Lights, Camera, Action

Ok, more like lights, wrapping presents, teacher gifts, action. Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? But I have lots to tell you. Warning: this post is all over the place. A holiday smorgasbord if you will. We’ll cover:

  • our somewhat non-traditional holiday tradition
  • what we’ll be doing for Christmas dinner
  • how we decorated the outside of our house for Christmas this year
  • what we used to wrap all of our gifts (for zero point zero zero dollars)
  • what we gave as teacher gifts for Clara’s preschool teachers

Representing the “action” part of this post’s title, this year was going to be the very first year that we weren’t scurrying around like crazy with some giant house project going on over Christmas. You think I’m joking, but this is a deep seated “tradition” of ours. Waaay back in 2007 when we started this blog we were in the middle of a giant kitchen renovation over Christmas. We had already lived sans kitchen for two months and our new cabinets were installed, but we were still waiting on our counters to arrive and officially make the room functional again…

In 2008 over Christmas we decided to refinish the floors, so we had to move nearly all of the furniture in the entire house into the sunroom, den, and kitchen to free up the original hardwoods throughout the rest of the house…

In 2009 we gutted our only full bathroom, which commenced the weekend after Thanksgiving. So by New Year’s we found ourselves in the midst of tiling. Which meant that our only shower was still a few weeks away from being functional again. Yup, that meant getting creative and showering at the gym, John’s sister’s house, and even with the hose in the yard if we just needed to rinse off (brrr).

In 2010 we moved, which was our biggest project to date that occurred right in time for the holidays. We had more than a few adventures, which involved packing up every last possession and loading it into a UHaul… which then slipped into a ditch about .05 minutes after beginning the journey to our new house… which ended up looking a lot like this while we unpacked:

In 2011 we were knee-deep in the middle of our current house’s kitchen reno (we were painting cabinets on Christmas Eve)…

And in 2012, well, we’re in the middle of a sunroom upgrade along with planning Clara’s big-girl room (which we’ll probably tackle after we wrap up the sunroom) and we built Clara’s present again this year, but that hardly counts as a major the-house-is-sheer chaos project. Until about a week ago when we were nominated (and excitedly accepted the baton while I jumped up & down and sang “we get to use our cloth napkins!”) to host Christmas dinner for 15 family members – four who are under the age of 4. It should be a whole lotta crazy, so it looks like we have a little holiday project after all, eh?

So far I’ve just been breaking out the table runners and planning where everyone will sit (it involves some rearranging of furniture) along with figuring out the menu with John (our family always does pot luck, so we’ll provide a few main staples but everyone coming will bring a special dish or dessert to fill things out). It doesn’t feel too crazy yet, but I imagine in the middle of Christmas we’ll look around and our house will be just as chaotic as it ever was during a little ol’ kitchen or bathroom renovation. Haha. We’ll definitely share the details with you guys afterwards. You know momma can’t wait to set that table. And for anyone out there who has hosted Christmas dinner, we’d love any and all tips that you have! For reals, spill it.

Oh but on the subject of the “lights” part of the title, we’ve been getting lots of requests for photos of the lights that we hung outside, so here they are. We did a more detailed post dedicated just to the outdoor decorations last year, so you can get a lot more info on them here, but this year’s synopsis is that it only took us about an hour to dress up the porch and put plug-in candles in all of the windows.

As for our giant red Ikea lanterns from last year (scored for $11 a pop), we just ran an extension cord to get power over to them, and shoved a string of white lights inside of each one (so there are three total that are joined together in a chain and powered by the extension cord).

My favorite part is always adding these three large Moravian stars (which we’ve had since last year, purchased on sale from We love hanging them at different heights from the porch (they’re just held up with plant hooks from the inside of the porch’s header).

We didn’t think to get a good shot of my other favorite part – the glossy red reindeer who are hanging out in the window again this year. So here’s a pic from last year (aw, look at the ol’ ribbon and paint chip tree, which were kid friendly choices for a then very-grabby Clara).

These guys are such an easy holiday project if anyone out there is still looking for one. I grabbed them at Ben Franklin for $4 a pop (they’re giant – maybe two feet tall each). They were sort of a flat brown bag color when I got them and looked to be made of paper mache, so I thought making them super shiny and bright could be fun.

One $3.50 can of high-glossy “Sunrise Red” spray paint later and those babies were glossy and ceramic-animal-esque (and still look good a year later). The best news is that Clara is still obsessed and likes to gently pet them in the window while keeping an eye out for Santa.

Checking another thing off the ol’ list involved getting all of our Christmas presents squared away and wrapping them all. And something magical happened this year.

For those who follow us on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter you may have already seen this pic, but it was truly a holiday unicorn (it was that rare of an occurrence). After years of hoarding holiday bags from gifts we’ve received, I didn’t have to buy any bags/wrap/ribbon/tissue paper at all this year. Not even gift tags. Dude, that makes my spare-closet-full-of-bags-and-ribbon-and-all-things-gifty feel downright warranted.

Even that cute lunch box in the front of the picture below was something that I found shoved on the top shelf of Clara’s closet (it came with some onesies for her two Christmases ago, and has been sitting up there empty ever since).

And finally, we have our little teacher gifts. A few folks asked us what we were giving/making for Clara’s three preschool teachers, and although they had a room-mom who was happy to collect $5 from each kid per teacher and grab a gift card for each teacher to their favorite restaurant, she encouraged anyone who wanted to do something else to go for it. So we thought some homemade cookies would be a nice supplement to the gift cards they each would be getting, and I grabbed three tera cotta pots for 40 cents each (thanks to coupons at Michael’s) and we wrapped each stack of freshly baked cookies in plastic wrap and then surrounded them with gift wrap (still all from my leftover gift wrap closet! woot!). Some leftover ribbon to tie them at the top was the final step. They took all of three minutes to put together, but I think they look like cute little carrots growing out of our book. Haha.

Oh yeah, and our book was the other part of the present. Our teachers have all been so sweet and supportive about it, so we wanted to give them each signed copies so they knew what the heck had been keeping us so busy (some days John’s parents would pick Clara up since we were touring, so there were lots of emails going back and forth between us and them to share where we’d be and who would be coming to get her). They were all so sweet and thankfully kept the transition nice and smooth for Clara – so we really wanted to thank them for all that they do.

So that sums up this smorgasbord of a post about a slew of holiday-related goings-on at our house.

What’s going on at yours? Are all of your outdoor lights strung up? Did you make/give any teacher gifts this year? Are you hosting Christmas dinner and prepping for that? Do you save gift bags and ribbons like a madwoman (a la $herdog)? I draw the line at saving wrapping paper (I like to tear into that for the most part) but bags full of paper and ribbons, bows, and boxes are all fair game to me…


  1. says

    We’re always really simple with the decorations on the front of the house (mostly because we just don’t have time…) but our street is actually very well known in Oakland for being a “Christmas Light Street” because nearly all the houses light up and we string lights from house to house as a “friendship chain” dating all the way back to the Depression. Walking along our street at night has become one of my favorite holiday traditions :)

  2. says

    Everything looks lovely! I especially love the Moravian stars!

    I can’t wait to host the Little House’s first Christmas… whenever that may be! We’ve had our first Thanksgiving, but I think that as long as we’re the only ones in the family without kiddos we’ll be somewhere else for the holidays.

  3. says

    We got dibs on Thanksgiving this past year, so I understand the crazy excitement of finally getting to be “grown ups” You can’t get sent to the Kid Table in your own house! YEAH! My biggest suggestion is to do something simple for silverware (napkin rings, or whatever) and to keep all the plates in the kitchen buffet style instead of actually setting the talbe. It keeps everything moving smoothly because people just grab as they go through the line rather than going to their seat and grabbing the stuff then stuffing themselves through the kitchen. Also, do dishes the whole freaking time. Yeah I missed some stuff, but it kept everything going since the dishwasher was always running and I was pretty much always doing dishes. Here’s the silverware holders I made- you could easily whip them up in ten minutes with your hem tape!

    I’m excited for you guys! It was a really heartwarming feeling seeing everyone loving a holiday at my house- I hope you guys get it too :)

  4. says

    I’m pretty sure you mean “deep-seated” instead of “deep seeded” (-: Although the latter does make some sense as well, when you think of it!

    Following Clara growing up is such a pleasure. I dread her getting old enough to object! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Lisa R says

    I always have plenty of boxes and bags to use from year to year. I also head out the day after Christmas to stock up with all the markdowns. We also buy the decorative boxes and just reuse those from year to year…plus, they look cute sitting out empty too. I try to get ones of different sizes though, so that I can pack them all up into a smaller space when we are done. :)
    As far as a tip for Christmas dinner…just chill out and enjoy it! I never got people who were SO stressed about hosting and having everything perfect…that is so not what it is all about! I just try to make sure the house is clean and that I did as much prep as possible, then we just have a good time…I also don’t have any issue with people helping themselves in my kitchen, etc…we are all family!

    Happy holidays!

    • Jennifer says

      That was going to be my tip too! We host Christmas Eve every year. We do as much prep as possible (both cleaning and cooking) before Christmas Eve. The day of I try to relax and enjoy my family. In the end, everyone will remember the laughter and love but not whether the food was perfect or if toys were everywhere :-) Merry Christmas!

  6. Kelly says

    One thing I always do when hosting holidays is prepare a treasure hunt for everyone. Each person gets a clue on 5×7 index card which leads to another, then another, then another which leads to a small homemade gift. Nothing extravagant but fun. Everyone enjoys it so much!!

    Also, because I can never find gift tags that I like, I keep all the Christmas cards we received and snag the ones that work received as well. I then cut out a small detail from them and tape it to a piece of card stock that has been cut down to size and folded. Instant gift tag. Hope that makes sense?! :)

    Happy Holidays from my family to yours.

  7. Christy says

    As for hosting a major family holiday, I have two pieces of advice. 1. Drink station. No sense running around checking on people’s drinks. Let them serve themselves in a convenient, but out of the main traffic flow location. 2. Have an idea of how people can help before they show up. (This may mean leaving a few things undone on purpose.) I have a helpful family, but if I don’t plan ahead, I don’t know what to tell them to do and I end up scurrying while they stand around feeling not very helpful.

    • Amelia says

      I couldn’t agree more (esp. about the drink station!) – I always try and put it farther away from the kitchen.

      The main thing I was going to say was that no matter what, everyone ends up in the kitchen (even though we have lovely living spaces all decorated) – it’s just where people seem to congregate). Sherry and John, you might not have as much trouble with this since you have a large kitchen, but my husband and I always rotate on who’s on cooking duty and who’s on “distracting” duty. If I’m in the kitchen, he’s generally entertaining and engaging guests (and helping to shoo them out of the kitchen) and then we’ll switch off. This way we both get time with family AND we don’t have a ton of people underfoot when we’re trying to get dinner on the table! (Although you guys have Clara to help distract the crowds from the kitchen – party entertainment: reason 2,483 of why we should have children!)

    • says

      Oooh….another tip for hosting major party – somebody needs to be on “greeter” duty – grabs the coats, throws them on the bed, points to drink station, etc, etc.

      I also try to get as much cooking done the day before, especially because I only have one oven, which is why we’ve started making the turkey on the grill – brilliant! I’ve even made the mashed potatoes a day ahead of time, then throw them on the stove top and reheat with some milk and butter – would never know that they’re re-heated!

      I echo whoever mentioned it above – run the dishwasher CONSTANTLY! Make sure it’s filled before you sit down to dinner and RUNNING. Hopefully by the time you’re finished eating it will be ready to unload/re-load.

      Another tip – don’t worry about getting the house SPOTLESS. I mean, clean up, yes, but the floors and surfaces are going to absolutely EXPLODE anyway, so long as the floors aren’t sticky and LOOK clean, just take it easy on the pre-clean. You’re going to have to do a deep clean after the tornado comes through anyway, so just as long is at LOOKS clean, that’s all you should worry about. Nobody needs to know….

      Hope this helps! Good luck! Always exciting hosting your first holiday!!!


    • says

      Thought of something else – and this is going to descend into potty humor area, but whatever…

      Stash extra toilet paper in every bathroom along with a plunger. I dunno about you but a major party can sometimes do a number on the plumbing (including our own). So save people the embarrassment of having to ask for the plunger and just leave it out JUST IN CASE!

  8. Andrea J says

    Ok, I need to know. Whenever you mention Michael’s coupons, it sounds like you are able to stack them on top of each other or use several during one transaction, yet the Michael’s near me doesn’t let me do that. What is your secret?!

    • says

      Maybe it’s just a regional thing? Many of the ones that come in the mail are for 40% off one regularly priced item and they usually just let us use three if we have three regularly priced items (they don’t let us stack them on sale items though). Sometimes we have to do three transactions and sometimes they do it all in one. Hope it helps!


    • sophie says

      doesn’t work for us here, either. and they don’t go for the ‘three transactions’ approach, either :-( A couple of weeks ago a woman tried and when it didn’t work, she just offered all her coupons to all the other people standing in line…

  9. says

    I save bags LIKE CRAZY- for all occasions. Also… instead of throwing away Christmas cards we’ve gotten in the mail I cut up the fronts and use them as gift tags. Most people don’t write on the inside left so I usually get more then enough to hoard for the next year :).

  10. Holly C says

    We are hosting Christmas for my in-laws again this year. One thing I learned last year was to not get stressed out. We do the same thing with everyone bringing a dish but we are in charge of the turkey and ham. I let myself stress out but in the end everything turned out great. Sure there were a few things that almost didn’t work out, but they did. Don’t sweat the small stuff (or even the big stuff). Enjoy getting to spend the day with your family!

    P.S. I am now on the hunt for those reindeer! I love them!

    • Pam the Goatherd says

      Don’t sweat the small stuff is great advice, but also make a list of the foods you’ve prepared in advance and put away in the fridge. Then make sure you refer to the list to make sure you’ve put out all the food you intended to put out before everyone comes to the table. I speak from experience! At Thanksgiving this year I was go absorbed in getting the turkey out of the oven and the gravy made that I completely forgot the salad and deviled eggs that were sitting in the second fridge in the garage! I like deviled eggs, but not 2 dozen eggs worth just for me and my hubby!

  11. Emma says

    Nice! I actually got on my roof to put lights up (I live in a one story rancher so it’s not that death-defying). My husband was too chicken so I was the one left hanging out on the eves and attaching the gutter clips and lights. This is our 2nd Christmas in our house and I’ve always wanted to hang lights on the roof so I was happy to do it. Happy holidays!!!

  12. says

    Dang. But don’t ya just love Ikea? We live so far away from the nearest one that it had been TEN years since I was able to shop there. And then we only went on a whim at the end of a day of wedding clothes shopping. So we only had an hour! What? Way not enough time.
    Anyway, I digress. I love those Ikea lanterns. And so clever of you to pop the lights in and illuminate them.

  13. Connie says

    Did you take the Moravian stars apart to store them after last Christmas? If not, where do you find a box or bag large enough to hold them assembled? I wish I had one for our porch, which is too small to hold three. Three would fit in front of another window, but the builder put the only outdoor outlet on the porch. Having a window open (even a crack) in Colorado doesn’t sound very intelligent.

    • Suzanne says

      You need to show us that attic space. Everytime you mention it, I think of mine, and get the creeps! lol Maybe that needs to be my next project! But I need some inspiration.

    • says

      Will do! It’s not even tall enough to stand up in, but it’s a nice big plank of plywood on the floor for big tupperware bins and things like our stars to sit on.


    • says

      About the Moravian stars: We have one really big one that we use on the front porch, replacing the regular porch light during the holiday season. For storage, we put it in a trash bag (so it won’t get dusty) and then hang it from a beam in the attic, in an out-of-the-way corner so we don’t bump into it all year.

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