To quote Charleston’s current favorite phrase, “Oh. My. Gosh!” December was quite a month! I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling so glad that it happened, and also slightly relieved that it’s coming to an end. I love the Christmas season (as you will clearly see in this post) and this year we made the most of every holiday opportunity. It was enormously fun and even now, three days after Christmas, I’m still enjoying the cozy lights on my Christmas tree and carols streaming through my speakers—remnants of the season I insist on carrying through December 31st. However, this slow-moving introvert can only take so much festivity. I’m feeling pretty hungover from all that celebrating, and am ready for a fresh start in January.
But first, a recap! This post is brought to you by All Things Christmas, and I’m not even a little bit sorry! It also strays deeply into the oversharing category, and for that I do offer my apologies. You are welcome to skim this post or skip it entirely because it is exhaustive, and I admit I wrote it mostly for my own benefit: I love looking back on previous years’ Lately posts and seeing how things have changed, and I’m sure I’ll be returning to this post next December to recall all of my favorite events and traditions of the season. To that end, I’ve included ALL of it. And if you’re game, you are welcome to peek over my shoulder to get a look at life in the Jernejcic household this December.
// READING LATELY //
I read remarkably little this month, so rather than highlighting those few books here, I’ll point you back to Wednesday’s post where I reflected on my experience of reading over 200 books in 2018, and shared my twenty favorite books of the year.
I also completed my 2018 Reading Challenge this month, and did an overview of those twelve books—and what I learned from them—last week.
// WATCHING LATELY //
Last Christmas I traumatized Charleston by attempting to read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas with him. He was terrified by the Grinch, and my attempts to smooth things over by introducing him to both versions of the movie only made things worse. Charleston isn’t afraid of much, but his Grinch fear was real and remained with him beyond the Christmas season. When the trailer was released for this latest version of the movie, we tentatively showed it to Charleston—who was delighted by this softer, sillier Grinch. Much to my amazement, he wanted to see the full movie so we decided to attempt a theater screening. This was only his third movie in the theaters, but it couldn’t have gone better. He was very well behaved and our whole family adored the movie.
The filmmakers could easily have taken the lazy route with this movie: it’s a remake of a classic, coming out during the Holidays: the movie was sure to be a moneymaker, regardless of quality. But the creative team behind this film far exceeded my expectations. It is visually appealing, borrowing imagery from earlier Grinch films while also adding unique touches. The music is totally on point and the characters are perfectly cast (I especially enjoyed Rashida Jones as Cindy Loo’s mom). The movie preserves the integrity of the original storyline while also making clever and endearing additions—exactly what I want in a good remake.
As I mentioned, the Grinch in this version is toned down quite a bit; he’s a sympathetic character, especially once we hear this backstory (I now have an answer to Charleston’s constant question of “why is the Grinch so mean?”), and his dynamic with his dog Max is a definite highlight. He is a lovable villain with a beautiful transformation story, and the film’s core messages of kindness and grace truly shine. This is an instant new Christmas favorite for our family.
My Rating: 5 stars.
We didn’t watch very many Christmas movies at home this season, but one new movie we finally got around to watching this week was The Star. This animated retelling of the Christmas story is incredibly silly and very sweet. The filmmakers did a good job of making this story exciting and accessible to young audiences while maintaining the sacredness surrounding Jesus’ birth. I was extremely impressed with the soundtrack (great performances of all the best Christmas songs!) and the vocal talent; this is an all-star cast, many of whom I never would have expected to see in a Christ-centered movie. This will definitely be added to our annual list of must-see Christmas movies.
My Rating: 4 stars.
// LISTENING LATELY //
We had continuous Christmas music playing in our house this month, and—much to Luke’s chagrin—I will keep the seasonal tunes going through the end of December. Over the years I’ve added to my list of favorite albums. Barlow Girl’s Christmas album will forever be my all-time favorite, but I also love the Christmas albums from Celtic Woman, Josh Groban, Pentatonix, Sarah McLachlan, and so many more. After hearing Travis Cottrell on The Big Boo Podcast, I started listening to his spectacular Christmas album. I also discovered Lindsey Stirling’s beautiful album, as well as the Christmas music from The Piano Guys, and it was nice to incorporate some instrumental music into my lyric-heavy mix. The album that received the most playtime in our home this year was Christy Nockels’ The Thrill of Hope. Charleston and I are both obsessed with her song “Wrap This One Up”, which is musically gorgeous and has the most incredible, Gospel-centered lyrics.
I usually listen to music through Google Play, but this month I took advantage of a $.99 Spotify Premium deal so that I could listen to a variety of Holiday Playlists (which is the one feature I miss with Google Play). I particularly enjoyed this Advent playlist from She Reads Truth and this one which led me to discover this amazing rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” from one of my favorite groups. IF: Gathering’s Advent playlist was another delight with a good mix of traditional songs from contemporary Christian artists, and this mellow mix of sacred Christmas songs has been my go-to nighttime playlist this season. I even went beyond listening to other people’s playlists to make my own, filled with the very best versions of all of my favorite songs. (Are you starting to see why I’m still listening to Christmas music three days after Christmas? There’s just so much to get through!)
// SEASONAL LOVE //
I grew up celebrating Advent, and the season has become even more special to me as an adult. Each Christmas I like to do some sort of Advent devotional, and this year I am reading through the Advent workbook from She Reads Truth which is excellent: the book is gorgeous and incorporates daily scripture readings, reflection questions, and journaling prompts for each day of this month, as well as craft ideas, recipes, and other seasonal activity suggestions. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide in leading me through this sacred season, and I will definitely be purchasing a She Reads Truth Advent guide for next Christmas!
As a family, we celebrated Advent by lighting a new candle on our Advent wreath each Sunday and reading from our favorite Advent book every night. This is our fourth year with this book, and though it’s fairly advanced, Charleston was very enthusiastic about the book this year—engaging with the story, answering the daily questions, and spending a large amount of time studying the illustrations. A few weeks into Advent, we also began reading this Advent book that was recommended by a friend. Though it is less Scripture-heavy than Ann Voskamp’s book, it was more age-appropriate for Charleston and made for a nice supplemental read.
Of course, we participated in some secular Christmas countdown traditions as well. For the fourth year in a row, Charleston enjoyed adding a daily ornament to his Melissa and Doug Advent tree (amazingly, he had just as much fun with this as in past years). He also looked forward to his daily Advent Calendar chocolate; I loved the calendar we got this year, which had a Christmas-themed Bible verse written on the inside flap of each window.
Another favorite Christmas tradition is sending out cards, and I was so happy with how our card turned out this year! Its seems like a lot of people have started doing digital cards instead, but I’ve continued to go the traditional route—because I love sending and receiving mail of all kinds (especially at Christmas), and also because I like to frame each year’s card and add it to our collection of annual cards that I display at Christmas time. While the rest of the collection gets put away with our Christmas decorations, I’ll keep this year’s card on display until next Christmas.
We also received a record number of cards this year, which was fun. After trying out a few spots for a display, I ended up taping them to the bunkbed that serves as a storage space in our loft/play room. Not the cutest display, but we spend a lot of time in that room so we got to see the cards more than if they were in a different room of the house. I would like to figure out a better way for displaying cards next year; my problem is that any display I’ve tried isn’t easy to add onto as we receive more cards. One friend recommended holding onto this year’s cards and displaying them when I put out my decorations next Christmas; I can then switch them out for the new cards that arrive in the mail (she does this with the cards she displays as ornaments on her tree). With that in mind, I’m boxing up this year’s cards with our Christmas decorations; it will be fun to pull them out again next Christmas!
So here’s a funny story: after visiting Santa at the start of the month, I had the brilliant idea to frame each of our annual Santa pictures, just as I do with our annual Christmas cards. How cute would it be to have the past four years’ of pictures on display? So I hopped onto Amazon and ordered a set of frames; I even chose one-day shipping so that I’d have the frames delivered in time for us to put them out when we decorated the rest of our house. The funny thing was, when I started looking for the past Santa pictures, I couldn’t find them! It wasn’t until we pulled out our decoration boxes that I discovered the collection—all in matching frames, with additional empty frames waiting for this year’s Santa picture. Turns out, I had this same bright idea last year and had NO memory of it! I even ordered the exact same frames last year; what are the odds?! So, now I have an extra box of frames for all of our future Santa pictures. And I was right, they do look cute displayed alongside our annual Christmas cards. (For the record, I was sure to go back and edit this post so that I don’t make the same mistake next year and buy yet another set of frames!)
We don’t have a ton of other Christmas decorations, but I still get excited to pull them out each year. My favorite is the Precious Moments figurine Luke gave to me as a wedding gift. I also love our snow globe nativity (a gift from my parents a few years ago) and of course our kooky stockings—hung on the wall, because we don’t have a fireplace. Luke and I both still have the stockings we grew up with, and my mother-in-law made Charleston’s for him on his first Christmas. I’ve never seen another one like it! Arlo’s stocking was a fun World Market find, and it fits right in with our hodgepodge collection.
Growing up, my favorite part of decorating for Christmas was putting out my collection of holiday stuffed animals, including a set of Happy Star Ornaments that I collected from Carl’s Jr. Kid’s Meals nearly thirty years ago! My parents passed my set of animals on to me a few years ago, and now they adorn our loft during the month of December. They’re old and pretty shabby looking, but bring back so many great memories for me, and Charleston loves them. In fact, he loves ALL of our decorations. I put them out one day while he was napping, and when he woke up he wandered around the house in awe, pointing them out and effusively sharing his love for each one. He especially loved the Charlie Brown nativity I’d set up in his bathroom, and all month long he asked to hold one piece (usually Jesus) every time we brushed his teeth. It’s a cliché because it’s true: Christmas with kids is the best!
// LATEST CHARLIE-ISMS //
Christmas was so magical for our boy this year. The lights, the decorations, the presents and Santa, the Advent traditions. . . . he loved all of it, and Luke and I couldn’t get enough of his enthusiasm. (Though we could have done without the sugar highs!) He also kept his cute quips coming this month. These were some of my favorites:
+ “Why did the wise men have to look for Jesus? Was he lost?”
+ “Mom, I love your dress!” Me: “But I’m not wearing a dress. This is a sweatshirt.” Charleston: “But girls wear dresses!”
+ “This is going to be the BEST Christmas of the ENTIRE year!”
+ Telling Luke all about a special “water soup” that his friends had been raving about: “Don’t worry, I’ll let you try it when you get a little older.”
+ “When I am six, I’m going to go to school.” Me: “I’m really going to miss you when you go to school.” Charleston: “Don’t worry, it’s still gonna be a long time before I turn six. You stay your number a suuuuper long time before you have your next birthday.”
+ On the road, as we passed a scooter (much quieter than the motorcycles we usually pace). “He’s not loud at all. That’s so nice for him! I was going to tap on the window to say thank you to him, but then I remembered the window is too far for me to reach.” (His car seat is in the middle position.)
+ “Mom, can we go to the playground?” Me: “I wish we could but I think it’s too cold and windy.” Charleston: “Hmm, let’s figure out a way to make it not so cold and windy so we can play on the playground. We could pretend to be God…but that willn’t work.”
+ Reading a book in which animals gather at the nativity: “Maybe they all FaceTimed to get there at the same time. But that would be silly, because bears don’t have phones.”
// MONTHLY PUP-DATE //
Before Thanksgiving, we dropped Arlo off at a Dog Training center for a three-week board-and-train program. It was a big expense, but prior to boot camp, he had numerous bad behaviors that made it difficult to involve him in our daily lives; we knew that some hard-core training was necessary if Arlo was to become the family dog we dreamed of having. We picked Arlo up three weeks ago, and were thrilled to hear nothing but glowing reports from his trainers. It sounds like he had a fantastic time hanging with the other pups, and thrived in his training both at the facility and on regular field trips.
We are incredibly thankful for the miracle they worked with our pup! Though we still have room for improvement (we will be continuing with training classes and one-on-one lessons), he came home to us a much more mellow, compliant dog. He is just as spunky and loving as ever, but he now obeys commands, no longer jumps on us, stays in his crate or on his cot without barking or whining, and is able to spend time in other parts of our house besides our kitchen. The transformation has been remarkable, and we are all more smitten with our puppy than ever before. Charleston has been so glad to have his playmate back, and I love the fact that we now have a real family pet!
Since Arlo’s return, he’s been groomed (and actually looks like a labradoodle now) and I’ve gotten to take him to a couple of training classes, which have been a whole bunch of fun! We also went on a group walk with our dog friends at The Domain (an outdoor mall in Austin), and it was one of the most memorable holiday activities we did this year. I was glad that our whole family could go; Charleston alternated between walking and riding in a stroller, and we enjoyed looking at lights and store displays while eavesdropping on the glowing comments from passersby about how well behaved our dogs were; I’ve never been so proud of our Arlo! We wandered through department stores, stopped for group photos at every Christmas decoration and tree, and mingled with the other dogs and owners. When we first adopted Arlo, we dreamed about the new adventures we would enjoy with him and those are finally becoming a reality.
// HAPPENINGS AND HIGHLIGHTS //
We ushered in the month with a trip to the mall to visit Santa. Charleston ADORES Santa and had been talking about him for months, so he was so excited about the visit. As soon as the mall employees gave him permission to enter North Pole Headquarters, Charleston ran to Santa and gave him the hugest hug. It was precious! This Santa was great, he commented on how much Charleston had grown since last year and how happy he was to see him. They chatted for a bit about Santa’s suit while the photographer captured some photos. Then they read a book together (later Charleston clarified: “we didn’t actually read the book, we just looked at all the pictures”) and did a few more staged photos with some props.
We visited Santa first thing in the morning on a weekday, so there were no other kids in line and we got plenty of time with the Big Guy. It was great! I know that mall Santa’s have a bad reputation, but this one was kind and funny and his interactions with Charleston were just priceless. Afterwards Charleston and Luke rode the little train around the mall, and we walked around looking at Christmas decorations. I almost never shop in actual stores anymore, so I always feel nostalgic when I visit a mall. It made for a fun Christmas outing for our family.
The next day we went to the Christmas Stroll at my favorite little town square in the neighboring city of Georgetown. I just love the small-town vibe of this event, with the local vendors lining the streets, and decorations donning old-fashioned storefronts. Charleston decorated a sugar cookie and we walked through the Little Bethlehem section, which features an elaborate Live Nativity show as well as several stalls with Biblical activities like fabric dying, perfume making, flour grinding, woodworking, pottery making, games and instruments from that period, and a replica of the Temple.
Unfortunately Charleston was being a bit of a grouch that morning and wasn’t feeling the holiday activities. Instead, we spent over an hour playing with wooden toys in the town toy store, then hopped over to the playground for some play time there. In other words, we made good use of the NON-seasonal activities. As parents, we do our best to make the most of the holidays—and when that fails, we thank our lucky stars for the existence of those perennial crowd pleasers.
Later that day we went to the Christmas tree farm in the parking lot of our local YMCA to pick up a Christmas tree. In our eleven Christmases together, Luke and I have always gotten a real tree, and though it’s a lot of work and mess, I just can’t imagine going artificial. We chose a tree in record time this year: we literally went home with the first tree we saw. Charleston was so proud to help Luke bring it into our yard and wash it off when we got home.
The next day, it was time to bring that tree into the house and decorate it. We take decorating day very seriously in our family and have a number of tree-decorating traditions: a mandatory bowl of Christmas M&Ms for fueling (Charleston ate his weight in them this year!); Christmas music and/or movies in the background; time-lapse videos of the decorating process; and pictures of us putting up all of our significant ornaments (like Charleston’s and Luke’s first Christmas ornaments, our new ornaments for this year, and the first ornament Luke and I got as a couple). Charleston loved every minute of decorating. He’s old enough now to remember ornaments from past Christmases, and it was fun to share memories about each one. The entire time we were decorating, he was dancing around the tree, saying “Santa is going to LOVE our Christmas tree when he visits us!”
My favorite decorating-related tradition is adding an annual ornament to our collection. After eleven years together, our assortment has grown! Some are simply ornaments we picked that year because we liked them, but many reflect significant events: First Christmas ornaments for our first Christmas together and our first one as a married couple; an ornament from Arizona from the year I went to treatment there; ornaments reflecting the year I was pregnant and the year Charleston made us a family of three; an ornament from the Capitol in Austin for our first year in Texas; and last year’s ornament purchased in memory of our Sunnybird. This year, we added a labradoodle ornament to the tree in celebration of our Arlo pup’s arrival to our family!
Two weekends ago, we attended four separate Christmas parties over three days. While I missed getting pictures of the first three, the fourth was a big one: a second visit with Santa with all of our MOPS friends, held at the neighborhood clubhouse of a few of our members. The gals did a great job decorating for the event, and when we arrived, Santa was already in his chair, greeting the kids. Charleston wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Santa this visit (probably because there were so many distractions at the party), but they had a nice little chat and some sweet hugs and high-fives. Thankfully he didn’t ask why Santa looked different than he had at the mall—I don’t quite know how I would have answered that!
In addition to seeing Santa at the party, we made crafts, snacked on treats, and played on the playground (where I got at least a dozen photos of Charleston and his pal Hudson; they happened to be twinning and were especially sweet playmates that day). Santa also read a story to all the kids, then came out to the playground with everyone, which was great for some of the little ones who have a Santa phobia; by the end of the afternoon, they were all great friends! A hilarious moment of the party came when everyone else was was still outside and we all thought Santa had gone home. I walked into the clubhouse to find Santa surreptitiously filling a LARGE takeaway box with cookies from the dessert table. It was a classic moment, made even better when he sheepishly apologized after I caught him!
Last Friday, we finally had a free night to drive around and look at Christmas lights. It seems as though people here in our part of Texas are less elaborate with their outdoor decorations than homeowners in Southern California. We had to do a bit of driving to find some decent lights to look at, but we did discover a few really great neighborhoods including one that was blocked off for carolers, Santa visits, and free hot chocolate. We also made a stop at the Cedar Park Heritage Oak, which is a pretty incredible sight when it’s all lit up. We skipped the tree lighting there this year because it was too cold and windy, so I was glad we were still able to see it and get some pictures.
Last weekend we baked Christmas cookies and I helped out with childcare for the Christmas Eve services at our church (they had six identical services on Sunday and Monday). We attended the service ourselves on Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful service, filled with all of my favorite Christmas songs and the Christmas story delivered by our pastor. We ended by singing Silent Night in the light of our candles—the perfect way to prepare our hearts for Christmas. And while Luke and I were worshipping, Charleston was having a birthday party for Jesus with the other preschoolers!
We came home from Christmas Eve service and decorated a gingerbread house. This is only our second year with this tradition, but it’s become one of my favorites. I buy the pre-assembled house so all we have to do is decorate, which is the best part anyway. I love that this is a craft(ish) activity that our whole family can do together. I think Charleston ate more house than he assembled, including some frosting that Luke piped straight into his mouth.
Another Christmas Eve tradition was opening one present: a Christmas book and pajamas. Charleston was a little disappointed by the contents of the gift, as he was expecting a toy, but I was excited about him getting to wear his new jammies and read his book before bedtime. (For those who might ask, those are binoculars around Charleston’s neck in the pictures. He made them at the library over a year ago and they are still one of his most treasured possessions!)
Just before bed, Charleston helped me dictate a letter to Santa (which turned out to be pretty hilarious). We also set out a few of the cookies we had made, a glass of milk, and some carrots for the reindeer, all laid out on a placemat I have owned since I was three years old! Per tradition, Charleston tested the cookies for quality, then ran upstairs to put the final ornament on his Advent tree and go to sleep. I’ve never seen him so excited to go to bed; he was certain Santa would come the minute his head hit the pillow, and because he really wanted to hear Santa, I’m pretty sure he thought that the earlier he got to bed, the higher his chances were of being awake to hear Santa’s sleigh.
We were up before 7 on Christmas morning, and the first words out of Charleston’s mouth were, “It’s Christmas! I hope Jesus gets some good presents today!” Though most of our day was dominated by the opening of packages, we wanted to start the morning focusing on the birth of Christ. We had Charleston put the star on top of his Advent tree and read the last chapter from our Advent book.
Then, it was the moment Charleston had been waiting for: we headed downstairs to see if Santa had come. He had! And Charleston was thrilled to see that Santa had delivered a LEGO train, making all of his Christmas dreams come true. We all opened gifts from our stockings, and captured pictures of our stocking stuffers, something I try to do every year. (In our house, Santa only fills Charleston’s stocking; Luke and I take care of each other. And Luke did great this year! I especially love the card he made me. I blew most of Luke’s Christmas budget on his want/need/wear/read items, so he got mostly snacks in his stocking, hahah! At least it was better than coal.)
After stockings, we moved on to presents under our tree. I prefer to move at a slower pace with gift opening, savoring each gift, but that isn’t really possible with a 3-year-old and with limited time to get through our packages. Charleston was so excited by each new item (with the exception of the jacket I bought him, which he deemed boring), but I could see his inner struggle of wanting to play with each new toy he opened while also wanting to open the next present. Next year, I think we need to space out the gifts over a few days to avoid the overwhelm. That said, it was a lovely Christmas morning with fantastic presents all around. The gifts Charleston was most excited about were his LeapFrog writing tablet from us, and the Paw Patrol fire truck my parents sent him. As for me, I was pretty thrilled about my new leather watch and Kendra Scott necklace, a Q&A journal I’ve been eying, and an amazing scooter from my parents. We enjoyed having Arlo with us as we celebrated, and the treats we bought him were a hit!
After finishing up our little family Christmas, we headed to Luke’s parents’ house for round two with my in-laws. Luke’s whole family now lives in the Austin area, with the exception of his brother who lives in Phoenix; Tommy was in town for Christmas, so the whole gang was there! We had a Christmas lunch, followed by some play time and gifts. This year there were TWO grandbabies to spoil (and we kids got pretty spoiled as well; I can’t wait to dig into the new She Reads Truth Bible from my in-laws)! My favorite moments of the day were watching Charleston play Santa (and not once complaining about gifts that weren’t for him), and getting to snuggle my nephew, Collin, who is one of the happiest, most chill babies I’ve ever met. At the end of the night we headed home with a sleeping dog and kiddo, our hearts and bellies and gift tanks all filled up.
Today Luke and I are celebrating our TENTH wedding anniversary! Our plans still aren’t set, but we’ve got child care covered so I know I’ll be spending some quality time with my man today and I couldn’t be more excited about it!
That’s it for December, but I still have two more posts for you this year! Tomorrow I’ll be sharing all I learned in 2019, and on Monday I’ll be celebrating all of this year’s highlights.