Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cryn Tip : What To Do With Your Christmas Cards

We have virtually no art or wall displays on most of our walls, so this Christmas card display really works for our little apartment.  I took a piece of heavy knit yarn (its really thick) and pinned it up using two thumbtacks that end up flush with the wall.  I then used paper clips to clip cards and photos sent to us from family and friends.  Because the display is the approximate length of the couch and has three sides, I think it creates a nice decorative effect.

I also rounded up a few other good ideas for your cards in the list below:

Paper ball ornaments

Punch out gift tags

Photocard magnets

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Have I Ever Mentioned...?

I. Hate. Toys.  Toys are my nemesis.  They challenge every single fiber of my being and threaten to choke all joy and sanity from my person.  I hate them.  Ugh.

Well, it is not really the toys themselves I hate, but rather the fact that I cannot organize them in my mind or make them orderly.

Although you probably won't believe me, now that I have prefaced with that outburst, we have been so blessed this Christmas with all the love and thoughtfulness that has been poured out on our little family from our outer circle of family and friends.  Presents by the dozen were showered down upon our two little children, saving face for us since we were not able to get them anything this year.

I love to give good gifts to my children.  I love it when they get gifts. But the consequential madness and confusion that ensues drives me absolutely nutty.  I hate it when things do not have "a spot."  We are collectors, our parents are collectors, our children are collectors...  There is just so much stuff.

I had a minor break down this evening as my husband and I cleaned up the battle field from the day.  Together we picked up bits of trash and granola, wiped down high chairs and dishes, tables and chairs.  Swept up food in the kitchen, put away five dozen blankets, pillows, and cushions that had been used to make a giant fort, and scooted the couch back up against the wall.  All of that along with battling an endless raid of ants that just keep coming and coming.  When I finally got to the pile of toys stacked up against the living room shelf with boxes and sacks filled to the brim and spilling over, I just lost it...  "I don't even know how to organize any of this." I agonized to David.  "Every thing seems to be a set: dinosaurs that come with trees and bushes, dart guns that go with darts and a target, a play purse that is filled with accessories, baby toys with insert-able shapes."  It is just so overwhelming for my mind to handle.  How do you put them away and still keep them together?  Its not like I can put every single set into a little baggy, because we all know how long that will last (about four seconds).  But simply throwing everything into one big bin or toy box does not settle well with me; which is why I came up with this system a while back, but its like a constant tug of war with the toys that seem to ebb and flow like the tides.

However, when David and I were looking back over our photos from this Christmas, all of that frustration flew straight out the window (for now) and I just feel so blessed to have spent such a wonderful time with my family.  We had a calm, quiet, and relaxing time at home, and it was so fun to watch the kids open present after present without a care in the world except for the excitement and wonder of what could possibly be in the next package.  So many, many heartfelt thanks to all of you, our loved ones, who made this fun and heartwarming experience possible, and for sending so much love and thought our way.  We love you!  And in spite of everything I said before: thank you, thank you for all of the toys! (I really mean that...)

Photos by David Escalante

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mmmm... Cookies.

Merry Christmas!  I tend to disappear during holidays without so much as a howdy-do.  But Auntie Alsie was visiting and as I was talking to her I realized that I had some photos of our Christmas cookies.  So I thought I would show them to you.

I have two huge fans...  my son and my husband.  The three of us were sitting at the kitchen table taking on the very large task of decorating the dozens of sugar cookies we had baked.  It was quite a job.  We had a lot of fun and my husband really wanted to showcase a few of his favorite cookies that I decorated.  He thought mine were awesome, but I thought his hula girl cookie was the most creative although we never got a shot of that one since he's the photographer.  The whole night I was being spurred on with accolades of praise from both of the men in my life.  "Oh, good job, Mommy.  Wow..." Elliott would say.  And then from David, "Man...  Your cookies are so good!  Those are amazing!  I have to take a picture."  With these two around, I may start wearing a cape and red boot and calling myself Wonder-Woman.

I hope you had fun and heart-warming times this holiday season with your family as well...

Photos by David Escalante

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Make Believe

Elliott's pitiful nightly cries that he misses Grandpa finally wore me down. 

"What are you doing this week?" I subsequently asked Grandma and Auntie Allison that night as we were video chatting. "We'll pack up tonight and drive down tomorrow." I told them.

That's me: chronic non-planner.  I'm sure that will need to change once my youngin's reach school age, but I try not to dwell on that too much.

Starting with the wintry seven hour drive* down to Orange County, my week so far feels like something fictional and make believe.  After a rainy drive through Oakland and outer urban areas, we made it to the long five hour stretch on the 5 freeway.  I was feeling a bit nervous as there were threats of snow in the grapevine (a mountainous region you must drive through to reach Los Angeles and beyond).  Luckily, it was pretty smooth sailing along rolling miles of road and farmlands.  Row upon row of perfectly measured and orderly orchards flitted by. After a few hours, the sun started to rise and cast its young beams of light upon the waking countryside as we drove.  It started sprinkling and spitting water upon the windshield and the sun played with magic as it bathed the world in a citrusy amber mist cutting right through the rain.  It was truly magical.

The sun rose higher, but suddenly went gray as a hovering cloud encompassed us in a thick layer of fog pushing us gently toward the fairy land ahead where we emerged upon rolling hills covered in a soft carpet of wheat, rain-nourished green, and purply-mauve colored growth.  And then the climb, up, up, up into the mountainous grapevine region where the tipy-tops of the mountains displayed their sparkling white blanket that had been causing such a hub-bub for the CHP and auto travelers.

And then, as if to counteract the surreal fairy-like feeling of our journey, our stay has been ushered in by relentless rain and the sudden overshadowing of a gigantic, incredible, unbelievable, catastrophic, and unfathomable occurrence which is undoubtibly the result of some cataclysmic mistake of identity.

All of it is so very fiction-like.

I realize that I am being incredibly cryptic, but details have been left out to protect the innocent...

*For some amazingly great tips on road trip packing strategy for kids, check out Snip and Snail's blog post here...

The iPhone most certaintly butchers the scenes, but it gives you a general idea, nonetheless...  Sadly, the amber mist you will have to imagine as it refused to be captured.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cryn Tips : Work with What You've Got (Part 2)

Wrapping paper, you hold no weight over me.  I am no longer dependent upon your perfectly manicured surfaces and extravagant prices.  I am not lured into the trap of your satiny finishes and pretty patterns.  I am woman and I make my own.

I don't know why, but I just no longer use the stuff.  I think that in the beginning it was something born out of necessity and lack of funding, but once I stopped using wrapping paper the addiction was broken.  I actually prefer to make up my own kind of wrapping now.  I save little bits and scraps and pieces of things--ribbons, cool patterned paper or pieces of patterned paper bags, stickers, paper, and other odds and ends.  But my favorite way to wrap is usually upon the unspoiled canvas of a brown paper bag.  I haven't yet been so sophisticated as to go out and buy actual brown craft paper, but I hear you can find it for a dollar at the DollarTree Store.  I can't be sure though, because I haven't run out of paper bags and scraps yet.  After all, half the fun is figuring out how to make it work.  Starting from scratch.

These photos are from my latest wrapping mission that started spontaneously one night at about 11:30 pm and didn't wrap up until 4:30 am (whoops).  It had suddenly dawned on me that the food and candy items I had made (again, spontaneously that day), to go along with the rest of the gifts for my family on the East Coast, needed to be shipped out by morning if I wanted my candy to be alive when they received it.

I used paper lunch bags (for wrapping), salvaged tissue paper (for wrapping), a scrap piece of netting/organza type material (for a bow), embroidery yarn, or is it called thread? (for making bows on the paper bags by using a needle to draw the string through making the bow pattern), sharpie marker, Elliott's Charlie and Lola stamp set (with the red ink for pattern on the brown paper), letterpress on cardstock assortment of greeting scraps from Paper Source (for tags), other scraps of ribbon (for decorating).

Seems like most people these days are working with pretty tight budgets.  But we still want to make things look pretty, right?  The whole idea is just to work with what you've got and see what can come of it.  I think you will be surprised at how much stuff you actually do already have lying around that can be put to good use.  Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!

Photos by me this time actually (edited by David)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cryn Tips : Work With What You've Got

This year I had a few ideas for our tree.  I seem to be steering away from the traditional commercial stuff and going with homemade this time around with decorating as well as gifting.  It has actually been a very rewarding way to go about it.  I haven't had to be stressed about checking all of the ads to see what is on sale or search for... stuff.  As a bonus it is really fun to see what I have created in my mind come to life and actually work...

For our tree I made little gingerbread people and strung them on sewing thread and hung them on the branches.  The other idea I had was to take a bunch of family photographs that make up little memories of our times together and use wooden clothespins to attach them to branches of the tree.  A few white lights and one or two special ornaments (like the egg with the porcupine on it that David made for me for our first Christmas together and our Starbucks cup ornament) and voila!  A simple yet special tree full of fond memories.  I love the look of it.  It almost has an old-fashioned feel going on.

Which reminds me that we borrowed stumbled upon a wonderfully sweet book from our local library that I really think you should check out.  The book is called An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco.  It is actually a true story about a loving family whose father would trek down to Florida every Christmas with his horse and buggy to bring back nine precious oranges to put up on their mantle on Christmas Eve, one for each one of them.  The star of the book is a tender-hearted ten year old named Frankie who, through his generosity, but also through his thoughtlessness, brings his family close together at Christmas time.  It is truly a touching story.  It is definitely a bit more to read than your usual toddler book (more like an 8-12 year old book, but Elliott is 3 and he sat through it), but it is absolutely a must-read down-home classic and I strongly encourage you to read it even if you don't have kids.

Photos courtesy of the talented David Escalante

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It All Started With My Mother...

Growing up, my five sibling and I would go out every Christmas and chop down our own Christmas tree.  Some people find this odd.  Apparently, there are many city folks who actually go to a parking lot (be it at Home Depot, Albertson's, or wherever) and pick out their tree from a pile on the ground. 

Our first Christmas together, my husband brought me to Home Depot to pick out our Christmas tree and I was horrified, absolutely horrified.  "This is not Christmas-y at all!" I pouted.

So, every year now, we go and chop down a a real live tree with our little family...  I don't care how far we have to drive or how much more it might cost.  There is no way I can gulp down the thought of picking a half-dead tree out of the Home Depot parking lot.  (Okay, well one year I did compromise and settle with the Home Depot tree, but it just wasn't the same.)

This year we went to an amazing tree farm called Moon Mountain in Sonoma, CA.  We drove up a teeny-tiny winding little road to the top of this mountain and were able to see an amazing view of vineyards nestled into the hills and precarious looking vineyards sprawling up the sides of very steep mountain faces.

Of course, no family outing is complete without Mom and Dad (that's us!) arguing and baby sister crying and brother demanding a snack and everyone getting really frustrated and annoyed at some point.  Oh!  And hot apple cider and Christmas cookies...

All in all, we had a fun time.  At least for the first hour and a half, but after that, we were just pushing it.  Mental note for next year: Get in there and pick the tree right away and then allow for exploring and picture taking afterward instead of the other way around...

Don't worry, I don't knock all of you parking-lot-tree-gatherers, but it just isn't for me.

Photos by David Escalante

Stop on by David's blog for a few more photos...

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Great Man

If you've been following my blog then you know that I recently got back from Connecticut a few weeks ago.  I felt certain that I needed to be at my friend's side as her Dad had become suddenly and deathly ill and the one hope for treatment for him was slipping beyond his grasp.

Skip and Linda Madin are the parents of my high school bff, Liz.  I moved to Connecticut at 15 and when I started school, I was lucky enough to have Liz set her sights on me.  She just marched over to me and introduced herself.  It seemed like then and there she decided that we would be friends.  She tucked my bushy eyebrowed, wide-eyed, hippie haired, unsure little self under her wing and told me all I needed to know about the inner workings of our tiny little school (sometimes I wish I had listened a little better to those tips) and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Liz's parents took me in as well, with no questions asked and no reservations.  They loved me.  My high school years were very troubled and wrought with turmoil, grief, anxiety, and confusion.  The stability of the Madin home and the love, acceptance, and guidance I found within it was a gift that I can never repay.  I love every member of the Madin family as if they were my own.  As I've grown older, gotten married, and had children, the Madin's love for me has never flickered or gone out (nor mine for them).  Even though there have been times that we haven't kept in touch, I still feel welcomed home when I visit and it has been so beautiful to see them love my kids and watch my kids respond in kind.

Liz got married this June to her highschool sweetheart and I dragged my clan over to the east coast to be there.  I will never forget how Elliott stuck to "Grandpa Skip" as if they were joined at the hip.

It was sudden and cruel to find out that a sudden weight loss was due to a rare blood disorder called amyloidosis.  And even crueler still, the disease progressed so rapidly that they never even had time to start the treatment for the disease.

At noon on Tuesday our beloved, Everret (Skip) Madin was taken home to be with Jesus.  Which is just about the only comforting thing to hold on to right now.  We are glad that he is no longer struggling in a disease-ridden body, but his absence leaves a whole the size of Texas in our hearts.

I feel guilty to sound so dramatic, especially as the pain his real family is feeling is so so so much more than mine, but you see, you just have to know what kind of man he was, because if he meant this much to me, you can only imagine how much greater he must be in the eyes of his family.  So please say a prayer for the Madin Family and may the Lord comfort them in this time of sorrow and help them remember and trust that His ways are above our ways and beyond our understanding...

To read more about this great man, check out this article that appeared on the front page of the Litchfield County Newspaper, The Register Citizen: City Judge Dies at 57.

And this one here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hurricane Elden

At the end of my day--wait, no--at the end of my kids' day, I walk around my little two bedroom duplex and survey the damage.  CD's strewn about the floor of the apartment void of their cases, toys and books, crumbs and scraps litter the scene.  As I move about bending and picking things up I am very thankful that my boy, Elliott, really did do as I had asked. 

While I had been throwing together some supper, I had called out instructions to Elliott: "Pick up all of your movies and put them away."  "Pick up the toys and put them in the basket."  "Take all the clothes and put them in your room."  After each instructive, Elliott would run hum-humming his way in triumph to the kitchen where he would proceed to gloat upon his victory. 

Still, as I wander through my mini war zone hoping to tidy up a bit without rousing curious ears that are supposed to be falling asleep, I can't help but think, "what a mess!"  I make my way through the living room and over to the couch where I find half of a graham cracker on the top of it, a purple throw blanket mussed and fallen, and a box that the kid's seem to have rescued from the recycling bin is now precariously perched atop the couch and against the wall.

Next, I make my way down the hall and into the bathroom where I proceed to find not one, not two or three or four, but at least nine pairs of Elliott's underwear strewn about on the linoleum.  I had to chuckle, I had to pull David in for a look, and then a snapshot to share with you.  This kid loves to layer.  Boy, oh boy...

Go on, feel bad for me.  All of those undies are from one day.  Just imagine the kind of laundry I have to do...  (well, okay, I admit it--I put them all back in his drawer.  There is no way I'm going to be washing 20 pairs of underwear every day!)