A Christmas House and Neighborhood Tour!

I'm not ready for Christmas this year.  I still have gifts to purchase, I still have to wrap, and I haven't yet planned Christmas cards.  (Christmas cards are my holiday Achilles heel. Every year I'm surprised by the tradition and how I seem incapable of planning for it.)  But at the same time, I'm entirely ready for Christmas.  I'm ready with good cheer, warm blankets, and spending time by the glow of our Christmas tree reading books, slowing down, and playing games with the kids.  My heart is ready, and that's most important.

So, friends, in this spirit of festivity and hospitality, I thought I'd take you on a little tour of what's making my heart happy in my home and my neighborhood right now.

Let's take a moment on the front porch so you can check out my outdoor decorations.  I love using my vintage metal milk boxes as the background for seasonal displays.  I found these milk boxes on the side of the road on trash day last year, which made me feel as if I were in an episode of American Pickers, minus the bartering and the lengthy road trip in their van.

I also enjoy the natural touches, like the birch wood and small pine swag, both of which I found when taking a recent walk.

My decorations inside are simple, like this Fresh Cut Christmas Trees sign which I bought at Wal-Mart last year, my wooden sleigh which I found at a garage sale and spruced up with weathered gray paint and silver tacks, and a small faux Christmas tree from Target that's perfect to fill the sleigh.

Other Christmas touches in our house are subtle and mesh with our existing decor, like hanging a wreath on top of mirror,

or setting up a Christmas countdown on the footstool beside our front door.

In the kitchen, I updated my cafe curtain (find the easy tutorial here) by using silver and gold snowflake fabric. I'm especially proud of this project because I bought the fabric two years ago, but just got around to sewing it this year.  (If you've been reading here for long, you might recall that any sewing project is another domestic Achilles heel of mine, destined to take much more time languishing on my to-do-list than needed.)

Each year I add one or two new decorative Christmas touches, like this wall hanging I recently made by painting stripes on a plain canvas I already owned and then hot-gluing a wooden reindeer head silhouette, which I bought from Michaels.

Around the neighborhood, I also seek out the small views that bring delight, like this church's simple wreath that always looks festive against its white arched doorway,

or the Christmas touches on the local granary, a charming historic building that used to store and ship grain on the railroad line that abuts the building.

I sense this is why my heart is ready for Christmas this year.  As I wrapped up my fall semester and now plan for my spring courses, I've slowed down long enough to notice things.  (Not long enough to do Christmas cards, mind you, but at least long enough to notice that I haven't done them.)

I've even taken time to do things that I've only thought about doing in the past, like walking home along the railroad tracks rather than taking the road I normally take.  For the record, walking on railroad tracks is not as easy or charming as you might think.  It's impossible to find the right stride to match your steps with the spacing of the railroad ties, resulting in an awkward clomp-shuffle that's not entirely pleasant to sustain over long distances.

But still, it was an experience.  And during this season of Christmas, I want to soak up and notice the experiences, not just rush through them.  Even clomp-shuffling over railroad ties on a walk home, decorating the house, and maybe -- just maybe -- eventually getting to my Christmas cards.


How are your Christmas preparations coming this year?  Do you have any Christmas Achilles heels that you haven't yet completed, or any traditions or decorations you especially love?  Drop me a comment below to let me know!

Being Productive In All the Wrong Ways (an end-of-semester tale)

This is an accurate representation of my professional capabilities at the end of a semester.

We just completed our last week of classes, so another semester is almost in the books.  During the week ahead students will submit final projects, and I will spend my time grading and answering emails that ask, "What is my grade and can it magically become an A?"  In the meantime, I am becoming active and efficient in every other single facet excluding my professional life, resulting in the following recent misplaced surge of productivity:

  • Purging expired items from my pantry.

  • Improved arrangement of the salad dressings in my refrigerator using an arbitrary scale that considered not only bottle size and shape, but also salad dressing color.

  • Spray-painting a mirror that benignly had hung on a wall for years but suddenly no longer "looked right."

  • Cleaning of bathroom baseboards.

  • Rearranged bookshelves, filing cabinets, and desk drawers in my campus office.

  • Organized toiletries in my medicine cabinet.

  • Sudden desire to scour the house for items to populate next summer's garage sale.

  • Emptying old receipts from my wallet.

  • Gathering coins from my wallet, compartments in our vehicles, and the kitchen counter's change dish to take to the bank's change machine.

  • Deeply introspective analysis of all the shoes I own to determine which ones I regularly wear, which ones I only think I wear, and which ones have seen better days.

  • Ditto for my shirts.  And my jeans.

  • Discovery of 17 books that I'd like to read for pleasure.

It hasn't yet gotten so bad that I've given adequate thought to useful and seasonally-appropriate tasks, like planning or sending Christmas cards or making a Christmas shopping list.  Nope.  Part of the charm surrounding my end-of-semester cascade of productivity is that it only touches upon matters that have little-to-no urgency.

So, if you're looking for someone to organize your spices alphabetically or help you purge your storage closet, I'm your girl.  Drop me a line or visit my house where you'll find me doing something entirely unnecessary.

Steep Hills. Wood Stoves. Hallmark Movies.

I've made a point to take more walks lately.  Part of this might be to test the "there's-no-such-thing-as-bad-weather, only-inappropriate-clothing" quote as we plunge into the winter months and I attempt to master the art of layering.  I'm also adjusting my exercise habits to account for my injured shoulder. Even though I no longer can do push ups, overhead presses, or bent-over rows, at least I still can take a walk.

So, walking it is.

I have three standard walking routes from my house -- one out my front door to the right, one out my front door to the left, and another that I just call "up the hill."

It's a great hill, really.  The picture might not do justice to its steep climb, but when you finally reach the point when the road turns and then flattens, you feel like you've accomplished something.

The road, now comfortably flat, continues another half mile or so until it reaches a dead end.  During stretches when trees frame the street, you feel comfortably hedged in.  During the stretch when the trees have cleared for open farmland, you can see for miles.

Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, it's easier to see the few houses, discretely tucked far back from the road, that populate the street.  One is flanked by a mechanic's garage, a quiet business I never before had noticed until I smelled its wood stove and talked to the mechanic who was taking a break outside.

Wood stoves have to rank as one of the all-time best winter smells.  In wafts of smoke blown by the wind's fancy, the scent of a wood stove is a magical fragrant alchemy of a fire's warmth and the air's chill, and its heartwarming deliciousness makes me wonder if I inadvertently have breathed my way into a Hallmark Christmas movie, minus the ranch, the ice rink, and the spontaneous sledding.

The last time I walked my "up the hill" route, I snagged a small branch with winter-red berries to adorn the potted plant on my kitchen windowsill.  Each time I look at the branch, I think of the walk and its sights and smells, and it nudges me to come back again soon.

Steep climbs are often worth it.  I stumbled into my own Hallmark movie, after all, and it only took a mile to get there.
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