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Monday, December 9, 2013

Awesome Christmas Music

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I mentioned on my December Checklist post that I like to submerse myself as much as possible in Christmas music during the month of December.  It makes me happy and gets me in the Christmas mood like nothing else!  So I thought I would share with you my favorite Christmas albums for your listening enjoyment!

The Birth of Jesus by John Michael Talbot

This may very well be my favorite Christmas album.  The music is just amazing.  If you don't know, John Michael Talbot has a really interesting life story.  He studied several religions and eventually became a monk, but not like locked in a monastery or something.  He started an "integrated monastic community."  Anyway, it's really interesting.  

I bring that up because you can definitely hear those influences in his music.  There are chants, boys' choirs, and an overall liturgical feel to a lot of the songs.  Absolutely beautiful.  I haven't seen this album in stores since I was a kid, so the only place I could find it was on Amazon.  It's worth it just for his rendition of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" with a full orchestra and boys' choir.

A Very Veggie Christmas by The Veggie Tales

I was introduced to this CD my freshman year of college by my roommates.  I have very fond memories of trying to make a popcorn chain in our dorm room while laughing hysterically at Junior Asparagus singing, "While by my Sheep."  Kids will love this album, but I loved it long before I had kids.  It's great, and I love that it has some more obscure Christmas songs, like "Ring Little Bells" and "He is Born the Holy Child."

Christmas by Mannheim Steamroller

This is the classic Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album.  They've made a bajillion others since, and they're pretty good, but this one is the best.  I have listened to these songs literally every Christmas that I can remember.  They're classics.

A Christmas to Remember by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra

This one is so random, but it is one of my faves.  I got this one originally in a 3 disk set of old-timey Christmas music from Walmart like, ten years ago.  The other two CD's are ok, but this one is just amazing.  I guess it was an old radio special that Sinatra and Crosby did one year.  It's them just basically hanging out and occasionally singing Christmas songs.  They chat about random stuff, drink toddies, and eat pizza, all on the radio.  It always makes me feel like I'm just chillin' with them on a random Christmas evening.  It's super cool.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi Trio

Of course, the Charlie Brown movie is a classic, but a couple of years ago, I got the soundtrack, and I've come to like it just as much!  You get all the awesome songs without having to watch all the kids be total jerks to poor Charlie Brown for absolutely no reason at all.  Plus, since most of the songs don't have words, this is a great one to put on when you have people over or have other things going on.

Noel by Josh Groban

You've probably heard several of Josh Groban's songs on the Christmas radio stations, but the CD is full of good ones.  He does a great version of Little Drummer Boy and several others, and there's even an original song.  

My only complaint with this CD is that he does a version of "I'll be Home for Christmas" where he plays recordings of military men and women sending their greetings to their loved ones back home, and I absolutely cannot listen to it without sobbing like a baby.  (If you know me, you know that I can't even thank someone for their service to our country without crying.  I don't know why.  I just take it very, very seriously.  Probably has to do with Brian being in the Army for 11 years.)  As a matter of fact, if I hear the first few notes, I run into the room yelling, "NOPE!  NO!  SHUT IT DOWN!" until I can turn it off.  Brian swears he's gonna burn me a new CD that doesn't have that track on it someday.  

Christmas by Michael Bublé

This was the #1 Christmas album a couple of years ago, so most people have heard it, or at least some of the tracks off of it.  It is a really great CD.  He does a great job of having fun with the songs ("Santa Buddy, slip a Rolex under the tree...") but still makes them singable.  He has a great voice that is reminiscent of old style crooners like Nat King Cole, and he even manages to make "Blue Christmas" and "All I want for Christmas is You" into songs you won't automatically turn off!

Christmas Eve and Other Stories by Trans Siberian Orchestra

Of course, the singles off of this CD are amazing.  Their hard rock version of the "Carol of the Bells" ("Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24") is an international phenomenon, and their Christmas version of Pachebel's Cannon is pretty cool, too.   However, the coolest part of this album is that it tells a story.  The songs go along with narration in the liner notes (which they read aloud if you go to their concert) that tells an amazing, beautiful story.  It always touches my heart.  Get the CD and spend an evening listening to it and reading along.  It's worth it.

Chantez Noel

This is a CD I got when I taught my French classes, and I still love it.  It is a collection of Christmas songs in French.  Some of them are traditional songs, and some are just translated, but they are all great.  This CD has my favorite version of "Noel Nouvelet" ever.

I also have a couple of Pandora stations that I love.  Their Christmas Radio station is a great mix of different kinds of Christmas songs, with more variety than the normal radio stations.  They also have a Christmas Jazz station that is really nice background music for parties or just during the day.

What are your favorite Christmas albums?  Any new ones I need to pick up?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Awesome December Checklist

December means Christmas.

Christmas is awesome.

Also, Christmas is overwhelming.  Just look at my Christmas Pinterest Board!  There are not enough hours in a year, let alone a single month, to accomplish all of the cute crafts, clever DIY gifts, and fun decorating ideas that I find!

To keep from getting overwhelmed, and because I just like lists a lot, I decided to make a December Checklist, and put on there the events and activities that are my highest priority.  That way, I won't get distracted by all the other stuff.  If I just get this stuff done by December 23rd, I'll be doing great and December will be so much fun!  (I didn't include Christmas Eve/Christmas Day stuff.  That's a whole other list!)

My Awesome December Checklist

1)  Go look at Christmas lights.

Our family takes this way more serious than most.  We don't just drive around looking at lights.  We put award certificates in the mailboxes of the houses we like best.

We make up the titles as we go, and each year we love coming up with new awards like, "Best use of Marine Life in a Christmas display" or ""Most Likely to be Seen from Space."  Of course, we have the standards like, "The Santa Claus is Coming to Town Award" for a great Santa display, and "The Silent Night Award" for a beautiful nativity display.  This is one of our favorite Christmas activities, and we've been doing it for years.  We even have a facebook group that award winners can join.  It's so much fun!

2)  Make lots of cookies.

I love making Christmas cookies.  I even have a Santa Claus apron!

I did a blog post last year about some of my favorite Christmas cookies, and I'm looking forward to trying some new ones this year, too!  They make great gifts, and are always a hit at parties!

3)  Go to a walk-through nativity.

My mom's church does this every year, and it's awesome.  It's usually ridiculously cold, but it doesn't matter, 'cause we just get all bundled up.

Plus, at the end, you get cookies and hot chocolate, which is extra fun.  There are tons of churches that do this kind of thing, so if you're not near here, I'm sure you could find one online.

4)  Go to a family Christmas event.

There are tons and tons of options in this category.  We like to go to our local Zoolight Safari, where the zoo puts up over a million lights and they do special night events.  It's really fun, and since Cricket is all about lights right now, I can't wait to see her reaction!

But like I said, that's just one option.  There are parades, tree lightings, outdoor ice skating rinks, and lots of other fun family events to choose from.  Our local historic theater shows Christmas movies during December, and I know that's a lot of fun, too.

5)  Go to a Christmas concert.

Our church always does a Christmas concert night where the children's choir (adorable) and the adult choir (inspirational) perform, and then we have a huge potluck.  (I love living in the South.)  Almost every church does some kind of musical cantata or concert, and so do the symphonies and local children's choir, so it's easy to find something.  Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit like listening to Christmas music!

6)  Listen to Christmas music until I hear it in my sleep.

Speaking of Christmas goal every year is to completely submerse myself in Christmas music at all waking moments to the point where I am singing them in my sleep.  In the car, in the house, when I sing to Cricket, it's gotta be Christmas music!  Look for a post about my favorite Christmas music coming soon!

7)  Read Christmas books.

Brian and I read Dickens' A Christmas Carol every year out loud together.  I cannot recommend this enough.  If you do nothing else on this list, do this.  I love this book so much.  And it's funny, because I'm not really a huge Dickens fan, but this one is just pure gold.  It's hilarious and sarcastic and witty and sweet and interesting, all in turn.  Read it!

Also, I have been slowly accumulating some Christmas books for Cricket, like The Grinch and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  She has loved having all these new and interesting books to read.

8)  Do a Christmas kids' craft.

To quell my desire to do every single Pinterest Christmas craft, I have decided to just pick one, (ok, maybe two) and have fun with it.  I got some foam stickers to do a craft with our playgroup, and I'll probably do one more just with Cricket.  Plus, we'll do one at the library storytime, so we're in no danger of missing out in the craft department.

9)  Watch Christmas movies.

We haven't really let Cricket start watching TV yet, so this is for the grownups.  I have been slowly collecting Christmas movies for ten years, now.  I have all the good ones.  The Grinch is my favorite to watch over and over, and A Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas movie ever, but it's special and we save it to watch on Christmas Eve each year.

10)  Go to at least one party.

Of course, there will be lots of parties, but I put "at least one" so that it doesn't become a weird Christmas Pokemon game of "gotta catch all the parties."  One is enough, two is great, three is fun, and much more than that becomes stressful in a hurry.  We do our big party at Halloween, so we don't try to throw one ourselves.  I try to just pick a few that my friends are throwing and really enjoy them.

11)  Stare at the lights on the tree in the dark.

This is one of my favorite things about the Christmas season.  Turning off all the lights except the Christmas lights, drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music, and curling up on the couch to watch the lights.  So peaceful and beautiful.

12)  Go on a date.

It's easy to get so busy during December that you barely even speak to your family.  I know we already  have one week this month where we are out of the house five nights in a row!  I didn't want to forget to spend some time with Brian, so I included this in my list.  Our plan is to go see The Hobbit when it comes out, but even just getting coffee or window shopping would be nice.

13)  Do random acts of kindness.

It just doesn't feel like Christmas without this.  If you've never gone through a drive through and anonymously paid for the person behind you, you should try it.  It will make you downright giddy.  When we were little, my mom, my sister, and I would take hot chocolate to the guys working at the Christmas tree lot when we got our tree, because they're usually freezing out there!  I've also seen ideas on Pinterest for "ding dong ditching" your neighbors and leaving a plate of cookies or a small gift on their door step.  There are lots more ideas, but it doesn't take much to get you (and someone else) in the Christmas spirit!

14)  Pictures with Santa.

Last year we went to Bass Pro Shop to get a free picture with Santa, and it was great, but I learned something very important.  GO EARLY!  Do not wait until the Saturday before Christmas to do this.  You will wait in line for two hours and your baby will poop all over her adorable Christmas outfit.  Trust me.  (Good thing I brought a spare outfit just in case!)

15)  Do a Christmas service project.

Some of my favorite Christmas service projects are Angel Tree, Operation Christmas Child, and Heifer International.  This year, we also have an opportunity through our church to man a gift wrapping table at the mall to raise money for a local girl's shelter, so that will be awesome.   Service projects are a great way to adjust my perspective and keep from getting too focused on myself.  (This goes for all months of the year, btw.)

I can think of a bajillion  more things I would like to do, but I'm trying to be realistic.  Also, I didn't put decorating the house or the tree on there because I think that's kind of a given.  So is drinking hot chocolate.  :o)

Anyway, here's a nifty graphic with my checklist on it.  What's on yours?