Christmas in Alabama

Hey friends!

A quick tangent before I get to the Christmas bit: On Friday, my six year old MacBook kicked the bucket (for a second time actually) so I’m writing this on my new iPad! I was hoping to save up and purchase an iMac later this year, but given the sudden death of my beloved laptop, Ries and I discussed solutions and we arrived at the iPad Pro + keyboard conclusion. I still hope to get an iMac, but I work best outside of the house so having a portable device of some kind was really important for me, and I’m not a huge fan of the new MacBook (and neither are the reviewers.)

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We selected the rose gold iPad Pro (128 MB) with the Apple Keyboard and Apple Pencil. I’m sure there are things I will miss about having a laptop, but for right now I am really loving my new device. The Apple Pencil is probably my favorite addition; I’ve already spent hours doodling in applications like Paper and Adobe Sketch. I’m convinced this is how I’m going to end up writing and illustrating children’s books. (Just for the record, while being very creative, I wouldn’t call myself an artist. They are doodles and best when I’m not trying.) I’ll add an example below.

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Getting back to Christmas–I hope everyone had a great Christmas. This year’s Christmas was different than Christmases of the past.

Our first Christmas together was actually not together–Ries was deployed so we spent most major holidays including our birthdays twelve time zones apart.

The following Christmas we celebrated in Aiken, South Carolina where Ries’ mother, Polli, was renting a house.

Last year, we spent two weeks leading up to Christmas in Disney World celebrating the end of Ries’ enlistment, and then spent Christmas at Polli’s home in central Florida.

We spent the past year planning to fly out to Oregon to spend Christmas with my family, but due to a conflict that can be summarized with the phrase “no room at the inn” and astronomically high plane ticket fares (think a minimum of $850-$950 per person…then add a rental car, hotel, and food expenses) we decided to stay at home. With the pregnancy, the insane amount of traveling we’d done so far this year, our move, and Ries’ mom feeling terrible, we ended up not regretting it for a second.

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This was my first year hosting Christmas which was not quite as stressful as hosting Thanksgiving earlier this year. The biggest struggle with Christmas is that it has always been the biggest and best holiday in Ries and Polli’s year, and while I love Christmas season, I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas Day. (It seems an awful lot of pressure to put on one day.) That and combining extremely different family traditions is a complicated balance to strike–growing up, my family opened most presents on Christmas Eve, something supremely forbidden in the Murphy family; my Christmases were spent dressing up and going to holiday gathering after gathering–Ries and Polli spend the entire day, just the two of them usually in pajamas; my family had several Christmas dinners, while “Christmas dinner wasn’t really a thing,” Ries told me this year.

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I think we did a pretty good job balancing Christmas traditions this year and integrating everyone’s favorite parts of the holiday. (I’m not sure the apartment was as wildly decorated as Polli would have preferred, but Ries and I are building up our decoration collection.) A few of our Christmas activities included purchasing a fir tree (plastic trees are the creation of the devil); watching various Christmas movies like White Christmas, Little Women, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Lord of the Rings (a Christmas tradition for Ries), the live action Grinch, and Home Alone; going to Christmas Eve mass (a Ries and Polli tradition); Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas morning appetizers (an Amanda tradition), Christmas dinner–we were all so wiped on Christmas Day, we didn’t end up making Christmas dinner until the 26th, which was nice because it added another day to the festivities. All in all, I think all three of us were very content with how things turned out.

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The only thing I hope to do next year is to start celebrating the season earlier and to do more Christmas-y things in the month of December. I’m not sure if it was because it was our first Christmas in Huntsville or because I was still struggling with some lingering first trimester symptoms leading up to the week before Christmas. But all of the sudden Christmas was over and I felt like I still had a long list of things I wanted to do–I made sugar cookie dough, but we didn’t get around to rolling out, cutting out, baking or decorating the cookies. And one of these years, I’m going to get into making really elaborate gingerbread houses from scratch. It’s going to happen, people….

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Oh! Note to future Amanda: Make your Christmas shopping list before Thanksgiving! This year I kept thinking, “I have plenty of time to go shopping,” and then boom, it was the week of Christmas and I had nothing. The Tuesday before Christmas I spent going from store to store at the mall and ended the night at Target at about eight, which drained my collective energy pool for the rest of the week, and in all honesty, there’s not much at big stores I want to give people. I much prefer getting unique gifts from small businesses.

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I think the highlight of my Christmas was getting Ries a gift he absolutely was not expecting. Ries and I are very particular people when it comes to receiving gifts. That probably sounds rude, but we don’t like people spending money on gifts that we’ll sooner or later send to Goodwill. (Sorry guys, apartment living = limited space and we went totally Marie Kondo when we moved and have no desire to clutter our living space back up.) We are very intentional buyers–we buy high quality products that will last us forever, rather than cheap products we will soon replace; we like to read reviews on everything we buy; and if we don’t need it or really actively want something, we won’t buy it. We don’t think it’s worth it to surround ourselves with anything we don’t LOVE. So when it comes to buying gifts for us (or each other) it is really difficult.

Ries has loved watches for as long as I can remember. He has a beautiful Swiss made, sterling silver pocket watch, but has been looking at arm watches for the past year. I was at the mall and remembered on one of our first trips to Huntsville he’d seen a watch at Fossil that he’d liked. I just happened to take a photo of it, popped into Fossil and it was still there, so I did something very risky and bought him the watch (after of course reading several forums on the quality of Fossil watches.) Christmas morning when we were exchanging gifts, he opened it and absolutely loved the watch. I told him multiple times we could return it or go look at the other watches Fossil had to offer, but stopped offering these things Christmas night when we went to bed and I saw he’d placed his new watch next to his pillow.

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Being able to give him something he was so surprised and delighted by was one of the highlights of my year. I always have a hard time buying presents because I always feel they are gumball trinkets in comparison to everything a person I love has given me. Ries is always giving and taking care of me so selflessly, the watch was just a small way of saying thank you for being such a loving and nurturing figure in my life.

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I hope you all had a great Christmas and the first day of 2017 has treated you kindly. Like always, I sat down to “write a short post–it’s going to be mostly photos,” and this was the result.

Love always,

-A