Christmas Traditions

December 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm , by

As much as I prefer summer to winter, I still can’t get enough of Christmas time. It’s the traditions – visiting Santa, finding the perfect gift, and baking cookies – that make this time of year feel so special. And getting to experience it all through the eyes of my kids is magical. Seriously, those two haven’t seen a Christmas light they don’t like while Ole Judgey over here (that’d be me) certainly oohs and aahs over the simple, clean white light displays, I also cringe and gasp over the ones with multiple colored flashing lights attached to plastic lawn ornaments. And that’s where my Christmas tree tastes come from. Let me explain:
For all the years I lived in NYC pre-Pablo I never got my own Christmas tree. (Jewish roommate + heading home for Christmas = just not worth it) I always hated the big colored bulbs my parents used and when I was an adult, my mom finally said “When you have your own tree, you can have whatever lights you want.” (Sounds a little snippy but this was only after I nagged her for years to switch to small white bulbs, so you could say I had it coming.)
When Pablo moved in with me, we got our first tree together. When we went to buy the lights, he grabbed for a box of multi-colored lights and I reached for a box of white ones. Um…was he crazy? How could I have not known this shocking personality flaw about the man that I love? You see, he wanted multi-colored because that’s what he always had in the Erneta house and I wanted white because it wasn’t what we had in the Owen house. So we decided that we would trade off each year. Since 2000, he gets the even years and I get the odd ones. (Looks like he won the first year which shows how young and smitten I was.) I figured this was a tradition that we would carry on for the rest of ours lives. Truth be told, Pablo does nothing to decorate the house for the holidays so I’m sure if the colored lights had some kind of tragic accident, no one would ever replace them.

But this year when we put the lights on the tree (my year, yay!), my 6 year old looked at me with sad eyes and asked why we didn’t have “the pretty lights with all different colors”. I re-explained the tradition and told her it was a “white lights” year. But, as I talked I could hear the cracks in my story. Why should Mommy and Daddy each get a vote if the kids don’t? That doesn’t seem fair. So, I fear this may be the last year of the white light tree.  Unless of course, the colored lights fall off a shelf in the attic. Nah – I wouldn’t do that. I’ve got to pick my battles and as long as the outside of the house is lit with white lights, I could maybe budge inside. I said maybe. Pablo keeps threatening to make the outside Griswold-esque and obviously, I couldn’t stand for that. Unless of course, he gets the kids on his side!

If you want to take a picture of your tree that’s all glowy and bright (and have a DSLR camera), check out this blog where I learned how to do it.

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Steal This Book! (From Your Daughter)

December 22, 2011 at 11:03 am , by

Maybe it started when you read to your kids from their Harry Potter books before bed—and caught yourself reading ahead long after they were asleep. Or maybe you swoon when you hear the name Edward Cullen (no shame in that!). Or maybe you’re more excited for the upcoming Hunger Games movie than your Katniss-loving teenager. In short, young adult books aren’t just for young adults anymore.

We asked our friends at Figment, an online community that lets teens and young adults create, discover and share their own original fiction, to recommend 10 books to snag from your teen’s bookshelf and dive into together—or  separately.

 1.       Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler If your daughter liked Handler’s Series of Unfortunate Events (written under pen name Lemony Snicket) this more grown-up offering—an artsy, intellectual, bittersweet take on teenage heartbreak—is sure to please you both.

2.       How to Save A Life by Sara Zarr When a pregnant teen and a mourning mother-daughter pair collide, they find healing in unexpected ways.

3.       Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos This is a fun read. It’s an unexpected mix of the absolutely true (there are pieces of autobiography scattered throughout) and the absolutely ludicrous, and a great family commentary that’s smart and hilarious enough to appeal to both you and your daughter.

4.       Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally If your daughter’s the type of girl who refuses to be relegated to one of the over-simplified, mutually exclusive roles of “girly-girl” or “tomboy,” she’ll love this novel about teenage Jordan Woods, captain and quarterback of her high school’s football team. Also recommended for anyone mourning Friday Night Lights.

5.       You Are My Only by Beth Kephart A little creepy and a lot moving. Told from the alternating perspectives of a mother and her kidnapped daughter, You Are My Only is a story of family, love and finding oneself.

6.       Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter If you’re enjoying Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra in your own book club, this fictional take on one of history’s most fascinating women will make a nice diversion to share with your daughter.

7.       When She Woke by Hillary Jordan A much more fun version of Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter—and a fantastic opener for a discussion of reproductive rights with your daughter.

8.       Chime by Franny Billingsley A National Book Award finalist and a beautifully written mystery, this novel about a guilt-ridden teenage witch is especially good for fans of fantasy.

9.       The Fault in Our Stars by John Green NYT bestselling author Green offers a poignant tale of living while dying—meaningful YA fare to share with a teen you love.

10.   Beauty Queens by Libba Bray For any mom worried about the media’s effect on her daughter’s body image—and for any daughter tired of lectures about “realistic standards of beauty”—this is a scathing, laugh-out-loud read.

Martina McBride Lends Her Voice To “A Home for the Holidays” Adoption Special

December 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm , by

Photo: Randee St. Nicholas.

If you drew Martina McBride’s name in the country music superstar Secret Santa and you need a last-minute gift idea, I’m so about to hook you up. “Everybody always says I’m hard to buy for, and I’m not,” McBride tells me. “Just give me bath stuff and candles, and I’m happy!”

What would probably make the Grammy-nominated country singer even happier this holiday season, though, is if you tuned in to the 13th annual A Home for the Holidays this Wednesday, December 21, on CBS. “I was really honored to be asked to do this,” says McBride, who will be hosting and helping the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Children’s Action Network shine a light on the more than half a million U.S. children in foster care in need of a permanent home. “It’s a really important show that is literally making a difference to future generations,” she adds, noting that some parents featured on this week’s show had been inspired to adopt from watching prior A Home for the Holidays installments.

The fact that McBride and her husband, John, are blessed to have a family with three beautiful daughters (Ava, 6, Emma, 13, and Delaney, who turns 17 this week) was specifically one of the reasons why hosting this year was important to her. “We kind of take family for granted sometimes,” she explains. “I mean, we decorated our Christmas tree last night and halfway through it I thought, think of all the kids out there that don’t have a family to decorate a Christmas tree with. And yet we take it for granted. We do it every year—it’s a tradition. It really makes you stop and think.”

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Can This Marriage Be Saved? He Used To Be A Hunk. Now He’s A Whiner.

December 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm , by

Here’s a couple with a head-scratching dilemma: Glenn, 47, has never wanted anything more than to be a stay-at-home dad. And when his wife, Sheila, 45, had twins three years ago, he got his wish. Glenn quit his job to raise his kids, and Sheila spends her days as a business executive, but still dedicates time to cooking wonderful gourmet meals for her family. And Glenn is quite ticked off about that. Huh? Read on; it’s more complicated than it seems. And pick up our December/January issue for the full story, on newsstands now.

Sheila’s turn: All Sheila wants to do after a long day at the office is come home, hug her kids and cook her family a healthy and tasty meal. She wishes that Glenn would appreciate her efforts, but no. He complains that they’re spending too much money on food; Sheila thinks they’d be eating PB&J’s for dinner if it were up to her husband. When they got married, Glenn was intelligent, rugged and ambitious, but now he just whines all the time. Sheila isn’t sure he realized how overwhelming parenting would be, and it shows. The house is a pigsty, he makes lame excuses to avoid doing things he once loved (like mountain biking), and he’s constantly negative. Maybe he’s jealous that Sheila gets to be out doing fulfilling work everyday? Whatever it is, the tension is at an all-time high, and Sheila is losing her patience.

Glenn’s turn: Glenn really hates Sheila’s gourmet cooking habit, but not because he dislikes good food (duh). He’d rather she come home to chat and unwind with him, not spend two hours over the stove while he’s stuck parenting alone. He has long days too—kids aren’t a cakewalk!—and also knows they need to curb their spending on non-essential fancy meals and hobbies like his mountain biking. Now he just avoids his wife to avoid a fight, so Sheila thinks he’s always off sulking somewhere alone. Glenn’s glad Sheila’s given him the opportunity to watch his kids grow up, and is actually happy with his new job as dad, but still feels short-changed. He’s constantly making sure everyone’s needs are met, but Sheila only blows up at him when he mentions what’s bothering him.

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They Really Do Grow Up Too Soon

December 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm , by

When my son was a newborn, I had moments—usually when I was feeling particularly happy and in love with my boy—when sadness would rush through my body, instant and palpable, like a jolt of adrenaline, and my eyes would fill with tears. It wasn’t the baby blues. It was the realization that life is short and fast and finite, and that these moments that were giving me such joy were fleeting, never to be recaptured. I’m guessing that my age—I was 43 when Scott was born—had a lot to do with it. I’ll bet 25-year-old moms are a lot less likely to draw a straight line between Goodnight Moon and mortality.

I’m able to stay more solidly in the present since those first days—no more wallowing in the poignancy of it all—but I have to say, it really does go by way too fast, just like the cliché says. In our September issue, we ran an essay on this fleeting nature of childhood called “The Long Goodbye.” It really struck a chord with readers, staying on our “Most Popular” list for many weeks. I’m not surprised: What parent can’t relate? And it’s a beautiful piece. If you missed it—or if you’re one of the many readers who loved it—here’s a video of writer Melissa T. Shultz reading it, with lots of adorable photos of her son. Get your tissues, sit back and enjoy. If you’re in the throes of holiday shopping and stress, this ought to help you get back to the spirit of the season.


What We Love Most About the Holidays

December 13, 2011 at 1:02 pm , by

Our staff here at Ladies’ Home Journal is not just incredibly talented, hard-working and yes, nice (hear that, Santa?), but they’re also a sentimental bunch. So we’ve shared some of our favorite rituals, memories and traditions below—just for fun.

Ever since I got my French bulldog, Smuckers, two years ago, my obsession is designing holiday cards featuring him in festive garb. (I use Last year he was an elf (a pretty angry-looking one); this year he’s dressed as Peeved (left), one of Santa’s lesser-known reindeer. Lest you feel too sorry for him, note that he was paid handsomely in cheese cubes for enduring the three-minute photo shoot. And if you think this makes me a little bit crazy, well…you might be right. But with a face like that, how can I resist? —Jessica Brown, features editor

When my son, Oliver, was 3 we gave him his first Duplo blocks. He loved them so much it started a holiday tradition, and we still give him a Lego set each year. He’s 19 now! —Jeffrey Saks, creative director

When I was little, my parents had one Christmas record that we played over and over: The Andy Williams Christmas Album. Now I have it on CD, and I love listening to it (no matter how uncool) because it brings back good memories of opening presents with my brothers. —Kate Lawler, executive editor

What I love most about the holidays is that my 85-year-old mom is vibrant, happy and healthy and is still around to share this special season with us. —Sally Lee, editor-in-chief

I always feel grateful at Christmastime (when I’m not cursing the crazy crowds, that is) that I live in New York City. This time of year is pure magic in the Big Apple! —Lorraine Glennon, senior books & articles editor

Ever since I’ve outgrown toys, I’m all about the cookies this time of year. Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Las Posadas. Whatever. I’m totally interfaith and multicultural in the month of December. Whoever/whatever you celebrate, I will eat your cookies. And, no matter how Grinchy I get in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the Charlie Brown Christmas album by Vince Guaraldi always brings a smile to my face. (And gets me dancing like a Peanut.) —Ron Kelly, managing editor

For me, it’s decorating the house. This year I’ve tapped into my inner Martha Stewart by putting a Christmas tree in every major room. My big helper is my 3-year-old, who likes to hang all the ornaments on the same branch. Sigh. —Susan Pocharski, entertainment director Read more

Can This Marriage Be Saved? I Wasn’t Excited About My New Baby

December 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm , by

Do you remember that classic Ferris Bueller line? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.” It’s truly a great rule to live by, and one that Amy, 27, and Sean, 29, forgot after they had kids. As Sean himself puts it, “Everything happened quickly. We got married, had a baby, moved halfway across the country, had another baby.” Now, with two kids (Jake, 3, and Ian, 4 months),  the couple’s connection is waning, they’re constantly fighting, and they’re dealing with other major issues they can’ t ignore any longer. Read the full story here.

Amy’s turn: This stay-at-home mom just had a new baby and has a lot of the typical gripes that come with the job: her husband doesn’t understand how hard she works, doesn’t help out around the house, and forgets the things she asks him to do (“Just when will Sean look up those flights to Seattle so we can see my family?” Amy laments). But there’s also a larger problem at play—Amy’s suffering from postpartum depression. She cries at the drop of a hat, doesn’t feel a connection to her newborn, and no one seems to get what she’s going through. Sean took a temporary leave of absence from work, and her mom stayed with her for a while, but now that she’s without them again, her anxiety is at an all time high. She misses feeling like herself, misses the satisfaction of working as a nursery school teacher, and misses her husband’s friendship. All they do now is fight, not to mention Sean’s mother meddles and makes back-handed comments about how Amy runs her household. Everything feels wrong, and she’s not sure her marriage is going to make it.

Sean’s turn: Sean just can’t figure Amy out. It seems that in her eyes he can do no right—she’s always screaming at him for something. He knows he could work harder at controlling his temper and could do more around the house, but he just doesn’t feel like he and Amy share the same special bond they did before. He knows his mother can be difficult, but Sean grew up with a physically abusive father, and is glad to have fostered a decent relationship with his mother later on in their lives, though she still denies the abuse. Amy calls Sean at work hysterical, and he just never thought it would get this bad. His secretary mentioned that counseling helped her when she had a newborn daughter, so Sean decided he and Amy should give therapy a try.

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