Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Twelve months ago I threw down the gauntlet, declaring that 2013 would be the year I would spend less time consuming and more of it creating. I would give the ideas on that personal to-do list a home in the real world. Judging from my watching and reading lists I posted yesterday, you would think I slipped, that I was conquered by all of the books clamoring to be read, but you would be so wrong. I managed to find time. Granted, I gave things up and chose to make sacrifices. My gym attendance got spottier and spottier the further we got into the year, and I pretty much gave up meal planning and cooking for the week by the time we got to June. Also, despite my love of good TV, I couldn't tell you what happened on Breaking Bad and only know the Dexter spoilers because of a podcast. I missed Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, and House of Cards, and I couldn't talk to you about Betty Draper.
In their place, yes, I read more books, but I also created two podcasts. They may not be professionally recorded or perfect, but we created them. They are getting better and better, and for that, I'm proud.
I also wrote an essay and submitted it for publication. While the publication wasn't the right choice for this particular work, actually writing and submitting it was the goal. It scared the crap out of me to do it.
I wrote 95% percent of my first novel and definitely surpassed my 50,000 word count goal. It's not done done, but I'm counting it!
I developed a business idea (a bit strange for me) and began drafting a business plan.
We finally filmed a sequel to Reader's Advantage (to be edited in January 2014).
Yes, this year was a good one that was filled with family, friends, and travel. I can only pray that the new year will be as good.
Monday, December 30, 2013
Choosing my favorite reads of the year is far too difficult! However, if you were trapped on a desert island or holing up in a cabin for a reading vacation, I'd start with the titles highlighted with a larger font below. Each of these floated my boat in a major way and will be stories I remember for years to come.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Midnight Rising by Tony Horowitz
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved by Hunter S. Thompson
Lost Code by Kevin Emerson
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Pastoralia by George Saunders
Faithful Place by Tana French
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
Parasite by Mira Grant
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
The Returned by Jason Mott
Watergate by Thomas Mallon
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Mudbound by Hilary Jordan
Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Inspired by, and borrowed from, Austin Kleon
Is it just me, or did 2013 fly by? Cliche, but it feels like such an incredibly real sentiment. The year, itself, has been fantastic. There have been so many movies in my life this year, ranging from gut-wrenching to entirely forgettable. Most of these films will be touchstones for different moments in my year, and while the films themselves may not stay with me, perhaps the circumstances surrounding them will. I think I will always remember this Christmas as the year we watched 10 movies in 48 hours because the local video store in my hometown offered free rentals in appreciation to their members. A challenge we accepted and met.
My entire 2013 watch list is below. My 10 favorites of the past year include: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, This Is The End, Pacific Rim, Stories We Tell, Les émotifs anonymes,Catching Fire, The Way, Way Back, and Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Silver Linings Playbook
A Good Day to Die Hard
Iron Man 3
G.I. Joe Retaliation
Now You See Me
Les émotifs anonymes
Miss Fisher's Murder Mystery (series, but I've been mainlining them like a movie)
Man of Steel
Man of Steel
The Lone Ranger
Fast and the Furious 6
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Violet & Daisy
The Way, Way Back
2012, 2011 lists
Inspired by, and borrowed from, Austin Kleon.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Only my friends would stage a photo shoot while we wait in the emergency room (photo from way back)
I love lists, and end-of-the-year round ups are no exception! I've asked a few of my friends to play along and join me in sharing lists of the best things they've read this year. All of this, of course, is a lead in to my own best reads of the year. Enjoy Scarlet's list below!
As we approach the end of 2013, I am ready to admit that I have had a dreadfully light reading year. I’m not sure what happened since I didn’t have as many obligations as years past, but I read fewer books this year than in 2012 and 2011. Disappointing! The silver lining is that out of the books I did read, there were some spectacular gems! Books that have jumped onto my all time favorites list and books that I have recommended to anyone who will listen. Not all were written in 2013, but they’re all pretty current. I don’t get to the backlist titles as often as I would like. (Never enough time!)
I can’t do a ranked list because that is just impossible so instead I’ll give my recommendations for several different categories.
Books That Made Me Cry:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern- I read this while on vacation in Jamaica at the beginning of the year and when I finished it, just days after starting, all I could say was “Wow!” This book was like nothing I had ever read and the beauty of the words and the world created within in it was so magical. I can no longer drive past an ordinary circus without feeling sadness that it’s not black and white.
Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole- Prior to my dream come true vacation to Scotland back in October, I picked up this book solely because it takes place on the island of Skye. Eight hours later I finished it, with tears in my tired eyes, and a heart warm from the love story so beautifully told. I could not put this book down and the US Open was on so, for anyone who knows me, it was a big deal for me to concentrate more on a book than on tennis. This book is a gem and could easily be a bestseller so read it and spread the word! It’s told entirely in letters and takes place in the early 20th century, telling the story between a young poet in Scotland and the American who writes her a fan letter.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell- Without giving too much of the plot away, I was really worried for the main characters of this book until I had turned the last page. This is the sincere story of two high schoolers who share a bus seat and end up with a beautiful connection.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn- I loved loved loved this book! It’s evil and has terrible characters, twists and turns, and a mystery that was like nothing I have read before. The only thing I will love more than this book will be the David Fincher adaptation starring Ben Affleck. Hot damn will that be good!
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight- The perfect book to read after Gone Girl because of the mystery element and style of storytelling. Reconstructing Amelia stands well on its own, too, though. A mom begins to piece together the mystery of her daughter’s sudden death after receiving a tip that it was not a suicide. I loved how the story was told from multiple angles and even included text messages and Facebook posts.
In For The Series:
Level 2 (The Memory Chronicles #1) by Lenore Appelhans- I was at work one day at the bookstore when Lenore came in to sign her book so I bought it because I like to support YA authors! Plus, she was super nice and we connected on twitter later that day. She runs a fantastic YA review blog and clearly knows what she is doing because she wrote a great book! This is a book about a part of the afterlife where the dead spend their days watching their memories to pass the time until one of them goes missing and Felicia, the main character, finds out that there is way more going on in this world between worlds.
Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham- I love Lauren Graham! Have you listened to the podcast Serena and I do? Go ahead, check it out: Friday Night Dinner (link!) Lauren Graham is awesome because she seems like she is such a fun person and that characteristic comes through in all of her work, including her first novel. I really enjoyed this book and found myself giggling several times as I read. I love how the story takes place in the ‘90s because of the added struggles of answering machines, fax machines, and pay phones. Supposedly LG is working on a second book with the same main character. I don’t think it’s a sequel, but a standalone within the same world. I can’t wait!
Tandem (Many-Worlds #1) by Anna Jarzab- All Unquiet Things, the debut book by this author, is an amazingly gorgeous and intricate book that is one of my favorite YA books out there. Tandem is also a great story with an original plot about parallel worlds and a main character who is kidnapped and forced to impersonate the missing princess who is the alternate version of herself. (Note: for an amazing book about Stockholm Syndrome, you have to read Stolen by Lucy Christopher. INCREDIBLE book!)
Pivot Point (Pivot Point #1) by Kasie West- Another cool book about an interesting world where everyone has super powers within a compound and the main character has to decide to stay there with her mom, or to move with her dad to a town of ‘norms’. What makes the choice completely fascinating is that Addison can see the future when faced with two potential outcomes.
The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater- If you haven’t read The Raven Boys, you need to go NOW and catch up. Number two in the cycle (out of four) is told from Ronan’s point of view, which is a little unpredictable, a lot dangerous, and partly told while in a dream state. Crazy, right? This book, like all of Stiefvater’s is exquisitely written and filled to the brim with beautiful lines.
So, that’s it really. Unfortunately, my ‘currently reading’ list is way too long and not getting shorter so I don’t get to talk about how much I love Game of Thrones, even though it’s taking me forever to get through the book (it’s because I keep daydreaming about Jon Snow), how much I’m not sure about The Bone Season (but have been told the end is awesome), and how I still haven’t finished a few series I was fully into (Matched, Cahill Witch Chronicles, Unearthly, Under the Never Sky, just to name a few!)
Here’s to 2014 and more reading! (Hopefully!)
It's still officially Christmas Day here in the southwest, and I'm just sitting here enjoying the end of a satisfying few days.We've baked, lunched, and cooked Christmas dinner. We played Christmas music on iTunes radio and played a few heated rounds of Uno. And have I mentioned the movies? We stopped by Hastings Books & Music on Christmas Eve to pick up a movie and discovered their gift to their customers was up to 10 free DVD rentals (we're not really a Netflix family). Turns out that, despite all of the movies I've seen this year, there are still tons I haven't. Think that it's impossible to watch 10 movies in 48 hours while also talking, cooking dinner, and playing games? We're out to prove it's not. :-)
Sunday, December 22, 2013
I left the house on Friday for the first time since I arrived in San Angelo, and evidently, I was into it because we were barely home today (lots of errands largely centered around putting together our meal plan for Christmas week and securing the groceries). I ended my temporary hibernation yesterday with lunch out with my grandpa. He took me to Chef's Corner, a local place he and my mom like. If you can't tell, we also got some rain. In West Texas, that's akin to manna falling* from heaven.
Speaking of manna from heaven, we had Whataburger for dinner tonight. Basically, if you're ever in Texas, try Whataburger. Enough said.
My grandpa went to watch the college girls' basketball team play earlier today, and we picked him up from the arena. Is it just me, or does that ram have an abnormally large pair of balls? Does everything have to be bigger in Texas?
Finally, new phone!
*In a weird juxtaposition of thoughts, I accidentally typed 'following' at first, and now I feel compelled to mention how excited I am that The Following is back on in January!
Friday, December 20, 2013
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Today will go down in fame as the Sunday I grabbed the bull by the horns and got all kinds of productive. I had alarms (yes, it took more than one for me to force myself out of bed at this hour on a Sunday) set for 7AM and a calendar that had every hour plotted out. We're talking everything from write (webinar) PowerPoint to clean apartment to wash hair to pack Christmas cookies.
Not only did it all get done, I crammed in some last minute holiday time with friends before I flee for the southwest on Tuesday. After years of seeing the Mormon temple loom majestically over the beltway, we finally headed up to check out their holiday festival of lights and followed it up with burger (and serious conversation ;-)) at The Counter.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Today was an overcast day filled with snow that didn't really stick. It was also my last weekend in Virginia this year, making it the perfect day to record the last 2013 That's What She Read podcast (Friday Night Dinner will be up tomorrow!), make Christmas cookies with Ravena, and watch a few more episodes of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (love). I made a ton of German slice cookies that I'll share photos of tomorrow.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Thursday, December 12, 2013
The process of taking and posting these photos has led me to rethink whether I should share these. I'm afraid endless photos depicting some facet of me working* will bum you out. Fear not, friends, for I am lucky enough to drive pass this abundant display of holiday decadence almost every day! How is that for holiday goodness? Also, in other exciting news, I decided to grab The Gobbler sandwich from Wawa for dinner last night on my way home from a meeting. As someone who celebrates Thanksgiving with others and usually doesn't indulge in leftovers, it's a nice post-holiday treat. It's how I imagine Ross's "moistmaker" sandwich tastes.
*Seriously, though, if you find yourself feeling like all I'm doing is working, just remember my two-month paid sabbatical in January, and that will clear any pity right up. Plus, I go to Texas next week, and work photos will take on a bit of a homey twang.
We're back after a bit of a hiatus with Christina, a bookseller (and lead of the children's department) from Northern Virginia.
What are you currently reading? Thoughts on it?
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
It’s really hard not to like a steampunk book like this. It’s set in Seattle before Washington becomes a state. Everyone there is waiting for the Civil War to be over, as then they can get the help they need to properly deal with the aftermath of the testing of a new drilling device that went too far into the earth and released the Blight, a gas which not only kills you but may very well turn you into a zombie (or rotter, as they call them). The history is tweaked a little bit so that Seattle was a more heavily populated area than it was back when this is set and you’ll get some scenery that didn’t exist quite yet either, but it’s fascinating. It’s less about the zombies and more about the people who still live in the walled-up Seattle despite the large number of walking dead milling about.
When Did You Last See Her? By Lemony Snicket
I’m not sure if I like this series as much as The Series of Unfortunate Events, but it’s cute and continues to have the signature snarky style that I adore.
What books are you most looking forward to this year?
Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger, the amazing teen series that is a world-prequel to her Parasol Protectorate series of slightly more adult nature. I will read anything this woman writes as it is almost the same kind of wit as a Jane Austen novel (though a little less dry for the people who don’t like Austen as much).
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I discovered Allie’s blog a couple years ago and fell in love with the humor of it. She’s very honest about things that have happened in her life and what she’s going through, but at the same time she knows just how to cut in a little humor. Her art is not necessarily the greatest ever, but she has a knack for depicting things perfectly with what she can do, and you’ll read through some of her entries and just laugh and laugh.
Did you set any reading goals for 2013? If so, what are they?
I was planning to read 100 books at least, but I’m getting so far behind on that that I think Goodreads is starting to make fun of me with its count tracker.
What three characters would you invite to the bar for a drink?
I don’t drink, but I’d love to hang out with Lord Akeldama from the Parasol Protectorate series, Captain Marvel (of the Carol Danvers variety, for she is nothing but Captain now), and Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
If you could convince any two authors to write a book together, who would it be? Why?
Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. I feel like their writing styles would mesh very nicely, without as much of the disconnect that can occur when two writers collaborate on a book and you can tell immediately who does what. That’s not always a bad thing, as in Good Omens it’s easy to tell what Terry Pratchett wrote vs. what Neil Gaiman wrote. They’re also two of my all-time favorite authors, so it would be wonderful to see what they would come up with...and give me an excuse to try and get my first edition copy of The Thief of Always signed.
What's the most annoying book you see flying off the shelves?
Twilight and the fake BDSM Twilight fanfic series, Fifty Shades of Grey. I could list everything wrong with the books, but I’d probably be writing forever on the topic. I like that people read even because of series like these two, but I cannot stand either of them to a point where I would almost want to destroy a book, which I try never to do.
If you could give people one piece of advice to prep them for entering a bookstore, what would it be?
1. Be aware of your surroundings. When it is busy, please do not A: set yourself up in the middle of an aisle or walking area; B: move one of our chairs to a spot right in front of as much product as you can, ensuring that if someone needs something from the area you’re sitting in front of, you will be annoyed; and C: be so totally unaware of what’s going on around you that you nearly cause people to run smack into you as you stop walking suddenly.
2. Please be courteous to the people who are paid to try and help you to the best of their ability. They are not verbal punching bags for you to take out your frustrations on, nor are they there to be commented on or touched. There are stories out there of people who have worked places like the pornography industry who have taken retail jobs for extra money and found that the latter setting opens you up for more dehumanization than the former. Think on that for a bit.
3. The back room is not a TARDIS. If it were, I might have every obscure book and textbook you are looking for, but you would not see any of them because I would be off running through time and space while reading them.
4. Do your best to be prepared if you are looking for a specific book. The questions you are being asked when you can’t remember the title or author are to help us figure out if there is a way to do a Google search to find what you’re looking for, or to figure out if we know of the book ourselves. Don’t look at us blankly and remind us what the cover looks like (this happens more often than you’d think), or that it’s called “The [something],” because that isn’t going to help.
5. Nonfiction is not a section. Nonfiction is a catch-all for everything that does not belong in fiction, but it is not a single section. The majority of the store’s stock is nonfiction, broken up into multiple categories. I cannot point you to “nonfiction” if I don’t know what type of nonfiction you are looking for, as you will be wandering through the store wondering where your book might be.
What’s your catnip, that familiar plotline or genre you can’t help but pick up and devour?
I’ve fallen in love with steampunk books recently. I can’t seem to explain why exactly, but there is something about steampunk’s take on the Victorian era that can be quite satisfying, especially when it comes to female characters and commenting on society’s views on women’s rights. I also like a really good urban fantasy book. This can include things like American Gods as well, so really just well-done fantasy novels that have a solid foot in our world. I just love the idea that if you look at the world just a little differently than you normally would, you can discover untold wonders hiding there.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Today began with the loveliest of snow storms. It seemed so innocuous (which it actually turned out to be) that I headed to work without turning on the news or any other outside media. Imagine my surprise to discover the federal government was closed, and no one was in the office. Cue a quiet, productive day. The sun made an appearance this afternoon, and by 3:30, I'd decided the lighting and book collection in the kitchen would be perfect for staging a photo. I did promise to up my game.
The top photo is a postcard from Scarlet. It finally came! I love a good postcard, and the Royal Mail stamp on the back of this one was particularly charming.
Monday, December 09, 2013
I'm clearly going to have to step up my game. This photo (look up just a smidge...it's a bit boring, so your eyes probably swept right past it) could be my daily photo 88 percent of the time. While the contents of my day can vary widely, there's still so much of it that happens right at this very desk. This is a river-saving desk. Let's pretend this is a "what's in my bag" post, and I'll take you on a tour of the photo.
1. Magnets that I've collected or been gifted over the years. My favorite is a hologram of a river in New Hampshire. Typing this totally reminds me that I have magnets I need to mail my mom.
2. Large before and after photos of restored rivers. I had blueprint copies made of a few project photos and mounted them on black foam board. I spoke at an event at a museum in June, and these prints made a nice backdrop for people to wander past before the talk started.
3. Forum ribbon. This was from a National Trust for Historic Preservation conference badge three years ago. I just like ribbons and the word 'forum'.
4. The timber scrap and three rock-like objects are all salvaged bits from dam removal projects. I can't decide whether it's a sign of old age (or that they all look similar) that I can't remember which piece is from which project. I know one of these pieces of concrete is from the Elwha Dam removal in Olympic National Park in Washington.
5. My latest notebook. I take copious notes at meetings, jot endless lists, and doodle incessantly. I have a stack of notebooks full of years of work off to the right of my desk. They're some of my most prized work possessions.
Some little girls dreamed of kids or of houses with yards to take care of. I dreamed of a desk of my own.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Coffeesmith. The second local coffee shop I frequent a lot.
That's not dust on the camera lens, people. We have achieved snow! Actually, we have achieved snow followed by sleet and ice, but I'll take it. I know I'm weird, but I really, really hope this doesn't interfere with my ability to get to work tomorrow. I have a long list and will be so much more effective if I'm allowed to attack it from the comfort of my office chair.
I have a dirty little secret. I love gift guides and other people's "want" lists. I buy very little in the way of tangible things these days. Most of my (theoretically disposable) money goes to caffeine, books, sometimes art, and life experiences. I don't say this to brag. It's almost a problem. I have an eight-year old macbook (that I love). My iPhone has a thick, gray bar running down the left side of the screen from dropping it, and I refuse to replace it. My favorite suitcase is 15 years old and has traveled the world. My favorite cardigan was a good ten years old and had a hole in the arm for the past seven of those years. I only gave it up this year.
Still, I'm a shopper from way, way back, having spent all of my formative years in and around some of this country's greatest malls. I can want and desire with the best of them and dig well-crafted holiday gift guides with items I never knew I needed. I don't seek these guides out, but they are hard to miss this time of year. I've compiled a few of my favorites below.
Austin Kleon's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide
I generally dig the way Austin thinks and what he likes. Two standouts from his list that have made their way onto mine are Daily Rituals by Mason Currey and Palomino Blackwing pencils.
Smithsonian's Best Gifts to Give to the Traveler in Your Life
I'm thinking everyone on my team should have the CRKT Eat'N Tool Minimal Multi-Tool, and I suddenly need Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas and the scratch-off world map (note to self: also good brother gift).
NPR's Book Concierge
NPR helps you find a book from its selection of great 2013 reads? What could be better?!
I settled back into my Saturday morning routine with a dirty chai and some writing. I managed to snag a sunny spot by the window. Other than a few hours of writing, I spent some quiet time making a few lists, updated my calendar and read some of the birthday book (Monument 14: Sky on Fire) Steven got me. I ended the day by watching a British dance movie (turns out they should probably stick to Sherlock) and meeting a friend's new cat. Well, that's meeting in the "take a photo of him hiding" kind of way. All in all, it was definitely a relaxing day. I've promised myself I'll do things like unpack and dust and write real blog posts tomorrow. Maybe :-)
Friday, December 06, 2013
I know I wasn't actually gone for that long, but being disconnected for two and a half days felt like at least a week. Had my days not been scheduled from 8AM to 10PM, it would have been the perfect place to write. As it stands, I have many, many thoughts about being an introvert, the nature of crowds and organizations, and other rambling thoughts. I'm just not sure they're ready for prime time yet.
I took the photo above today, the last day of the retreat.
Thoughts on today before I crawl into bed: fun but I'm so glad to be heading out tomorrow. Tonight's scheduled fun was a scavenger hunt (sat out and hung out with the planning team), music (it's a given), and Cards Against Humanity with co-workers (tricky but worth it).
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
We have a staff retreat at work this week. We're headed to West Virginia for three days of eight-hour meetings, scheduled evening fun, and no cell signals. Part of my team came into town early and headed out for a team dinner tonight. Laura's husband is known for his restaurant recommendations, and he sent us to Family Meal, one of the Voltaggio restaurants in Frederick, Maryland. The food was spot-on. I had some of the best brussel sprouts of my life, a tasty meatloaf, and a cocktail called crisscross applesauce. Head to Frederick, people.
Monday, December 02, 2013
I almost forgot to be festive today. Every now and then I feel a bit like a creature of the night during the winter, arriving at and departing work under the cover of darkness. An overcast sky meant my office was darker than usual. Death to fluorescent--I refuse to turn mine on. Coworkers usually begin to comment about 4:30 on the potential damage to my eyesight. I tell them it's a familiar refrain from my childhood. I'm a low-light reader from way back.
The dearth of daylight reflects not upon my soul or how my day actually went. It was a Monday, an expense reports and timesheets are due kind of Monday. It was a staff waffle breakfast, here's a free afternoon cookie kind of Monday. It was a plan that holiday dinner with your favorite Maryland colleagues, stop for an eggnog milkshake on the way home kind of Monday.
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Jireh, one of my local coffee shops.
I decided to participate in December Daily on a whim today. I'm not really a create an album kind of girl (much admiration, very low commitment), but I feel particularly compelled to commit to something that will force me to slow down and take the time to soak in my surroundings this month. Earlier today, I sat in front of my computer, hyperventilating a bit over everything I need to get done in the next 30 days, and realized that there is no time for Christmas or the magic of the holidays in all of my plans. Much of this stress is over the fact that I begin a two-month sabbatical in 31 days. This means that I need to wrap up/assign/get to a good place all of my work that needs to continue without me during January and February. This doesn't even take into account that they're asking a control freak (me) to trust other people to handle my babies (projects). Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly blessed, lucky, etc. that my organization offers me this opportunity, and it will be amazing. However, the days leading up to it? Panic attack material, my friends.
Anyway, I probably won't be putting together an album, but I do want to take and blog at least one photo every day this month as a way to remind myself to find and create some magical moments amid all the craziness that December brings.