Photo Friday

Not Christmas exactly but the days leading up to which are really the most exciting!

Apparently Santa was staying at the historic Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.

No snow while we were in Flagstaff but we found some leftovers in the shady areas.

The North Pole, really!  We went through the magic tunnel to get there!

Not our actual train.  This one is retired and just does photo shoots for the Grand Canyon Railway.  🙂

Cookies for Santa.  I love the single eye on the tree.

The Elf’s last hangout spot before heading home.

Keep your focus!

Christmas Movies

I didn’t intend to write a post about Christmas movies, for the most part I watch the standard fare, “Elf”, “Love, Actually”, “Christmas in Connecticut” etc.  But I did think about two perhaps less well known films I love and thought I would share just in case you are looking for something “new” to watch.

“The Preacher’s Wife” is from 1996  with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston and directed by Penny Marshall.  This is a remake of “The Bishop’s Wife” with Cary Grant and Loretta Young.  Of course I love the original (Cary Grant!!) but I love the remake just as much.  Dare I say, maybe even a tad more?  The story is the same, but the movie is not. You could watch the two movies back to back and not be bored with the same plot. The remake is funnier and of course there is some nice singing with Whitney Houston.  Lionel Ritchie even makes an appearance and Gregory Hines does a good job as the greedy guy.  This movie will make you laugh a little and feel good. And let’s be honest, Denzel is pretty easy on the eyes!

The second movie is “The Man Who Saved Christmas” from 2002.  This stars  Jason Alexander (George from ‘Seinfeld’) and is set during World War I. The story is based on a real person and a “true story”.  I suspect there is a kernel of truth but I think much of the story has been “Hollywood-ized”.  That being said I still  loved seeing how Americans lived during the early 1900’s.   This is not your typical fluffy Christmas fare.  It takes place during WWI so it is not all sunshine and roses and that is what I like about it, it is real. Just like real life there are highs and lows in the movie. It is good to remember all the sacrifices that were made in the very early part of the 20th century so that we can enjoy our freedom today.  This is a made for tv movie that I have on DVD. You can buy it at Amazon or check with your local library, they may have a copy for lending!

The 12 Days of Christmas

We celebrate the whole 12 days of Christmas in our house.  I usually do some sort of theme.  Last year we did activities which I wrote about here, here and here.  In the past I have done books, candy , and once I tried to match the gift to the song (pineapple rings for dessert for 5 Golden Rings, a DVD of the Rockettes for 9 Ladies Dancing etc). 

This year I decided to skip the theme in an attempt to make things easier for my hormonally demented self.  So I am doing a mix of candy, activities and gifts. I have decided to reuse my Harry and David 12 Days container from two years ago.  For the items that won’t fit in a drawer I will leave a note instead with a clue as to where the gift is hidden.  My son loves hide and seek! Some of the gifts are just for him (attempts to keep him entertained the long two week break from school) and some are for the whole family.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree:  The Hogwart’s version of “Clue”.  I am going to hide it in the laundry room with the other board games, which include a traditional version of “Clue” and the clue is going to be ‘Clue’.  Fiendishly clever I know!

Two Turtle Doves:  Two turtle candies.

Three French Hens:  Three Hershey Kiss bath bombs.

Four Calling Birds:  A humming bird feeder (you know, to ‘call the birds’ to us).

Five Golden Rings:  I confess this gift may be a bit skewed towards something I wanted –

Six Geese-a-laying:  A ten dollar gift certificate for each of us to Bookman’s (used bookstore) and a note saying we are also going out to lunch.

Seven Swans-a-Swimming:  Since this is New Years’ Eve I thought it would be a good night to do our mother-son sleepover by the Christmas tree.

Eight Maids-a-Milking:  Eight caramel candies for us to share.  I like that we have a Brach pick-a-mix at the commissary so I can get the exact number I need and not have extra candy in the house.  (The low carb start is looming!) And calendars to celebrate the start of 2019.

Nine Ladies Dancing:  My son and I will do an art project together.  I bought some small canvases at the dollar store and I think we will go through the house and scrounge items to make collages.

Ten Lords-a-Leaping:  A make your own chewing gum lab kit. (I found it at World Market.)  Perhaps not the best choice for a day when we also have dentist appointments scheduled but c’est la vie. 

Eleven Pipers Piping:  Plan A is to go up the mountain and find some snow.  If the weather doesn’t cooperate than I will take him to a park with a good playground.  Hopefully one of his friends will be available to go with us.

It is possible to find snow nearby once in awhile! Rose Canyon Lake – Jan 2017.

Twelve Drummers Drumming:  I was a stumped for one last idea for a long while and kept my eyes open hoping something would grab me.  I spied “Bean Boozled” and thought this was just silly enough to be a perfect ending to the holidays.

So there you have it, twelve full days of holiday.  And for Epiphany?  Three last gifts with a Platypus theme.  Socks, a stuffed platypus and an adoption certificate for the World Wildlife Fund.  And then it is back to school, which I am sure I will be more than ready for by then!

Christmas Countdown Reading Time

It is now officially December and the countdown to Christmas Day has started.  My son and I each have an Advent calendar but my favorite way to count down the days?  With stories.  My number one hobby is reading.  I read in little pockets of time throughout the day and before bed each night.  Truth? Some days I leave to pick up my son from school a little earlier than normal so I can grab an extra few minutes of reading time in the carpool lane.

My son and I read a story together each night up until a few months ago. We were reading Harry Potter aloud together but that was going too slow for him. We still read a story some nights, but he is 11 now and has outgrown it a bit. (He pretends he does it now to humor me but I can tell he  still likes it, just not every night!)  For the month of December we pick up the tradition of nightly reading and choose one of our many children’s books to read aloud together.  We are starting with “Junie B., First Grader- Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May.)”   

This year I decided to read for myself as well, two different books for a Christmas countdown.  The first is Maeve Binchy’s collection of holiday short stories “This Year It Will Be Different”.  There are fifteen stories and I am reading one each night at bedtime.  Yes, I have read these before, a few times actually,  but I love this author and I love these stories.  Familiarity can be comforting at the holidays.

Once I am done with the stories I will re-read Jan Karon’s “Shepherd’s Abiding”, one chapter a night.  Ten chapters, ten nights.  I read this story every December, it makes me feel very peaceful and that is important after a frantic, errand and chore filled day.

I debated if I should start 30 November so I could finish on Christmas Eve but I decided to wait until 1 December and finish Christmas night.

The first coloring picture of the season, not too Christmasy, trying to ease my way into the holiday frenzy.

Feel free to steal this idea, find a new book or an old favorite, short stories or chapters and give yourself the little gift of Christmas Countdown Reading Time!


In some cultures January 6th is the big holiday for the Christmas season. This is the symbolic date on which the Wisemen reached Bethlehem and said hi to the baby Jesus and brought him some birthday presents. 🙂 Not celebrated so much in the U.S. but in our home we use it as an excuse to end the holidays with one last bit of fun.

First we go for a hike, symbolizing the journey of the Wisemen.   Second my son gets three last presents representing the three gifts of the Magi. And lastly we eat Mediterranean food which is close enough for me to something biblical yet still tasty.

This year we had some logistical problems with the 6th of January.  Everyone else had finished with holiday time and life was reverting back to normal.  My son had bowling in the morning and I had bowling in the afternoon and then my son and husband were going to a hockey game.  So we delayed Epiphany one day.  A little sad but not the end of the world.

Sabino Canyon finally experiencing autumn color.

After lunch on Sunday we went for our hike.  It was the warmest Epiphany hike to date.  I got a little “hottish and sweatish” in my jeans and t-shirt but enjoyed meandering along the scary dry creek bed and scuffing through the fallen leaves and catching a bit of autumn color. Sabino Canyon Rec Area was pretty crowded but we got off the beaten path awhile and enjoyed the bird song and solitude.

I have never seen it this dry before. Hopefully we will have some winter monsoons this year.

Then my son opened his last three gifts. I don’t buy anything extra or special, I just put three gifts aside when I am wrapping presents.

The last three gifts.

And then we had dinner and homemade chocolate pudding.  Which thankfully turned out this time because the batch I made for Christmas Eve did not.

And now the holidays are over.  For real.

                                                                                          The End.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Days 9 – 12

I love the idea of a yule log burning the whole 12 days of Christmas. Sadly I do not have a ginormous fireplace or a full time staff to oversee the 24/7 burning of a giant log. I thought about a candle but who would leave a candle burning unattended for long periods of time? Not me. So this year I went with a chocolate yule log from the the Vermont Country Store.  Each day we shared 1/12th of it.  It helped depict the passing of the holiday season in a tangible way. (But next year I really want to use an LED candle in some sort festive yule log/holiday way.)


Day 9

Today we went to the Pima Air and Space Museum.   The weather was a perfect low 70’s and we quite enjoyed walking around both  inside the hangars and outside looking at all the aircraft. We also enjoyed lunch at the Flight Line Grill.  A little pricey but the food was better than I expected.


The SR-71,  my favorite aircraft.


Lots of WWII memorabilia. 

Day 10

Today I let E choose what he wanted to do between two options: I could take him to Office Max to use a gift card he received from Santa or I could take him and a friend to a playground.  He chose the playground and spent a very happy two hours running around with two friends.  Again the weather was perfect, 70’s and cloudy which is good.  Even in January the sun can be uncomfortably hot here.

Day 11

Today we went to Bookman’s, my favorite used book store.  My son had a $10 certificate the store sent him on his birthday and I still had a $15 credit from the last batch of books we took there.  We spent a happy hour browsing and then enjoyed a late lunch at Beyond Bread.

Day 12

Today presented a bit of a problem.  The last item we had to do was find some snow at Mt. Lemmon.  Too much gorgeous weather means no snow. Plus celebrating this many days in a row is rather exhausting!  And my son still had some school work to finish. So I must confess we rather fizzled out today.  We opted for a jammie day with both of us getting our needed tasks done in the morning and then spent the afternoon watching a movie he got for Christmas. (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Long Haul”.)


How cool is this painted plane?

Yup, that is part of the plane!

So there you have it, Twelve Days of Christmas.  But the season is not quite over yet, next up: Epiphany!

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Days 5 – 8

I had to ponder a bit about how to set up this years’ twelve days.  Over the course of a few months I jotted down a list of activities as the ideas came to me or as E mentioned things he wanted to do. Then I narrowed it down to twelve and made little tags.  But I didn’t want to actually assign activities to days until the time was close due to weather and how we were feeling and other things that may pop up.  So I came up with the idea to put the labels for the days on envelopes and made all the tags the same size.  Now I could just slip a tag in an envelope when the decision was made. Easy Peasy.  Really glad I did it this way as I ended up switching things around a lot!

An example day.

Day 5

Today we went to the movies and saw “Wonder”.  My son and I had read the book together earlier this year so we were excited about the movie.  And the movie did not disappoint. I may have shed a few tears.  And I loved that Julia Roberts looked, not fat, but lets say “real”, like a real mother of two kids.  Made me very happy.  And small child enjoyed it too, along with a large popcorn.  He is a growing boy!

Day 6

Fiesta Bowl day.  Now when I planned out this activities theme we had not yet won tickets to the Fiesta Bowl.  So I had a bit of a problem.  Going to a football game is not really a treat for my son. I finally came up with a tag good for one junk food item (he picked red licorice) at the game and the promise that January 7th could be a jammie day.  Okay, January seventh is after the 12 days of Christmas but it is also the last day of winter break from school and so I went with it.  Flexibility is good and E was happy.  We rooted for our PAC-12 Brethren Washington Huskies who sadly lost to Penn State.  But it was a good game.

Day 7 – New Years’ Eve

Today’s theme was all about pizza.  We made pizza totally from scratch: crust and sauce.  I was surprised at how tasty the pizza turned out.  I bought pizza flour from Hayden Flour Mills and used the recipe on the box for the crust.  For the sauce I just added Italian seasoning and garlic to a can of tomato sauce. Simple is so often best.  E also got a pair of pizza jammies and the Lego pizza truck.

Day 8 – New Years’ Day

Today was play a board game day. It was my effort to get my spouse away from the television a bit and small child off the computer.  I was sort of successful.  My son did play outside with a neighborhood friend for awhile and then they played some games on the WII.  After dinner all three of us played a few rounds of Sagrada, a very addictive game we got for Christmas.


Four fun days left this Christmas season!

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Days 1 -4

In my house we celebrate the whole 12 days of Christmas plus Epiphany.  It started sort of by accident when my son was small and I had bought way too many gifts.  So I took all the arts and crafts supplies and parceled them out one day at a time.

Over the years I have done different themes:  books, matchbox cars, candy.  One year I bought a book to represent each month via a holiday or season.  One year all 12 books had a winter or Christmas theme. (I bought most of them used at Bookman’s so it wasn’t terribly expensive.)  For the candy I did one chocolate bar, two turtle candies, three peppermint patties etc.  At the larger numbers I used things like 10 skittles and 11 m &ms.

One year I got really crazy and tried to follow the song.  My favorites that year were fried chicken for dinner for “Three French Hens” and a pogo stick for “Ten Lords a Leaping”.

Another key piece is that the gifts are hidden and my son has to find them.  Some days I think the hunt is more exciting than the gift.

This year I decided to focus more on activities and less on stuff.  I am going for a balance of at home mellow days and out and about things to do days.

Day 1 – Christmas Day

Since this day is already pretty full I just went with the 12 Days of Moose Munch from Harry and David.  I thought the little bags of popcorn would be good to take with us on some of our outings.

Day 2- Boxing Day

Yes, this is the day we pretend we are British and have Christmas Crackers and something British for dinner.  This year it was Somerset Rabbit from Nigella Lawson’s book “Feast”.  I found real imported UK  cheese and mustard at the commissary.  Yum! Yum!  I will be making this again.

For dessert I went with box shaped cupcakes with a chocolate glaze.  Both homemade and scrumptious.

The Penguin is actually a Christmas Cracker.  You can find them on-line and usually at World Market.

Our activity for today was a sleepover by the Christmas tree.  We pulled out the sofa bed and spent the evening reading next to the tree. It is fun because it is not something typically done and it feels special.

The view from my one night only bed.

Day 3

After lunch at Chick-Fil-A (you know, three French hens) we headed to the Reid Park Zoo.  It was nice to get outside and it even seemed a bit wintry with a layer of clouds.  Chilly enough for a sweater it was as close to winter as we seem to get these days in the desert southwest.

Yes, I went with a picture of an anteater. I love how unusual they look and their coats are so pretty.  Do the zoo keepers brush them every morning?

Day 4

I opted for an at home day today.  I gave my son what will probably be his favorite day:  unlimited computer use.  To go with that I gave him his first Bitsbox.  I got him a one year subscription to help him learning coding.  I know coding interests him but I don’t think he has found the best way for him to learn it yet. Hopefully this will help (and keep him off Minecraft for at least a little while!)

I don’t think this is a calling bird but he sure is pretty!


Eight more days of Christmas are coming!  One must be patient and enjoy each day.

Desert tortoises seem to be pretty good at enjoying things slowly.



Today is the last day of Christmas for my family. Tomorrow the tree comes down and we start packing up all the decorations. I thought I would feel sad but instead I feel a great contentment.  I spent time this morning sitting on the couch drinking a mug of tea while looking at the Christmas tree and nativity scene.  One last respite before the hustle and bustle of real life returns tomorrow.

My son’s second full week of winter break has been busy and satisfying.  I relished all the time we spent together even if it has left me feeling exhausted.  While I will not mind when peace and quiet descends on Monday that doesn’t stop me from embracing our one last outing today.

Cool wisps of clouds!

In honor of the Wisemen’s journey to Bethlehem my son and I took our own hike.  We  went across the street to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and meandered around for two hours.  The weather: absolutely perfect.  I think the pictures say it all.


Our own “forest” of cacti.


Sabino Creek really flowing with snow melt.


Sabino Dam

Cheers to the end of a Delightful holiday season!