Decorating, Family, holidays, Shopping, Style, Uncategorized, writing

Christmas traditions in decor

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Christmas 2008. We once had a tradition of matching pajamas when they were littles.

It’s been a chilly 81 degrees here in So Cal, and though the mornings have been on the crisp side, the afternoon temperatures have made it easy to forget that we are indeed in the month of December. At least I seem to have forgotten, as it is now 10 days until Christmas, and while I have completed my Christmas shopping for our extended family, gift exchanges, and office, I have yet to purchase anything for the kids or the husband outside of one stocking stuffer.  Let’s just hope they’re not reading this post…

The good thing is that there is still 10 days until Christmas, and sites such as Amazon make it easy to score a great gift at the last minute. However it is true what they say about Christmas (not that retailers would want to admit): there is more to the season than just the presents.

It is hard to pin down any truly unique traditions for our family.  I grew up fairly isolated from aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  Both my parents’ families lived out of state, either in the Midwest or the Philippines, and besides my mother was not one for hosting. Christmas was looked forward to as my dad would hang lights and put up our cute, but artificial tree, and the holiday flew by in a day that was usually as disenchanting as it was boring. Not that the day was usually bad per se; we opened gifts that we had picked out and didn’t do much the rest of the day. But as a kid, I set my expectations on something that was unattainable for us at the time. I dreamed of the kind of Christmas the husband’s family celebrated.

His family celebrated the holiday very differently. His mom would make a Christmas waffle breakfast while the kids would open up their stockings and search for the pickle in the tree.  After breakfast, gift-giving would commence, led by ‘Santa Haas’ and not before the traditional reading of the Christmas story as presented in Luke’s gospel. Then there was Christmas dinner, either at their home or at the home of one of his aunts or uncles. They would enjoy a delicious meal, fellowship with one another, and participate in a gift exchange.  Not that every Christmas was perfect and drama-free I’m sure, but in the tales of his Christmases past I imagine warmth and light and love.

So with two very different experiences, we began to create some of own traditions. For our family, it starts with holiday decorating.  The Haas winter holiday season begins November 30, following the last of our autumn birthdays. I usually put up the mantel decorations, though now the girls help with that as they’ve gotten older and develop opinions, or a sense of style, depending on how one sees it. This year, after a trip to Crate and Barrel for some new reindeer-themed decor, Emily had pretty free rein.  That is until she wanted to switch out the photos in the stocking holders.  The stocking holders contain photos from each of our first Christmases, depicting the husband mouthing a toy, me eating wrapping paper (probably explains a lot), and Jacob’s stay in the NICU. The kids will probably die of embarrassment as they get older and bring significant others to our home, nevertheless the First Christmas stocking holders are the first of our traditions.

Then there’s our tree. I’ve long wanted to put up one of those fancy Pinterest-inspired, Instagram-worthy, color-coordinated themed trees. But that’s not what we do. My mother-in-law saved and labeled ornaments from her boys’ growing up, and now she does the same for her grandkids. This is a tradition that I too have now adopted. I love our family tree, with its blend of old and new- the new being the cute woodland themed ornaments from Crate and Barrel and Target, along with my collection of Starbucks tumblers. Coffee obsession aside, our tree is full of love.

Once the tree is up, and the halls are decked, we sit down with steaming mugs of cocoa (Bailey’s in mine!) and watch a Christmas movie. My favorite is “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which the kids find cute but lame, though I’m convinced that they’ll appreciate as much as I do the Disney-spin on a Charles Dickens classic. Eventually.

These are just a few of the things I look forward to each holiday season.  How does your family enjoy ‘decking the halls?’ Share in the comments below.

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Kids, Money savers, Shopping, Style, Travel, Uncategorized

Saving money Saturdays: the Citadel Outlets

Happy Tuesday! I know it’s not Saturday, but we took a trip to the Outlets on Saturday, so that counts. Sort of.

Take a trip south on the Interstate 5 from Los Angeles, and you’ll see a set of peach-colored buildings with Babylonian-style architecture.  This is where you want to stop.

The Citadel buildings have an interesting history.  The site was built back in 1929 as the Samson Tire Company, and at the time, was the largest tire manufacturer west of the Mississippi. It became Uniroyal Tire in 1962.  Manufacturing ceased in 1978, but the site was purchased by the City of Commerce in 1983 to prevent its demolition. Today the site is a mixed-use facility with offices, the Doubletree Hotel, and L.A.’s first and only outlet mall.

I love the Citadel Outlets for two reasons: One, it’s only about a 20 minute drive from my home, even with the characteristic horrible L.A. traffic.  Two, the Citadel features many of the stores where I would typically shop. All three Gap brands are carried here, as are luxury brands Coach and Kate Spade, and business attire essentials Ann Taylor, Van Heusen, and Tommy Hilfiger. These are just a few of the 130 brands one can find at the Citadel.

As with any shopping trip- outlet or otherwise- be sure to do your due diligence and compare quality and price. Certain stores such as Kate Spade carry both items that are designed specifically for outlet stores and past season merchandise. Others, such as the Disney Store, have sales that are not much different from the typical retail store. You’re not always guaranteed a bargain just because you’re shopping at an ‘outlet.’ That said, with a little research and some willpower, you can score some really great deals. Okay, a lot of willpower.

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Happy Thanksgiving? The Citadel is all decked out with plenty of time for the Christmas holidays.
Museums, photography, Style, Travel, Uncategorized

The Huntington Library: a photographer’s dream

Huntington Library
The chalice is also a PokeStop

One of my favorite day hangouts is the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, located in San Marino, California. It’s a bit over a mile from where I live, and relatively quiet most weekdays. It’s perfect for a morning walk or to entertain the kids on no school days. It is also a great place for photography.

Anyone armed with an iPhone or other digital camera will find no shortage of subjects within the grounds, which also provide serene backdrops for photos. My favorite photos are of the kids running the green expanses that also offer views of the LA basin. Professional photography and filming are permitted, however are by appointment and require permits.

I will allow the photos to speak for themselves. These were taken using an iPhone 5S. I’m hoping to get a DSLR for Christmas (fingers crossed). But even with a so-so camera, the Huntington photographs well. I hope that you’ll have The Huntington on your must do list if you’re ever in the Pasadena area.

Visit huntington.org to plan your trip.

breakfast, Brunch, coffee, Food, Kids, Style, Travel, Uncategorized, wine and drink

Girls’ Weekend with my favorite ladies

Another weekend is come and gone, and this was one for the books. The boys in our family each left for the weekend one at a time, starting with the husband on Friday, the younger boy Saturday before dawn, and finally my high schooler in the early afternoon. I call it ‘bachelorette weekend’ whenever the boys leave: the girls and I visit museums or other locales the guys think are either lame or too far to drive then come home for some hardcore scrapbooking and wine while binge watching movies the guys think are too girly or lame.

This weekend was not much different, except that I had to remember what time each of them were set to leave and make sure they and all their related gear got to the correct dropoff points. But after the morning’s drives we were able to enjoy a sweet Saturday- just  the ladies.

We started our girls weekend with brunch at one of my favorite spots, Magnolia House on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. It was the first time I  brought the girls, and they loved it. Sami especially liked the avocado toast, a slice of sourdough with a generous heap of avocado and topped with almonds, pickled onions, and burrata cheese. I was a bit skeptical of her choice (I usually get the huevos rancheros), but it was really good. Our server was very sweet and patient with Sami who sometimes has anxiety over those seemingly minor decisions such as what to eat.  I would not call Magnolia House ‘kid-friendly,’ especially for younger kids. It has a really trendy vibe and full bar with some interesting cocktails (of which I did not partake on this trip), so it’s definitely better as a grown-up girls’ brunch or date night. But Sami, who is 10, did just fine. Brunch was followed by some shopping on Lake Avenue. Emily scored a pair of Steve Maddens at TJMaxx for under $30, and Sami picked up an adorable Halloween costume at  Pottery Barn Kids.

The afternoon and evening hours took us further from home. We spent the rest of our glorious Saturday in Malibu. After driving the windy, but beautiful Malibu Canyon Road, we found ourselves at the famed Surfrider Beach, part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. We were excited to explore the tide pools and observe the sea life that lived among the rocky pools. The girls went between playing in the waves and exploring the area. It was a beautiful, blue-sky day, significantly cooler than the 90-degree San Gabriel Valley- perfect for a day at the beach.

After playing in the ocean for a couple hours, we walked the sagescrub lined paths to get back to PCH and headed to the Malibu Pier. The Malibu Farm has both a cafe that serves coffee and snacks and a full service restaurant. Both are located on the pier. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant, though we were able to move ours forward. The Malibu Farm, as might be assumed, specializes in fresh dishes made from organic ingredients. I wasn’t really hungry after a really late lunch/snack, and so wanted dessert. Sami ate in the car on the way over and Emily lost her Subway sandwich to a seagull, so the girls were ready for dinner. And dessert. After some indecision and much debate, we finally ordered two kids meals with orzo pasta and two desserts, an organic soft serve and the grilled chocolate cake. The kids pasta was very good, and not too salty as many kids meals can be. To me the soft serve tasted like Costco. Though the girls really enjoyed it, I was less impressed, especially when the cheapskate in me remembered that I could get twice as much ice cream for $1.35 compared with $6, organic or not. But the grilled chocolate cake… What can I say other than it was heaven on a plate. The texture was perfection- thicker than your usual cake, but light enough to just melt in your mouth. It was served over a sea salt caramel drizzle and a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream. For $10 it was a splurge, but it was large enough to share among the three of us, and it was a chocolate masterpiece.

The Malibu Farm’s price point is for me on the higher end of my scale, but I would definitely return. The food was delicious and the portions generous.  We took home half of Emily’s kids meal, and I was able to share some of Sami’s. There are a few things I’d like to try the next time we go, such as the lemon basil ice cream and the berry merengue. Our server was really great. He made good recommendations, and was super friendly toward a trio of indecisive and somewhat giggly (but otherwise well-behaved) girls. And the view of the Pacific Ocean is just spectacular.

This is just a snapshot of what one can do on a visit to Malibu, a city that boasts 21 miles of scenic coastline. There are many dining and shopping options, along with museums such as the Getty, and hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. And while I didn’t do any hardcore scrapbooking, Emily did stay up to binge watch “Gilmore Girls.”

coffee, Decorating, Shopping, Style, Uncategorized

First Shadows of Fall

Shortened days, comfy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, marching band field shows- these are signs of fall. California is known for really having only two seasons: a short, 2-3 month rainy season and the rest of the year. And while that’s true, the massive Liquidambar in my front yard has started to change colors and drop its leaves in anticipation of the coming winter. It is fall.

I was really happy this week after several weeks of heat, to finally start wearing the few sweaters in my wardrobe. It has been nice to actually need a blanket and to not have to blast the a/c. The cloudy mornings have been perfect for pumpkin spice lattes and hot chocolate. And fall decorations! I love fall decor: pumpkins, leaves, many candles casting their soft glow as the days grow shorter.

Today I celebrated the autumn equinox by wearing a sweater that’s lived in my closet for the past couple months, tags still on in hopes that cooler weather will come and decorating the house for the season. So here’s to this season as it takes us closer to the end of 2017. May your cooler days be filled with warmth and lots of pumpkin spice.