Our Faux Victorian Christmas

It all started with a dress.

But first, a bit of backtracking.

Every year, regardless of how scant or abundant our wardrobes are, we come up with Christmas and Easter clothes. Sometimes they’re casual. Sometimes they are built around a hair bow or an overcoat we already own. Sometimes they include a few hand-me-downs in the mix…

but every year, we get dressed in our new (or newish) duds and take some family pictures.

We don’t do this for Christmas postcards or even, believe it or not, for the blog…

we do it for me.

Because I wanna.

It might be silly, it might be unnecessary, it might be a TON of work, but…I love it.

Especially the outfits.

Last year’s Christmas clothes were hardy and festive, and even better, practical; thus, my intent this year was to find something similar, something that shouted “Christmas!” but, not exclusively. Something we could wear to church or to the library or even to play outside in, all winter and early-spring and late-fall long.

But then, scrolling through Boden’s summer sale, I saw a dress in the little girls’ section.

It was a satin party dress.

It was so impractical.

Even on sale, it was more expensive than any dress we’ve ever bought for one of our children.

And it was the LAST dress I needed, looking nothing like anything I had pictured for any of our Christmas clothes, ever.

So, obviously, I bought it.

Because the moment I pictured that dress on Rebekah Sunday, I was a goner. My sentimental brain went trotting along ahead of me, dreaming of beautiful Victorian Christmases, and simple and clean scenes of winter whites and creams, until I arrived (four months later) at this year’s “photo shoot” with two things in mind:

1. Memorializing all of our children in their various ages, but especially 4-year old Rebekah. On the cusp of girlhood, this was her year, and since her special dress was almost as beautiful as a wedding gown, I thought it would be fun to take some bridal-inspired photos that we might potentially use on her wedding day, like pictures of us getting ready, tying her sash and fixing her hair. I thought it would also be fun to get pictures of the boys getting ready, buttoning their vests and so on and so forth.

2. Memorializing our home. We all know that, unlike snapshots, professional pictures aren’t really a true representation of life. They are us at our best, with our clothes perfectly pressed and our hair expertly groomed. Well, I wanted pictures of my house like that, too, clean and shiny and all gussied up for picture day.

Alllll that to say, although these pictures almost didn’t happen (if Rebekah looks ethereal it is because she was throwing up for the five days leading up to this), we pulled it off, and I near about died when I saw the finished product…

it is everything I hoped for and more, and I have to brag on my friends Ben and Leslie at Benjamin Grey Photography for their truly amazing talent. I am so happy I paid them with real money this time instead of homemade granola.

I am also so grateful for my husband and my mom, without whom my schemes of whimsicality would never come to fruition.

~

First, the boys got ready…

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Then Rebekah, the belle of the ball…

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Then Betsie Fair, also the proud recipient of a Boden party dress (it is rare, indeed, for Betsie to get a non-hand-me-down dress, especially one made of velvet!)…

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Now I have to pause for a moment to prep you for the next pictures.

For the past year and a half, 2 1/2 year old Betsie has been obsessed…I mean it, obsessed…with lipstick. Before she could even talk, she would drag people’s purses to them and start puckering up her lips and grunting until they shared some lipgloss or lipstick or chapstick.

I have seen her perform this expression countless times, and I had no idea that Ben had caught it with his camera until I received our photographs.

Some photos are sweet, some are funny, and then some are just gifts.

These photographs are a gift to me. I have titled them “Betsie in a Nutshell”.

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Here’s a few more of Rebekah, sitting in my new favorite chair (more on that later)…

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and we can’t forget Baby Shep…

(goochie goo, you fat wittle bubbey baby!)

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Next, we all moved to the living room for a few photos…

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And we finished up outside…

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On a normal day, our life is anything but Victorian.

But it’s fun to pretend sometimes.

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Thanks for pretending with me. ;)

How Awful Are Thy Branches

~ this post is a revision of one published last Christmas ~

My Dad could easily be misunderstood as a guy who doesn’t love holidays.

But the truth of the matter is, what he really hates…nay, abhors…is going “to town”. A true country boy, he hates the traffic. The noise. The crowds. The dark restaurants. The loud restaurants. The crowded restaurants. The exorbitant costs. The works.

So it’s not so much that he dislikes looking at Christmas lights. He just dislikes going “to town” to look at Christmas lights, waiting in a long line of traffic to do so and then bumping into the five thousand other people who are there looking at Christmas lights, all before paying $50 to buy hot chocolate for his entire family (2 of his 4 children are “in the ministry” – if he doesn’t buy our hot chocolate….nobody gets hot chocolate).

Likewise, he doesn’t hate going to pick out a Christmas tree. He hates having to go “to town” to pick out a Christmas tree.

So a couple of years ago, after hearing my brother, Pete, recount his single favorite Christmas as the one where our family went “out back” to chop down our Christmas tree, my Daddy had a really fun idea: to cut down a tree from the new 9-acre property he purchased in town (our small hometown, not busy Tulsa “town”), that joins up with the acre Mr. Gore and I were building our home on. He drives by the place every morning on the way to work and had spied a whole line-up of potential Christmas trees. The grandkids would love it, he enthused, and the best part? He wouldn’t have to go “to town”.

We’re stupid, so we easily caught his excitement and chose a day for our Christmas tree excursion, and what happened next went down in family history.

~

Now, I’ve got to preface this story by pointing out that my Dad is the MAN. He can do anything. He can measure things with his bare eyes. He can weld upside-down in a fiery hole. He has drained our lake and built islands in it. He knows how to properly secure a Christmas tree in the stand. And he can usually tell with a single glance whether or not a tree will fit inside of a house. That’s what makes this tree story so bizarre and unbelievable…

So here’s my Dad as he gases up his chainsaw. What is not pictured is the line of expectant family members, all bundled up for our outing. It was a frigid day, one I’ll never forget.

This picture of my niece, Anna Ruth, will give you an idea of exactly how cold it was. The children had on two or three layers of clothing, but nothing could shield us from that biting Oklahoma wind.

But freezing or not, here we go! Let’s do this thingy.

The further away we got from the house, the colder it got.

And right about here is when I started to realize that this might not have been the best idea. I’m carrying a 40-pound toddler against the coldest wind, I feel like we’ve walked about 3 miles already…and we’re only halfway there. But there is no turning back. We are committed to this adventure.

Sadly though, once we arrived, the trees didn’t look nearly as good as they did from the road. We just kind of wandered around in circles, surveying this ragtag group of cedars, some more like bushes, others more like…taller than my house.

Sidenote: I love this little boy and would do anything for him. Even carry him to a cedar wasteland in Antarctica.

“Hey, this one doesn’t look so bad!” my Daddy called out. Whether we truly agreed or were just eager to get this show on the road, it was unanimous – it was perfect!

Funny though, standing in the midst of a small forest, no one seemed to notice that this tree, in particular, was…oh, 16 feet tall?!

But yes! This is it! This is the one! Merry Christmas, one and all! Deck the halls with boughs of holly! God bless us, everyone!

And then came my Daddy’s big moment, the one that Granddaddies probably dream of…

As his grandchildren (and his wife) watched with wonder…

he revved up his chainsaw…

and cut that (and I quote) sucker down!

Timberrrrr!!!

And there she is.

Our prize.

(Huh. Is that the same tree? Now would be a good time to start noticing that this tree looks kind of totally different in every picture).

Back uphill we tromped, our brand new Christmas tree leading the way…

for about ten seconds. Then Gideon decided he wasn’t taking another step. So guess who got to carry him? His Aunt Amy. (I’m still thanking her for that).

Almost there (thank God!)…

Once back to the work truck, a quick measure showed that this tree might be just the right size for my parent’s house. Keyword: might.

They load ‘er up and drive ‘er to her new home in the country…

Exhausted Gideon slept all the way there.  (Noteworthy: Was he really that little?? And did we actually think this tree adventure would mean anything to him at this age?!)

So anyhow, we got the tree home and set it up in the front yard and…it seems to have expanded a little during its 10-mile trip down the highway. My Daddy stands in the yard and stares at it.

Mr. Gore drags it inside, nonetheless…

and it self-inflates to twice its normal size. This can’t be the same tree that was just standing in the yard. Impossible.

Scratch that…it has tripled in size! And doubled in plain old ugliness.

My Mom just fled the room, laughing until she cried.

Our ridiculous tree not only dwarfed the living room with its majestic girth, but its cedar scent infiltrated every corner of the house, not fresh and invigorating like a Colorado pine, but dank and dirty like it was from…well, a random pasture in Oklahoma. It gagged us one and all.

I initially tried trimming at the branches with some kitchen shears, but they were no match for this “tree” and I had to fetch some weed whackers.

Two whacks in, however, I gave up, afraid to make it worse. (Not to mention the rash that began creeping up my arms the minute they made contact with the tree).

That’s right…I said rash. I couldn’t go near this tree. Thus, Mr. Gore had to decorate it while I looked on from across the room. (I hate to be repetitive, but again…is this really the same tree? Does it not look like it has now cloned itself or given birth to triplets?)

The next day, Daddy tried to revive our Christmas spirit by heroically decorating the rest of the tree, and I so wish I had the pictures to show what happened next: this giant tree, full of breakable ornaments, fell over, smashing into the living room floor with all the gusto of its initial fall in the wilderness. Screaming in shock and terror, I scooped up both children and ran from the room, never once thinking to take just one picture of the aftermath.

I don’t know what was more disturbing…the heirloom ornaments that were shattered that day or the manic and wild nature of this tree that would cause it to just leap from its stand like that. I think it was sending us a message: You should’ve gone “to town”, suckers.

Christmas morning came, and our Giant Christmas Shrub of 2009 was there to greet us.

I will admit, the tree had its moments. At times, I would walk into the room and laugh, but at others, I would marvel at its beauty and admire its pioneer spirit and smell…

but by Christmas morning, it had begun to settle, and was 100% irrefutably…ugly. And kind of crooked.

You know, though, it’s funny…

We’ve had a lot of really beautiful Christmas trees over the years, and this tree is the only one I distinctly remember.

I could pick it out of a line-up.

p.s. That’s not a compliment.

December Party Ideas

I’m going to make this post pretty snappy, because time’s a’wastin’!

We had 2 kid parties last year that were so much fun, and there is still time for you to have one of your own before December zooms by:

1. On 11-11-11, my Mom had all the kids out for a weenie roast in the woods. The components: a) At 11:11 a.m., we threw confetti in the air. b) We took a group picture with printed off (and then framed) number 11’s, and c) Mom gave each child $11.11 to spend on someone else. (11-11-11 also happened to fall on Veteran’s Day, so this party had a patriotic theme to it).

All that to say, there is still time for you to plan a 12-12-12 party at 12:12!! It doesn’t have to be fancy, and could require very little thought, but don’t miss this VERY last opportunity to commemorate all those matching numbers. Why is this so important? I have no idea. It just feels super special.

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2. And about a week-and-a-half before Christmas, Mama had the kids back over for a baking party. I loved this party because she actually let the kids do almost all of the baking and decorating, and she used it to help them learn to serve others. As the cookies were cooling, the children were instructed to decorate paper sacks and write little cards for some of the members of our church. Then we all loaded up into a church van and made cookie deliveries. We also sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at each house. Take a look:

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I won’t mention what happened about halfway through our deliveries, but…you can read about how Miss Sunday gruesomely smashed her finger and had to be rushed to the hospital (and later have surgery) here: Mrs. Gore has a DAY

Still…this was a truly special day and one of my favorite parties ever, no bells and whistles and very others-oriented. I want to do more of this with my kids.

Let me know if you decide to try either of these “parties” and how they turn out! And please forgive me if there were any typing or spelling errors in this post – I’m in THAT big of a hurry and had to get this published (without editing) so you would have time to plan your 12-12-12 party. Spit-spot!! Off you go!

Christmas Christmas Time is Here

I was going through pictures and videos the other day and came across a little nugget of Christmas cheer to help you get in the holiday spirit.

Here’s Miss Sunday (last Christmas, 2 1/2 years old), singing her rendition of The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). Please don’t miss the “Alvin!!!” part at the end.

And please, don’t let the cuteness slay you like it did me. Just kidding. No, I’m not. This is really cute.

Even if this child was not my offspring and did not inherit my amazing singing voice.

Anyhow. Christmas Time is here!!! I, too, can hardly stand the wait.

Merry Christmas, from Mrs. Gore to You

I drove by a house last night that I used to frequently pass on my long drive home from the University of Oklahoma every weekend. It is in the middle of what many would call “nowhere”, but that doesn’t stop its owners from absolutely decking it out with pretty Christmas lights every year. Driving by it used to bring me such cheer in the winter months, adding to the Christmas spirit that cloaked me from head to toe from October to January. (You should understand that in those days, I had little more to do than have Christmas spirit and write hot checks…)

And there it was last night, sparkling and festive as ever on that dark Oklahoma highway.

And my, it took me back…

I was in my early 20’s, devoted enough to my parents and to my home church to drive home every single weekend. I loved that 2-hour drive from school to our quiet home in the woods and I would spend my trip singing at the top of my lungs to my “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” soundtrack or listening to a Harry Potter audio book or practicing my French at the direction of my “French for Dummies” CD. Or sometimes I would just think the entire way home.

Kind of like I was doing last night.

I would think about school and church and family and such, but mostly I would think about the future as I spent countless hours dreaming and planning. Those dreams were pretty lofty back then and were probably extremely misguided, but at the root of them was a deep hope for a bright and happy future. And I’d be lying if I said that I had complete faith that God was going to pull through for me and make that happen.

But He has.

That girl with all those hopes and dreams was completely unaware that her best days were ahead.

She didn’t know then that she was going to marry the young man who was just then stealing her heart. She didn’t know that he would continue to grow into a man greater than any fabrication of her sweetest and biggest dreams, well after her wedding day. She didn’t know there would be a Gideon, and a Rebekah and a Betsie who would turn her selfish world upside down and teach her day by day what it means to love someone else and live for them. She didn’t know about all the precious moments she would continue to share with her parents and her brothers and their wives and their children. She had no idea that God would be faithful to her church and morph it into a fellowship truer and sweeter than she had ever experienced. She didn’t know that He would continue to change her heart in radical ways and that her best days of learning were not behind her but in front of her. She didn’t know that life could possibly grow sweeter and richer and more tender…

As I drove by that house, the mere thought of these many blessings filled up my heart and caused me to revel in the grand quietude of this Christmas season. And I realized for the thousandth time that none of my greatest gifts have been purchased, but rather, crafted and mapped out by the hand of an extremely loving and merciful God.

Beautiful lives start at the manger, where the Savior of the world lay wrapped in swaddling clothes, biding His time until He would bring hope and change to a very dark world. 2000+ years later, I’m driving down the road by a house bedecked with Christmas lights and my heart is shouting “Thank you!”

I hope, with all my heart, that He floods your world with His glorious light this Christmas Day.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…

~ how awful are thy branches ~

My Dad could easily be misunderstood as a guy who doesn’t love holidays.

But the truth of the matter is, what he really hates…nay, abhors…is “going to town”. He hates the traffic. The noise. The crowds. The dark restaurants. The loud restaurants. The exorbitant costs. The works.

So its not so much that he dislikes looking at Christmas lights. He just dislikes “going to town” to look at Christmas lights, waiting in a long line of traffic to do so and then bumping into the five thousand other people who are there looking at Christmas lights, all before paying $50 to buy hot chocolate for his entire family (remember? 2 of his 4 children are “in the ministry”. If he doesn’t buy our hot chocolate….nobody gets hot chocolate).

Likewise, he doesn’t hate going to pick out a Christmas tree. He hates having to “go to town” to pick out a Christmas tree.

So two years ago, after hearing my brother Pete recount his single favorite Christmas as the one where our family went out back to chop down our Christmas tree, my Daddy had a really fun idea: let’s cut down a tree from the new property he purchased in town (our small town, not Tulsa “town”), the one that joins up with the acre Mr. Gore and I were building our home on. He drives by the place every morning on the way to work and he had spied a whole line-up of possible Christmas tree beauties. The grandkids would love it, and the best part? He wouldn’t have to “go to town”.

We caught his excitement and chose a day for our Christmas tree excursion, and what happened next went down in family history. Settle in, because this…is good.

(I’ve got to preface this story by pointing out that my Dad is the man. He can do anything. He can measure things with his bare eyes. He knows how to properly secure a Christmas tree in the stand. He’s an expert in the great outdoors. That’s what makes this tree story so bizarre!!) Here is Granddaddy as he gases up his chainsaw. What is not pictured is the line of expectant family members, all bundled up for our outing. It was a frigid day, one I’ll never forget.

This picture of my niece, Anna Ruth, will give you an idea of exactly how cold it was. The children had on two or three layers of clothing, but nothing could shield us from that biting Oklahoma wind.

Freezing or not, here we go!

The further away we got from the house, the colder it got.

And right about here is when I started to realize that this might not have been the best idea, after all. I’m carrying a 40-pound toddler against the coldest wind, I feel like we’ve walked about 3 miles…and we’re only halfway there. But there is no turning back…we are committed to this adventure.

But once we got down there, the trees didn’t look nearly as good as they did from the road. We just kind of wandered around in circles, surveying this ragtag group of pines, some more like bushes, other more like…taller than my house.

Sidenote: I love this little boy and would do anything for him. Even carry him to this tree wasteland in Antarctica.

“Hey, this one doesn’t look so bad.” my Daddy called out. We all agreed – it was perfect! Funny though…standing in the midst of a small pine forest, no one seemed to notice that this tree was…oh, 16 feet tall?!

Yes! This is it! This is the one! Merry Christmas, everyone!! Deck the halls with boughs of holly!

And this is the big moment, the one that Granddaddies dream of…

As his grandchildren (and his wife) watched with wonder, my Daddy revved up his chainsaw…

and cut that baby down. Ready…

Steady…

Timberrrrr!!!

The prize. (Huh…is that the same tree? Now would be a good time to start noticing that this tree looks kind of totally different in every picture).

Back uphill we tromped, our brand new Christmas tree leading the way…

for about ten seconds. Then Gideon decided he wasn’t taking another step. So guess who got to carry him? His Aunt Amy. (I’m still thanking her for that).

We’re almost there!

Once back to the work truck, a quick measure showed that this tree might be just the right size for my parent’s house.

They load ‘er up and drive ‘er to her new home in the country…

Exhausted Gideon slept all the way there.  (Sidenote: O…M…goodness. Was he really that little??)

So we get it home and set it up in the front yard and…it seems to have grown a little during its 10-mile trip down the highway. My Daddy stands in the yard and stares at it.

Mr. Gore drags it inside, nonetheless…

and it self-inflates to twice its normal size. This can’t be the same tree that was just standing in the yard.

No…its tripled in size! And doubled in plain old ugliness.

My Mom just fled the room, laughing until she cried.

This tree not only dwarfed the living room with its majestic girth, but its pine scent infiltrated every corner of the house, not fresh and invigorating like a Colorado pine, but dank and dirty like an Oklahoma pine. It gagged us one and all.

I initially tried trimming at the branches with some kitchen shears, but they were no match for this “tree” and I had to fetch some weed wackers. I soon gave up, however, afraid to make it worse. (Not to mention the rash that began creeping up my arms the minute I touched it).

That’s right…I said rash. I couldn’t go near this tree. Thus, Mr. Gore had to decorate it while I looked on from across the room. (I hate to be repetitive, but again…is this really the same tree? Does it not look like it has now cloned itself ?)

The next day, Daddy tried to revive our Christmas spirit by heroically decorating the rest of the tree, and I so wish I had the pictures to show what happened next. In about fifteen minutes, this entire tree, full of breakable ornaments, fell over. It smashed into the living room floor with all the gusto of its initial fall in the wilderness. Screaming in shock and terror, I scooped up both children and ran from the room, never once thinking to take just one picture of the aftermath. I don’t know what was more disturbing…the heirloom ornaments that were lost that day or the manic and wild nature of this tree. I think it was sending us a message: You should’ve gone “to town”, suckers.

Christmas morning came, and our Giant Christmas Shrub of 2009 was there to greet us. I will admit, the tree had its moments. At times, I would walk into the room and laugh, but at others, I would marvel at its beauty and admire it for its pioneer spirit and smell…but by Christmas morning, it had begun to settle, and was irrefutably u-g-l-y. It had no alibi.

That said, we’ve had a lot of really beautiful Christmas trees over the years. This tree is the only one I distinctly remember…

I could pick it out of a line-up.

That’s not a compliment.

You’d Better Not Pout

Why it is an American tradition to take our children to sit on Santa’s lap, I don’t know – its like the pumpkin patch all over again!!! –  but year after year after year I find myself coordinating our Christmas clothing and forcing my children to take at least one photo with ol’ Saint Nick, whether they are oblivious or terrified or whatever.

Its stupid, I know.

But it also results in some hilarity.

Take a look…

Let’s face it. It was no surprise to ANY of us that Gideon did not roll with this punch. Well, except for Santa. He looks a bit surprised, which says a lot about his “omniscience”, hmmmm?

Maybe next year, Gid will do better…

Looks promising, right? But no. That is seriously as close as Gideon got to Santa that year. He wouldn’t go in that cute little house or even darken its doorway.

He was happy, however, to take a photo with this drum set at the nearby Pottery Barn Kids. “Gideon…” I warned. “There is no way Santa will bring you those drums after the way you just snubbed him.” I was right. Santa did not bring him those drums. And he never will. (Mwah ha ha ha!)

So maybe next year, Gid will do better…

Progress! He at least conceded to sit next to the jolly old fellow. This was our first year to visit The Christmas Train at Dry Gulch. I was so embarrassed that Gideon had his pacifier in his mouth (usually just a secret nighttime indulgence) but he had a bad cold and I neither wished to miss this epic event nor stay at home; we hoped the pacifier would keep him from breathing on people. It seems like it also gave him the courage to interact with Santa!

Meanwhile (seriously, at the same time) Miss Sunday was with her Granddaddy and Grandmother at Bass Pro Shops meeting Santa (but wait? I thought Santa was at Dry Gulch…how did he…what’s going on?) for the first time…

She reportedly adored him, my unsinkable Rebekah Sunday.

And he adored her, in return.

But what would she think the next year? And how would Gideon feel about Santa as a 3-year old with NO pacifier?…

Score!

Fail. Rebekah obviously has forgotten how chummy she and our white-bearded friend were last year. We decided to try a family shot instead, resulting in my favorite. Santa. picture. ever. hands-down. no contest. for. the. rest. of. my. life…

Everyone’s happy right? Until your eyes land on Miss Sunday…

That’s a pout if I’ve ever seen one.

Their relationship has continued to deteriorate. On Sunday night we made our annual trek to The Christmas Train and popped in to see Santa before we left. From afar, Rebekah told him what she wanted: “A new baby.”

Gideon asked for a toy train and a toy airplane, and then we took a group picture, Rebekah tucked safely on her Papa’s lap. When it was time to leave, however, she got all kinds of brave…

“Where’s my baby?” she asked with absolutely no levity in her voice.

“Well, little girl,” Santa hedged. “I have to go back to the North Pole and make it.”

There was a long pause as we all waited to hear what she thought of this news.

“Actually…” she said in her little high-pitched voice, staring unflinchingly into his eyes. “I think I want a…teddy bear.”

We were a bit slow to catch on, until Gideon exclaimed “There’s a teddy bear!” Turns out, Santa was surrounded by teddy bears. Which makes me think Miss Sunday was really saying “Now what are you going to do, Santa? Are you going to deliver…or not?

I think she’s on to him.

But at least we got a fun picture. And on the first try, too…

Ahhhh…I haven’t had this much fun since we went to the pumpkin patch and propped crying Betsie up on a pumpkin.

Christmas Tree, coming up next!