How to Become a Christmas Maniac in Seven or So Simple Steps

What is it about the holidays that brings out the certifiable lunatic in all of us? Now, I’m not talking the beat-a-brother-down-for-a-Keurig kind of nuts, or that someone-pulled-into-the-spot-I’ve-had-my-blinker-on-for-ten-minutes rage, though they are both very real and valid types of holiday crazy.

What I’m talking about is whatever happens to us physiologically when we crack open that smelly box of Christmas decorations and prepare to adorn our homes.

Ordinarily sane and peaceable people would say, “What ever are you talking about? Surely, you’re mistaken! No crazy comes out of those boxes!” But, au contraire, my friends. Au contraire.

After a too-long trip out for cookie ingredients yesterday, I returned home to find myself foaming at the mouth – and not from my soy latte. My husband had taken the liberty of putting some Christmas lights up on the front of our house. He was given specific instructions: Put the lights up around the garage doors.

Unfortunately, he interpreted the instruction just a touch too liberally, using some creative license to zig-zag the lights across the top of both garage doors. Who does that??

When I composed myself enough to walk though the door, my eyes had already started to glow a rich crimson.

“What is that? WHAT IS THAT???” I demanded, with the restraint of a thousand charging soldiers.

I didn’t want to know what that was, really. An interpretive display? MANSCAPING? I wanted the lights AROUND THE GARAGE DOORS.

No sooner did I turn the corner into the dining room when I found lights snaked about a third of the way up the tree – white lights.

“I hope you’re not planning on mixing colors there,” I snapped, wagging a finger at the tree.

“No,” he said, “I just like the way the white lights look on the tree.”

I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

But the outside lights are COLORED!” I offered through clenched teeth. “You can’t MIX the COLORS!”

“Why not?” he asked, with all the innocence of a newborn puppy. And if I could have set the tree ablaze with my eyes, I would have.

“Because you CAN’T MIX THEM!

While I was at DefCon 6, mentally calculating both the social and emotional consequences of our unmatched Christmas lights, my attention turned to the decorations on the sideboard.

Should that basket be in the middle? What about the nativity? That wise man looks a little too close to Mary. He needs to be adjusted. Should I move that Yankee Candle? Is it too far to the left? Those kids need to STOP MOVING THOSE LETTERS. They spell JOY! If you MOVE them, THEY DON’T SPELL JOY ANYMORE!!!

I beseeched my husband to plug in the obscenity he called a light display outside, even though the strands were literally hanging in the air, about fifteen feet from the ground, with no extension or outlet nearby.

“I NEED to see what this looks like!” I scoffed, in my most socially acceptable driveway tone.

He dutifully climbed the ladder and connected three extension cords, one by one, in order to present them to Her Highness.

“Hmph,” I shrugged, “I guess it’s okay,” and stomped back into the house.

I had also returned from the store with a 52-, 56-, and 60-inch tree skirt, trying to find the perfect fit for ours, just as we had found the perfect spacing for the stockings, the greenery, and the ideal placement for the other eight similarly-scented Yankee Candles I’d been hoarding.

Magical.

Mind you, you can’t walk through the living room without stepping on a broken toy, a couch pillow, or tripping over a blanket. And there were a few days’ worth of mail piled up in the kitchen. And my daughter’s bedroom looked like it rode the teacups and then threw up. There was also, if it even bears a mention, some leftover stuffing on the floor from dinner.

But THE DECORATIONS!!

After stringing the rest of the lights on our monstrosity of a tree, I, of course, decided I wanted them to blink, so I proceeded to out pluck tiny bulbs, replacing them with mystical blinking ones. After a few minutes, I hated it all, and changed it back.

And the kids, with a little light prodding, put up their ornaments – not too high, not too low, not too close together. After a brief tree skirt fashion show, we were finished. The snowman was in the right place, the Santa was pointed in the right direction, and the garland was draped just so over the fireplace.

And then we oohed, and we aahed, and took pictures. And stood all Rockwell-style around the tree.

But there’s no garland on that tree, try as I did to find some that didn’t look like it was made at Mainway Toys. And it was nagging me.

And then the cat puked on my Christmas tablecloth.

But I’ve only yelled a little. So far.

That’s what the season all about, though, isn’t it? Joy, peace, and unconditional love?

My name is Stephanie, and I’m a Christmas maniac.

And I bet, deep down, you are, too.

tree

My Top (and Bottom) 10 Favorite Christmas Songs of All-Time

As I was driving this evening, quite literally, through the holiday bustle, listening to the holiday music channel on my satellite radio, I started to daydream. Don’t worry – I stayed in my lane. But I got to thinking about all the Christmas songs I love, and, conversely, the songs for which I do not have as much cheer.

So, without further ado, my Top 10 Christmas Songs of All-Time (and, ahem, my Bottom 10 Christmas Songs of All-Time):

 

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee) – This song is like popcorn for your brain. You hear it in the car? You’re bouncing. You hear it at home, you can’t help but dance. It’s fun. And no one can turn the word ‘couple’ into a three-syllable word quite like Brenda Lee. I challenge you not to get a sentimental feeling.

Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley) – I’ll admit it. I was never an Elvis fan. Not young Elvis, not old Elvis, not Elvis-on-a-Stamp. I just never liked the guy. I couldn’t trust anyone whose lip curled so unnaturally. That said, I love this song because it sounds like he’s singing on top of an overloaded washing machine during the spin cycle. And who hasn’t knocked a few back at a Christmas party and channeled Vibrating Elvis?

All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey) – This is a sentimental value song. I’ve written about it a few times now. Long story short, my family ‘rings in’ the Christmas season to it every year. The season simply cannot begin without this song. That’s just a rule. And, honestly, there’s nothing quite as intoxicating as the first few notes.

The 12 Days of Christmas (Really, anyone. Who cares?) Why do I love this song? Because it’s so damned long. You can wander off, get a drink from the water fountain, snag a few sugar cookies, and use the restroom, all before jumping in on the next verse. And it has a way of becoming pretty funny after, say, nine, when nobody’s quite sure whether the lords are supposed to be leaping, or the pipers piping, or something should be laying eggs. And then there are the people who get winded trying to sing all the way through. It’s a good time.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Burl Ives) – I love all songs – all media, actually – in which I can interject unsolicited commentary. Like a lightbulb!

Frosty the Snowman (Gene Autry) – Personally, I enjoy Frosty’s fast-paced life, the drama, the suspense. Will he melt away or won’t he? And it is a little magical to think about a pile of snow coming to life and cavorting with children. Let’s face it: We like snowmen. We just can’t get enough. (Author’s Note: The real reason Frosty was put on this list is because that’s the first record I ever owned. Once I got to this item, I realized that I would date myself by talking about the records I owned, so I decided not to discuss it.)

Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms) – What’s not to love about this song? The bells? The guitar riffs? And it’s got a hop in it, just like Rockin’ Around the Christmas TreeHow come no one ever invited me to a hop? Or bought me a pop in a glass bottle? Or let me wear his Letterman jacket? This curdles my cold cream and gets my rollers all in a bunch. You know what? Never mind. I’m going to stay home and wash my hair.

Little Drummer Boy (Harry Simeone Chorale) – This one is simple. It’s my grandmother’s favorite Christmas song. She used to get all misty when it came on, and say, “Steph, ooh, Little Drummer Boy!” and she’d continue, “Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum!” with a far-off look in her eye. It does, and always will, remind me of her.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (anyone BUT Bruce Springsteen) – This is one of the songs that we all learn as kids. In fact, I’ve started teaching it to my son. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, beats threats from and old man you don’t know, who has total control over whether or not you receive anything for Christmas. Nothing.

Silver Bells (Johnny Mathis) – I love it. I do. And it’s so melodic. Just fun to sing. There’s not much to say beyond that. Except that it’s about precious metals and shopping. How could any woman not love it?

 

My Bottom 10 (If I never heard these again, it would be too soon.)

1961 reissue, utilizing the animated makeovers...

1961 reissue, utilizing the animated makeovers for The Alvin Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Christmas Song (Alvin & The Chipmunks) – I don’t quite know how we came to love the Chipmunk voice. I’d like to think it was carryover from the ’70’s, maybe a little residue left over there, but I’m not feeling these fuzzy little freaks. And Theodore, with that godforsaken hula hoop.  Get a real job, Dave.

Feliz Navidad (José Feliciano) – Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. The first five times, it’s not so bad. We don’t know the words. We make noises that resemble the words. We sound like complete fools. And once you hit the tenth or eleventh time, the madness begins to set in. Especially in a store. And you can’t turn it off in a store…

Last Christmas (Wham!) – Christmas heartbreak, as extolled so geniusly by George Michael. Though I was also given a Wham! record, I can’t say I was ever a fan. I was always more confused by him than anything else. I remember standing in a record store, in the mall, just staring at the cover of his Faith album. I was about nine. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.  Hey, George! Quit your bitching! The future shall bring many conquests.

Do They Know It’s Christmas (Band Aid) – Another gem from 1984, where the mega rich come together to beg for money to feed the poor. You know what else you could have done? Wrote them a check. Would have saved us twenty-eight years of grief. (Love you, Bono! Call me!)

Happy Christmas (John Lennon & Yoko Ono) – Never a Beatles fan. I know, I know. Sacrilege. And never, ever a Yoko fan. I’m glad Vietnam ended. I truly am. It was a long and miserable time for this country. But I don’t need (or want) to commemorate it every December. I just don’t. We should leave this one to the history books.

Merry Christmas Darling (The Carpenters) I just never got into The Carpenters. And a big, fat NO to every version henceforth. This song just – How you say? – sucks.

Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey (Lou Monte) – Never heard this song? It’s a treat. Do look it up. In the meantime, I will try my level best not to launch into a rant. This song is pretty popular around these parts, since a lot of Italians literally dropped anchor here, and count this little gem as part of their Christmas tradition. This song is about a loud, annoying donkey who enjoys kicking. And the guy swings in and out of Italian during the song. It’s a marscapone-covered train wreck. Stare at it for a little while, and then move along.

The Christmas Song (Nat ‘King’ Cole) – ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ is a phrase I have no interest in hearing. Ever. Again.

Silent Night (Doesn’t Matter!) – Let me qualify this one. I like this song. A lot, actually. Despite my having been forced to sing it hundreds of times in fourth-grade Glee Club. I’ve forgiven that. What I hate about it is that it’s one of those songs, you know, like I Will Always Love You or The Star-Spangled Banner, that everyone knows the words to, everyone sings, and most people butcher. Some songs are best left to the pros. This is one of them. Let’s let Celine sing it. That’s why she makes the big bucks.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (John Cougar Mellencamp) – This is another song I actually like. Kind of. I don’t like sexual undertones in any of my Christmas songs, as we’ve recently seen, so I’m really all set with anyone smooching Santa. My issue with this song, though, is a guy, in tight jeans, bopping his head and licking his lips, sweatily belting out the lyrics. I find it slightly revolting.

Santa Baby (Madonna) – When I hear Madonna attempting to purr and pout the lyrics to this song, I get an overwhelming urge to grab her lips and twist them until she cries ‘uncle’. Think she’s still into that sort of thing?

Freshly Pressed

Also featured on BlogHer.com.

Kix Cereal Introduces New Packaging to Encourage Creative Play, Plus Giveaway!

My family and I had a blast this past weekend with a few cereal boxes. I know, I know. You can have fun with anything if you try hard enough. But these boxes were different.

New Kix Boxes Available Exclusively at Target

New Kix Adventures Boxes Encouraging Creativity, Available Exclusively at Target

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New Kix Adventures Boxes Encouraging Creativity, Available Exclusively at Target

Featuring bright colors and either a jungle or undersea theme, including removable animals and shapes that can be built into larger items, these boxes scratched our entire family’s itch to create.

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Matthew was ready to create!

I had my children each choose a character to begin. My oldest son chose a monkey, my daughter chose an octopus, and her twin brother chose a fish. With a large collection of brightly colored craft supplies, our children got straight to work creating a place where their chosen animal might live and play.

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Of course, they snacked on Berry Berry Kix to keep those creative juices flowing.

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They helped each other, gave one another ideas, and were able to put their newly learned safety scissor skills to excellent use.

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Just a touch of glitter…

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At the beginning of the project, I’d resolved to ‘stay out of it’, only helping to open or close containers, or clean up spilled glue or glitter. But, despite ourselves, neither Daddy nor I could resist the siren song of googly eyes and pipe cleaners.

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Our end result was a glittery undersea playground for my daughter (the crab was made with a little help from Dad),

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Maggie’s Undersea Playground

a wavy ocean scene for her twin brother (with a little help from Mom),

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Michaels Wavy Ocean

and a colorful “play forest” for my oldest son.

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Matthew’s Play Forest

All in all, we (and I mean all of us) had a great time creating worlds for our new friends, munching on Kix cereal throughout. And we can’t wait for the next time, when we’ll incorporate stories involving these characters at kixcereal.com, written by Soleil Moon Frye, creator of MoonFrye.com and host of the Oprah Winfrey Network DIY series, “Home Made Simple“.

The new Kix cereal boxes are available only at Target, while Kixcereal.com houses the adventure storybook series, as well as fun craft ideas, kid-friendly recipes, and creative play suggestions for parents.

Want to do some creating on your own? Simply visit the Giveaway tab on the Stephanie Bernaba’s Blog Facebook Page to enter to win one of two creativity kits (filled with awesome, colorful craft supplies), a $100 Target Gift Card (yes, really!), and one box of each flavor of Kix (Original and Berry Berry)!

My kids were excited about (and love) the cereal, the boxes, and the craft supplies, which we plan to enjoy well into the winter.

Kix truly is Kid Tested, Mother Approved (this one, anyway!).

Good luck!

 

I was provided food items and craft supplies on behalf of General Mills/Kix Cereal in exchange for this review. All views and images herein are my own. 

Eligibility Requirements: Valid email address required to enter. Entrants must be US residents, and must be able to provide a physical street address. One entry per household, please. Entries accepted until 6pm ET on November 20, 2014. Entries accepted only through the Giveaway Tab on Stephanie Bernaba’s Blog Facebook Page. A winner will be drawn by noon ET on November 21, 2014, and notified via email, the Stephanie Bernaba’s Blog Facebook Page, and at @StephBernaba on Twitter. Winner must respond via email within 24 hours or new winner will be drawn. 

Not All About That Bass: I Never Asked to See Your Ass…ets

Somewhere along the line, the world got the impression that I wanted to see its ass…ets. I’m not sure how it happened, perhaps it was how I stared, for just a bit too long, like a curious cocker spaniel, or by my somehow inadvertently conjuring all the corporeal spirits to this world, but there have been more than a few hands full of naked bits wagging in my face lately.

And not the kind I want to see.

I get that we either are, or have rapidly become, a visual society, being enticed by this food picture or that, killer boots, and island getaways. When we see something we like, I’m sure the ol’ circuit board between our ears lights up, trying to finagle ways to make ourselves part of the picture.

But here’s the thing. Ladies – actresses, moguls, recording artists, quasi-activists – I hate to disappoint you, but if you have a pair of something, lovely as it may be, I don’t want to see it. And the thing that keeps me up at night is how you arrived at the conclusion that I might.

A few months ago, there was hullabaloo about Sofia Vergara turning slowly on a revolving platform, giving the world a slow-mo look at what she’s packing. And I don’t forsake her that, uh, opportunity, but I was more tuned into her jewelry than the pull of her dress. All in good fun, they said.

And then our flexible friend Nicki Minaj, in what I can only imagine is an attempt to distract us from both her name and her music, released her single Anaconda, and there we were, once again, gazing blankly into the abyss.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Does the music come out of there, I’m wondering? Because I’m not quite sure why I need to see it.

Just a week or so ago, Ms. Keira Nightly, whom I happen to find both beautiful and talented, decided to show the world as part of an interview with Interview magazine, what she really has under her shirt, as a reaction to all the ways her body has been adulterated by photo editing software. While I applaud both her message and initiative, I still didn’t need to see it.

And this week, in the mother of all visual assaults, Paper magazine released its winter cover photos, featuring none other than our best girlfriend and confidante, Kim Kardashian, letting it all hang out, or stick out, or just kind of hover.

That’s a lot of ass for one person to handle.

Now, you can tell me I have a choice, you can tell me I need not look, need not ‘feed the beast’, but avoiding this stuff is like ignoring a total eclipse of the sun, or two babies crawling after a fluffy bunny, or an adorable tiger-striped kitten, attacking his own tail. It’s damn near impossible.

And here’s the part – as most of you already know – where I’d stick in some body-positive banter, where I’d question how in the mothertruckin’ world a woman arrives at the conclusion that revealing each and every curve of her hindquarters is a sensible choice. Or talk about how I can’t seem to figure out how I might explain this phenomenon to my three-year-old daughter, were she to ask, today or in the future, “Why that lady gots no clothes on?” Or how we became okay with singing the praises of booties in the first place.

Right now (lucky us!), we’ve got a few anthems praising the proud Rubenesque, for example, All About That Bass, which I want to like, but still, still puts emphasis on the outside. We’re all beautiful. I get it. But being focused on and praising being bigger, correct me if I’m wrong, is pretty much the same as being focused on and praising being smaller, isn’t it? What if she turns out naturally skinny? What do I tell her then? “Oh, honey, I’m afraid that you – well, you’ve got the wrong junk in all the wrong places. I’m sorry, dear.”

For now, though, I sit, as I often do, defeated, because, just like a car wreck in the opposing lane on the highway, we’re going to look. And as long as we look, they’ll continue to give us something to look at (and sing about).

Bottom line is, you may have a plumper-than-average backside, and if that’s the thing that catapults you to stardom, fine. As a thirty-six year old mother of three, though, I’m going to have to go ahead and say that I’m not your target demographic.

Now, throw a few man parts in there, and I’d be willing to talk. The biggest kicks I’ve gotten lately have been from watching fruit dangle free during episodes of DaVinci’s Demons, and that wasn’t even this season. But, let me ask you something: Where are the waist-down, 360-degree naked pictures of Adam Levine and Usher? Where are they? And why can’t I see them? And why aren’t we seeing them all over the place? Moreso, how do we make that happen?

If I have to see butt cheeks all around me, please, let them be the butt cheeks of my choosing.

Better yet, somebody write a few songs about men’s booties. That should help get the ball rolling in the other direction.

Eight Hacks to Have You Christmas-Ready by Thanksgiving (and Away from the Mall!)

I’ve been doing so well this year staying ahead of the Christmas game, I thought I might share my tips. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Christmas-ready by Thanksgiving? That’s absurd! But, trust me, kids. I’m almost done. And there’s still time for you!

 

Sneak Around  

Start a sneaky layaway at one of your usual haunts (Target, Walmart, etc…), and while you’re there for your routine essentials/groceries, tuck a few items away. You’ll have everyone on your list checked off without ever having to take an additional trip, and also won’t have to worry about where to hide all those goodies.

 

Use Zulily

So easy, and products are added daily, but you must act quickly – items run out. I’ve been so lucky with Disney/Marvel items, toys, children’s’ clothes and shoes, and even, ahem, a few things for myself. Plus, once your PayPal account is linked, checkout is a one-click process. Sometimes the items take a bit to arrive, due to the process employed to acquire the items, but you’re always sent a notification when your shipping status changes.

 

Bake and Freeze Those Cookies!

Holiday cookies, I’ve found, in my ten-plus years of baking, hold up quite well in the freezer, even when decorated and/or frosted. All you need are rectangular plastic containers with covers, wax paper, and room in your freezer. You can mix up a batch during some down time, on a weekend, or after the kids retire for the night, and they’ll be ready and waiting to be arranged right when you need them! I’ve never baked during the holidays any other way.

 

Photo Cards and Gifts in Under 30 Minutes

Sites like Mpix (my personal favorite), Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, and Minted all allow you to create gorgeous photo cards and gifts. Many of these sites also let you create and save albums and import pictures from Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites. The process cannot get much faster or easier, and you generally have your items in hand in less than a week.

 

Get to Know Subscription Boxes 

I subscribed to Nerd Block for my husband last Christmas, and it’s literally been the gift that keeps on giving. The box includes a (usually sci-fi, superhero, or comic book character) t-shirt in your loved one’s chosen size, along with plenty of collectibles and unique gifts. He loves it, and the kids do, too. Not a nerd? You can order beauty boxes, food boxes, and even pet-focused boxes. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Birchbox Beauty

 

 

Try Home Shopping

Say what you will about those sometimes-kitschy home shopping presentations, but you can order large quantities of excellent quality items for small prices – I just scored two 8-piece Lenox ornament sets from QVC for under $40 apiece. That’s less than $5 per gift, and they’re individually boxed and ready to go. Great for teachers, neighbors, hairdressers, service providers, and surprise guests. Home shopping is also great for food gifts such as chocolates and Mrs. Prindable’s apples. Best yet, you can choose the Easy Pay option, which allows you to receive your items right away, yet pay in equal monthly installments. Home shopping is a winner.

QVC Logo

QVC Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Use Credit Card Rewards

If you’re like me, you have credit card points just languishing around in your accounts, collecting digital dust. My husband and I made the decision this year to purchase gifts at sites that accept points, like Amazon.com. Sure, it requires a little creative math, and multiple transactions (for example, you can’t use American Express and Discover points in the same transaction), but you essentially don’t pay for the items at all. What’s better than that?

 

Think Outside the Box

You can get a remarkable number of tasks accomplished if you simply think outside the box. At the grocery store for food? Saunter down the seasonal aisle and check out what’s available. Running into the pharmacy for some face wash? If an item screams GIFT!, don’t make a mental note, just pick it up. Trust me. It’s faster. And the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you see your list getting dwindling will pay for itself. Take a tip from Michael Jordan and Just Do It! You won’t be sorry.

 

The only thing I can’t help you with here is wrapping. You’ll have to figure that part out yourself. But I am a big believer in gift bags. Just saying.

 

So, get out there (or stay in!) and go for it! You’ve still got time! You don’t want to get trampled on Black Friday, do you?

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