Santa: To wrap or not to wrap, that is the question

One of the magical things about Christmas is that while much of the holiday is steeped in traditions, there are so many different kinds of traditions. As annoying as most found that “Frozen’s Olaf Adventure” special before seeing “Coco,” I did appreciate how it showed that each family has their own special ways of celebrating Christmastime.

When my husband and I were dating, we did our best to celebrate Christmas together while also holding on to the ways that we celebrated Christmas with our own families. But when we got married, a lot of traditions had to combine or evolve. That changed even more after having kids.

Which brings me to the big guy. Kris Kringle. St. Nick. Santa Claus. The man.

When Stella was old enough to understand Santa Claus, Zack and I realized that Santa did things very differently in Farmington Hills and Holt. When Santa visited my house, his presents were left on the coffee table by the fireplace, our stockings filled with goodies sitting next to an empty plate of cookies. Santa didn’t wrap our presents. It made the moment we came downstairs so fun and surprising. Look! He brought me the doll I wanted from the Franklin Mint! (How sweet was that store??)

But when Santa visited Zack in Holt, the presents were wrapped — in a different paper, of course. They sell different kinds of paper in the North Pole. Santa also hid Zack’s stocking for him to find.

So what would he do for Stella? What would our family tradition be?

Ultimately, we agreed to tell Santa that he didn’t have to wrap the presents he brought to Okemos. Save Mrs. Claus and the elves the time. But Santa could absolutely hide Stella’s Christmas stocking somewhere in the house after eating some cookies.

I’ve seen so many posts in mommy Facebook groups asking this very question though: does Santa wrap his gifts or not?

And while I have my own sentimental and practical feelings on the matter for our family, the beautiful thing is that there isn’t one correct answer. Like most things, all that matters is what works for each family to make it the most magical time possible.

Merry Christmas Eve, all!

If you need me, I’ll be busy making Paper Source’s mermaid crafts

It’s safe to say that one of my favorite things to do with Stella is arts and crafts. As a person who went to summer arts camp through the Farmington Public Schools for six years and asked for crazy-big art sets for Christmas, I love seeing Stella hunker down with stacks of construction paper and washi tape to “make projects,” as she says.

So when my mom came up to visit us and brought some fun holiday crafts to work on with Stella, my eyes lit up at the sight of this fantastic Paper Source kit:

I mean come on, CHRISTMAS MERMAIDS. Together, my mom and Stella made some adorable creations that we put on our tree:

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Elmer’s glue this week and make more mermaids. The kit comes with various mermaid tails, hairstyles, and accessories that are a lot of fun to mix and match. The card stock is nice and thick, so with a bit of care, I think these sweet mermaids will last over the years. It was also fun to create some mermaid “ornaments” for friends this Christmas.

Upon writing this post, I discovered that Paper Source has all sorts of adorable DIY kits, from a succulent wreath kit to a pizza garland kit that I think my friend Ellen needs to have.

And while the Holiday Mermaids Kit is sold out online, there’s a non-seasonal Mermaid Craft Kit to fill your DIY mermaid-loving heart with glee.

Thank you to my mom and to Paper Source for the gift I didn’t know I wanted or needed: the gift of a Santa merman in a striped tank top.



Instant Pot ribs (and three other success stories)

Hello, my name is Stefanie and I am a believer in the magic of the Instant Pot. It wasn’t always this way, but I now know there’s a good reason why it’s one of the most popular gifts this holiday season.

I first started reading things about the Instant Pot in mommy groups on Facebook earlier this year. I’m a Crock Pot enthusiast, particularly in the colder months, so I didn’t really understand the need for another large kitchen appliance.

It wasn’t until I spent some time with my friend Tracy a couple of months ago that the Instant Pot got its first ringing endorsement from someone I knew, and I can’t even express how enthusiastic Tracy was about her Instant Pot. She told me about the super-active Facebook group that covers all things Instant Pot (the group is just under 900,000 members). She said the cleanup is a breeze, and dinner can be done in an hour or less.

Thanks to a really great sale at Kohl’s, I was able to score an 8 Qt Duo 7-in-1 Instant Pot for $85 (they are normally $129.99 for that model) back in October. Admittedly, it took me a few weeks to give it a try.

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My favorite original Christmas songs you might not know about

When it comes to setting the mood for any holiday or celebration, to me it is all about the perfect playlist.

Thanks to Apple Music, I’m able to create my own Christmas playlist filled with all of my favorite songs. I’ve also fallen in love with their curated (ugh I really hate that word when it is used for anything other than relating to a museum, but it’s the only one that really applies) playlists. In particular, their Holiday Cocktail Party playlist is a wonderful mix of swingy Christmas classics that are a little more obscure and haven’t been overplayed since November.

I’m getting my classic Christmas song fix from that playlist, but there’s also something so fun about discovering original Christmas songs. After all, there are only so many versions of “Santa Baby” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Top 40 artists that this gal can take.

I know a lot of times it can feel like a money grab when an artist does a Christmas album, particularly when it’s filled with tired covers. That to me is what makes the potential for a great original so exciting and welcome.

Here are some of my favorite original Christmas songs that deserve a spot in your holiday music rotation.

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For the young and young at heart: A review of ‘Finding Neverland’

I’ve always known a version of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. My first memories of Peter are Disney’s animated version landing on the minute hand of Big Ben, and Mary Martin magically soaring across the Darlings’ nursery. One of my all-time favorite movies, “Hook,” imagines a world where Peter leaves Neverland and — perish the thought! — grows up.

For over a century, generations have met, loved, and believed in the various adaptations of this classic character. The story of Peter Pan is such a part of our collective DNA that it’s hard to believe there was a time he was only a speck of fairy dust in J.M. Barrie’s imagination.

And yet that is where “Finding Neverland” begins, in early 20th century London, with playwright J.M. Barrie struggling to write a hit play under the pressures of time and expectations. The Broadway musical, based on 2004 film, has landed at the Wharton Center and will play to audiences through December 17.

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DIY: Yes way, crochet

I first learned how to crochet as a kid with help from one of our family’s babysitters, Vi. Vi taught me the basics of creating a chain and how to do a double crochet stitch, and even almost 20 years later, I have a deeply rooted muscle memory when it comes to crochet. It’s something I can stop doing for months at a time, and then pick right back up again.

The wintertime is my crochet time. It’s fun to cozy up to a crochet project on the couch when it’s snowy and cold outside, and of course now is the prime time for making Christmas gifts.

My skills haven’t ventured beyond things that are square or rectangular, so the things I’ve made over the years have been different varieties of scarves and blankets. In recent years, I’ve used tutorials online to learn how to connect the ends of a finished scarf to make it a cowl/infinity shape.

This year, I decided to watch some YouTube videos to see if I could learn some new stitches and techniques, and I discovered something. I’ve been crocheting incorrectly the whole time. My first row after the chain? Wrong. The reason why my edges look like little zigzags? I’m starting my first stitch in the wrong spot and ending the row too soon.

My whole crochet world was rocked by these discoveries. I blame my faulty memory and not sweet Vi. I’ve also realized I need to read the label on my yarn more carefully and use the suggested crochet hook size in order to make the project be at its best. For too long, I’ve disregarded this important component of crochet, picking yarns I like and using whatever crochet hook I can find at home.

The thing I love about YouTube and the internet in general is that you can really learn (or relearn) how to do just about anything. So in my venture to become a better crocheter (is that a word?), I searched for some easy-to-follow tutorials.

With the help of Melanie Ham, I not only learned about the half-double crochet stitch, but also how to crochet in the round to make an infinity scarf.

This very simple tutorial has helped me change up my scarf-making repertoire. I’ve still had some challenges, such as accidentally adding a twist to the infinity shape or crocheting an entire row all the way around before realizing I was doing it upside down (okay, I did that about three times and undoing all of that work wasn’t fun any of the times).

But, I’m getting the hang of it, and enjoying the meditative experience of crocheting in the round.

I imagine I could also do some ear warmer headbands with this technique, and those would undoubtedly go pretty quickly in comparison to a long infinity scarf style.

Next, I’m hoping to learn how to make hats, which I’ve never done before. And maybe some granny squares for a blanket after that.

Crochet is definitely that old friend I don’t get to see very often, but when I do, we pick up right where we left off. And I’m always learning something new about it.




A sparkle solution for my cloudy rings

In the winter time, it’s all about constantly washing my hands so I can avoid getting sick and putting on lotion so I can avoid dry skin. This cycle leaves my beautiful engagement ring and wedding band worse for wear sometimes.

I admit I don’t clean my rings as often as I should, and even then, I can never get them to sparkle the way they do after a visit to the jeweler.

Because my engagement ring has an aquamarine stone, certain cleaning methods aren’t recommended, such as boiling and ultrasonic cleaning machines. I’ve done a lot of looking around online to find an easy and quick way to get my rings looking their best, and I found a solution that does the trick.

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Hooked on John Davidson: A conversation with the captain of ‘Finding Neverland’

We’re all familiar with the character of Peter Pan, but what about the story of how he came to be? Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” tells the story of playwright J.M. Barrie’s struggle to find inspiration, and the family who sparks his imagination to create one of the most beloved characters in the world.

“Finding Neverland” will soar into the Wharton Center next week, with shows December 12-17. Click here for show times and to purchase tickets.

John Davidson, a seasoned performer in film, television, and stage, stars in “Finding Neverland” in a dual role of real-life American theatrical producer Charles Frohman and the dastardly Captain Hook.

I spoke with John prior to his visit to mid-Michigan about his acting experiences, his incarnation of Captain Hook, and what he hopes audiences will take away from “Finding Neverland.”

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Themed Christmas trees for our daughters (and doggy)

In the past week, our family has decorated four Christmas trees: a larger tree filled with family ornaments; a mini tree with star ornaments; a mini tree with pearl ornaments; and a mini tree with fox ornaments.

The mini trees represent the little girls and pup in our family.

All of this started in 2009, the year Zack and I got married and shortly thereafter, adopted our goofy dog Zuzu. We went to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth and looked for an ornament to commemorate Zuzu’s first Christmas with us. They have a million ornaments, and plenty dedicated to specific dog breeds, but none of them looked like our goofy dog. Finally, we spotted a fox ornament that looked a lot like her.

We’ve been collecting fox ornaments ever since. Amazingly, there are a lot of them to be found out there. After a couple years, we had enough of them to place them on two small trees that flanked our fireplace. And after eight years,  the collection has grown to nearly 50 foxes.

Now, Zuzu has her own mini tree:

When we were expecting Stella in March 2013, my family threw us a baby shower that January. I had an idea that if the guests wanted, they could bring a star ornament in honor of her name to be used on her own Christmas tree.

We ended up with several beautiful star ornaments of all different types. And for the last several Christmases, we’ve decorated Stella’s star tree:

And finally, with our Margot due in late December of last year, we continued the tradition and asked for pearl ornaments in honor of her name to go on her very own Christmas tree. Pearl-themed ornaments proved to be a bit of a challenge compared to stars, but our family found a beautiful array of ornaments featuring pearls.

Even though Margot missed her own first Christmas by arriving on New Year’s Day, I still decorated the tree for her last year. We also had her stocking ready and a Baby’s First Christmas ornament in place, but instead of a baby photo inside, there’s a sonogram picture.

Now, Margot’s pearl tree is a part of our tradition:

Themed trees are so much fun, with their endless options and opportunities for creativity. I’d love to have a Michigan State-themed tree one day, but I think Zack might think five trees is a little nuts.

It brings me so much joy to decorate our Christmas trees each year. There’s often an ornament or two that I’ve forgotten about, and one glance brings a flood of memories about where and who they came from.

I’m looking forward to the girls being able to understand how special their trees and ornaments are, that they were loved by so many even before they were born.

Family, friends, and traditions. That’s what Christmas means to me my love.