Christmas on Breaking Tradition

This year “Breaking Tradition” was the theme of our Christmas.

First off, we made kind of a spontaneous decision not to travel up north.  We made this choice for various reasons, and we will be making the trip in the summer.  This year, it was time to do something different.

So we were on our own for the holidays.  This the first time in our marriage that we haven’t visited relatives for Christmas, and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t depressing.  Drawing on our success from Thanksgiving, we created a holiday experience that was uniquely…us!

We wanted a real tree, but none of them were small enough.  So we bought the last artificial one at Family Dollar.

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The stockings were hung over the settee with care…

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Beanie got some “Reindeer food” from school, so she spread it over the bow to help Santa’s reindeer find us.

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Notice the low tide.  Boarding was difficult, even with the ladder.

Beanie awoke at 5 a.m. (yes we were up already, because we were so excited!) and chattered to us about the thudding sound she heard when the reindeer landed on the boat, and the sleigh bells.  (For those who don’t know, Santa comes through the hatch when he delivers presents to boats).  Finally, at 6, we let her open her presents.

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She had to open the big one first…


Because her stocking was filled with homemade mixes!

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My present came in a cardboard box with “Apple” written in faux-Cyrillic.


I had lost my beloved iPod to the depths of Clear Lake back in October.  Rob found a broken one of e-bay and repaired it to like-new condition.


Beanie has wanted a Hide Away pet, and we found a new one at the ICM thrift store.  That’s also where we found the Easy Bake Oven, for $4.



A shave kit for Rob.  I also got him a Maggard razor, but couldn’t find where I’d hidden it!  He found it later, stashed in the bathroom.


And a pipe rack, with a few pipes…



Beanie enjoyed her numerous e-bay and thrift store finds.

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Back when we lived in Michigan, Beanie had a suitcase filled with costumes.  Since she was outgrowing them, they got left behind during the move, and Beanie has asked about it many times.  So I stocked up on 90% off costumes after Halloween, and found a suitcase at Goodwill.

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After opening presents, we headed over to my parents’ apartment (they were in Michigan, so we were house-sitting) to enjoy some hors d’voures.


And yes, Beanie’s Easy Bake Oven and costumes came along!

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Every year that Rob and I have been together, we have made a cookie house.  We began by making them from scratch.  Then, after we got married, we started buying kits.  Now we buy a kit and hot glue it together!  Here’s this year’s creation, which is mainly Beanie’s vision:


So that was our Christmas!  Spending it on the boat got us thinking about our future and our plans, which still include eventually cruising full-time.  And while that is at least a few years down the road, we have started brainstorming ways to make that possible.  In that spirit, I have begun experimenting with various projects to use my writing to help support us.

As I try new projects, I will, unfortunately, be spending less time with you here.  But fear not–Journey to Ithaca will continue until the day we leave port.  (I already have my last post planned out, but that will be quite a few years from now!)

As far as immediate plans are concerned, our winter break is far from over.  Tonight, Beanie and I will visit the zoo and look at the Christmas lights (here’s hoping that it warms up and doesn’t rain!).  And tomorrow we’re heading to Houston’s Jellystone Park to celebrate New Year’s.  This campground is cheaper than the one at Canyon Lake, but our accommodations will be much more rustic.  I will be posting pictures.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday as well!  I will meet up with you in 2015.



Simplifying the Season


I used to describe the holidays as a “bucket of stress.”

I worked right up to the day before Christmas eve, I spent more powder than I could afford on plundering, I spent my week off marauding all over the state, from one gathering to another, and got scurvy from eating nothing but sugar. Me crew was feeling mutinous, and I couldn’t wait to get back to high seas!

Then, as I embraced simple living, I began to think, “There must be a better way.”

Of course, there was.  Over time, we began to stop trying to do it all and create a Norman Rockwell holiday.  Instead, we found traditions that worked for us.

And as I talked to other minimalists, I learned that I was certainly not alone in my efforts to rethink the holidays.  In hearing other people’s ideas, we were able to create a holiday season that was not just low-stress, but actually fun.

It is in that spirit that I am offering you our first Simplify the Season calendar.  From Black Friday until New Year’s Day, you will receive daily e-mail tips on:

  • Routines and Organization
  • Holiday Preparations
  • Family Fun
  • Minimalism/Decluttering
  • Mental Decluttering
  • Gratitude
  • Giving Back

A group of us have been working together to offer you a variety of ideas.  You will be receiving posts from me, but you will also be hearing from these bloggers:

Interested?  For only $1.50, you will receive the daily e-mail tips as well as a PDF version of the calendar with your last post.  The profits will all be donated to a charity, which will be unveiled later this week.

Let’s make this a simple, stress-free, and FUN season this year!

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Holidays Without the “Humbug”

The pictures are from our  night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The pictures are from our night of trick-or-treating in Clear Lake Shores!

The holidays–Christmas, in particular–seem to be doomed for failure.

We’re sold this image of a happy, idyllic family decorating the house as only Martha Stewart can do.  In the morning, the children wake up to a mountain of presents beneath the tree, and are delighted to find that they’ve received that toy they’ve been hoping for.  At dinner time, all of the extended family comes over for a visit (or they’re spending multiple days!) and is treated to a lovely spread that took hours to prepare.  And, most importantly, everybody gets along.


And we all know that this ain’t reality.

And so, in our frustration, we get grouchy and stressed.  We become bitter, we complain, and we take up “causes” in an effort to change things.  And in doing so, we miss out on the joy and fun that this season really does have to offer.


How can we bring the joy back to holidays without turning into a Scrooge?  Here are some tips:

1.  Let go of some of the expectations.  You’re not going to do it all.  So decide which traditions work for you, and create some low-stress traditions that work for your family.  Accept that it’s not going to be the Christmas you had as a child–change is inevitable.  We’ve ditched big dinners in lieu of pizza.  We draw names for gifts, or give only homemade food items. We make our own crazy decorations and keep the focus on having fun.


2.  Stick with the traditions that you LOVE.  I’m crazy about Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored-everything, the smell of baking apples, and cheesy seasonal movies.  So we do a lot of those things.


3. Plan for stress “hot spots.”  You know what stresses you out every year.  So plan a little extra self-care during those times.  Focus on delegating, get enough sleep, drinking lots of  water, and eating as healthy as you can.  For example, the trip to visit our relatives in Michigan can be stressful for me (although I do enjoy seeing everyone!).  So we stay at nice hotels on the way, make sure that there is a healthy choice at each meal, and make sure to focus on relaxing!


4.  Be patient with the gift “issue.”  We used to be greeted with a mountain of gifts at every Christmas gathering we went to.  And a lot of these ended up eventually being donated.  We gently explained our lifestyle choices to our families, and the gifts slowly decreased in number (or included more edibles!).  Things improved even more as I began writing about minimalism (and we stuck with it for a couple years).  Since we’ve made the move to Texas, people mainly  give us money, memberships, and treats.  Change takes awhile, so be patient.  And remember that they are giving you the gifts because they care about you.


5.  Be ready with gifts to suggest when they ask.  Your loved ones aren’t going to give you “nothing.”  So be ready with ideas.  Do you live near a children’s museum or zoo?  Would your child like a membership?  Are there any restaurants you love? People want to give you something, so it’s up to you to provide them with some non-material options.


6.  Accept that it is what it is.  Christmas trees will come out in stores before Halloween. People will trample each other at Black Friday, and the sales will start on Thanksgiving.  There is no need to get angry or stress over this.  You get to choose whether to participate or not.  I have to confess, I was kind of excited to see the Christmas trees, although we haven’t decorated yet.  And Black Friday?  We’re going to spend Thanksgiving at a state park, camping in a cabin.  So I’ll probably be making s’mores.


7.  Leave the politics behind.  When people are stressed, they get angry about silly things.  People celebrate for different reasons.  For some, Christmas is a deeply religious time, with midnight mass and “Silent Night” taking center stage.  For others, it has a more secular focus, with the emphasis on having fun with family and friends.  Some families celebrate Chaunakah and other families have incorporated ancient traditions from Solstice celebration.  It means different things to different people, and raising a fuss about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” isn’t going to “convert” anyone to your way of doing things.  If there is anything that every faith can agree upon, it’s kindness.  So let’s remember to use that as a starting point.


Begin with that retail worker who just wished you a happy holiday.  They’re not thinking about how great they want your holiday to be.  They are thinking about how stressed they are, at work during the most hectic season of the year.  Buy them a chocolate when you go through their line.




An Early Christmas Gift!

When I told people that we were planning on moving to Houston, they immediately began placing bets on how long it would be until my parents followed us.  I gave them a year.  My former principal thought it would be a matter of months, until they came to live closer to their only grandchild.

She was right.

After a phone interview last month, my dad accepted a position in Clear Lake, and they made arrangements to move into our apartment complex.  We didn’t tell Beanie, so you can imagine her surprise when they knocked on the door, Monday evening.


The next day, we helped them move into their apartment, which happens to be right next to Beanie’s favorite pool.




Beanie happily got reacquainted with her “Grandma toys.”


Do you remember Raw Meats?   Well, now she has a daughter, “Pink.”  (Note that Pink is white with black spots.)


We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents on Thursday.  Traveling to the other side of the apartment complex was MUCH less stressful than driving for hours!

On Black Friday, it was time to start decorating the apartment!  First, Beanie and I finished making ornaments.



We bought a tree with the ICM Thrift store, and Beanie was very anxious to display her creations on it!




I hope your Thanksgiving weekend was as fun and exciting as ours!

Life is too Short for Holiday Stress

Two years ago, one of my friends was talking about all the stress involved in the holiday season.  It was the usual family drama, the over-booking, and the anger over having to do too much, to give too much.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob's brother and his wife, on Sunday.

The pics are from our very un-stressful Thanksgiving celebration with Rob’s brother and his wife, on Sunday.

I rolled my eyes and said, “Christmas is a bucket of stress.”


And I was right.  It WAS a bucket of stress.  First, I had to shop and buy presents that we could not afford.  We went so far overboard, because we wanted to make sure that our presents “matched” everyone else’s, that they gave to us.


Then, I bought “evening up” gifts, so that one person’s gift wasn’t “bigger” than the next.  I kept some extra gifts on hand, in case someone gave us something unexpectedly.


It was stressful, and it took all of the joy out of giving.


Then, there was the food.  I gave everyone “food gifts” as well, because I thought they were sweet and fun.  But I went overboard, making orange cordial, breadsticks, biscotti, carmel corn, and spiced nuts for everyone on my list.  Not only did it get expensive, but it also kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to do the activities I wanted to do around our house.


And now let’s talk about the parties.


I worked up until December 23, at my old job, so we had one day to get ready.  We would do our Christmas, with the mountain of presents, filled stockings, and a large home-made gift for the Bean.  That same day, we would head to one of our parents’ homes to celebrate with them, before Beanie got a chance to play with her toys.  Then, within the week, we would see my parents, both of my grandmas, both of Rob’s sets of aunts, uncles, and cousins (one set living 3 hours south of us), and celebrate with Rob’s family at their home on Thunder Bay (3 hours north of us).


We wanted to be easy to work with, so we told people any date would do.  So, once year, that had us celebrating with my grandma an hour away from us, driving 3 hours north to celebrate with Rob’s family up there, then driving back 3 hours the next day to celebrate with his aunt and uncle who lived near us.

Notice the traditional cranberry goo....

Notice the traditional cranberry goo….

And keep in mind that we had a child with GERD and autism in tow.


While I tried to have “safe” food for Beanie with me (and “safe” food for me–too much sugar makes me feel really bad!), she inevitably got into the goodies.  Which led to misbehaving, tantrums, and screaming at night.


We didn’t enjoy the holidays.  In fact, we were so relieved when Christmas break was over.


Why didn’t we say anything?  Why didn’t we speak up, even a little bit?  Well…


  • We love these people.  We honestly enjoyed spending time with every single one of them.
  • We didn’t want to cause drama.  We thought that everybody would be angry at us, if we said, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”


We actually thought our solution was to buy a motor home, so that we could have a “home base” during the holidays, where we could have some consistency for the Bean, cook our meals, etc.  And that would have helped, but it became unnecessary.


Why?  Because some difficult events in our family, led us to change our celebrations.  And everyone became more comfortable speaking up, as to what worked for them and what didn’t.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Mulled wine in the samovar.

Now, all of our celebrations are in the same town.  (Well, except for the ones in Texas!)  Sometimes we have pizza, instead of a fancy meal.  And some relatives, we visit at other times during the year, such as our “Christmas in July.”


The result: I’m actually looking forward to Christmas!  We’re going to have some time to ourselves during our visit back to Michigan, and I’m enjoying the preparations.

We are enjoying the season this year.  Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

We are enjoying the season this year. Yesterday, Beanie and I made some dough ornaments!

Are the holidays stressful for you?  Here are some tips that might help tame down your activities:


  • See gifts for what they are.  Gifts are not an economic exchange.  They are an expression of love and caring.  It’s perfectly all right for gifts not to match, or for someone to give you a gift, without you having anything to reciprocate.  Just be grateful.
  • Start small.  If you want to give food gifts, then choose one thing to make for everyone.  Then, if time and money allow, make something else, to add to it.


  • Remember that they are your family, and they love you.  They just want to spend time with you.  Keeping this in mind will help when you need to set limits or make changes.
  • Say, “I’m sorry, that won’t work for us,” if it won’t.  If it causes drama, remember that the drama isn’t about you.  There is nothing wrong with refusing to run yourself ragged.  What you’re seeing is everyone else’s insecurities.  Figure out why they feel insecure, or better yet, help them to figure it out.


  • Say, “Can we get together at another time?”  Start a new tradition, such as Christmas in July.  Really, everyone just wants to see you, and they will probably appreciate the less-hectic venue.
  • Suggest ways to pare down.  Maybe you want to draw names for the gift exchange, or do a white elephant auction.  Maybe you’d prefer pizza to a fancy dinner, or perhaps you would like to just do appetizers.


The purpose behind all the get-togethers is for friends and family to enjoy each other.  So let that be your purpose!   Life is far too short for this time of the year to bring stress.

 Take some baby-steps now, and you will be grateful later.

Note: There is still time to buy my Advent Calendar.  In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, I am reducing the price to $0.99.  Come and join us for a less stressful, more joyful holiday season!

Welcoming the Joyful (albeit crazy) Holiday Season

Christmas used to be a bucket of stress for me.  However, over the past two years (here and here) we’ve learned to slow things down and bring the joy back into the season.

If you’re intentional, and clarify your goals and expectations, the holidays can be a very joyful time.  And this holiday season, I would like to share with you some of the lessons that I have learned, over the years, about practical matters such as minimalism and holiday preparation, as well as deeper issues such as mental decluttering and gratitude.

And so I have created for you, Journey to Ithaca’s 2013 Advent Calendar.  From Black Friday to New Year’s Day, you will receive one tip in your e-mail, each day.  The tips will include ideas for establishing a morning routine, fun family activities, holiday preparation tips, mental decluttering, gratitude, minimalism mini-missions, and ideas for giving back.  After New Year’s Day, you will receive a copy of the calendar in e-book format.

I am offering this calendar for $1.99, and I will also be giving 14 of them away.  I don’t believe in bribing my readers to write comments, so I will choose, at random, two subscribers each day this week, to receive their calendars for free!

Otherwise, please click here, to purchase your advent calendar.

Buy Now Button

Let’s make this the most meaningful and stress-free holiday yet!

And So, Happy Christmas!

And so, every year it gets less stressful and more enjoyable! We learned some lessons this year, and during our time off we’ve definitely grown as a family.

This year, we kept it simple again and focused more on enjoying each other, than on the stuff. We got together with cousins that I haven’t seen in a long time, along with their kids, and everyone had a great time. Friends and family have been the theme, and we will keep it that way.

Next year, we will procrastinate even less. We didn’t finish Beanie’s Moonraker model, but we will and she’ll get it then (and you’ll see a picture). We moved our Christmas celebration to the 27th, so we would have more time, with me not working, before then. Next year we will do the same, or even move it to New Year’s.

Anyway, I declare our holiday a success! Here are some pictures, from our celebrations.

First, we visited my parents and grandparents. And Beanie became a princess.

Beanie’s great-grandma Eileen made scarves for the three of us!
Rob was definitely being a mans man, with his new sock garters…
Then it was on to Rob’s family: “Grumpa” and Linda, as well as Beanie’s uncle Chris and aunt Kelly.
Dad and I both and planned on inciting a marshmallow fight, but then we thought better of it, considering Lindas nice carpet…

Up to my elbow in cookie dough--for cookie dough rumballs!

Kellys giving Rob "the look!"

Cooking with my "sister," Kelly.

Yes, hes in the kitchen!

This is Dads friend Linda, a welcome member of the family! (She also happens to be related to my early childhood "boyfriend," which provides us with a lot of amusement...)

Heliocoptors for the boys!

After that, it was time to head to Rob’s cousin’s house, for a get together with his extended family. Beanie had a little buddy to play with, and we all had fun!

Beanie found the cats house.

All right, do you remember the Swamp? We have a white elephant auction, in leiu of traditional gifts, at this party. And one year, before Beanie was born, Grandma Rosselit brought this hideous sculpture (that she’d won at a different white elephant) called “The Swamp.” Every year, the Swamp makes a return. Last year, I was the unfortunate recipient.
And then there’s “The Swamp.” Years ago, Rob’s grandma brought it to the White Elephant auction. It has been returning every year since. with new “decorations” added onto it. I picked a box that was not the right shape, but I didn’t see that, underneath, was written “part 1…” I do have to say it’s previous steward let some parts fall off, so we’ll have to take the hot glue gun to it for next year.
Well, this year, I was the lucky giver. I decided to make it so obviously the Swamp, so it wouldn’t get picked until last. Then someone would have the bite the bullet, and take it. I wrapped it in one of our homemade gift bags.
Well, I went first, then it was Aunt Pam’s turn. She went right for my bag! I was biting my lip and had tears in my eyes, as she opened it…

She struggled with the ties, and Rob said, “That’s one of my bags, but I didn’t tie it so tight.” I said, “Oh I did.” Everything in the room stopped, and Aunt Pam asked, “YOU did?” Everyone, remembering what gift I had received last year, burst out laughing. When she opened it, I was practically rolling on the floor!

We added a picture frame, so she can put whomever she wants into the swamp. Why am I afraid it will be me?

The rest of the party was fun, and Beanie especially liked Grumpa’s present.

With all of the parties, and the fact that my break started so close to Christmas, we decided that Santa wouldn’t visit our house until the 27th. We had a big party planned, but when the time came, we were ready to take it easy.

Then, in the evening, it was time to open the gifts! We didn’t finish Beanie’s model of Moonraker, but she will get that when it’s done. No need for an arbitrary deadline.

Candyland for Beanie!

Battling tanks for Rob and me. We dont have our fencing gear yet, so this will be one way to dual!

Some anime for Rob!
Beanie’s new look!


Vintage Little People toys for Beanie.

And the big gifts. For Rob, I bought tickets to “A Prairie Home Companion,” in Madison, Wisconsin, in January. This is a midwestern US public radio show, so here is their website, if you haven’t heard of it. My parents are covering the airfare, and baby-sitting.

Rob’s gift to me arrived earlier in the day. We’ve had an old piano for years, and it’s never been properly tuned. So it is basically unplayable. Today, the piano tuner arrived and went to work! I’m very rusty with my playing, but I know music is not about being the best. Still, give me a week or so. Then I’ll play for all of you.

So, it was a good Christmas. Now we begin the New Year, which is really just the countdown to launch day…We’re coming up on the home stretch, folks!

In the words of Jean, Rob’s mom, watching from above: “And may God bless us, every one!”

Saturday Simple Playtime: First Day of Christmas Break!

Anyway you slice it, it’s been a stressful two weeks.

Dealing with the aftermath of the shooting (although it happened more than a day’s drive away from here, there still were plenty of effects at school) and Beanie’s school issues have been enough to make me very, very tired. It was time for a break. It was time to see family and friends and just forget it all.

And fortunately, on the day that the world was supposed to end, we got our first blizzard. My break began early.

It was time to celebrate. This day needed to be extra special.

After a breakfast of fake crab and butter (hey, who says you can’t have that for breakfast?), we headed into Midland for Beanie’s therapy. Since I did not have to work, this was a mommy-daughter date!

Colleen, Beanie’s new OT, got to start the day off.

Here are some videos from her OT session: OT Obstacle Course and Red Rover!Then it was time to play on the ball with her PT, Adam. Video: On the Ball in PT.

And speech with Jenna. (Mommy was included in the fun!)

Here is a video from speech: Fun Speech Therapy Session.
After that, we enjoyed some Sushi for lunch (yes, it’s a splurge, AND an addiction for me, but today was a special occasion!), as well as some wonderful Miso soup. Then it was time for a trip to the Santa house.

Midland has a gorgeous Santa house, and Beanie loved her visit.

Here is a very short video from the Santa House.
It was a wonderful day, and a great kick-off to the season.

Remember, that any day can be something special, if you choose to make it such.

Merry Christmas (and the Best Gift Ever)

Before I begin, I think I really need to address the recent tragedy, here in the States. My prayers are definitely with the families of the victims of the shooting in Connecticut. I’ve not written a post about it, deliberately, because I think any effort to make it about us–about me–would be disrespectful. Yes, I am certain we can expect to see policy changes and political debates as a result of this, but now is not the time for those discussions. Right now, we just need to keep those families in our thoughts and prayers. It was a senseless tragedy–a horrific, random act.

Tonight, we’re getting ready for Christmas. Usually, we buy our tree on Christmas Eve, but we thought we would procrastinate less this year. So, off to Quick Stop–the only place in town that sells trees–we headed, hoping to spend a few bucks on a Scotch pine. Unfortunately, the other tightwads beat us to it, so we ended up getting a fir. It is by far the nicest Christmas tree we’ve ever had, and it might even keep its needles until the New Year!

Beanie was charged with decorating it. Notice the “Christmas bunny” underneath it. He is an Easter toy, that somehow got mixed up in the laundry basket that holds our Christmas decorations.

After the decorating was done, we turned off the lights, so we could enjoy the lights on the tree. We have glasses that make words, such as “Noel” appear around the lights. Beanie had a great time with these!

She was also VERY happy to see her Nativity set again. It might be time to get her a book about the Christmas story.

We went to our first Christmas party yesterday, with my dad’s side of the family. Beanie had a lot of cousins to play with, which made her very happy. And my cousin had the honor of giving the Bean her first Barbie doll (don’t worry, it’s not an actual Barbie brand doll!). Barbie has now been traveling around the basement, mainly playing on the pool table. Beanie’s a happy kid.

Rob and I got what will probably be the best Christmas gift we’ve been given–ever. Check this out:

Yes, my grandma and aunt printed off all of my blog posts from our time on Moonraker, from the summers of 2011 and 2012, and bound them. We now have a hard copy of our adventures, for share and enjoy!

(Yes that was the post from the first day of our 2011 adventure. Thank you, Grandma and Auntie Annie!

And I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday preparations. This is looking to be the best Christmas ever.

Saturday Simple Playtime: Seasonal Activities

If you simplify the holidays and get your Christmas shopping done early, you will have time to do the seasonal activities that you remember from your childhood! In December, we’re going to try to do at least one fun, winter activity each week. Here are some ideas:

–Make a cookie house.

–Build a snowman.

–Make paper snowflakes. Here are some patterns.

–Make Christmas cookies. Be sure to involve everyone in the decorating!

–Dance to your favorite Christmas songs.

–Watch some classic Christmas movies, such as Rudolf or The Grinch.

–Make dough ornaments.

–String some popcorn.

–Take a walk or drive and look at the Christmas lights.

–Make a count-down-to-Christmas chain. Be sure to remove a link everyday!

What activities do you enjoy doing, for the holidays?