o n e | Christmas Bucket List | At the beginning of December, I posted a list of 10 holiday-theme activities that I wanted to do this month. I also wanted to try making homemade eggnog this year, but after looking at the recipe, I decided to skip it. Instead, we made homemade mulled wine. Here's how I did:
(1) Decorating sugar cookies is a holiday tradition at my dad's house for as long as I can remember and I love it, but I'm no pro at icing sugar cookies. I follow a number of cookie decorating Instagram accounts though, so in recent years I've become obsessed with trying to perfect my cookie decorating technique. I'm still a long way off, but the recipe (here) I used this year for both cookies and icing turned out exactly how I wanted them to--the best I could do. A few days before Christmas, I ordered a set of Christmas cookie cutters from Amazon Prime since I only had a snowman in my baking stuff in the crate. I made a second batch with snowflakes, stockings, mittens (pairs, actually), candy canes, sweets, and trees, but I forgot to take a picture of any of them.
(2) I saw the Christmas Market in the middle of November and I thought it was pretty cool as I walked through it back to the train station at dusk. I had no idea what it would be like in all its majesty. It was twice as long when it was fully set up and it was just so wonderful and magical with all the fairy lights on, the Christmas music, and the bustling Christmas shoppers. Luke and I stopped by one evening before church and split a 1/2 meter bratwurst and we each got a Santa's Dream, hot chocolate with amaretto, whipped cream on top. We went back basically any time we were in town the rest of the month and even got a drink--1 litre of beer--there for Luke's birthday. Last week, we had a Christmas Market date night and headed into town to finish up our shopping with a few stocking stuffers and ornaments and go ice skating.
(3) With minimal planning ahead, we were able to snag tickets to an evening performance early in the month. We made a date night out of it, dressing up--though not as fancy as last year--and going out to dinner beforehand. The performance (from the Royal Ballet) was different than the one we saw last year in a number of ways and we both really enjoyed the differences! For example, instead of having Clara fall asleep in front of the tree clutching her nutcracker, her godfather shrunk them both down until they were the size of the nutcracker, which made for a really cool set change.
(4) I did it, you guys! My mom has been making these incredible sweet breads for breakfast on Christmas morning for as long as I can remember. So this year I wanted to give her cream cheese bread recipe a try since I wouldn't be home for them. I was honestly terrified, and even more so after FaceTiming with her to get a few last minute tips before starting them on Saturday night. I made two batches of dough on Saturday night and got up on Sunday morning to finish them off. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and they turned out perfectly! It was just like being at home!
(5) I set out to watch 5 specific films: Arthur Christmas, Die Hard, Home Alone, It's A Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. I ended up watching them all but Die Hard, and actually I saw 9 new to me Christmas movies: Arthur Christmas, Deck the Halls, Four Christmases, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, It's A Wonderful Life, Love the Coopers, Miracle on 34th Street, and Scrooged. When we watched It's A Wonderful Life, I realised how much of it I've already seen between catching a few scenes on TV basically every year and all of the references and footage of it in other movies and shows. I'm so glad I finally sat down to watch it from start to finish though because even with that sense of familiarity, I still cried at the very last scene, which I hadn't seen before. Now don't you dare say that's a depressing moving! It's absolutely wonderful!
(6) I made gingerbread, sugar cookies, candy coated pretzels, molasses cookies, and cardamom sugar cookies this holiday season. I packaged up a good amount into a festive tin to deliver to our neighbours. The next door neighbours especially deserved them after collected 5 packages for us in one day and even snagging a package that had been left out in the open by a carrier so it wouldn't be stolen.
(7) My mom packed all of my Christmas stuff into my crate that arrived just at the end of November. That included everything I've used for my hot chocolate bar in the past, minus the Irish coffee mugs. We had to get hot chocolate and marshmallows, but we had plenty of peppermint. After visiting the Christmas Market, we decided we needed to invest in some amaretto as well because that was tasty! We discovered that one shot, NOT a double, is the perfect amaretto to hot chocolate ratio.
(8) Last year I took advantage of some Black Friday sales to get pajamas for Luke and me. I got a long sleeve shirt, flannel bottoms, and socks for the both of us and tied them up with a pretty red ribbon. This year, I only got bottoms and socks, but it still made for a cosy Christmas morning. I think this is one of my favourite traditions that we have because we wear our pajamas all the time and it always makes me think about that Christmas morning.
(9) I was so excited to discover that one of my Bath & Body Works candles was in with my Christmas stuff. It was the fresh balsam scent from last year, so it had the pretty, sparkly label. Sadly it fell off the mantle and the container shattered, but we were able to put it into another. Meanwhile, I found a wonderful candle at our grocery store of all places for just £2.50! Of course I got two.
(10) This was maybe wishful thinking on my end. In the past, I've done paint-your-own-pottery with a few women or gone over to a friend's house for some crafting, but that's usually closer to Thanksgiving than it is to Christmas and I just couldn't get something together before my friends' went home for the holidays or filled up their diaries with other activities.
t w o | 25 Days of Christmas Films | It was a race to finish, to be honest. Luke and I had a pretty busy week the second to last week before Christmas and didn't watch a single movie during the week, so we were playing catch up in the final days before Christmas, with about a dozen movies left to watch. He seemed pretty eager to watch them all as well and I'm really glad he didn't roll his eyes at the mention of another Christmas movie and instead asked, "Which should we watch next?" I think next year I'll change up my list a bit to include some of the other movies that we watched this year for the first time.
t h r e e | Reconciling 2017 | A few weeks ago, I saw on Twitter that people were jumping all over Taylor Swift for saying she couldn't have asked for a better year. It got me thinking about how to reconcile things when generally, it was a pretty shit year, but personally, it was a great year. There were honestly too many horrible things this year to count, from terrorist attacks to mass shootings to Nazis marching in the streets in the United States. With every passing day, it just feels so surreal to have to read tweets (and hear lies) that are coming out of the White House and watch diplomatic relations deteriorate with a number of countries. It's scary and sometimes I have days when I just simply can't wrap my head around what's going on in the world. But in my world, things are pretty great. Sure, I quit my dream job in May, but I packed my bags and began one hell of an adventure in England. I got engaged in February and I got married in September. We have our first home together (though it's a rental) and I get to spend every day with the love of my life after being apart for a year. I have so many things to be thankful for and so many things I can't take for granted. Every day I learn that the love my husband has for me seemingly knows no bounds and I just can't wrap my head around this kind of love. I think we need to be careful in criticising people who want to bask in their joys and blessings because sometimes they feel more fleeting than ever. But it's also important in those moments of love, when everything feels perfect and all is as it should be, to remember that outside our bubble there are so many people hurting and there is so much work to be done to fight for normalcy and decency. It's hard to reconcile the two, but in order to get through this season of false narratives, political division, and so much uncertainty, we need to hold on to what joy we can find and not try to bash it out of one another.
f o u r | Tax Reform Calculator | Just last week a tax bill passed that's going to effect almost all Americans, including myself. CNN shared a calculator that will tell you exactly how much said tax bill will affect you. You click some buttons so they know how you file taxes and then it shows you what will happen from 2018 to 2027. For example, it tells me based on the information I entered, "In 2018, your taxes will go down and your after-tax income will go up 3.2%. Looking to 2027, your taxes will go up, pushing your after-tax income down 0.2%." Those figures are based on what my current after-tax income is, which means in 2025 (making the same amount I did in 2016 and filing the same way), I would get 3.0% more of my income than what I do now, but in 2026, I would get 0.2% less of my income than what I do now, a 3.2% change in just one year. Try the calculator out for yourself here. (It may have changed with any changes to the final bill.)
f i v e | Farewell, Friday Five | When I first started blogging again about a year ago, I wasn't really sure what to blog about, so I started doing some monthly posts like goals around the 1st of the month and Friday Five on the final Friday of the month just to have some content each month. In my early days, the posts between were few, but in the last few months, I've been able to mostly stick to a three posts a week schedule. While it's nice to have something set on the "content calendar", it's actually really hard for me to come up with five things to post about that I haven't flushed out into a full blog post before. In recent months, it's actually become a kind of catch-all when I haven't had the time or the creativity to flush out a full blog post (like about the sexual harassment allegations out of Hollywood or even above, reconciling 2017. In short, I feel like these posts stretch me in ways I'm not really interested in being stretched and doing away with them will allow me to grow in ways that I'd rather grow creatively and blogly. So that being said, this is my final Friday Five post, after going strong for 12 months. I'm excited for what's ahead in 2018, both in real life and here on my blog!