Decking the Halls: Holiday Decor

Dressing up our house for the holidays was loads of fun—from hanging ornaments on the tree to decorating the outside with giant colorful bulbs. Betty White especially likes her santa mouse friend, which my grandparents always had around during the holidays, so everyone in my family has one to remember them by.

My brother got this Budapest ornament for me when he was on tour for one of his recent productions. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

These old ornaments passed down from my grandparents are pretty hilarious—my grandfather crafted this ninja-looking snowman.

I snagged this Michael Bolton ornament a few years ago from Five Below and was pretty proud of my find…then I felt bad and bought a Miles David ornament too so our tree wouldn’t totally lack music cred.

After my grandfather passed away, I remember going through a box of ornaments and stumbling upon this gem…I guess my grandpa decided to keep the plastic bag over the baby’s head as a joke. I know it’s a little deranged, but it always makes me giggle when December rolls around.

These guys were passed down to me by my parents, who have other mouse/elf duos to keep their tree company. I have always loved their stylish outfits and tend to make them talk in goofy voices whenever I put them on the tree (they discuss the latest love triangles on Gossip Girl mostly since it’s their favorite show).

This satanic looking elf toting a lamb (?) was also from my grandparents. He is absolutely terrifying to walk past at night, but at least there are some cute critter ornaments on the tree to distract me.

It probably comes as no surprise that our angel with unfortunate yellow hair is also from my grandparents’ decoration box. Luckily Pete is supportive of my desire to showcase all things nostalgic and he puts up with our weird-haired angel and the baby with a bag over its head.

I can’t take any credit for the colorful lights, which Pete put up by crawling, army-style on the roof. I did, however, make the little bushes all festive-like with white lights. We both grew up with multi-color lights outdoors, so we wanted to keep the tradition with the large rainbow bulbs.

I like that you can see our Christmas tree through the bay windows from out front…it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I pull into the driveway.

What are some of your favorite ways to show your spirit during this time of year? Please tell me I’m not the only one with a Michael Bolton ornament…

Advertisements

Choose & Cut: Christmas Trees

Last weekend, Pete and I headed to Hague’s Christmas Trees with Betty White in tow to search for our very own Christmas tree. This was our first time cutting one down all by ourselves, and I must say, I liked the farm experience much more than picking a pre-cut tree. We ended up going with a Scotch Pine, which had loads of adorable pine cones on it (although most of them didn’t survive the bumpy ride home).

Sorry for the unfortunate photos of us—the sun was harsh and made us look crazy, but at least it was warm out.

They had loads of wreaths, berries, glittery pine cones, and other goodies to choose from. Where do you guys get your seasonal decor—did anyone else go to a local tree farm to spread some holiday cheer?

New Beginnings: Generocity

As some of you may recall, back when Pete popped the question, I also had some other exciting things to celebrate that same day. Generocity, the Greater Philadelphia area’s source for nonprofit news and networking, had contacted me for an interview. To be given the opportunity to put the spotlight on the nonprofit world really excited me, so when I found out last week that I would be joining the team as their Content Associate, I was elated.

In addition to helping spot and tell stories, I’ll also be given the opportunity to represent the content visually, whether through photography or other visual mediums. As someone who (humbly!) considers herself a writer and photographer (and illustrator!), I’m often asked “Well, which one do you like the most?” in job interviews. Even though I know the interviewer wants to hear “Oh, of course I like ____ the most” (depending on the job’s focus), I never quite know how to answer. The truth is, being able to potentially blend provoking imagery with compelling content is very exciting to me. I enjoy the challenges writing and photography bring and look forward to growing stronger as both a writer and an artist.

With my first story for Generocity, the photos inspired the opening of the article, which is often the hardest part to write (at least for me, anyway). Having the visual experience gave me the opportunity to bring readers along with me during my tour of the Philadelphia’s Children Alliance. Ideally, I’m hoping to be able to touch people in small ways so they will be encouraged to give, whether through volunteering or even donating to some of these amazing nonprofits. That being said, I was incredibly inspired by the obvious strength at the PCA, both by the professional staff and the children who have the courage to speak up and tell their stories.

I look forward to sharing all of the stories I’ll be rolling out during my adventures as a staff member of Generocity. I encourage you all (especially Philly readers!) to check out the website, “like” them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter to connect with people who have the same interests, concerns, and passions. Anyway, that’s my little plug, I will be sure to share some insights into my daily work life once my position begins (on Monday!).

For those of you who are local to the Philadelphia area, what are some of your favorite nonprofits that you feel deserve some extra love?

{65 Years of Memories…}

This year, for my dad’s 65th birthday, I wanted to do something special. His birthday was in late October, but I wanted to give him a handmade gift from everyone on Thanksgiving since I knew our whole family would be together. In mid-October, shortly after seeing this post on Pinterest, I was inspired to reach out to friends and family from his past and present. My mom helped me gather email and mailing addresses (for those without computers) of people who might be interested in participating. I sent out a massive email, as well as a handful of snail mail letters, and waited. I had only received one or two responses within the first week, but I crossed my fingers for the best. Within the next few weeks, our mailman had his hands full.

Piles of emails, handwritten letters, and nostalgic photos came streaming in. I found myself laughing out loud while reading stories about my father’s antics, whether he was dressing up as Santa to entertain decades of little kids, or helping his work buddies learn the in’s and out’s of deer hunting. I found out a lot of things I didn’t know about my dad, like how my mom and grandma won’t let him live down the fact that he totally denied them when they first asked him to go out for pizza (my mom’s parents and my dad’s parents were friends growing up, so that’s how my parents met).

After dinner on Thanksgiving, my dad did something very “dad”-like and handed out some early Christmas gifts he had wrapped with chocolate foil coins taped to the outside (and real money tucked behind them). This is typical dad behavior, he is always anxious to share gifts with loved ones on holidays, whether he’s giving us reindeer Pez dispensers or decorations for our mantle. Once everyone had unwrapped their presents, I told him we had a gift for him to open as well. He looked both confused and surprised by the pile of 65 envelopes, each one filled with a different memory from his past.

He started opening the hand-stamped envelopes one-by-one (thanks to Pete for tackling a majority of the stamping duties) and revealed memories from life-long friends, co-workers from his federal marshall days, old neighbors, new neighbors, some of my childhood pals, and last but not least, our family.

I listened as my dad, brother, and mom took turns reading the longer letters.

I laughed at the story about how my dad accidentally swallowed a giant-sized moth that flew in the car window when he was out driving with my mom and friends. It came as no surprise to me since I’m well aware that his mouth is open 99% of the time (he’s a rambler, in case you couldn’t tell).

I learned that he was a Coca Cola aficionado, which surprised me–I don’t recall much soda being in the house when I was growing up. He was also well remembered for his Halloween decorations and how he would swap out a life-size Jason dummy that had been on display and stand quietly in his Jason costume on trick or treat night to then terrify the neighborhood teens (and adults) by slowly chasing them. It’s no why I’m such a horror movie fanatic. As a side note, I love how bored my parents’ dog Whiskey looks in this photo.

My dad didn’t quite understand the concept until after opening the first dozen or so envelopes…he kept asking, “Wait, I have to open all of these!?” My grandma even made a funny comment about how she was in her late 80s and she understood the concept (it was funny because it involved much more expletives, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination). Once we took a break for pie, my dad was finally in the mood to start making headway.

He breezed through almost all of the letters without shedding a tear, but once he got to the end with memories from my brother, sister-in-law, mom, grandma, Pete and I, he had to take frequent breaks to go blow his nose in the bathroom. It was pretty darn precious.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed memories to help make this happen. My hopes are that if my dad is ever having a downer of a day, he can open up some of the envelopes again and remember that he is loved by many. Thankfully I still have a few more years until my mom turns 65 45 (see what I did there, mom?), so I can take a bit of a breather until then.

Happy belated 65th birthday, dad. I look forward to many more memories with our fabulous (albeit slightly dysfunctional) family.

Our First Year Hosting Thanksgiving: A Recap

Thanksgiving has come and gone since my last post, but I wanted to share a recap of our festivities, since it was our first year hosting Thanksgiving with my family. As you might recall, my family of seven requested a 24 lb turkey, so my sister-in-law, Pete, and I woke up early and prepped the turkey while watching the Macy’s parade. My sis-in-law and Pete did most of the dirty work (aka rubbing herb butter under the skin) since I was on a hunt for sage in the supermarkets (we just used rubbed sage since I wasn’t able to find any fresh sage all week long). I included this gross photo so you could see the unfortunate “before.” Sorry if I’ve scarred you for life!

Thank goodness for Pete, who did all of the heavy lifting. He was a total godsend when it came time to basting, flipping, and cutting the bird.

You’ll see our menu on the left, which consisted of the following:

While our table might have been a bit mismatched, everything was delicious and that’s all that counts.

My mom wore sunglasses like a domestic rockstar while helping Pete serve the turkey since our bay windows let in a ton of light and we don’t have curtains. Thanks to everyone for your help, we had a blast hosting for our first time ever and hope to do it again! Special thanks to the best sister-in-law ever for helping Pete and I out all day long and easing my stress while I burned walnuts and caught bread cubes on fire (not sure if anyone saw that).

Hope everyone had an amazing Thanksgiving with lots of leftovers!

{Happy Thanksgiving} Things I’m Grateful For

Just a few things I’m grateful for on this Thanksgiving day…

My pre-hubs for being the sweetest:

Our first home together:

Betty White, my most favoritest pooch:

My new job! (No photo included to leave you in suspense)

I hope you all have a fabulous Thanksgiving! I’m looking forward to spending time with family and consuming as much garlic mashed potatoes as possible.

{Exciting Website News} Insert Flailing Here ______.

I wanted to welcome all of the new readers who were directed over here from A Cup of Jo, one of my all-time favorite blogs that I have had on my Google Reader for years (as have over 50,000 other subscribers).

I seriously adore Joanna Goddard (and she’s technically a stranger, but still) and might have squealed like a lunatic when I noticed she posted the ginger’s handsome face on her blog today. I agree with all of the kind commenters who said Pete’s proposal was totally creative, sweet, and heartwarming. I also agree that he’s a “lovely looking bloke” as one reader put it.

Speaking of his loveliness, Pete was amazing enough to spend every night this week working until midnight on my website redesign. I have been wanting to merge my previous photography blog and my illustration portfolio into one big shabang, filled with my entire range of portfolio and services. I will be phasing out the company name “Fromage Photography” into just plain old “Shannon Collins Photography.” I am hoping this avoids confusion and gives me a stronger branding message, since most people who know I take photos don’t realize I’m also a writer or illustrator and vice versa.

We’re still working on some design elements, but here’s a peek of what it looks like today. I’m thrilled with the slider of header images and the crispness of the design. It’s a tough task trying to combine photography, illustration and writing portfolios, but I think Pete did a smashing job (especially since he humbly considers himself a web developer and not at all a designer). I’m excited to find out what you guys think, so feel free to comment with ideas or feedback!

Thanks again to all of the new readers who found their way here from A Cup of Jo and thanks again to Joanna for the sweet spotlight on Pete’s proposal! Also, thanks to Pete for putting our Breaking Bad marathon aside and launching a kick arse website for yours truly. Your reward shall be in the form of choco mint chip ice cream, beer, and more Jesse Pinkman than you can handle (are there readers out there who watch the show?).