12 Days of Christmas: Decorations (Day 3)

Christmas is such an awesome time for my inner Martha Stewart and home decoration expert. Did you know that I daydream of being an interior designer?
However, back to Christmas…. I try to keep the decorations simple and tasteful, thinking more is less. And the truth to be told, I haven’t had too much to work on the decorations this year. Yes, I do enjoy the obnoxious, colorful, blinking and flashing Christmas lights – as long as they are not on my yard (or my neighbor’s yard). There are a few houses nearby where the lights are synchronized to the music played by a local holiday radio stations….. adorable, fun to see but a little bit too much to live in/nearby.

This year our decorations have consisted of two Christmas trees, several poinsettias inside and out (yay for Tennessee living and exceptionally warm December!), garlands, and then of course bathrooms and kitchen have holiday towels, soaps, …. also this year I managed to find Scandinavian style candelabras and a Swedish angel chimes. For our large staircase my initial idea was just to have garlands with some bows but then I started to wonder what I could do with all the Christmas cards we receive. Then I saw an idea of using cloth pins for attaching the cards to garlands, and voilà! Got some tiny cloth pins and glitter spray paint from Hobby Lobby, and the card display was done!
Also our light fixtures got some Christmas bling: basic red ornaments and a little piece of ribbon make miracles. I hung the ornaments up on the chandeliers, and the festive look was done in a few seconds. Yes, sometimes less is more….

What kind of decorations did you put up for this Christmas? What is your favorite holiday ornament?







12 Days of Christmas: Holiday Travels (Day 4)

flights_cancelled For over 30 years I have been lucky with my holiday travels. No major delays, cancellations, nothing. So it  had to happen at some point….

Today Jason and I were heading to Chicago for a quick day trip. Our plan was to have our traditional Christmas lunch at Macy’s Walnut Room , as well as check out the Christkindlmarket and enjoy ice skating at Millennium Park . Our adventure actually started already yesterday afternoon when I got emails and text messages from United telling that our flight next morning was cancelled, and we were rebooked on a later flight. However, we wanted to get to Chicago as early as possible so I changed our flight to very early 5:30am departure, and we booked a room at an airport hotel so that we wouldn’t need to hit the road miserably early in the morning.

At the end of the day we headed to Nashville, dropped the dog off at a puppy hotel, and checking in at our hotel. We ended up to having a couple of drinks in the hotel’s lobby and when returned to the room, found out that our early morning flight was cancelled too. This time we were rebooked on the last flight of the day ….. there went the plan to have lunch and do some shopping. After talking to United folks, making some plans, and talking to United again we figured there was no guarantees at all for us to get to Chicago, or back, today. So there we were, staying at the airport Holiday Inn for nothing. It was funny and not so funny at the same time – but after all we were just laughing at our bad luck: what could you expect if your room is on the 13th floor…?!

As the highest-tier frequent flyers with United we got extraordinary service with our reservations, were placed on top of the standby lists, and eventually were able to change the flights a few days later: after Christmas sale works for me too! Although I was (and still am) a bit bummed about not being able to visit Christkindlmarket but there is always next year. However, this made me think how miserable it can be for people who don’t have the high-level frequent flyer statuses when the travel plans go badly wrong. Those travelers truly are on their own, and can only hope and wish that the airline comes up with a useful plan B quickly. I hope your Christmas travels go smoothly – wherever you may be heading to.

Do you have not-so-great holiday travel experiences?

12 Days of Christmas: Christmas Letter (Day 5)

133181838365523672christmas letter-hi Have you received Christmas letters this year? Do you write your own?

If you ask from me, I don’t think there is a better way to share past year’s news than in a Christmas letter. It gives a lovely personal touch to the Christmas cards and greetings we send. In the past I used to write every single – nearly hundred –  Christmas letters by hand but it became somewhat time-consuming task. While I absolutely love the handwritten notes (and have a serious addiction to the high quality fountain pens ), I am hoping the recipients enjoy the computerized penmanship as far as the letters go…. maybe next year brings time for handwritten letters again.

But how to write a Christmas letter ….? Over the years I have received letters that make me say “wow” in good and bad. Some make me wonder what the point is (beyond excessive bragging). Some of them are totally obnoxiously annoying. And then there are the gems: very sweet and warm, sharing Christmas spirit and happiness. Those are the letters written in the friendliest style ever, they bring that happy smile on your face, and you think  I am lucky to know these people .


Quite a few friends of mine have thought about Christmas letter but often get stuck with a writer’s block when it is time to get the words on the paper. So here are some thoughts about Christmas letters …. what to say or not, simply based on my personal experiences as a writer and reader of them.

1. Write in one (your own) voice : usually it is one family member writing the letter, so for keeping the letters easy to read, write in I form, and tell about the other family members’ news without changing the voice. It is totally fine to say ” I started a new hobby, and John got a new job “. It sounds silly to write in the third person the whole letter.

2. Reality check! Avoid sugarcoating as well as melancholy. Be yourself, nice, friendly you. Tell about your real life.

3. No bragging.  Whatever you do, do not brag. Like seriously, do not brag. It’s totally fine and expected to tell about good things that have happened over the year. Everyone has successes in their year, and Christmas card readers want to read about those but, really, don’t make yourself or your family members sound like they are perfect beyond perfect. No one wants to read a whole letter about your/your husband’s/your child’s promotions, excellent grades, [just fill in the blank] …. So write about the good news in a happy, positive tone but remember to be humble as well.

4. Tell about the bad news too. It just makes you more human, more normal. In fact I really loved a letter I got from a friend of mine a few years ago: she wrote about the good things in her year as well as about her divorce. In fact she asked me before writing the letter whether she should only concentrate on the good stuff, or if she should mention the divorce. My advice was to write in the most comfortable way to her, and she did it well.

5. Short and sweet. Your Christmas letter doesn’t need to be seven pages long…. one page is maximum or you start repeating yourself. Or no one really will read it…. seriously, I don’t read Christmas letters beyond a couple of pages, and I love reading. Write, read, re-write, read, re-write – that’s how the great Christmas letters are made. (Besides, this is why I have a family blog: more stuff about our life can be read here. Our whole year wouldn’t fit into one page)

6. Personal touch : add a picture on your letter. Write a quick hand-written addressing on each of your letters. I failed these both this year, big time. Simply because I did not have any time at all.

7. You vs Me . When you list of things to say in your Christmas letter, think of your friends and relatives who are the recipients. What would they want to read? You are writing to them, not to yourself.

8. Wish Merry Christmas! So many people forget the Christmas greetings at the end of their letters. Don’t be one of them.


What do you think – how to write a charming, cheerful Christmas letter? 

12 Days of Christmas: Nutcracker (Day 6)

There is no Christmas without Tchaikovsky’s  Nutcracker . Those of you who have been following my blog for some time probably know by now that I greatly enjoy arts and music. One of my long-term Christmas traditions is Nutcracker ballet: Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without it. As well as I love Handel’s Messiah – too bad that his year I couldn’t make it to fit in our schedule…

Tonight we saw Nutcracker at TPAC  (Tennessee Performing Arts Center) in Nashville. Alaska was not a very appreciative ground for finer things in life, and the local venue in Anchorage usually had only few Nutracker shows. In fact, a couple of times we decided to support  young dancers and went to see Anchorage Ballet’s  Christmas  that is showcasing their dancers’ skills not only in Nutcracker but also in other dance performances. While nowhere near like the full Nutcracker, it was still refreshing see the young dancers taking up the challenge.

However, Nashville Ballet’s performance was wonderful. We greatly enjoyed our date night, and were in awe by awesome dancers. And we also learned that patrons were welcome to bring their drinks (without ice) into the venue so I was happy to sip my champagne while enjoying the second Act of this lovely ballet.

Do you have special piece of music or show that you want to see year after year before Christmas?

12 Days of Christmas: Advent Calendar (Day 7)

There sure is no Christmas time without an advent calendar. Or, uh-oh, a few…. This year we  I have three: a chocolate calendar, a traditional winter city view calendar from Germany, and yet another calendar from Germany that my friend Sabine kindly sent.

I am totally in love with the one I got from her. I have never had an ornament calendar before, and not only am I excited about the ornaments (yes, I love them) but I am thrilled to have wooden ornaments from Europe . It has been such a long time since my last trip to Europe that it is nice to have some reminders from home. I will share picture(s) of all 24 ornaments after Christmas but a couple of samples here that give you an idea about the awesomeness of my ornament calendar.

Do you have a Christmas calendar? Pictures, chocolate, ornaments…?



Army Life and Adventures. Notes from here, there, everywhere.