking great initially.  However, eventually the expedia travel Gods smiled upon me and I found a decent ticket.  Luckily there were decent seats available for a performance, and we were set!  

Last Friday we celebrated seeing our tenth performance of the Nutcracker.  

Fittingly, it was ABT, with brand new choreography and set design.  And, even better, we were sitting next to 8-year-old Paige and her grandma, who was taking her granddaughter to her very first ballet performance.