I caught Santa, and you can, too!

Can you imagine the look on your kid’s face when you show him a photo of Santa in your own living room?

When I saw this site, icaughtsanta.com, I smiled. What a fun, original idea! Best yet, I have a discount code for my readers. But more about this later.

Our girls, despite their being four-footed, got to see Santa. See for yourselves!

Santa was just reaching into his bag of toys when he heard a low growl come from behind him...

Santa was just reaching into his bag of toys when he heard a low growl...

Santa reaching for the puppies.

Santa likes his reindeer well enough, but he had to pet the sleeping puppies before heading back up the chimney.

Time’s a wastin’….Head over to icaughtsanta.com, upload your photo, and watch St. Nick appear. I have a coupon code for you, too: SANTA50 will get you half off your order. This is great fun!

Dear Freecycle, furnish my whole house

Sometimes the wanteds on Freecycle are amazing. As a friend said, “she thinks Santa is on Freecycle”. Who knows, perhaps the Jolly Old Elf really is. We’re all having to scrimp these days, right? Ooh, maybe Santa’s regifting!


Alternate version:

Dear Freecycle,

I have overextended myself by buying a house. Therefore, I require everyone to give me lots of stuff to fill its rooms, because I need to have stuff. Lots of it. For free. But I’m particular, especially about coffee tables.

New Homeowner

I’ve coined a hashtag at Twitter: #greedcycle. If you have examples of greedy or funny Freecycle posts, post a screenshot somewhere (blurring identifiable info, please!) and link to it in your tweet. Be sure to use the #greedcycle hashtag.

Let’s see if we can start a trend there.

Anonymous gifts that bless others: An angel among us

Have you ever been the recipient of an anonymous gift? Have you ever given one?

There’s no telling how your “small” and anonymous gesture may bring comfort and happiness to someone. What an encouragement to use our gifts to bless others. And to do it anonymously is the best because you’re not only letting God alone have the glory, but you’re building a sense of anticipation and mystery, which only adds to the fun. Whoever this family’s angel was, I salute you.

Whose angel might you be?

An Angel Among Us

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Cheer
BY: By Rita Hampton

I come from a large family of nine brothers and sisters, and all of us have kids of our own. On each Christmas night, our entire family gathers at my oldest sister’s home, exchanging gifts, watching the nativity skit put on by the smaller children, eating, singing and enjoying a visit from Santa himself.

The Christmas of 1988, my husband Bob and I had four children. Peter was eleven, Leigh-Ann was nine, Laura was six and Matthew was two. When Santa arrived, Matthew parked himself on Santa’s lap and pretty much remained dazzled by him for the rest of the evening. Anyone who had their picture taken with Santa that Christmas also had their picture taken with little Matthew.

Little did any of us know how precious those photos with Santa and Matthew would become. Five days after Christmas, our sweet little Matthew died in an accident at home. We were devastated. We were lucky to have strong support from our families and friends to help us through. I learned that the first year after a death is the hardest, as there are so many firsts to get through without your loved one. Birthdays and special occasions become sad, instead of joyous.

When our first Christmas without Matthew approached, it was hard for me to get into the holiday spirit. Bob and I could hardly face putting up the decorations or shopping for special gifts for everyone. But we went through the motions for Peter, Leigh-Ann and Laura. Then, on December 13th, something extraordinary happened to raise our spirits when we didn’t think it was possible.

We were just finishing dinner when we heard a knock on the front door. When we went to answer it, no one was there. However, on the front porch was a card and gift. We opened the card and read that the gift-giver wanted to remain anonymous; he or she just wanted to help us get through a rough time by cheering us up.

In the gift bag was a cassette of favorite Christmas music, which was in a little cardboard Christmas tree. The card described it as being “a cartridge in a pine tree,” a twist on the “partridge in a pear tree” verse in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” We thought that it was a very clever gift, and the thoughtfulness of our “elf” touched our hearts. We put the cassette in our player and, song by song, the spirit of Christmas began to warm our hearts.

That was the beginning of a series of gifts from the clever giver, one for each day until Christmas. Each gift followed the theme of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in a creative way. The kids especially liked “seven swans a-swimming,” which was a basket of swan-shaped soaps plus passes to the local swimming pool, giving the kids something to look forward to when the warm days of spring arrived. “Eight maids a-milking” included eight bottles of chocolate milk, eggnog and regular milk in glass bottles with paper faces, handmade aprons and caps. Every day was something very special. The “five golden rings” came one morning just in time for breakfast — five glazed doughnuts just waiting to be eaten.

We would get calls from our family, neighbors and friends who would want to know what we had received that day. Together, we would chuckle at the ingenuity and marvel at the thoughtfulness as we enjoyed each surprise. We were so caught up in the excitement and curiosity of what would possibly come next, that our grief didn’t have much of a chance to rob us of the spirit of Christmas. What our elf did was absolutely miraculous.

Each year since then, as we decorate our Christmas tree, we place on it the decorations we received that Christmas while we play the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” We give thanks for our elf who was, we finally realized, our very own Christmas angel. We never did find out who it was, although we have our suspicions. We actually prefer to keep it that way. It remains a wondrous and magical experience — as mysterious and blessed as the very first Christmas.

Courthouse Christmas lighting in Newark, Ohio

We went to the annual courthouse lighting ceremony last night. This year we had quite a crowd of our own, including Howie’s mom, brother and sister-in-law, niece, four great-nieces and one great-nephew. Add to that our best friends and their three kids. Our friend Mark came by, too.

We’ve been going ten or eleven years now, attending more years than not. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s always the day after Thanksgiving. The MC and various music groups take up the steps on one side of the courthouse, and at 7pm Santa makes his appearance, riding in on a firetruck. He ascends the steps, greeting the crowd on his way, and makes a big to-do with the kids.

He holds up an over-sized plug and extension cord socket, telling the crowd he needs their help to get the courthouse lit. He counts down with them, “One…Two…Three…MERRY CHRISTMAS!” and plug in the cord. A few lights flicker, but then go out.

He tells them they need to say it louder! Really shout it out! He leads them through a chorus of a Christmas song. Then, they try again, with more enthusiasm: “One…Two…Three…MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

More lights come on, but they waver and go out. The crowd utters “ohhhhhh…” and laughs. He’s so good at stringing along the people. The kids are SO into it, keyed up with anticipation. The crowd feels electric.

The third time he goes through this, the crowd’s single voice cries out so loudly it seems their number has tripled.

Some lights come to life, followed by others, and finally the rest light up, too. The crowd cheers and the last of the lights blink to life at the pinnacle of the old building. It’s a success!

Last year, I got a good video of it all. For whatever reason, I never uploaded it, so I did so today. Just pretend it’s 2007 — it’s not a whole lot different, I’d imagine. 😉

I wasn’t up to walking around in the crowd year. That bummed me out because there are so many great subjects to photograph. Still, it was good to see everyone. I hung out in Howie’s office with him and his mom as our friends and family took their kids around the square to see everything. We did leave the office door open, though, and listened to the music and goings-on through there.
Everyone came back to the office after the courthouse was lit and we had coffee, hot chocolate and cookies together. This year, we headed back to our house and had pizza with family – brother and sister-in-law, niece, four great-nieces and one great-nephew. We had our own crowd. 🙂

In the mood

Yesterday marked an important moment in our household, a yearly rite. There’s no set date for this annual occurrence, no set “second Saturday in November” kind of thing. Planets don’t have to align, meteors don’t have to fall blazing from the sky. How, then is it determined? I’ll tell you: it depends on one person. One man.

Mr. Christmas. That’s right, once Howie gets in the Christmas spirit, there’s no stopping him.

By the time I pried my eyes open around 10:30am (man, those flannel sheets feel good on a cool morning), he’d been up on the roof hanging colorful C9 holiday lights and icicles along the roofline of our house. He picked up a two-pack of spiral trees, too. Down one side of our property, Howie lined up shepherd hooks and swagged transparent C7 lights on them. For those, bought several single-color strands of blue and green lights, then swapped bulbs so each strand has alternating blue and green bulbs. He used the same alternating colors along the other side of our property, down our veggie garden by the driveway.

He also has lights strung on short plastic light stakes along our veggie bed and the walkway leading to our front porch. Boy, those little stakes are sure handy! I reckon we should warn the mailman about the string of lights along the walkway. I hope he isn’t looking down at a handful of mail as he ascends the hill to our front porch.

Can you tell we love decorating for Christmas? Okay, I’ll tell the truth: I love how it looks once it’s done, but I balk at the process every year. Howie is Mr. Christmas. He assembles our tree and gets the lights on it, then I put the ornaments on it. We play Christmas music and recall happy memories as certain ornaments are put up. Some that we thought were kind of tacky now have special meaning because of who and what they represent in our lives.

It’s not time for the tree yet, so back to the outside stuff…

Best yet, we picked up a free nativity decoration from someone on our local Freecycle list. It’s made of plywood and painted black; there are raised cutouts on it. It’s designed to have a light showing through it from behind, making a silhouette of the scene. I’m impressed by its design; it took some thought, you can tell. I can’t wait to see it lit up at night.

Gotta say, it looks strange to see the lights all strung while there are colorful leaves on the trees. But, hey, if you do them while it’s still relatively warm out, you don’t have to fumble around with frozen fingers, right?

icicle_lights howie_lights02 swagged_lights nativity04 fall_lights

There are more photos in my Christmas 2007 set at Flickr. I did a short video of Howie before heading back into the house, too.

When do you usually put up your Christmas decorations? Do you, like we sometimes do, end up having a “Happy Thanksmas”?