Almost Finished – Christmas Decorating 2010

As I get to the end of this year’s holiday decorating, with the promise to my husband that I will begin to weed through ornaments and decorations we no longer use and get rid of them, I am reminded of why we have so many holiday decorations.  Everything I have means something – whether it was a gift that someone gave to me, or an ornament purchased because it reminded me of one of my children.  I have things that were used in my Grandmother’s house when I was a little girl, and things my mom used in her house when I was young as well.  There are things that were my dad’s before he died, and things my grandmother handmade.

So here is what the house looks like with the bulk of the decorating done:

Each of these stockings, although never used to actually contain gifts, mean something.  The first one at the top of the stairs, my Grandmom Fee made.  The last one was a dollar store purchase when we were making stockings to be sent to the soldiers in Iraq.  It was leftover, but reminds me each year of how lucky we are to be together each Christmas.

The bell my mom used to hang outside of our house in South Philly

Not sure I should hang the girls’ stockings in age order, since their initials might be a turn-off for Santa

Tiny presents – a gift from my brother and sister-in-law one year – they’re so cute!

My Grandmom had a chapel very similar to this one that played Silent Night.  We found this one at Home Depot a few years ago, and it just reminded me so much of Grandmom, that we bought it!

These happy faces used to belong on my Mom’s stereo

The tree is mine – bought one year when we weren’t going to be home for the holidays, but I wanted a Christmas tree up anyway.  I ended up buying two of them – one for each bay window in the front of the house.  The kissing Angels and the angel musicians were Grandmom Fee’s.  I’m not sure where the Nativity came from, but this is a huge promotion for this Nativity – last year, and for the previous 8, they have been on a shelf in the downstairs bathroom.

The “kids” tree – filled with all the ornaments collected over the years for the kids – with their names, the year, and their favorite characters.  There are also baby’s first ornaments on the tree, and ornaments they’ve made in school through the years.

The top of the china cabinet is home to many of the holiday stuffies we’ve collected through the years – we try to add a new one each year.  That means we should only have about 22, but somewhere along the way, we must have added a few spares!

The basket was a wonderful gift my first year on the Moms Panel – the goodies are merely a distant memory, but the gorgeous sleigh will remain part of the holiday memories with which we decorate.

Our first Christmas together, Jim and I wanted to do a more elegant tree than the ones we grew up with, so we settled on one color ornament – gold.  Well, over the years, we came to realize how the trees we grew up with ended up with the mismatched ornaments – we came along!  Our family tree ended up having a bit of everything on it as the girls came along.  A couple of years ago, though, Jim bought the pre-lit tree with colored lights to appease the girls who hated the white lights on my tree.  I promptly moved all the “colorful” ornaments to the colorful tree, and reclaimed the gold one.  I love it all gold because it reminds me every year of my first Christmas with Jim – and the promise of many more to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Skamarakas Family Christmas Party – The Prequel

This is the six foot hoagie we had at our Christmas party two years ago.  It didn’t go over as well as I had hoped, but it sure did save me a ton of time and effort.

This year, with little time and a very budget conscious husband, I’m trying to come up with unique ideas to add to my buffet table for our holiday open house on Saturday.

This Saturday.

As in, in four days.

I’m roasting a turkey, baking a ham, and probably putting out kielbasa, meatballs, and sausage.

But what about side dishes?  Snack foods?

I am completely out of ideas, and desperate for help.

This is what I need from you guys.  Ideas.  Loads of them.

The logistics – needs to be able to stay out from 4 o’clock until 9 o’clock, and I don’t want to spend the whole party in the kitchen, rotating appetizers in and out of the oven.

I’m looking for something that’s not the usual cheese platter, chips and dips, vegetables, and fruit salad.

So what have you got?  Send me your best ideas!

Keep in mind that not only am I no Matha Stewart, I’m not even a Rachel Ray.  Or a Semi-Homemade whats her name?  The easier, the better 🙂

The Nutcracker – The Christmas Tradition Continues!

I gotta tell you, I thought this one was a lost cause.  I took my oldest daughter to see The Nutcracker, the beloved Christmas ballet, when she was about 6.  She and her father were so loud during the performance, I wanted to smack the two of them.  The only reason I didn’t is because I thought they were quieter asleep than they would be awake.  That’s right, they both fell asleep during the performance.

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s throne

Now, as if this wasn’t bad enough, this was not your local elementary school’s performance.  We were sitting in amazing seats at the Southern Ballet Company’s performance.  With a retired Sugar Plum Fairy, who had for many years performed with the Southern Ballet Company.  Can you say mortified?  I know I could.

I hesitated when Eilis’ girl scout troop leader came up with this particular trip, but it was a local ballet company, and each of the girls has a classmate in the ballet company.  If nothing else, I thought they’d enjoy seeing kids they knew perform.

Well, they LOVED it!  Granuaile sat mesmerized by every twirl and every costume.  Eilis laughed and clapped, and not only enjoyed seeing her friend Alexandra perform as Fritz, but loved every minute of it.

My faith in this holiday tradition has been restored!  The performance was fabulous, the girls had a wonderful time, and their dad, who was left home due to his prior unacceptable sleepy behavior, ended a wonderful day with good news of his own, and dinner out for everyone!

What a great day to help kick off the Christmas season!

Eilis and the Sugar Plum Fairy

Jordan signs their program from the afternoon

Granuaile meets the Sugar Plum Fairy

If you are in the South Jersey area, tickets can still be purchased to see the remaining performances of this wonderful production.  Visit to get your tickets!

Oh – on a side note – this was a special girl scout event, and it was incredible!  The Artistic Director, David Gallagher, took the girls backstage and told them the story of The Nutcracker.  He showed them some of the incredible costumes, explaining that some of the fabrics used cost $50 a yard!  After a demonstration by some of the ballerinas, he took the kids out to the theatre to see the dancers warm up, and he explained every step and every excercise.  When it was all over, the girl scouts got to line up and have their photos taken on stage with the Sugar Plum Fairy herself!  The kids LOVED it!

It’s a Thanksgiving SPECIAL!

I think Granuaile has had too much exposure to Black Friday ads.  I blame her father, who has watched a Charlie Brown special every night this week.  Who knew there were so many Charlie Brown specials?

Anyway, after a Toys R Us commercial for their Thanksgiving/Black Friday door buster sale aired, Granuaile came running to me.

“MOM! Guess what?  Toys R Us is having a Thanksgiving special!  I think they said all the toys are free!  You know, FREE?  Like I don’t have to give them any money!”

“Can we go?”

Our Florida Holiday Tradition – Drive In Light Displays

When we lived in South Florida, we would travel each year to Tradewinds Park for the Holiday Fantasy of Lights display.  For three miles, you rest comfortably in your car while driving through the park and the many incredible holiday light displays.  Taking place nightly from 11/19 through 1/2/2011, this is a must see spectacle of holiday brilliance, and for only $13 per car ($10 Monday – Wednesday), you can save the time and the effort driving through endless neighborhoods trying to find the best decorated houses.  Well worth the price of admission.

This year, Osceola Heritage Park is hosting their own version of a holiday light spectacular with the Wonderland of Lights.  Running from 11/26 – 1/9/2011, this display is just about a 20 minute drive from Walt Disney World.  This is the first year for this display, and it’s only a mile long, but the park is also going to offer ice skating, Santa’s Village, photos with Santa, and holiday movies.  The cost at Osceola is $20 per car, but it sounds like it’s shaping up to become a wonderful Central Florida tradition!

For more information on Osceola Heritage Park Wonderland of Lights, visit their site at

The information on Tradewinds Park can be found by visiting their website at

A Kid Wants a Kindle for Christmas

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.  ~Groucho Marx

I have a kid on my Christmas list who is an avid reader.  She wanders the house with her nose in a book from the time she wakes up until the time the batteries in her Itty Bitty Book Light burn out.  Sometimes, she is reading multiple books at the same time.  I know this because she leaves them all over my house.

With an order from the grandmother to purchase something for this child for Christmas, and a very generous budget with which I can shop, I started looking at eReaders.

The Kindle holds the current market lead, has a vast library of titles to choose from, and also works on multiple devices.  Kindle ebooks are purchased, and then used on whatever platform you have. Now that’s darn cool.

I think the biggest problem I am facing with the Kindle – and other eBook Readers – is that there seems to be a lack of quality books for tweens.  I had my own tween grab her Scholastic Book order form, which happened to come in today, and asked her to choose the books from the form that she wanted to order.  None of the books she chose are listed in the library of books to purchase for an eBook Reader.  Disappointing.

Does anyone want to chime in on an eBook reader for kids for Christmas?

How To Get a Kid Dressed in Under 3 Minutes for School

It’s all about the proper motivation.  On a normal day in my house, my kids are still being yelled at to get dressed 10 minutes after we should have already left for school.  No one leaps out of bed, gleefully puts on their school uniform, races down to the nutritious breakfast I spend hours creating (okay, so it’s toast or cereal, but still….).  They have to be poked and prodded like cattle to the slaughter.

Not today.  3 minutes, dear readers.  My little one had her uniform on 3 tiny minutes from the time I first poked my head into her bedroom.

How did I do it?  The credit actually goes to Eilis.  Because last night, while Granuaile was at her Daisy Scout meeting, Eilis took down the Playmobil sets that took over the Thomas the Tank Engine train table when Thomas became “for babies”.  In place of the Playmobil, Eilis put out all of our Little People Christmas sets!

Behind Granuaile, you will see a black plastic trash bag.  That bag now contains 92,741 pieces of Playmobil that Eilis wasn’t sure what to do with when she cleared them from the train table.

If you find the 3 minute motivation for putting that all back together after Christmas, let me know!

Frugal Christmas Gifts for Your Husband – Avoid Giving Another Tie!

Let’s face it.  He’s the one person in your life you know better than anyone else. So why are you stumped at Christmas time?  You should instinctively know what to get him, right?

Well, it’s not always the case in my house.  While there are some things that scream “perfect gift” for my husband, they usually scream at someone else rather than at me.  Like the electric nose hair trimmers.  Or the audio books gift certificate.  I usually scratch my head and ask “Why didn’t I think of that?”

And that’s because I am trying to find the not so practical on a budget.  Would he like the 52″ flat panel TV, so he could see Peter Griffith’s nose hairs?  Sure he would.  I’d like to look like Heidi Klum, too.  We can see how that worked out.

So, for the man in your life who doesn’t want another tie, another pair of Simpsons boxer shorts, or anything that you find in the $10 Christmas gift display at Target, here are some thoughts.

The Homemade Coupon Book – Go ahead and laugh.  I think this may have been the most popular gift I ever gave my husband.  You can fill it with practical things if you have a practical guy – like a coupon for you to take the trash out one week, or you’ll take the car in for an oil change.  Or you can fill it with things that benefit you – like a date night that you do all the planning for, including lining up a sitter.  My husband prefers the coupons that offer back rubs and foot massages, which usually works out well for me as well, as he often reciprocates!

Something from the Kids – There are some adorable things your kids can make for dad!  How about a t-shirt with your kids painted footprints on it, with the words “My Kids Walk All Over Me” written on it?  Or a t-shirt with their hand prints and their names that says “Daddy’s Little Helpers” or “Best Dad – Hands Down”.

Never under estimate the power of baked goods.  The dad in our house would be thrilled with some white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  They are by far his favorite, and the bonus here is that he’ll share them with the kids.  It’s a win/win!

Other options are plans for an inexpensive day out.  Take dad to mini-golf and for an ice cream, or take the football to the park and treat him to a hot dog after a game of catch.

Dad will be thrilled to have a gift that won’t take up space in his closet or collect dust on his desk, but he’ll be even happier that you’ve kept the budget in mind!

30 Minutes of Crying – It is, After All, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I asked Jim to make this year’s Christmas party invitation into a video. He took the 20 pictures and 2 songs I gave him and made a short movie for me to send out. But he also made me a 60 minute DVD of family Christmas video moments.

Oh my.  The first tears fell when I saw my sister, Bean, on camera.  She was a younger, healthier version in the video than the one we lost 7 years ago.  In her mid-20’s on the video, you could still see the ravages of the condition she suffered from, but she was moving more spryly and speaking more clearly.

Then there was the very first Christmas I was a mom.  My tiny Brighid lay bundled in an afghan made by my Grandmom Fee, squeaking in her teeny baby voice that it was time to get up and see what this Christmas thing was all about.  Yeah, I cried my eyes out during that part, too.

There was the voice of my father-in-law, Custy, who we lost the year before Bean died; and my beloved dog Lucy, who died at the ripe old age of nine when Brighid was about seven.

In the video was my sister Megan, who has grown up to be a beautiful, amazing, and incredibly strong woman; but she’s only 13 in the video.

And there are pictures of my Mom – even younger than she is in the photo above with Megan – crawling on the floor with Baby Brighid.  She is a much healthier version of her present self in the video, and it’s a Mom I miss so, so much.  I pray every day she gets some of her strength and lust for life back.

My mom and stepdad

Christmases past.  The memories are as sweet as the most delicious Christmas cookies.  But the regret as real as that which Ebeneezer himself experienced.  We let too much get away from us.  In our efforts to wrap the most presents to put under the tree, or prepare the biggest feast, or decorate the tallest fir, we forget how valuable the moments with our family and friends will be when the moments slip away.

Enjoy each other this holiday season.  Put down the Wii-mote; turn off the television; back away from the computer; and as hard as it may be, place the camera on the shelf.  Live in the moment, love each other, and cherish the season.