25 Days of Christmas, Day 23

It will be my birthday in 45 minutes, so I’m taking the evening off of blogging.  I’ll just pop in long enough to mention that we wrapped gifts today.  See?  We have all our important supplies: wrapping paper, scissors, tape, marker, See’s chocolates.

wrapping supplies

As soon as we finished wrapping gifts, it was time to start dinner.  Fortunately I had a full crew today.  I whipped up some biscuit dough, set up a production line and we turned a few extra packages of li’l smokies into pigs in blankets.  Fun was had by all!

production line

25 Days of Christmas, Day 22: Pageant rehearsal & fellowship

There was no Sunday school today, so we celebrated by sleeping in late.  No, wait.  We didn’t.  We like getting up early SO much that we decided to schedule our only full on-site rehearsal for this morning during the time that we could have been sleeping in.

I sound like I’m complaining, but really I’m not.  It was very necessary and went very well, and we all had fun.  I stayed up late last night sewing a very simple stable scene as a backdrop, and after church several families stayed late to hang lights over the curtain, and we oohed and aahed over how wonderful it’s all going to be.  Just in case you can’t tell, we moms are VERY excited about this.  Probably more excited than the kids who will be in the pageant.  Too excited, in fact, to take pictures.  It’s going to be THAT good.

Between worship and the fellowship meal, our congregation always sings happy birthday and/or happy anniversary to anyone with birthdays or anniversaries.  Since my birthday is closer to this Sunday than next, today was my turn.

my birthdaymy birthday

After church, I came home to an early birthday gift from my in-laws: my very own huge box of See’s chocolates!!!  How often do you see me use the triple exclamation point?  Haven’t I always said I have the best in-laws ever?  This is good stuff.  Our family receives a big box from my grandparents every year for Christmas and I do my best not to eat them all, but this box is MINE.  I feel it’s my duty to personally consume as many of these chocolates as possible, to show my appreciation for the gift.  I’ll share, but it would be rude to share too generously, as though I didn’t value the gift.  It’s a matter of courtesy.

birthday chocolate

You’re too late. That square toffee brittle in the center of the bottom row? Already gone.

After church, we hid the chocolates and had two families over for food and fellowship, our two favorite combinations.  We had four kinds of cheese, four kinds of meats, and four kinds of…other stuff…



Adults and teens fellowshipping over food

Younger children fellowship over the iPad

Younger children fellowship over the iPad

See?  The food is decimated and we still enjoy each other’s company.  That’s true friendship.


25 Days of Christmas, Day 21: Crazy people out shopping

christmas truckThis was Perry’s first day home after a week working out of town, but he and some of the older girls worked at VF, so I spent much of the day running secret Christmas errands.  Because they’re secret, I can’t tell you where I went or what I bought.

I have gifts for most (but not all) of my children, a couple of small things for Perry, and nearly nothing for the extended family.  I did some shopping on Amazon but they just don’t have everything, and don’t have the best prices on everything, so I was forced to venture forth today.  Personally, I long for the old days we read about in Little House, back when Christmas gifts were mostly for little kids and consisted of a penny and a stick of candy.  My ideal Christmas: we give each child a small gift on Christmas eve, then spend Christmas day – or the next 12 days –  in feasting and fellowship, celebrating the birth and life of our Savior.

Am I a scrooge?  Maybe, but it’s not about the money.  It’s about the stress and pressure to find The Perfect Gift for everyone you love, and if they don’t make your list you obviously don’t count them among your loved ones.  I know not everyone thinks or feels that way, but it’s easy to imagine they do and put false pressure upon yourself.  Or am I just neurotic?  Go ahead. Answer honestly.

The sad, tired faces of the cashiers also tug at my heartstrings everywhere I go.  They look like people in a refugee camp: resigned, overwhelmed, wishing they were anywhere but here.  Those poor people must dread the holiday season.

The traffic was INSANE today.  The girls said it wasn’t bad between VF and home, but that’s because every car in the city was between me and whatever store I was heading to.  I can’t believe how many crazy people were out today doing last-minute shopping, and I bet it will be even worse on Monday and Tuesday, when I’m doing last-minute shopping.  Yes, call me crazy.

Grim, I know.  Cheer me up.  How did you celebrate Christmas in your home today?

25 Days of Christmas, Day 20: Homecoming

No time for a Christmas post today.  This guy,


who was definitely NOT in San Antonio when this photo was taken a few days ago

more snow

is finally home!

To celebrate, this beautiful young lady serenaded him with Christmas carols.  She is rapidly teaching herself to play piano with the method described in Play Piano in a Flash and Hal Leonard’s fake books.


25 Days of Christmas, Day 19: My grudge against malls

Nothing.  I feel like I’ve got nothing for you.  I ran errands and even bought a few gifts – or at least worked to track down sources for them – but somehow it feels like we did nothing Christmas related today.  I even went to the (gasp!) mall.  That’s a great place to boost your Christmas spirit, right?  NO.  Have I ever mentioned I hate malls?  I have a story that may explain why I hate malls, and it may also be connected to my general dislike for the hustle and bustle of the modern commercial Christmas.

Actually it’s not really a story.  It’s more of a bad memory and a complaint all wrapped up in bad attitude.  It’s just this: one year when we were in Tennessee visiting my in-laws, we all decided it would be great fun to go to the enormously popular Opryland Mall on Black Friday.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that everyone else arrived at that decision and I agreed to tag along.  Back then we had 6 kids, ages 8 and under.  So we went and wove our way through the crush of bodies, and everyone else had fun while I experienced 5 solid hours of panic just trying to keep track of my children in a strange city.  The other four blissfully oblivious adults in our party were spread among the teeming waves of total strangers who physically pressed upon all of us, and I lost my six children at least 57 times as they were casually passed back and forth, slipping through little gaps in the crush where I could not follow.




In my own version, they didn’t just escape or get swept away in the current.  They were sent, while I stood 30 bodies behind, helplessly fighting to get to them.  “Oh, look!  There’s Grandpa! Don’t you want to go with him?”  “Hey, is that your dad over way over there?  Go tell him I’m looking for him.”  Did it really happen that way?  I don’t know, but I was amazed at the end of the day to find all my children accounted for, and everyone staring at me like was the crazy one.

And now I shall hate malls forevermore.  I even dislike empty, quiet malls, late on weeknights just before they close, but I nurse a special grudge for crowded malls during the holiday season when human traffic is so heavy that all you can do is move with the current.  In my defense, I usually breathe a sigh of relief after visiting a mall and tell myself it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  But you could never pay me enough to go back to Opryland Mall on Black Friday.  I would shave my head for a million dollars in a heartbeat, but don’t ask me if I would go back to that mall on that day.

On a more cheerful note, my phone has an alarm that goes off every morning at 10 o’clock, playing the alto part of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  This is so that the girls and I can remember to practice daily.  When we hear it, we all stop whatever we’re doing and sing along.  Then at 10:05, another alarm plays the full 4-part harmony so that we can practice finding and singing our own part while it’s fresh in our heads and ears.

Since anyone can sing soprano, the girls and I sing alto, Perry sings bass, and Deanna practices tenor with her husband, we could technically sing in 4 part harmony just with our own family members.  I really want to give it a try!

Has anyone in your family learned to sing in harmony? How do you feel about insanely crowded shopping malls or other public places?

Christmas deals

We’ve been eyeing this catalog with interest each time it arrives in our mailbox.  If you’re sad to see VF go, this company has a similar flavor in their toy selection.  Just thought I’d share their latest sale since I’m an affiliate. 🙂  They have hundreds of items at 60% off, and there’s still time for Christmas delivery if you really want it.


25 Days of Christmas, Day 18: The final countdown begins

Today was another beautiful day, with a high in the low 70’s.  The little ones played outside a lot, running in and out in short sleeves and bare feet.  Strangely enough I smelled snow in their hair and clothes each time they came in.  I’m sure it wasn’t wishful thinking because I hate snow.  I’d love to hear a hypothesis if you have one.  I’m thinking it has to do with ozone.

I can’t believe it’s only a week until Christmas.  Less, since I’m writing this at the end of the day and you’re reading it at some point after that.  [breathe…breathe…]

This morning we finished the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  The end was more moving and less comical than I remembered.  It was also the best part, where all the funny snarking became sweet, simple observation of human nature.  It was still funny, but in a kinder, gentler way.  My little ones were alternately horrified and in uproars at the antics of the Herdmans until the end; then they were suddenly quiet and thoughtful and full of questions.  I’m glad we read the book.

I spent most of the afternoon running a series of errands with Rachael and Perry.  We made 5 stops in 3 hours.  It was hardly a record, but we covered a lot of ground and spent a lot of time wandering around making decisions.  You can’t rush these things.

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I didn’t actually buy any gifts unless you count a single stocking stuffer, but I’m feeling less panicked.  What gets done in time will be done.  I’ll do the rest later – or not at all.  Have I told you about my stack of unmailed Christmas cards?  They stretch back at least four years, and come out to haunt me every Christmas like one of Scrooge’s ghosts.  One year we made it as far as addressing the envelopes.  Another year I bought 100 postage stamps.  I’m still working my way through those.

Anyway, I think I have a plan for most or all of the kids.  Now I just need to get final approval and execute it.

Oh, we also ordered 10 dozen handmade tamales from a friend’s brother.  These will be for the nth annual Brown Family Tamale Party on Christmas Eve.  I say nth because I have no clue how long this thing has been happening.  I guess I should ask somebody what year it started before we all forget.  We’re hosting it for the first time, since the sister who has always hosted in the past moved away.  She and her husband and 4 children will be driving in to join us along with a wide assortment of our siblings, their families, and Mom and her fiance.

After tamales, we’ll try to drag as many as we can to the Christmas pageant that evening.  Maybe we’ll hold dessert until after the pageant, to motivate them to stay.  What do you think?  Would it work on you?

25 Days of Christmas, Day 17: Christmas party!

Today was the 2nd annual Christmas party for our church’s small homeschool group.

Megan looks exhausted, and the party hasn’t even started yet.  But at least her bedroom is clean.  I have a pic of the other girls’ room, but it’s scary.  REALLY scary.  I’m not posting it, because this is a G-rated blog.

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Meanwhile, Rachael is downstairs waiting for things to get started.  Real things, not work things like setting up.

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Like this!  See?

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A quiet moment in the kitchen


A not-so-quiet moment in the living room



Of course there are no troublemakers in this bunch.  Why would you ask?


more trouble

The biggest thing on the agenda was our first pageant rehearsal.  It was really just a quick run-through and a fit-check on the costumes.

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The angels took their place at stage right…

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…while Mary got pregnant in the kitchen.  WAIT!  WHAT?  Well, that’s how Mrs. N put it.

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We’re going to have the cutest sheep and donkey ever!


After rehearsal, we set the hounds kids loose on the cookies.  You should have seen them attack!  There was also a big bowl of wassail, which was gone in 2.5 seconds.


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We flipped our lips for a while, then remembered we were supposed to have an ornament exchange.


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A selfie, as the party winds down.  See?  Still sane, no new wrinkles or frown lines.  It was a good day.

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25 Days of Christmas, Day 16

Please excuse my stress yesterday.  It was truly one of THOSE days.  Near the end, the kids and I were jokingly wondering what else could possibly go wrong, since we had already covered all the bases.  Then we worried that maybe we were right and our jokes would come true, which wouldn’t be funny at all, so we quit joking altogether.

Today was much, much better.  It sounded busy when I ticked off on my fingers all the things that were happening, but it felt relaxed.  Maybe that’s because I didn’t do a stitch of laundry.  I’m sure it also had something to do with the fact that the sun was shining and the air was warm but crisp, and I was running errands alone in the Mustang with the windows down. I feel refreshed and ready to revisit the crazy that is Christmas.

Early this morning, the older girls moved some tables around in preparation for tomorrow’s party.  We’ll be hosting a cookie exchange, an ornament exchange, and doing a play rehearsal. I forgot until I typed those words that Sunday won’t be our only rehearsal before the pageant, but it will be the only rehearsal on-site, where the kids will actually learn where to stand and how to get there.

This morning I bought gifts for 3 children online, and made plans for a few more.  I still need ideas for some people, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

We desperately needed some groceries (what is December without butter?), but before I left on my errands, I dealt with the pile of snow sitting on the mantle.  We now have a proper Texas snowstorm.  The Christmas explosion continues.

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I arrived home to learn that our box of See’s chocolates from my grandparents had also arrived!  This is a longstanding tradition created and maintained by my maternal grandparents, something we always look forward to.  Now I know that Christmas is really coming!  We’ll wait as long as we can to open them, but we rarely make it until Christmas.  When the box is opened, I have dibs on at least one of the two chocolate-covered toffees.  They’re flat and square, and always in a corner, one per layer.

This evening we read 2 chapters of Luke over dinner. We’re one chapter behind, but we’ll catch up tomorrow when (I hope) the little ones will be less wiggly.  Why do I think they’ll be less wiggly after gorging on cookies all day during our homeschool group Christmas party?  Because the whole Christmas season is all about hope, and hope is the substance of things not seen.  Well, I’ve not seen un-wiggly kids lately, so I’m hoping.

After reading, a few enterprising souls finally decorated the tree…

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…while I did some online Christmas shopping with a string of children who had money but were too young to shop independently, and Kaitlyn baked eleventy-dozen cookies for tomorrow’s cookie exchange.

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Tomorrow, we party like homeschoolers!

25 Days of Christmas, Day 15: AAARRRGGGHHHHH!

Sorry.  I just had to get that little scream out.  Today will definitely make it into the archives of the Gone Awry category, if I can ever find the presence of mind and nerve synapses to remember and recount the events gone wrong.  Or maybe we’ll just pretend today never happened.

In the meantime, our Christmas tree still stands naked and forlorn, leaning against the far corner of the living room.  I guess we need to get it dressed for Tuesday’s Christmas party.

The church Christmas pageant is just over a week away, and we have yet to make costumes, although kind volunteers have done much of the work for us.  We also need to start the backdrop for the stable.  Not sure when that will happen since all my big people are working again this week.  We’re hoping it will sometime before the first-and-only rehearsal.  Did you hear that?  FIRST AND ONLY?!  Oh, this should be interesting.  🙂

I have not started Christmas shopping.  At all.  Nuthin.  And I don’t think it’s happening this week, unless I can get it done at the grocery store.  Don’t know when that’s happening, but it has to at some point. Right?  Right???

My Christmas spirit is flagging.  I’m not a grinch, or a scrooge.  I’m just keeping it real for you.  With a family working in retail, this is  an extremely busy time of year for all of us, and I don’t mean because we’re busy addressing cards, wrapping gifts and baking cookies.  I stay home, but when all my help is gone I’m still cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry for 12 – and nursing an active toddler, and teaching an eager 5yo to read, and keeping 3yo Parker from auto-destructing and taking down the whole house with him.  Ooh, that boy.

And the dog follows me around the house all day, calling me Mom because he wants a bite of whatever he thinks I have.

We are very blessed, and I know many others have much worse problems than ours.  Excessive busy-ness is not a big deal.  It just feels like it sometimes, especially when you want to say yes to everything and everyone, because who wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge?  This is time for rejoicing, and rejoicing takes work.

Tomorrow, we make cookies.