Christmas in Dairyville

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas in Portland

Christmas in DairyvilleHo ho ho! As longtime readers know, I am a big fan of Christmas. The decorations! The family togetherness! The holiday china! Yes, I serve all of our meals on our Lenox Holiday china every day in December–otherwise it would just be silly to collect it, right?

But. There has been a bit of a shadow over this year. As someone who grew up in Portland in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were some treasured, longstanding traditions that finally gave up the ghost in 2017: Meier & Frank’s (and later Macy’s) iconic Santaland, and the Meier & Frank (later My Macy’s) Holiday Parade.

Founded in 1857 right here in Portland, Meier & Frank was a titan, a chain of department stores whose expansion was inextricably entwined in the development of our very city. But, more importantly, Santaland was amazing. Situated on the 10th floor of the landmark downtown Meier & Frank building, Santaland was a winter wonderland filled with animatronic elves and reindeer, glittering Christmas trees, and gaily wrapped gifts leading to the real Santa (with a real beard) who “remembered” your name year after year. The whole thing was placed smack-dab in the middle of a huge selection of toys and ringed from above with a monorail that gave kids a birds’ eye view of the entire floor.

Meier & Frank Santaland

My brother and me at the Meier & Frank Santaland, 1980.

As the years went by, changes came: the toys thinned out (Toys R Us cornered the market), Meier & Frank was changed to Macy’s, and then when the building was remodeled, Santaland was relocated to the basement, requiring only one escalator instead of the 10 my brother and I scaled each year. The monorail was dismantled with the move, leaving only two stationary cars on the floor for kids to climb on.

But with sales slumping and real estate prices climbing, Macy’s parent company, the May Company, put the building up for sale last year, breaking up Santaland and ending the parade after nearly 20 years.

That was sad enough, but also, I had continued the tradition, bringing my kids there for pictures with Santa! So clearly, priority #1 this year was finding a new place to see Santa and rekindle the Christmas spirit! Here are my discoveries and experiences:

Christmas in Dairyville

Christmas in Dairyville: First off, I don’t know how I lived my life to this point without ever going here. Um, did everyone else know that Alpenrose has an entire “Western town” called Dairyville that includes an incredible “Storyville Lane” that’s like the Christmas equivalent of the Enchanted Forest? Because I did not. This is where we started our journey to make Christmas memories.

Pros:

  • Christmas in Dairyville is free to the public and huge!
  • Storyville Lane is pretty rad–flocked trees, little vintage Christmas houses, live animals.
  • They have face painting, ice cream (it was way too cold), food, and a gift shop.
  • Lots of cool historical exhibits, from vintage pianos (?) to classic old Alpenrose trucks and sleighs.

Cons:

  • We were there for about an hour and a half before we went to find Santa, and found that there was a two-hour wait. (We did not wait, see below.) Next time we’ll go take a number as soon as we get there.
  • The quality of the hot cocoa for sale was shockingly bad: clearly hot water with an inadequate amount of cocoa mix. Alpenrose is an actual dairy, why wouldn’t they offer, I don’t know, milk? Heat their own chocolate milk? It was not good.
Santaland at Oregon Historical Society

My very patient children–especially my son, Sid, thank you–at the Oregon Historical Society.

Meier & Frank Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society: I was very excited when I heard that Macy’s had donated part of Santaland to the Oregon Historical Society. Yes! A place that would cherish and display Santaland and preserve this important piece of history! When I saw that Santa would be there, I bundled my husband and the kids into the car and drove there next.

Pros:

  • It’s free to the public (the Oregon Historical Society is also free to Multnomah County residents).
  • There was almost no wait.
  • Pictures are free–bring your camera or device and a helper will take your picture.

Cons:

  • While the picture on OHS’s website is of the entire Santaland, it’s actually just a tiny corner with Rudolph, a couple of elves, and Santa’s chair. Don’t get me wrong–I’m so happy they have it. But my expectations were a little higher.
  • Unlike the traditional Santaland Santa, OHS’s Santa did not have a real beard.

Santaland at Lloyd Center Macy'sSantaland at the Lloyd Center Macy’s: Soon after our trip to OHS, I learned that the Lloyd Center Macy’s also had a piece of Santaland! Recapturing my Christmas memories was starting to resemble a game of Pokemon–I now have to run around and catch them all. But I needed to return some clothes to Old Navy, so Sarah and I went for a visit.

Pros:

  • Again, free.
  • This was actually a larger display that OHS’s–a little scenescape with the animatronic elves decorating the tree and pushing a gift-laden cart.
  • Near the Frango chocolates display. More nostalgia!

Cons:

  • No Santa (there’s a main mall Santa instead).

Monorail Exhibit at Pioneer Place: Oh my goodness. I am tired just typing this. I then discovered that the monorail cars are on display at the Pioneer Place Mall downtown. I have not witnessed this myself, but I doubt I will be able to resist checking it out. Is it near Hipster Santa? (UGH.)

I’m left with so many questions. Where are the rest of Santa’s reindeer? Or Macy’s 12 Days of Christmas window displays? What will move into the old Meier & Frank building? Is it time to relinquish my death grip on my childhood Christmas memories? My very patient husband–and children–might appreciate it.

Other Christmas treasures I’ve enjoyed this year:

The Hollywood Theatre has been playing Christmas matinees on the weekend, so I got to see White Christmas on the big screen for the first time ever, which was awesome. They will be playing a series of animated Christmas shorts, including Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 12/23 at 2:00 pm.

Broadway Floral Home & Garden have some really beautiful wreaths for about $20. No bows, but I saved mine from years past.

We drove to three different Christmas tree lots in the bitter cold looking for a decent noble fir, but Fred Meyer ended up having the best option, at the best price ($41.99 for a 5-6 footer). They are extremely picked over, however.

Grocery Outlet Bargain Market has largish poinsettias for $6.99, a real bargain compared to $9.99 at Fred Meyer. Also, extremely cheap cheese, a must for any holiday gathering.

So what are your holiday musts and recommendations? Post them below!

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Starbucks red cup 2017

Starbucks Red Cups, Zero Waste, and the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade

Starbucks red cup 2017Starbucks red cups are here! And people are losing their minds again! Thank god. I mean, can you imagine how sad Starbucks would be if people weren’t emotionally engaged with their holiday-themed marketing product to the point where they write about how mad and disappointed they are all over social media (and incidentally spread the word far better than an ad campaign could)?

Said ad campaign:


And yet . . . Starbucks red cups are special to me. I admit it. Even though I know it’s marketing, and I know it’s wasteful to buy coffee in a disposable, non-recyclable cup with a plastic lid, just seeing it brings me back to the Meier & Frank Holiday Parade here in Portland. Beginning in the ’80s, my mom would take me and my brother to see this homespun local parade—full of floats, high school marching bands, rodeo queens, and Shriners—and we would cheer and wait to see Santa ride up at the very end, and then we’d race inside to see Santaland.

Later, it was something just me and my dad would do (Mom wanted a break, my brother was living out of state), and then all four of us would go as a family. And as adults, part of the ritual became getting white chocolate peppermint mochas (oh, I am full of embarrassing confessions today) in Starbucks holiday cups. And I would feel warm and cozy and loved, and connected to my family and my city, because we were joining together for a yearly event that we’d done for decades, and all was right with the world.

But at some point, Meier & Frank (a department store with a rich and important history in Portland) was purchased by Macy’s, and after a few years they changed the store’s name. And then it was the Macy’s Holiday Parade (but not that Macy’s Holiday Parade). And then the downtown Macy’s store (still referred to as the Meier & Frank Building) closed this year. Goodbye parade. I even missed its final year, because of kids and rain and life, because I couldn’t imagine that even with the store closing, that someone wouldn’t take on the mantle of this historic, homey, seemingly essential parade. Such is life.

But Starbucks red cups are still here! I figure that much of our modern waste is due to convenience (individually packaged pre-sliced apples?), but so much is due to nostalgia and the kind of emotional connection that can only be forged by the epic collision of personal history and ad campaign.

Whew! This is a long essay to say I figured out a way to participate in this yearly controversy while eliminating the pesky paper-and-plastic waste (mostly): I bought a reusable Starbucks red cup and yes, I broke it out today (with coffee I made at home). It’s not colorable like this year’s model, but I can take it into Starbucks and get it filled with my yearly white chocolate peppermint mochas (no judgment) and I can go visit Meier & Frank’s erstwhile Santaland at the Oregon Historical Society with my brother, and something will be sacred, and something will last, and okay I may be a little stressed out right now.

But my point is, you can reduce your waste without cutting out the rituals and traditions that bring you joy—even if they seem a little silly when you type them down. Next up: how the heck do I get around holiday wrapping paper?!? If you have any suggestions, post them below!

Christmas Detox: Holiday China Edition

So what, Christmas decorations can go up in stores before Halloween, but we’re just supposed to stop December 26? In the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, I don’t think so. I’ve been wanting to do a post on my Christmas china for awhile–I do so love it, and I have so much, but I’ve hesitated because I worried that it was too self-indulgent. Then I realized that having my own blog was pretty self-indulgent, so why not?

I had a lot of fun taking pictures of everything before I put it away until (sigh) next December–I hope you enjoy!

Lenox Holiday China

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For me, Lenox Holiday is the gold standard, the ne plus ultra of Christmas china. For years, I eyed it like a future junkie: “I’ll certainly never buy that, that would be ridiculous! Ha!” I knew I’d only be able to hold out so long. I finally started collecting it after I made a little deal with myself: I would start slow (buying two place settings on sale), and I would use it for every meal, every day in December.

This justification was aided by the fact that Lenox Holiday is basically a holly-festooned version of my wedding china, Eternal, so I could mix and match the pieces until I gathered a full set. I currently have eight place settings, thanks in large part to my Mom, who has also donated to the “cause.”

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Um, as you can see, I didn’t stop with the place setting (see also: the adorable Santa train salt and pepper shakers, above). I have more Holiday serving pieces than Eternal (I actually have none for that), because Holiday goes way on sale around the holidays, and Eternal never does! Get that wedding registry money, Macy’s–you jerks! But. I love these, and I generally entertain a lot around the holidays, so I use them a lot.

Rosanna Twelve Days of Christmas & More

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While the Lenox Holiday is my drug of choice, my gateway plates are from Rosanna, a Seattle company that designs delightful tableware. I believe I first saw these 12 Days of Christmas appetizer plates in Martha Stewart, and they’re still available on the Rosanna site! A real bonus: Rosanna packages their wares in collectible boxes that are cute and actually useful for storage.

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Yes, there’s more. Listen, I can stop whenever I want. These three items were all presents from my brother, who raided Rosanna’s Jolly Holiday collection. Unfortunately, these are no longer available on the site. I use the small tray for cookies for “Santa,” and the plates and mugs for snacks and hot chocolate.

Thrift/Unknown

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I got this large vintage plastic (melamine?) tray at a thrift store a long time ago and I love it. The pearlized plastic is embedded with flecks of silver, and it’s unbreakable. Thrift and vintage stores can be a great source of holiday china and serve ware–garage and estate sales, too!

When I see my holiday china all laid out like this, 50% of me is embarrassed and the other 50% wants to roll around on it like Indecent Proposal (weird, also: ouch). But I love it so much: I love the holidays, and entertaining, and family traditions, and I love having something special to use in December. I look at my china and I see decades of holidays around the table, and it makes me very happy.

I’m gonna close with another shot of salt-and-pepper Santa! Thanks for reading about my jolly folly!

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I Hate Taking Down Christmas

takechristmasdown

As soon as I touch this, the remaining needles are gonna hit the floor. Help me Hellboy!

It was about 6:00 last night when I realized that–ugh–garbage and recycling pickup was the next morning, which meant I needed to buckle down and get our once-beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb. This was made easier by the fact that our tree had completely dried out and only weighed about five pounds, but still: I hate taking down Christmas.

Preparing for Christmas is magical–getting out the decorations! Picking the tree! Lovingly reminiscing over ornaments! Your family members join in, because we’re making beautiful memories we’ll cherish forever!

Putting Christmas away is drag. Why do we keep some of these hideous ornaments? Can I get rid of them without anyone noticing? Why did I put so many lights on the tree? Is there any way to take them off without taking out half the branches (answer: science is working on it)? As I grimly wound hundreds of tiny lights and stuffed them back into their boxes, a traitorous, non-Christmassy though invaded my head: what if we didn’t do a Christmas tree next year?

What has happened to me? Along with my brother, I’m the most Christmassy jerk I know! But trees are expensive. And messy. And wasteful. And I hate doing the lights. But I won’t let anyone else do the lights. And our house is small. And WARM (hence the extra-crispy needles all over the house).

Every year about this time, I have a very special fantasy. Close your eyes, Mom! Just kidding. I think about artificial Christmas trees: beautiful, non-shedding, pre-lit Christmas trees that are perfectly shaped and can hold those super-heavy ornaments that came from god-knows-where. But then I sigh and realize I don’t have the space to store one–that’s why I keep our artificial garlands up all year long (also: I’m a Christmassy jerk, see above).

I know that I have a year to regain my Christmas spirit. Sid loves doing the tree (and is getting pretty good at helping with the lights). Sarah is only two–I certainly can’t deprive her of these precious Christmas traditions (I can’t, right?!?). But today, I still have a whole house of ho-ho-ho to stuff under the beds. Maybe some holiday music would help . . .

 

Happy New Year & Zero Waste Jar Gifts

jar gifts lentil soup zero waste

Filling my Curry Lentil Soup jar gifts with my trusty canning funnel!

Happy New Year everyone! Wow, I did even less blogging than usual over the holidays, partly because of GeekCraft Expo Seattle and working with The Doubleclicks, but also because my computer went down, and then when it was functional again, Portland had a snowstorm (and wicked icy roads) that prevented me from getting it for about a week. Plus, I’m crazy.

I also didn’t want to blog about the things I was actually making this year–I’m keeping that as a surprise until the Epiphany, which is when my friends and I usually exchange gifts. However! I did want to share the jar gifts I made last year. If you, like me, are a little behind in your gift giving and want something easy, zero waste (or close to it), and cool to give your friends–or you’re making a game plan for next year–pull up a chair!

Jar gifts are great: not only do they look cool and handmade, but they’re useful and quite economical. They’re perfect for the holidays, hostess gifts, teacher appreciation day, etc.

jar gifts zero waste

Supplies to Make Zero Waste Jar Gifts:

  • Jars. This is probably a no-brainer. You can save glass jars throughout the year, pick them up at thrift stores, or buy a box of them at the grocery store. The grocery store option will include some plastic packaging, but in a pinch, they’re convenient.
  • A canning funnel. This is an essential piece for creating jar gifts, and the best way to get pretty layers–it’s like a regular funnel with a much wider neck, so pouring things like beans or marshmallows neatly is easy.
  • Reusable produce bags or containers for shopping. I got almost all of my supplies from the bulk bins at my local WinCo. Not only was this incredibly cheap, but I had nothing to throw away afterward–especially nice around the holidays.
  • Scraps of fabric for decoration. I used pinking shears and cut squares of decorative fabric to cover the lids.
  • Card stock and twine. I printed up recipes for those items that needed it–soup mixes. etc.

Jar Gift Recipes:

These are all the recipes I used last year, ranked in order of “would I make them again.”

  1. Curried Lentil Soup: Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I loved this recipe and will keep it in the rotation. Not only was it very pretty in the jar, but the recipient doesn’t need to add much to make it (onion and garlic, perhaps broth), it can be vegan, and the soup itself is delicious and easy to make. Yummy!
  2. Sriracha Salt: This looked fancy and was useful. It only takes the second spot because it takes a couple days to dry before you can pack it up.
  3. Cowboy Cookie Mix: Everyone gets cookies around the holidays, but what about after Christmas and New Year’s? Now your friends can have something to tide them over. This was visually appealing and tasty, but the resulting cookie dough was a little dry.
  4. Classic Cocoa: This was very pretty and very tasty, but I wouldn’t make it again. Why? Because to use it, the recipient actually needs to dump it out, mix it up, and then put it back in the jar–silly and needlessly messy. I didn’t really think this one through.
  5. Almond Joy Energy Balls: I took this recipe and made it into a jar mix, layering the ingredients. I was, frankly, searching for something Paleo for some of my friends, but if I made this again, I would just make the balls and pack them in jar.
Jar Gift Lentil Soup Zero Waste

The winner: Curry Lentil Soup–so cute, and tasty!

The method is simple: line up all your jars, and have all of your ingredients, measuring cups and spoons, and canning funnel ready. To get the most attractive layers possible, I like to pour in each ingredient and then tap the jar on the counter to level it.

Cocoa Jar Gift Zero Waste

Layered cocoa is cute, but a loser for the giftee, I realized too late.

There are tons of jar mix recipes out there, and it’s also pretty simple to take a regular recipe and jar-ify it. My rule of thumb is to make sure your giftee doesn’t have to go out and buy a lot of things to actually make the gift, like meat. If the recipe needs extra stuff, it’s better if they’re pantry staples like butter or eggs. The recipe itself should be simple, too–you don’t usually want to give two hours of active cooking to someone, unless you know that’s how they like to spend their time.

Have you ever gotten a jar gift for Christmas or a hostess gift? Did you ever use it?

Mrs Santa Dress How-To

Presenting My Mrs. Santa Dress

Mrs Santa Dress How-To

All dolled up in my Mrs. Santa dress–unveiled below!

You may remember my desire to make a big green velvet Christmas dress this year–I even had a pattern picked out! However, after an extensive search (at three different fabric stores) I couldn’t find any green velvet, and after a look at the calendar, I realized that realistically, I wasn’t going to have time to sew a dress anyway. I was quite disappointed–until I brainstormed a way to make the most Christmassy gown I could ever want, using a dress I made a few years ago!

Mrs Santa Dress How-To

Mrs. Santa dress: before!

About six years ago, I wanted to make a big red Christmas dress, which I did, using a pattern I cannot find, either in my sewing stuff or online, but I believe it was a Vogue pattern that must be out of print: boatneck, big swingy skirt, defined waist, bracelet-length sleeves. While I wore the heck of it that year, it was never quite right: I should have taken up the shoulders, and I chose a polyester crepe fabric (partly because it was inexpensive, partly because it was the perfect color) that was a little too stiff.

Mrs. Santa Dress How-To

Mrs. Santa dress: after!

But! If I took it to a tailor (who fixed the shoulders for $20) and hot glue-gunned a little fake fur around the edges–voila! I’d have a perfect Mrs. Santa dress! After I rummaged through my closet and found a black patent leather belt and heels, my course was set.

Mrs Santa Dress How-To

Out on the town as Mrs. Santa at the Rum Club!

You can see the end result, and I’m quite proud of it! I wore it to a party and out for holiday drinks with my best girlfriends, and let me tell you: it is a lot of fun to dress as Mrs. Santa–I got a big (and mostly positive) reaction everywhere I went.

I’m pretty proud of my ingenuity (or is that insanity?). It took me less than half an hour to glue the trim on, and I got a re-branded, very distinctive dress for less than $40!

Do you have an ideal Christmas outfit? I’m still dreaming of a White Christmas-type dress (basically my Mrs. Santa dress on steroids). Post it below!

Totino's Christmas

How to Prepare for the Holidays

Totino's Christmas

Bonus tip: have some Totino’s in the freezer.

Well hello there! It’s been more than a month since my last post, and I missed you all so much. I’ve been busy working on GeekCraft Expo Seattle (watch for me on New Day Northwest next month) and spreading the word for The Doubleclicks, but I am so glad to be back writing for me.

So . . . what’s new? Anything big happen in the last month? Looks like Nazis are a thing again. I found myself wondering the other day–will Captain Germany end up coming to America and defeating the Orange Skull? Comics gallows humor, folks. My main takeaways from the election: I need to get involved in (or at least be aware of) local politics, and I need to get my news from credible sources rather than Facebook.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about–what are you doing to get ready for the holidays? I love, love Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’m looking forward to spending this time with my family, without stressing out too much. Here are my suggestions to prepare:

  • Roast a chicken. Really! It’s a simple, elegant dinner, but even more important–you’re going to need a lot of chicken broth in the next two months. Make it and freeze it now.
  • Deep-clean the kitchen. Ugh, I hate this part. But it is necessary. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be cooking a lot and having people over. It’s going to be easier if you clean out your cabinets and fridge. One, you’ll have a good idea of what you already have (so you don’t go buy more molasses and miss the bottle in the back), and two, you’ll have room for everything you’re going to buy.
  • Count your dishes, plates, and silverware. I recommended this last year and didn’t follow my own advice. Then when I was setting the table for Thanksgiving, I realized I was missing two forks! Don’t be like me. This year I went to Replacements to replace a chipped plate and those two forks. If you’re not compulsive like me and don’t care if your pieces match, head over to Goodwill or a thrift store and stock up.
  • Envision your holiday gifts and projects. Now is the time to start putting together your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifts, especially if you plan on making a lot of them, like I do. Jo-Ann Fabrics is having great sales right now–I got a bunch of wire-edged holiday ribbon for 50% off, and felt was on sale, too. I can’t get into what things I’m making this year (or I’ll ruin the surprise), but I will put together a post about the jar gifts I made last year. Also, there’s always my White Christmas cross stitch. I would love to see pics if anyone is crazy enough to make it!
  • Plan your Thanksgiving menu. I put this last because for most people, Thanksgiving doesn’t require a lot of planning–people tend to demand the same treasured recipes year after year (like my brother with green bean casserole). But you can usually slip in a new appetizer or salad. No one eats salad on Thanksgiving, they won’t care.

What are your holiday prep secrets? Post them below!