No Christmas Pictures

We have no pictures of the kids playing under the fake snow on the church patio after Christmas Eve service. No pictures of anyone sipping hot cocoa in front of the fire that night.

There are no pictures of me, bleary eyed, wrapping Christmas presents for a few hours after midnight.

None of the kids tearing into them in mere seconds.

Or them playing with their gifts all morning.

Except for a couple of pictures of food*, there are no pictures of our family's Christmas this year. It's not because I accidentally lost the images. I purposely decided not to take any pictures. Crazy, I know! It's just that I thought it might be nice to simply enjoy each other and experience the holiday without making our moments stop for a photograph.

It felt unnatural at first. I kept holding myself back from pulling out the phone or reaching for the camera. There were so many moments I wanted to capture! But there was this strange sensation overriding my compulsive need to snap a shot. It was a mixture of relaxation and joy. It was so just so...


Nice to enjoy my family. To enjoy seeing the special moments with my own eyes, as opposed to through a lens or phone. Nice to just be present. Eventually, not only did I not reach for the camera or the phone, but by the end of the day, I couldn't even tell you where the devices were.

Ironically, this was one of the sweetest Christmases we've experienced in a few years. I could feel regret that I didn't get any shots of it, but I think I may be correct in assuming that being present had everything to do with the fact that it was such a sweet day.

Hope your holidays were just as sweet.


*The pictures of food were taken only because my husband asked that we capture his first racks of lamb grilled on the Big Green Egg. Don't let the amateur shot fool you. They were delicious!

Mixed Feelings On #GivingTuesday

I'm sort of ramble a bit here, so... forgive me. Or judge me. Whatever. Giving.

We remember that other people have needs when we see horrific scenes from a disaster. Or when we see video of the less fortunate in other parts of the world. We are especially reminded about giving during the holidays. Maybe not while we're standing in line for toys that our kids just HAVE to have. But I know what it's like to want to give your kids that toy. As a single mom many moons ago, my little family (two little girls and me) received a brown paper bag filled with gifts for a weary mother to put under the tree that would have otherwise been empty.

A new World Vision Holiday Giving Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, shows fewer Americans plan to give a charitable gift as a holiday present this year.  In 2011, about half of U.S. adults (51%) agreed that, as a result of the current economic climate, they’d be “more likely” to give a charitable gift as a holiday present. This year, that percentage dropped to 45 percent. Meantime the survey also indicates that overall holiday spending could be up this year.

That's the part I'm confused about. More people are out shopping, but giving less. My immediate knee-jerk reaction is that people are just being stingy. So maybe they do need this reminder, and so Giving Tuesday is a great vehicle in which to remind us all that there are people in need in our own backyard. But then, I don't know if those shoppers aren't just putting themselves into debt paying for those gifts that will be broken or forgotten by next Christmas, not thinking that what they have is enough...

Judge not, lest ye be judged.

And I'm not trying to by judgy, I promise. I guess I'm just concerned about the world my kids are growing up into. I'm raising them to be givers, but they're going to be surrounded by this BUY BUY BUY mentality all their lives. They may get caught up in it all, too. I have before. It's natural. But I was always volunteering or donating... trying to balance out my consumer footprint, I guess. Shopping is good for the economy, I know. And this isn't the first Christmas that I've ever complained about this. But I really feel like our society has crossed over to less giving and more GIMME!

For the last ten days, I've seen deals floating across friends' timelines. It hit a fever pitch yesterday and I just had to walk away. I'm not opposed to buying gifts for loved ones, and I think it's awesome that bloggers can earn a little money curating a great gift guide. I just abhor the commercialism that this season has come to represent. Pagans, Christians, Jews... we all have our traditions at this time of year. But Secular Shopism is taking over and this season now no longer seems to hold any deeper meaning. All faiths have built-in giving, but we have become such a gimme gimme group that we have to actually be reminded to GIVE at this time of year.

I guess that's why I'm having mixed feelings about Giving Tuesday. I'm glad we are turning our collective attention outward, but I'm sad that we are atrophying into an inward gazing position to begin with. Still... I'm not gonna get all Eeyore about this. I'm going to look for and share other giving opportunities throughout my social channels. God gave me this big mouth. I think He intended I use it for good.

I don't have a particular organization that I want to share with you in this post. No one that will give a dollar in exchange for a like. I don't have anything against the organizations that do, I just think that's too easy and giving should make you go out of your comfort zone. How about this? Adopt a single mom and her family this season. Then, go beyond this season and help her out with a ride when her car breaks down and she can't get to the job she can't afford to lose. Have her and her kids over for a meal that isn't on any particular holiday. Or have her over when she's alone when the ex has the kids on a holiday. It's that kind of giving that brings hope to people that really need it. People that need to see that humanity is still good and decent.

Who knows? Maybe she'll become semi-famous one day and can pay you back.

Or better yet... pay it forward.

Peace, Love, and Sugar

PS: I really hope you will read my Brown Bag Paper of Hope and find some inspiration to help a single mom out this year.


No Capes!

Well, it's here. The time of year when everyone loses their minds just to impress loved ones who will love them even if they give them something tiny, made from their own hands, or who host a nice gathering of friends that isn't the Best Holiday Party Ever. If you feel the desire to be perfect creeping up on you, watch this:

I know she didn't mean "Don't hurt yourself trying to impress the whole wide world this holiday season," but really, you and I both know that we are not super heroes, and we certainly will not be needing any capes. Take it easy. Enjoy the spirit of the season... smile... hug... enjoy friends and family that you rarely get to see... play in the snow... sip some minty hot cocoas.

Just chill!


Holiday Fun at Knott's Merry Farm

One of my favorite places to spend the day is the place where I held my favorite summer job as a teen: Knott's Berry Farm. Whenever I go back, I feel like a kid again! I recently got to go as a guest of the park with my kids and several other bloggers and their families to celebrate the holiday season. Each year, the park gets into the holiday spirit in a big way. Knott's Berry Farm becomes Knott's Merry Farm.

The Log Ride, a long time visitor favorite is transformed into Elf Mountain. It looks like Santa Claus opened up a Western Region Distribution Center! Riding through the mine, kids get to see happy elves hard at work making gifts and sipping cocoa. Just before the final drop, they get a glimpse of Santa himself riding his sleigh over a tiny city.

At the world famous Bird Cage Theater, guests can take in a holiday performance of "A Christmas Carol or "The Gift of the Magi." Our group was treated to The Gift, a story that always chokes me up. The performance was entertaining and just the right length of time to keep the attention of the younger audience members.

After the show, our group was whisked away to a little party with Santa & Mrs. Claus and, of course, SNOOPY! We were treated to a cider (or coffee for the big kids), cakes, and some cookies that the kids decorated themselves.

Later that afternoon, we watched the Peanuts' Holiday Parade. Snoopy and the Gang ride through Calico Square on wonderfully decorated floats, waving at all the kids as they make way for the big guy... Santa!

We didn't have a chance to check out the "It's Christmas, Snoopy" Ice Show, but we'll definitely be going back before the season ends to check out our favorite Peanuts skating around the Charles M. Schulz Theater.

Planning a trip to Knott's this season? Check out the Knott's Merry Farm Event Schedule. And have a Berry Merry Christmas!