Sunday, December 20, 2009

simply having a wonderful christmas time.

Listening To: Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant
Just watched: Star Trek. Thought it was great ... even though the time travel stuff confuses me to no end.

I went to the Grand Ole Opry Friday night. I didn't realize I was going to the Grand Ole Opry. I knew the Ryman was the home of the G.O.O. for a long time. When I got there, I learned the Opry is still held in the Ryman for the duration of the Christmas season. So fun! We saw some great performers. Heard so much pretty country music. Pretty in an old-timey "imagine how awesome this sounded when it came crackling over the radio" way. Pretty in a gritty, unrefined folk way. Parts of it made me miss my grandparents like crazy (they watched the Opry every weekend). Parts revved up my heart and totally inspired me. And some parts - like the times when people were stomping their feet on the wood floors, clapping, and shouting "woo!" through the bluegrass tunes - made me so thankful l I live in such a fun state.

The Opry happens in four 30-minute segments and each segment has a host. Most of the hosts haven't put out records for many years, but they're still on stage, still making music, doing what they love. Ralph Stanley played during the third set and he was was fabulous. He sang "Man of Constant Sorrow" in his sparkly blue suit and got a standing ovation.

My favorite part was the last thirty minutes - when Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings sang. Their music made my arms tingle it was so good. My favorite song was called "Ruby" from David Rawlings* first solo album. If you're a fan of 70's/early 80's folk (like Dan Fogelberg and the Eagles), give it a listen and see what you think. It was gorgeous. Watching them play, and get lost in the song, was also gorgeous. This weekend was definitely the gift that keeps on giving because I get so inspired by live music. I left with a ramped up desire to make art that matters. To wrestle some really beautiful passages out of my imagination (even on days I don't want to write a single word). To try to do this thing a little bit more fearlessly. And try to be more responsible with my words. I recently re-discovered this quote by Erma Bombeck: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and would say, 'I used everything you gave me.'" I hope I'm making that true. Also, I have the sweetest brother in the world. Hanging out with him on Friday night was the best. On Saturday, I got to spend time with my brother and sister; a rare and wonderful kind of event.

This is a very small (very blurry) picture of me and the sibs. I have an older sister, Bridgett. She's gorgeous, funny, kind and all the things a sister should be. When I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always tried to give the obvious answer (either "a writer" or "the person who thinks up names to put on the crayon wrappers"). But deep down, I only wanted to be just like her. And Chase, my handsome, hilarious brother is younger than me (but people have asked if we're twins on many occasions). Despite his incessant need to pick on me, he's a great guy. Genuinely kind and funny and one of the most talented guitar players I've ever heard. FYI: The reason this picture is blurry is because my mom can't work my camera phone.

Mom tried to take another pic, but it was not successful either. The blur is gone but somehow she zoomed way too close. I told them she did this because I'm her favorite ... but the real reason is just that she despises my camera phone. Behind her Nokia, the woman is a force. The camera phone drives her batty. She kept pushing the button like she was using a wii controller.

Bridgett and Chase are both adorable and made of awesome. And they're both insanely smart, Type-A people who love their weird, artsy, very un-type A booknerd of a sister :) When I say they're Type-A, what I mean is that they're both organized, academic, successful, and focused. Sometimes people with those attributes are classified as unfun, which is definitely not true of them. Example:

Chase recently bought a new ornament to put on the family Christmas tree. It's ... festive.

Also, it is very large. He calls it Paddy O'Claus. The best was when he showed it to my mom and she said, "Wow. That's pretty. Why don't you hang it on the back of the tree?" And then she not so subtly suggested I give it away on the blog. And even though I knew the comments would light up with people trying to win Paddy O'Claus *sarcasm*, I don't want to break my brother's heart. He's quite fond of it.

We opened presents from my sister, bro-in-law, niece, and nephew this weekend. Much awesomeness abounded. Andy (my nephew - age 5) got Chase ... a giant birthday card (his birthday is in June). It plays Smashmouth's "All Star" :) So cute.

Let me tangent just a second to talk about Andy, the boy to whom I have passed the torch of randomness. We went to the Macaroni Grill on Sunday. Andy took the garnishes from our pasta and used them to make the bread look prettier**:

Andy also created a new interpretation of the traditional Santa scene. My mom usually puts a moose in the nativity (which is a story for another time). But Andy took the moose, and hitched it to a sleigh my mom was using in another decoration. And in the sleigh he put ...

A ninja turtle.

He also found a stuffed reindeer. He put a storm trooper on the reindeer's back. With friends like that, Santa is safe this year.

My sister gave me a cookbook that made me [---] that close to teary. It has a bunch of family recipes in it. My Aunt Ruth put a recipe in there for fruit pizza that looks delicious (though the best part is seeing her handwriting in there! :). The funniest recipe is the one called Ed's Cheeseball (Ed is my bro-in-law). The recipe reads like this:

Ed's Cheeseball

- Go to Walmart
- Fight the Thanksgiving crowd
- Go to the deli section
- Contemplate for at least 1 hour
- Buy several more things you don't need
- Purchase a cheese ball
- Add crackers of your choice

In addition to all the fun recipes, Bridgett filled my book up with pictures of things I love: the fam, my dog, the farm, big bright flowers. It was so sweet. I can't stop reading it. Andy (my nephew) gave me a framed picture of my dog (awww :). And my niece, Erin, who is way too stylish for her own good, gave me a gorgeous purple scarf.

Sarah, who blogs over at sarahwithachance, sent a really fun blog award this way a few weeks ago I did happy claps when I saw this because I really like the word "scrappy." It makes me think of something little and tough. My puffball dog? Totally scrappy. To know this blog has earned such an honorable designation makes me want to give a speech, but I'll spare you. I'll just thank Sarah for deeming this place worthy :)

When you get the award, you're supposed to write ten random things about yourself. I'm going to bend the rules just a smidge and write ten random things about my Christmas experiences. Hope you'll play along in the comments!

1. One of the most expensive Christmas gift I ever got was: money for grad school from some people in my church. I wouldn't have been able to go without their help and I still get choked up when I think about their kindness. One of the most humbling things in the world is when someone gives you a gift knowing, when they give it to you, you will never pay them back. I even said that to them, "I don't know how I can pay you back." And someone said, "When you're in a position someday to do the same thing, do it. That's all the payment we ever want." The whole experience taught me so much about grace and giving and how crazily (it's a word!) prayers are answered.

2. The quirkiest gift I ever got was: a trash sculpture from my friend Jimmy. I'll try to find a pic and post it for you. It is trash found on the streets of NYC (theater ticket for Beauty and the Beast, cigarette, crushed can of coke, paper) smooshed together in a small, clear plastic container. He bought it from one of his friends for $5ish. They both attended a swanky art school, so the gift isn't as tacky as it sounds. But it was just tacky enough to be really funny and make me smile :)

3. The most memorable gift I ever got was: a stack of poetry books from my grandmother. She gave them to me the Christmas before she died, which made the gift that much sweeter. The thing about the gift that makes it truly face-rocking is that she took the time to write notes on the pages of her favorite poems.

4. The ugliest gift I ever got: also came from my granny. She found a sweater at a junk store that looks like it's made of Chewbacca - long ribbons of golden fur-stuff dangled from the sleeves and armpit area. It was truly the ugliest sweater I've ever seen (and this is coming from a girl who loved sweatshirts with airbrushed unicorns back in middle school). To add insult to injury, the day my granny gave me the sweater she said, "It seemed like something you would wear." Awesome.

5. On Christmas I always: miss my grandparents. So much.

6. My most memorable gifts as a kid were: the Anne of Green Gables series, The Little House on the Prairie series, the very first CD's I ever owned (Garth Brooks and Ase of Base ... don't judge) and the Crystal Castle. Which was the home of She-Ra, princess of Power, in case you aren't in the know about 80's cartoons ;) In sixth grade, I asked for a *drops head in shame* "pink ice ring". It was a little ring with a pink jewel of some sort as its center but when you're a sixth grader with fashion cred it's called pink ice. On a more serious note: when I was in high school, my uncle gave me a box of really pretty paper. On the box he wrote, "For all your beautiful stories." That's another gift that can't be beat: knowing people believe in you when you don't believe in yourself.

7. My favorite Christmas carol is: "O Holy Night." My favorite version is Martina McBride's.

8. My family refers to the day before Christmas Eve as Christmas Adam. I know it's corny and only funny in a punny way, but we get a kick out of ourselves.

9. We always open presents on Christmas Eve. When I was a kid, we went to my grandparents' house for a big family get together, then went home and opened presents. Then Santa came during the night and left a few more gifts. So this is what would happen: Mom would finally convince us to go to bed. She would read us a story. Then, just as the book had ended, my dad would run around the house shaking a jingle-bell wreath so we would think Santa had landed in the yard. And thus, go to sleep. As an adult, I've decided 1.) that it was such a super sweet awesome dad-like thing to do and 2.) that I am amazed he didn't fall in a hole because that yard was full of them and 3) that it is hilarious to think the the neighbors might have seen him running around the house, freezing, shaking the jingle bell wreath. Not that they would have been surprised. Most of our neighbors were family, or friends so close they felt like family, so they were just as quirky as we were.

10. I hope for snow every year before I fall asleep. It hasn't happened in this city yet (too warm). But a girl can always hope, right? :) It did snow here for a few weeks ago, just for a few hours, and it was beautiful. Here's a pic I took of some blackbirds in the tree outside:

I would love to hear more about your Christmas traditions, quirks, and favorite songs :) I'll be back on Wednesday with a story about a ghost, some duct-tape, and a fake foil star.

The pic of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch isn't mine - found it on Google.

* Fun fact about David Rawlings: he's produced (and played guitar with) Ryan Adams. If you listen to his music, you'll totally hear the connection.
** Reminds me of the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Tula's mom comes out with a potted plant in the center of the bunt cake and says, "I fixed it!"


  1. 1. The worst Christmas gift I have ever received: there's a tie. In middle school, my grandparents gave me both some sort of history book and the US Presidents educational CD-ROM. Just because I am good at school doesn't mean I want to receive that for Christmas as a 13 year old! The other worst one was from my mom, sophomore year of high school: a book detailing all of the colleges in the US and basic facts about each one. Sure, maybe that would be handy to look at, if I rented it from the library... but once again, as a CHRISTMAS gift?

    2. The most random gift I ever received was: this blue stuffed animal octopus from my brother. It was huge - bigger than my Jack Russell Terrier - and he just said that it reminded him of me.

    3. My favorite Christmas ornament is: a glass bird. It is the first ornament I hang every year, and I always hang it in just the right spot near the top so it reflects the lights.

    4. One of my Christmas "musts" is: a real Christmas tree. My parents started talking about getting a fake tree now that we kids are older, and I threw a fit! I love the way the house smells, I love the way the branches look, I love everything about a real tree. When I get married, my husband better not be allergic to them!

    5. I never really believed in Santa Claus. My parents never really pushed it on us, although we left out milk and cookies every year, and my parents would put tags on the presents as "to Samantha from Santa." But it was always more of a joke I guess.

    6. My Christmas memories always involve the Christmas program at our private Christian school, where we would do dramatic sign language each year to a different song (after the little kids did their singing thing). The song ranged from "O Holy Night" to "We Are The Reason" (by good ol' Avalon) and so on. And I still remember most of the signs-mainly the choruses-so anytime I hear them on the radio I am signing in my head.

    7. Last year, my finals ran a little late, and my family was debating about when to decorate the tree. One day my mom texted me and said, "Getting the tree today. Can't wait for you to come home to decorate it." I thought, "Aw, how sweet!" Turns out she literally meant "can't wait." I got a text picture that night of my brother in front of the lit, decorated tree. Needless to say, I was unhappy, and my friends thought it was hilarious.

    8. I can never sleep on Christmas Eve. Despite the fact that I am practically a grown-up, I am always tossing and turning in bed, trying to sleep so that it will be morning. Last Christmas was the first Christmas EVER that my family had to wake me up; I am normally the first one awake, and at 5:30. Our parents made a rule of not waking them up until 7 a.m. because of me.

    9. My favorite Christmas movies are: Holiday Inn (Bing Crosby - better than White Christmas, in my opinion!), Home Alone (1 & 2), and Christmas Vacation. Although every year my mom and I watch Christmas Eve on Sesame Street together, as tradition. I strongly dislike "A Christmas Story" movie. I know that's un-American to say, but I do.

    10. My favorite family tradition is our "blessing tree." On Christmas Eve, we each have four or five slips of paper that we write things from this past year that God has blessed us with, and we hang them on a miniature tree on our coffee table. And we save the slips from each year, so it is really cool to look back and see what God has done over the years.

  2. Haha! A competition for Paddy O'Claus would be *heated*.

    Your family sounds so fun and quirky, Natalie! Christmas Adam? LOVE. IT.

    Ooh, and that snow picture is gorgeous. Even though I decided this year (or last) that I am vehemently opposed to all things snowy, that picture makes me sigh and feel all nostalgic for snow...And then I look out my window and...yup, still there. And then I back out of my driveway and hit a snow pile and...yup, still there. ;)

    Merry Christmas!! :D

  3. Your family sounds so fun. =)

    1. The best Christmas present I ever got as a kid was...well, that's hard to say. Every year there are a few gifts that stand out. I absolutely adored my two American girl dolls that I got a few years apart (Josephina and Kit). And once my aunt and uncle gave my this awesome underwater Lego set, that had a coral reef, sharks, a boat, a shark cage, and more. It was pretty much the coolest Lego set ever, and I played with it for years. =)

    2. My favorite Christmas song is "I'll Be Home for Christmas." It reminds me of my grandparents. It's so sad to think of the many soldiers who won't be home for Christmas.

    3. I'm not sure about the worst or weirdest Christmas gift I've gotten. My grandma usually gives me a box of panty hose every year (that's not all she gives me, of course, LOL). I don't wear them very often, but I have a knack for putting runs in them. So although it's a slightly weird, embarrassing gift that I wish she wouldn't give me, I guess it is somewhat useful.

    4. My parents, brother, and I always go to my grandparents' (Mom's parents) house on Christmas Eve to open gifts. And we always take pizza out there. It's a tradition that came about because pretty much the only food places open in town on Christmas Eve are the pizza places.

    5. I am obsessive when it comes to traditions. I get very upset if something interferes with our Christmas traditions.

    6. I used to love the Barney Christmas movie we had. I watched it over and over at Christmas time, along with the Charlie Brown Christmas special and the other TV ones. I still watch the others, but my interest in Barney has faded away, thankfully. I guess that's what started my obsessiveness over traditions.

    7. I believed in Santa for a long time, probably until I was 12 or 13. I so desperately wanted him to be real. I used to figure that, since they track him on the news, he had to be real. The news anchors wouldn't lie.

    8. My most recent best Christmas gift would probably have to be one of my vintage-style clocks. I collect old things, Lucy and Elvis, etc., and so I currently have six unusual clocks in my room. One is an Elvis whose hips swing. The other is a beautiful Elvis clock that plays a part of two different songs every hour (one of my favorite gifts). Probably my best gift last year was my Kit-Cat Clock. Yes, one of thsoe black cats with the bow tie whose eyes and tail swing back and forth. It's awesome.

    9. I can't sleep on Christmas Eve, either. I keep myself up late watching "It's a Wonderful Life," but it doesn't work. I feel like a little kid waiting for Santa. I used to get up as early as possible (my parents set a limit for when we could wake them up) and go downstairs, where "Santa" had left a few gifts that weren't wrapped. Usually they were our major gifts, like the toys we had been begging for. I would marvel over them for a few minutes, then go wake my brother up, and we would whisper in the living room until either it was time to get our parents up, or they heard us and couldn't sleep.

    10. I open presents very slowly. And I prefer a lot of small gifts to a few big ones. My brother is the opposite, in both ways. I've barely started opening my gifts when he's finished with his.


  4. wow... I've not talked to him since graduation but he still sells trash... AND check out what he does with is wife now...

    YaY! Christmas memories!

    We'll be in TN soon for some family holiday madness...

  5. Haha well. :)
    we have plenty of snow in good 'ol scott county. you can have as much as you want. actually most of it has melted away now, but let me tell you, Friday night it was pouring down. :)
    we got stuck on the interstate for three hours and I really needed the bathroom because we had just stopped at starbucks before we got stuck. It was a nightmare, but it inspired my last blog story, which I happened to love a lot, so I guess good things do come from traffic jams :)
    merry christmas.
    <3 Emmy :)

  6. So glad you had a grand time at the Ryman.
    And I LOVE that Bombeck quote. It sits on my desk in fact. Erma is a hero.

    And my favorite C'mas song is O Holy Night. Always. The "fall on your knees" part gets me every time.

    Merry Christmas!!

  7. Expensive present: Actually to be honest i dont know what my most expensive gift is...hmm mayb a jacket from one of my bros, or some silver jewelley from my other brother.
    Again have no idea, my grandparents died when i was really young and theyd be the most obvious perpetrators (cant spell) for 'quirky gifts'. oooooh my youngest bro got me like pink paper cups last year..yeap.
    Dont know aye sorry!
    On christmas: i always think about my family and especially my oldest bro, as he doesnt usually come home (hes in Victoria, Australia atm)
    Fav carol: Can i pick two? I also love O Holy NIght- Mariah's version, but have you heard chris tomlins as of late? Its good. and i love "I'll be Home for Christmas" barlowgirl's version.
    memoorable gift:
    Like seven years ago my oldest bros moved outta home and went away for quite a long time, atkeast it felt like a long time. they finally came home for christmas and when it came to opening presents i opened one from them and it appeared like a black tool or something, puzzled and disappointed (i was thought they were pranking me), my brother said "Dont you know what it is?" I replied quietly, with my head down, "No". Turns out it was a microphone! It was one of the most coolest and thoughtful gifts as i loved/love singing and was simply very happy.
    Well we've never done Santa. Though mum did used to hide all the presents in her closet until Christmas Eve night she'd sneak them under the tree and we'd wake up and squeal with delight seeing all the pressies under the tree. These days we actually open one gift in the morning, and then wait till like late afternoon, when my second oldest bro will arrive with his family. its great with my nephew Logan, and this year we'll have new comer Benjamin (Logans 2 month old younger brother).
    Well we are like mid summer but because i've been influenced by so many white christmas movies, and what not, i yearn for snow too. but cos i know that cant possibly happen (though nothings impossible with God hmm...) i usually hope for a cloudy/rainy day. Def makes it easier for mum in the kichen, cos it not as hot.
    Merry Christmas Natalie!

  8. Once again, the music is catching my eye...Tender Tennessee Christmas!!!!Oh Amy Grant! All of my Christmas memories can be summed up in music. Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, the Carpenters, John Denver, The Messiah, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Bing Crosby, Sufjan Stevens, Loreena McKennitt...should I go on??

  9. Sam, I've been telling people all day about "we can't wait till you get home" because it made me laugh so much. What a huge let down! :) I am with you 100% on Christmas Eve. It never gets unexciting. Also, love your blessing tree. I've been thinking about getting a journal specifically to write in at the end of the year so I can remember all the highlights (and the lowlights too). Your tree sounds like a sweet way to remember God was with you through the whole mess.

    Sarah, you are totally entitled to be tired of snow! :) I would feel the same way if it happened all the time. And as much as I love snow, I'm paranoid about falling and busting my tail on the ice underneath the snow ... so one or two big snows (on a day I don't have to go anywhere...) would be ideal. I wish I could just adjust my own climate ...

    Kristin, your taste in all things vintagey rocks my world :) I bet your clock is super cute. I am most definitely a tradition hound too. This year I'm stressing because I haven't watched the movies and cartoons I like. I think I may have to let it go ... and it's making me so anxious. Your Christmas gift from your grandma cracks me up.

    J, thanks for those links! I'm so glad the trash is still spreading!! :) I really really like the stuff he's making with his wife too! My favorite was the chia sheep on the wants section.

    Emily, I saw the snow pics in SC. I was jealous ... but I would be bored as dirt if it lasted for along time. I remember the days of being snowed in for a week :) When I read about your Starbucks adventure, I laughed. A lot. I couldnt wait to get home and read your blog about it. will do pronto.

    JBJ, love that part too. Sometimes I like to watch figure skating [picks up dork stamp and slams it against forehead] and one year in this all star thing Paul Wylie skated to O Holy Night. During the "fall on your knees" part, he went down to his knees on the ice and slid across the room with his arms raised. I'm probably describing it dumb but it sounds so pretty.

    Saviors16bak, your brothers sound like such sweet guys! My bro is like that - totally loves to pick on me (I would think it was a prank too :) but he's a great guy. I'm glad you'll have some little kids around to celebrate Christmas with this year too! :) That makes it so much better, doesn't it? Also love that it's mid-summer where you are. :)

    AP, I think our taste in music is probably WAY similar! My mom played the Amy Grant Christmas CD so much when I was little and now when I hear it ... that's when I feel like the Christmas season starts. All those bands rock my world (except Loreena McKennitt ... I don't think I've heard that name before...but I will definitely go do some research!). I really, really, really like The Carpenters. I think Karen Carpenter had a perfect voice.

  10. Merry Christmas Adam, Natalie! Your family sounds awesome--love the Paddy O'Clause. I would definitely have entered that drawing/contest.

    On Christmas Eve we get together with my mom's side of the family. It's a huge ordeal full of food, presents...and competition. We have a Christmas tournament every year that includes air hockey, darts, ping-pong, and this basketball arcade game. It's serious stuff. The winner even gets his/her name engraved on the official plaque.

    And trying to pick a fave Christmas song is like trying to pick a favorite memory--I can't do it! However, my favorite Christmas album for the last few years has been "The Christmas Sessions" by MercyMe. Otherwise I am a huge fan of the crooners like Frank, Dean, Bing, and the like. It's definitely not Christmas until they've thoroughly serenaded me. ;)

    As for snow--I love it. We are gearing up to get 20 inches in the next three days, so it will definitely be a white Christmas here in the Northland...

    Well, I've finally made my way back--sorry it took so long! Merry Christmas to you and your family!!

  11. Oh my goodness, you MUST do research on Loreena McKennitt. You MUST! I'm in shock that you haven't heard her before since your mother always seemed to love celtic-ish music. She's perfect....

  12. CC, so jealous of all your snow! :) I think the crooners are required at Christmas time. There is a reason classics are classics. Merry Christmas!

    AP, I'll look her up. I'm terribly intrigued! :)

  13. 1. The best Christmas gift I ever got- LEGOs. I still play with them today.
    2. The weirdest Christmas gift I ever got- It's either a watering can or a veggie/fruit brush. I was dissapointed.
    3. Our family always goes to the Christmas tree farm in our town to pick out our Christmas tree. Last year my dad brought his chainsaw. Wee.
    4. Every time when I open presents I always have to be THE last one. Always.