Christmas Decorations

[Picture-heavy post] When I was a kid, mom always called me Thomas Edison. I loved lights. Lightbulbs of any color fascinated me. After a trip to the firehouse one year, where they had red and green light bulbs, I wanted one. Dad had some red paint from the house in the garage so I took it up to my room with a white lightbulb, and I painted it red. I was so excited to have the red lightbulb, I brought it down to show mom. She kindly discarded the potential fire hazard but then we went to get some colorful lights.

Every year, one of my favorite activities was decorating for Christmas, from setting up the tree to convincing dad that it was okay to have more and more lights each year and that they were perfectly safe. Once I was on my own (and single again) in 2006, I was able to fully decorate my space as much as I wanted. And so I did. My challenge was always to do something different. It was my tradition; put on Harry Potter movies in the background, and while Harry worked his magic, so did I.

I will typically start decorating around Thanksgiving and keep adding things, up until my annual Christmas party. I never need house lights or lamps on once I have all the Christmas lights on. It’s even pretty easy to read books without eye strain, there are so many lights inside and outside. It’s not a competition for those houses you see on the news, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Because of how things are at this moment, I’m not going to be able to create my extravaganza or host a party this year. So I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the decorations from the past. Apparently, most of my photos in later years are from the parties themselves and not of decorations, so those aren’t included (to protect the innocent, of course).

Okay, here we go…


My first Christmas tree of my very own

And of course lights in the bathroom hanging from the shower curtain

A little touch-up for the lamps with red and green bulbs

The doors, all wrapped with gift wrap.

Lights above and below the cabinets

The front wall and door, because why not?

The tree in the center of it all

A snowflake point of view

Across the room view

My PhD research posters made it to the festivities

Snowflakes from the ceiling

Gotta have Rudolph somewhere

The birth of Sofa Claus and Santa Chair!

Towels added to the bathroom

Even the fridge gets decorated

2007 (Not sure why there aren’t more photos…)

Little Max waiting for Kim to return from her car

How else do you wrap hangers as a gift?

Tree’s second year with all the new ornaments everyone had brought the first year

Frosty and Rudolph gadgets were added to the mix


Tree year 3 at night

The beginning of the Christmas card display

Hey, down in front!

The return of Sofa Claus and Santa Chair

Red and green paper for the snacks

All the stockings were hung

Food table is ready

Lights around the door

Shiny paper for the cabinets

Goody “bags” for party attendees

Hiding the ugly shelves

The view from the zzz room


A diamond of garland and lights on the ceiling

Wrapping doors with paper and lights

Now ALL the cabinets were covered

The collection atop the bookcase

The elliptical machine… as Rudolph

The tree is still kicking

Party food for an army of elves


Rudolph wanted a close-up (this was before the term “selfie” was being used)

As seen on TV… oh wait, that’s a slideshow of current and past Christmas on display during the party

Flying reindeer

Rudolph returns

The long view

Wrapping that fridge and those cabinets again

Lights in the bathroom

Lights in the bedroom

Star on the ceiling

The CVS Reindeer are flying in

The north pole! (What else do you do with a large cardboard tube?)


My classroom door at school (which I duplicated this year)

Santa Snuggie at school

With some “real” lighting

So many ornaments on the tree!

Closets are covered

Looking toward the restroom

Filled stockings

Sofa Claus and Santa Chair have moved

Icicles from the ceiling

Reindeer in the kitchen

Glowing orb

New lights for the bathroom

Glowing gifts

A tree of lights for the ceiling

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s tree


Shiny door

Song puns in pictures

A periodic table shower curtain, complete with errors

The rainbow room

Even the outside of the door to my apartment was decked out

The bows and ribbons that had been attached to gifts from Kevin’s mom and aunt

The kitchen

Looking into the blue room

The tree

Wreath on the window

Witchy the Snowman

Critters on gifts

The overview

The view

Santa snuggy on a lamp


Display cases with backlighting

The holidays can be puzzling… Classroom door in a year where I taught HS physics and so had fewer 7th graders

2013 (First year in Kevin’s house)

Santa Claws

With the new surround sound system!

Our house

Our house aglow

Merlin in the tree

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom loved these reindeer

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house

Mom and Dad’s tree

Classroom fireplace with stockings and window


Merlin helping to assemble the tree

Cutest gift under the tree

More decorations


Across the way


Basement decorations

Ribbon tree, in memorium for Kevin’s mom


Merlin helping with the decorations

Santa Max

Monty’s turn to help

Our House

Mom, Dad, and Kim’s house


Party food

Santa travels by balloon when the reindeer are on vacation


Do you see a Monty?

The tree — before ornaments

Tree-trimming Time Lapse video: 2016-12-11 13.57.55



Advice for Wedding Guests

Following up my earlier notes on advice for the engaged couple planning a wedding, here are some tips for those attending another’s wedding.

The Day Is All About The Newlyweds. When you’re at a wedding, it’s not about you; it’s about the couple getting married. Yes, you are supposed to have fun, but it’s not your day to announce or initiate a proposal. It’s not the time to reveal a pregnancy or other major life change that will diminish the celebration already in progress.

Bring Some Kind Of Gift. Even if money is tight, you can still get a card or write a heartfelt poem. You do not have to be extravagant, but leave some kind of keepsake for the newlyweds.

Don’t Interfere With The Photographers. Everyone wants to get pictures and videos of the first kiss and the first dance, etc. Odds are, so does the couple and they hired people to record them. Stay out of the way of the hired professionals and get your shots another way. Be wary of where you are.

Don’t Complain To The Newlyweds. If something isn’t right with the food or whatever, tell the wait staff. Don’t bother the couple with those details on the day of the wedding. If it’s a real mess-up, tell the Best Man or Maid/Matron of Honor who man influence any tips that may be paid that night.

Don’t Get Plastered. Many weddings have an open bar and some people take full advantage of it. You may think you’re hilarious whipping your tie around and hooting and hollering, but save that for hanging out at a bar or club. Don’t become the spectacle of the night. All the focus is supposed to be on the newlyweds.

Approach The Couple. It’s okay to walk over to the newlyweds to offer your congratulations. They may make the effort to work the room and come to you, but even still, you can usually pop over to have a quick moment.

Don’t Hog The Couple. At the same point, be wary of how much of the couple’s time you’re taking. They may have a lot of guests they’re looking to spend time with. At a wedding with 100 guests, if the couple spends two minutes with each person, that’s 200 minutes, which is nearly three-and-a-half hours. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things, like speeches and cake cutting, etc.

Make Appropriate Speeches/Toasts Only. If you’re an honored guest asked to give a speech or if you’re at a wedding where you’re allowed to make an impromptu toast, be respectful. This is never the time to make reference to any past romantic relationships of either newlywed. Tell a funny story, sure, but not the most embarrassing ones. Be honest but don’t make it your goal to expose the flaws of either person. This is the day to offer positive well-wishes and guidance to a healthy and happy marriage.

If The Newlyweds Ask You To Join Them, Do It. You may not like to dance, but if you’re asked to join the dance floor, you can sway back and forth for a few minutes. Make it look like you’re enjoying it, too. This isn’t the time to say you’re busy, head to the bar, and walk back double-fisted. It’s an insult to the couple. Dance first, then go finish what you were doing.

Dress Appropriately. Some weddings are casual beach weddings and there is a certain dress code for that. Other weddings are held in churches or catering halls or mansions. Whatever you’re wearing, it should be nice. Jeans and polos are typically not the attire for the wedding. If you’re not up for a suit, then go for khakis and a button-down shirt, even if it’s short sleeve.

Posting Photos Online. Most people now have phones with decent cameras. At a wedding, people are dressed up nicely and they take pictures of themselves looking fabulous. They post them on social media, often with the wedded couple’s hashtag. But more and more people seem to be posting only pictures of themselves at the wedding and not the newlyweds. You’re at the wedding to honor them, so post pictures of yourself, sure, but make sure you’re including some snaps of the newlyweds.

Send Your Photos To The Couple. Similarly, if you’ve taken some photos at a wedding, be sure to go that extra step and share them with the newlyweds. They may have professional photographers taking shots too, but every added photo of the day really means a lot. It fills in the moments the photographers miss and it allows the newlyweds to experience a little bit of the day through your eyes. It’s easy enough to dump all the photos into a folder, zip it, and email it. Or put them on a site like Dropbox in a folder and send the newlyweds a link to the folder. It’s never too late to share those photos, either.

Have Fun. The newlyweds are hoping you’re there to celebrate them and to have a good time, so go ahead and dance, tell jokes, be social, and have a good time. Don’t be too boisterous. Don’t drag people to the dance floor if they’ve declined your invitation. But otherwise, feel the joy and celebrate.

Advice For Planning a Wedding

Planning a wedding can be a huge undertaking, but it’s meant to be a huge event. As we went through this process, we read a lot online and heard a lot through the grapevine and we pulled the best of what we could from it all. For anyone looking for some advice or suggestions, we thought we’d offer some ideas. I’ve spent the past month typing up our memories of our wedding season and these tidbits are things that we felt were important throughout. Everyone has their own style and list of priorities, so take from this what you will. Without further ado, here’s what we recommend to the couple, both for the planning stages and during your wedding.

Work Together. Marriage is a partnership, so the ceremony that starts it all should be one too. There are so many aspects to a wedding, it’s impossible, and unfair, to leave the work heavily leaning on one person’s shoulder. Both members of the engaged couple need to split the work and to be wholly invested it, even when it feels like drudgery. People laugh about how the bride coordinates the grand majority and the groom seemingly just shows up. It should never be this way. Building our wedding together strengthened our relationship and if you can’t come together to set up the event that starts your married life together, what going to happen when you’re trying to decide on buying a house or having or raising kids?

Have A Theme. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. But choose something that represents both of you and make use of it throughout your wedding season. For us, it was the concept of magic and code and that graphic we had drawn for us. Yes, it cost us around $200 to have it created, but we used it on envelopes, RSVP cards, menus, programs, table signs, and so on. It was a great investment and a beautiful keepsake.

Remember That It’s YOUR Wedding. It’s your day. Everyone will give you advice. Let them. See it as them wanting to be involved. An idea or two may be useful to you but in the end do what you want to do. If money is a factor, find a balance. Offer the benefactor a table of guests to arrange or some part of the day they want some control over that won’t impact your other plans.

Involve Others. There is a lot of work to do so ask for help. Do your best not to overwhelm people. Be gracious when asking. Show your gratitude with dinner or a small gift. People want to be part of your day, so let them.

Contact Your Vendors Again. Odds are, there are some vendors you haven’t contacted in a while. Reach out, check in, make sure you’re all on the same page still. If two months have passed and you’ve had no interaction, then reach out. We ran into a critical issue because when we reached out, we were given the wrong information. When the estimated bill came after that, it was for nearly another thousand dollars that “should” have been included. It took three weeks to resolve and we weren’t even able to resolve it. We had to replace the vendor. If we hadn’t been in touch all along, it would have been a huge shock and stressor at the worst possible time.

Watch Your Budget. It is very easy to go over budget. One way to help this is to see if there are things you can do yourself instead of outsourcing. For us, that was printing our envelopes ourselves all throughout. It cost some ink but the savings were noticeable. We printed many things ourselves and used better paper for all of them. From consultation fees, setup fees, printing fees, and shipping fees, we saved a lot with a trip to Staples for supplies. Take the time to cost things out before just jumping the gun, unless it’s a task that will add massive stress and no one can help you with it. Sometimes hiring help is the answer too.

Pick Something And Splurge For It. It sounds contrary to the last piece of advice, but choose something you want that’s above and beyond and let yourself have it for your wedding. For us, it was our cake, dragon and all. It became a star feature of our day.

Revisit Your Venue. If you haven’t been back to your venue several times, then you should set up appointments and start going. It’s going to be your very special place for an important day in your life. Spend some time there taking it in repeatedly. Talk about where you see things being set up. We averaged a trip per month to our venue. In that time, we made several changes to where we wanted things. We even flipped the direction of the seats for the ceremony because we decided we wanted everyone to have the castle in the background, not someone’s backyard. We didn’t even realize it until our 6th or 7th trip. Other times, we just walked around and let the joy fill us up.

Consider A Second Photographer Instead Of A Photo Booth. If you price them out, they’re similar in cost. In a photo booth you get low quality shots with lots of goofy props. With a second photographer, you get to record much more of your special day with high quality photos. You can still set up a backdrop with goofy shots if you want a photo booth kind of effect, but having an extra professional photographer around will get you more bang for your buck. If you haven’t considered it, ask about the costs. You might be surprised.

Remember That People Are People. Even those with the best intentions can mess up. It’s not always on purpose. It can be hard to separate your expectations from actions taken by others. Do what you can to communicate your needs to others before something occurs. And when something happens, evaluate it. Address it if needed. Don’t let it fester and ruin your day or the preparation for your day.

Taste Your Food. This is a before and after tidbit. You should make an effort to sample the cuisine of the venue before selecting items for your guests. Maybe the shrimp scampi is a favorite but the caterer adds seasoning you’re not expecting because that’s how they cook it. See if your caterer operates a restaurant or has showcases. Make it a special midway-to-wedding date night. Then during your wedding, make sure you eat it there too. You’ll be running for a long time that day and you need sustenance. It’s not rude to have something to eat during your own party.

Find Something For Your Most Important People To Do. Certain roles are traditionally assigned automatically and unless you’re changing them, then some people may feel left out. If you don’t want that, then find something for them to do. They could be ushers, flower bearers, ceremony readers. They could give a toast or speech or have a dance. Set boundaries if needed so toasts are kept short. Consider asking them to share the toast with someone you trust to ensure nothing untoward is in there.

Write Your Own Ceremony. This is not as possible for all weddings, but if you’re able to, then spend time customizing your ceremony and making something that represents you. Whoever officiates your ceremony should be completely clear about what he or she will say. There shouldn’t be any surprises from the person presiding over your wedding.

Make An Effort To See Your Guests. During the reception, you should enjoy yourself, surely. But part of that should be in spending time with all of your guests. You can’t spend a lot of individual time but do it in groups. There’s nothing more awkward for a guest who comes to celebrate your day, brings you a gift, and never even gets to look you in the eye and wish you well. Some guests will seek you out but others will see you’re busy and not want to crowd you.

Thank Your Guests Personally. When you open your gifts, keep a record of each one. When you write your thank you notes, make a reference to each gift. If you were given money, make a reference to what you plan to do with it. Thank you notes should never be done in bulk or as a form letter. It is insulting but you may never directly hear that part. Show respect and gratitude by writing personalized notes. If someone did not give you a gift but they attended the wedding, then simply thank them for celebrating with you on your day.

Watch Your Alcohol Consumption. Lots of people drink at their wedding. Make a conscious effort not to drink much. Be sober or no more than tipsy all night long. You will remember so much more of your special day. When you’ve spent a lot of money and time putting this all together, you should want to remember it.

Designate Helpers For Your Day. Typically, members of your wedding party should be responsible for in-the-moment decisions during your wedding. You shouldn’t be dealing with paying vendors yourself. You shouldn’t be deciding if it’s okay for Uncle So-And-So to make an impromptu speech. You shouldn’t be concerned about Cousin Whosiewhatsit getting home safely that night. Your wedding party should be informed ahead of time of your wishes and then be in charge of those issues. For instance, we did not allow our guests to make music requests with our DJ but our wedding party had the power to allow a song or two if they knew it and felt it fit the night. We also had a car on standby if needed and members of our wedding party knew when to make use of it.

Keep A Record Along The Way. Whether it’s a journal, a set of computer files, photos, or physical scraps of these, keep a record of the process you went through in setting up your wedding. It’s amazing when you look back at all you did to set up your day. Consider making a scrapbook or blogging or journaling about it. Let it be an additional keepsake for yourself that you can look back on and be proud of.

Enjoy Yourself. Remember on your day that emotions will be high so focus on the positive. Laugh, dance, eat, be merry. If someone is stressing you out, hand them off to a helper to deal with. It’s your day and it is supposed to be the happiest day you know. Don’t let the little things get in the way. We had an arrangement of flowers on our arbor but the wind knocked it over and destroyed the arrangement. No one was hurt but the flowers were ruined. Our wedding party pitched in and came up with an alternative on the spot. We could have let it ruin our day, seeing it as a sign of terrible things to come. But we chose to focus on the result instead. No one else knew of the flowers on the arbor. It didn’t change the essence of our day at all.

Take A Moment Or Two Together. This was advice we’d heard a few times. Somewhere during your reception, step back and take some time to look around and just take everything in together. Look at the revelry your love inspired and feel the joy and honor your guests have for you. Escape once or twice to have some alone time. Cherish that time together.