Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

wreath tree NYC Christmas

It’s no secret that I love New York City: in the fall, in the spring, even in a sweltering summer heat wave. But I’d never seen the city decked out for Christmas, and I’d always wanted to. So, when my husband told me he had a work conference in Chicago, I made plans for a quick solo trip: 48 hours to wander on my own. It was, as you might expect, glorious.

Every time I go to New York I fall in love. This time, it was with crisp Snapdragon apples and pumpkin cookies at the tiny farmers’ market in Abingdon Square; with the stands of freshly cut Christmas trees on so many corners, tunnels of prickly green. I even fell in love a little bit with the tree-seller who called “Merry Christmas!” and actually tipped his hat.

high line view NYC blue sky

I fell in love with running on the High Line: bold blue skies and views across the Hudson, public art and the sharp angles of skyscrapers and the pounding of my own feet. After my run, I stopped at the Hudson Cafe for oatmeal and a cup of strong Earl Grey, and fell in love with a little dog named Stella. Her owner invited me to sit down and chat, and we talked public transit and city life and unexpected career moves. “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” I asked her. She grinned, a little wickedly. “A hundred and fifty years!”

Cornelia street cafe awning NYC

I fell in love with the cheery red-striped awnings at the Cornelia Street Cafe just off Bleecker, and with their excellent eggs Florentine (oh my). I fell in love with the stunning array of artisans in the maker space at Chelsea Market, and with the quiet, unpretentious Epiphany Library branch on East 23rd Street. I ended up there when I needed a place to rest my feet and charge my phone (because Hermione is right: when in doubt, go to the library).

red decor west village

I bought a rush ticket to Saturday night’s Live from Here with Chris Thile at the Town Hall. And while I knew I loved Thile’s mandolin music (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back), I fell completely in love with his warmth and charm onstage. When he invited the audience to sing along with a few lines from a John Denver song about home, it felt both magical and holy. I’ve been humming those lines ever since.

Some trips to New York are full of new discoveries, and some are about revisiting old favorites. The best are a bit of both, and this was no exception: I made sure to pop into Three Lives for a browsing session and a bit of eavesdropping on the friendly booksellers. I visited Pink Olive and refueled later with Earl Grey at Joe. I went back to Bar Six, back to the Strand, back to the Bryant Park holiday market at the main NYPL branch. I went back, most of all, to the city whose streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center or walk down 5th Avenue to see all the decked-out department stores. But I did get a little of that holiday sparkle. And I did my favorite thing to do in New York: wander to my heart’s content. It was, as always, exhausting and lovely.


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I love the Christmas music, y’all. I grew up in a family where Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Vince Guaraldi’s piano music and even Kenny G’s holiday album were integral parts of every December. My mom adores “O Come All Ye Faithful” and my dad has a soft spot for “Silent Night.” And my sister can actually hit the high note at the end of Mariah Carey’s version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

This year, more than ever, I find myself impatient with the poppy, overproduced music blaring out of store speakers and car stereos. But the old, thoughtful, joyous carols, the ones that turn our hearts toward peace and anticipation, are more deeply ingrained in my heart than ever.

It’s so hard to choose favorites, because I truly love all the classics – but here are a few I return to again and again:

1. O Come O Come Emmanuel. As I grow to love Advent more and more, I adore this haunting hymn with its many names for Christ and its soaring melody. (The Civil Wars have a lovely rendition.) We sing it every week at our church during Advent, and I find myself praying: yes. Come.
2. O Holy Night. There’s mystery and magic and power in this song. It gives me chills. (And when I was a little girl, two of my dad’s best friends sang this as a duet during a Christmas church service. I can still hear Buddy’s rich baritone melding with Clay’s soaring tenor.)
3. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. I love the lyrics to this one, infused with hope and angel song, and the lilting, haunting melody. (I particularly like Ella’s rendition.)
4. In the Bleak Midwinter. This is a relatively new favorite – I discovered it in college, when I sang it at a choir Christmas concert – but I love it. So thoughtful and quiet and yet hopeful.
5. O Little Town of Bethlehem. Mostly for the lyrics in the third and fourth verses: “No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin / Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” And “We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell / O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

Of course, I love  “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” (see above), and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “What Child is This” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and (recently) “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” (We’ve been singing that one in Ryan and Amy’s living room on Sunday nights lately.)

On the secular side, I enjoy  “Sleigh Ride” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Chestnuts Roasting.” I always hear the Peanuts characters singing “Christmastime is Here” and Bert and Ernie (or Judy Garland) singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And no holiday season is complete without Elvis having a blue Christmas, or George Strait singing about the new kid in town, or my dad singing the old Jim Reeves song, “C is for the Christ Child.” But this handful of quiet, haunting melodies is what’s playing over and over again this year.

What Christmas songs do you love?

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Since moving here last summer, J and I have done quite a few touristy things in Boston – many of them items on my Boston list. But until Memorial Day weekend, we hadn’t got around to touring the Adams Houses, Quincy’s own piece of presidential history. The birthplaces of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams (which stand 75 feet apart), have been preserved, as has Peacefield, home to four generations of Adamses. So when our friend Beth (who lives in Boston proper) said she was hankering for a Memorial Day adventure, we invited her out to Quincy.

It was a hot, muggy day, but we were grateful for the sun after weeks of clouds and rain – and even more grateful for the fans and air-conditioning in all three houses. 🙂 We toured the two birthplaces (maintained by the National Park Service) with “Ranger Steve”:

After walking through both houses, we hopped back on the trolley (so fun!) and headed over to Peacefield, a mansion by comparison with a gorgeous library containing about 12,000 beautiful old books. (No photos allowed inside, unfortunately.) And the garden – oh, the garden! Beth fell in love with the ruffly purple irises, and I was smitten with the vivid orange poppies:

Sometimes I forget how much history Quincy holds – since I now spend most of my days in Boston, which teems with museums, cemeteries, old churches, quirky buildings, and other markers of history. Boston is where I go to work, but it’s also where I go to explore, to learn, to discover new pieces of history. Quincy is where I go to sleep and cook dinner, to do laundry and drop off dry cleaning, to go to the grocery store. But it’s chock full of history too. (And beauty – Peacefield, below, is so elegant! And I love the name.)

After the tour, we strolled over to Gunther Tootie’s for some yummy salads and sandwiches, then went for a walk along Wollaston Beach (our own personal beach, less than a mile from our house). Since Beth lives in a totally different part of Boston, she saw our little corner of it with fresh eyes – and gave us the gift of seeing it in a new light, too.

Do you ever play tourist in your own town? What is there to see/do?

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Okay, I know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. But Christmas always starts for me on Christmas Eve – and besides, this clip from The Muppet Christmas Carol is too precious not to share.

Hope this brings a bit of joy into your day, friends. After all, there’s only one more sleep ’til Christmas Eve…

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Well, the decorations are up, the store windows are lighted, the sales are on, the church is decked with evergreens and an Advent wreath. The Christmas season is in full swing, in case you hadn’t noticed. But aside from the big decorations/ads/songs/celebrations, here are a few signs of the season I notice and love each year:

1. Red Starbucks cups. I’m an indie-coffeehouse girl, but there is something about those red cups – so cheerful and comforting.
2. Twinkle lights – draped around a tree, a window or a balcony, here and there, before everyone starts putting up their lights and trees and inflatable snowmen.
3. Christmas/holiday stamps at the post office.
4. Red Macy’s bags.
5. Bath & Body Works holiday window displays (they have the BEST ones).
6. The readings in Watch for the Light, which start on Nov. 24 and so start before Advent nearly every year.
7. My hankering for spiced black tea, which grows ever stronger as Christmas approaches.
8. Mint M&Ms in the green bags.
9. Switching from leafy/pumpkin-y candle scents to cinnamon and peppermint ones.
10. My few holiday tees and snowflake pj pants. (Thank you, Old Navy.)

What little things signal Christmas to you?

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I posted last December about some of the ornaments I treasure, and look forward to unwrapping each year. (Does anyone else think unwrapping the ornaments to hang is like unwrapping a little pile of presents?)

As J and I were decorating our Christmas tree on Sunday, I realized there were lots  I hadn’t shared with you. So here are a few:

This macaroni angel has been singing her carols on my tree for years. I think my mom bought her at a craft fair or something when I was little. Isn’t she adorable?

I went to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO, when I was about 14, and watched a glassblower make wonderful creations like this little candle. I couldn’t resist bringing it (and a glass musical note) home with me.

I’ve made “gingerbread” ornaments twice in my life – once with my sister and our friend Karen, when I was about eight or nine, and once in college, with sweet Bethany. We have ornaments on our tree from both times (I actually can’t remember which batch this tree is from).

My sweet husband loves penguins, so there are a few peeking out from the branches of our tree, including this dapper little birdie. Doesn’t he look Dickensian?

Last December, Jana called in a panic one night, needing help wrapping ornaments for teacher/co-worker gifts. Amanda and I went over to help her, and each received a bell to take home.

Any ornaments that are close to your heart? I’d love to hear about them!

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It’s everywhere this time of year – blaring from store speakers, ringing out from church doors, running through your head, to your delight or frustration (or both). I adore Christmas music – traditional carols and (some) newer songs, so here’s a list of my faves:

1. Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan. I pulled this one out as soon as the grey days hit at the beginning of November. Such a pure, ethereal voice – and her renditions of old carols (In the Bleak Midwinter, What Child is This, O Little Town of Bethlehem) and a few new songs (Wintersong, Song for a Winter’s Night) are gorgeous.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi. This is my favorite Christmas movie – I always laugh at Snoopy’s antics, and well up when Linus quotes Luke 2 and then says simply, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” The jazzy, piano-filled soundtrack is pure holiday delight.

3. Blue Christmas, Elvis Presley. A longtime family favorite – we’re all fans of The King, and my dad famously makes up his own lyrics to the title track, including “Let the red raindrops fall on a green Christmas tree.” It’s hilarious and comforting all at once – and I do love Elvis’ deep voice singing hymns.

4. James Taylor at Christmas – my dad loves JT, so I bought him this album a few years ago, then bought it for myself. And oh, we love the mellow versions of our favorite tunes, along with the only version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I can stand.

5. Noel, Josh Groban. I love Josh’s rich voice in any language, and he sings in English, French and Latin on this album. (And he sings one of my faves, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”)

6. Merry Christmas Strait to You, George Strait. I’ve loved this one since I was a kid – George was and is a fave at our house. I particularly love “There’s a New Kid in Town” and “For Christ’s Sake, It’s Christmas.”

7. Christmas Songs, Jars of Clay. One of my favorite Christian bands with their unique take on Christmas music – quiet, reflective and yet fun. I really love “Peace is Here” and “Love Came Down at Christmas.”

8. Crystal Carols, Dean Shostak. I bought this one on a high school trip to Williamsburg, Virginia – this guy plays the glass armonica (no “h”), a colonial variation on playing the rims of water glasses. (Invented by Ben Franklin!) Anyway, it creates a haunting, lovely sound, and he plays lovely traditional carols.

9. Joy, Avalon. I loved Avalon as a teenager, and I still pull out their Christmas album every year. Some of the songs sound like they’ve had a little too much cocoa, but mostly they’re merry and bright.

10. Let It Be Christmas, Alan Jackson. I’m a Texas girl and so will always love country music – and I love Alan’s rich voice and especially the title track.

11. The Gift, Jim Brickman. Lovely piano music for candlelit evenings.

12. Christmas Crooners, Christmas Swing and Big Band Christmas – various artists. Valerie gave me this 3-CD set in college, and they’re so fun. All the greats – Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman and more. Often goofy, but definitely holiday party music.

13. Miracles: The Holiday Album, Kenny G. Yes, I’ve heard every criticism in the book about Kenny G’s music – all the sax players I knew in high school band scoffed at him. But when it comes to Christmas, I don’t care. I want to hear his smooth saxophone playing those carols, just as it has every year almost since I can remember.

14. I’ll Be Home for Christmas, various artists. This one is worth it for Ella singing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” Bing singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and Andy Williams assuring us that it is the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s your turn – what are you listening to this Christmas season?

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Believe it or not, dear readers, the holidays are approaching. Some of you may already be thinking about your Christmas gift lists (others, like me, haven’t even thought about it yet – too much going on in the here and now!). Either way, I present to you a handmade option for your holiday gifts: Katie’s Custom Knits.

I started knitting nearly seven years ago, as a college student, and since then I’ve knitted dozens of hats, scarves, cowls, fingerless gloves, Christmas ornaments and even a couple of sweaters. If you’re looking for a unique, handmade gift to give your loved ones this year, why not order a custom item from me?

All products will be designed and handmade by me, with yarn sourced from either area yarn shops or trusted online suppliers. You pick the product type, color(s) and fiber(s) – I’ll be sure to take preferences and any allergies into account! I’m happy to discuss options by phone or email, or to send you photos of yarn or past projects. Rates will vary by product, taking into account supply costs and labor. Payment will be via Paypal.

You can view some of my past projects below, and on my Katie’s Custom Knits page. (Note: most of those projects were knit from someone else’s designs, so your products will not look exactly like those.) I will accept orders for hats, scarves, cowls, fingerless gloves, and home items such as dish towels and tea cozies. To place an order for yourself or a loved one, or if you have any questions, please contact me at katieleigh83{at}gmail{dot}com.

I look forward to knitting for you!

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It’s eight years ago this month since I last went to Washington, D.C. I’ve been there five times, but have only toured the National Cathedral once, the last time I was there. I have a hazy memory of trooping through the cathedral with my group of 24 other students and three sponsors, led by a smiling white-haired docent. We trod softly on the marble floors, and gazed up at the stained-glass windows in awe. I’ve always loved stained glass, and the colored patterns it makes when the sun shines through. There were candles, too, and lots of marble and stone, and at the end, one of the most beautiful gift shops I’ve ever seen.

I barely knew about Advent then, having grown up in a non-liturgical Protestant church. We loved Christmas, and made a big deal out of it, but I’d never heard much about Advent. However, I picked up the above book, Watch for the Light, that day in the cathedral gift shop, along with a silvered maple leaf ornament that still hangs on my Christmas tree every year. And each year since then, at the end of November, I’ve pulled out the book and started the readings again.

The book contains every traditional perspective on Advent – and some decidedly non-traditional ones. There are sermons, essays, excerpts from novels, a couple of hymn lyrics – even a Sylvia Plath poem. There are readings from Kathleen Norris and Madeleine L’Engle, beloved authors of mine, and readings from people I’ve never heard of. It’s a conscience-pricking, thought-provoking, yet comforting look at the birth of Christ. And it has become one of the ways I ring in the season.

I think I love the title best of all. Here in December, as the winter solstice approaches and the days are grey and cheerless, we spend a lot of time watching for the light. We light candles, and Christmas trees, and lamps, against the darkness. And we wait for the day when everything suddenly flares into light and music, when we can raise our voices and declare – Christ is born.

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