Tag Archives: Christmas

Top Three Christmas Children’s Books

Capo family Christmas tradition dictated that every Christmas Eve before bed we would sit in front of the fire and the twinkling tree, sucking merrily on sour gummy worms (our uncle would send a ton of them each year), and read Christmas children’s books aloud. This tradition still stands, even at ages 30, 27, and 23.

This year, as we expect an addition to the family, our thoughts drift toward favorite children’s books we’d like for a little library. The Christmas-themed ones are, naturally, high priority. Below are the treasured books we read growing up at Christmas time, and I earnestly suggest you check them out.

  1. cm_polar_expressThe Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
    This is a classic for many families this time of year. For us, it is all about the sound of our father’s voice reading the rhythmic prose, lulling us all into a peaceful, Christmas-y bedtime frame of mind. We also always enjoyed watching him get excited every time we arrived at this softly lit illustration of wolves in the woods on the way to the North Pole:


  2. 1738620santacows20mainocbSanta Cows by Cooper Edens 
    Whenever I mention this book, I usually get really dubious looks. Regardless, the Capo family copy of Santa Cows was so beloved it fell apart at the seams. The book was given to me by a dear neighbor when I was really young, and every year we’d pull it out from the Christmas book cupboard as a treat not to be missed. So what is it? Well, it is The Night Before Christmas poem with the words changed to tell the story of a suburban family who are visited on Christmas Eve, not by a jolly old elf, but by a herd of gift-bearing Santa Cows. Intrigued yet? The absurdity of the premise is part of the book’s charm. Additionally, the illustrations are wonderful and full of funny little background details, like the cat-shaped telephone or the Dominoes pizza delivery guy hanging out to play video games. Udderly goofy (forgive me), and marvelously fun—be sure to give this one a go.


  3. cvr9780689846687_9780689846687_hrHow Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky and Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
    This book was special for our family as it was one of dozens of books illustrated by our uncle, S.D. Schindler (Incidentally the same uncle who sent the beloved gummy worms). The book tells the tale of a young Santa discovering his vocation through a series of trial and error jobs with the post office, the zoo, an all-night diner, among others. With each failed attempt, however, Santa discovers a skill that ultimately leads him to assume the duties of the Santa we know and love.


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More Imagination for Christmas, Please

When my oldest friend was overseas volunteering, she called me, frustrated, and said one of the most profound things she ever said to me in our long friendship: “The people we are trying to help have too little imagination. They can’t imagine life to be better than what they’ve experienced, and so they can’t understand why we want to bring change.”

I’ve thought about this often. Too little imagination seems to be at the core of many disagreements, especially these days. I thought about it again in hearing our pastor’s sermon from this past Sunday, titled ‘Prophetic Imagination,’ in which he talked about Advent as a time to employ our imaginations to better comprehend the wild and wonderful (and sometimes terrifying) possibilities of life with God. Of course, Advent is not the only time to do this; how can we muster any hope for the future unless we imagine possibilities beyond our present circumstances?

As we end this strange, tumultuous year, I thought it would be good to draw some attention to this idea. The season of perpetual hopeAs Catherine O’Hara’s character in Home Alone vociferates, “THIS IS CHRISTMAS! THE SEASON OF PERPETUAL HOPE!”

We start by imagining possibilities bigger and better than the outcomes we fear.

Sound a little naive? Like a Sesame Street dictum? Imagination gets a bad rap with grownups, as if the things we imagine have no value, or if those things can never be real because they came out of our heads. But we know this is ridiculous. Inventors imagine inventions before they become household necessities; chefs imagine tastes before serving them to guests. Imagination is the seedling of robust creative thought. If we consider imagination to be a basic life-skill, one that enables us to think beyond ourselves and the status quo, more imagination might just be the ticket to solving quite a few problems. This is true for both our personal lives and our communal lives.

Personally, as I close out this year, and reflect on what went well, what I wish went differently, and what I hope for with next year, I remember listening to a speaker at a vocational seminar ask a bold question:

If you could do anything, knowing that you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

The audacity of this question still hits me. It requires imaginative thought I rarely allow myself to experience. So much in life feels limiting. So much seems to emphasize the many reasons why I can’t do one thing or another, whether it is lack of credentials or experience, or physical limitations, or family responsibilities, or simply a lack of self-esteem. Heaping these limitations on our psyches enforces apathetic habits, and eventually we cease to even concoct hopes and plans, let alone live them out. But so many of these obstacles are imaginary, which begs the question: If our imaginations can function so well for things we won’t do, what would happen if we reapplied our imaginations toward all of the things we could do? It’s a little scary to think about, like discovering a hidden superpower.

What will you do with this superpower? What does it mean to have it? For me, it means recognizing that, with creativity, patience, and elbow grease, I can probably do a lot more than I let myself believe. Given some time and focus to generate alternatives, I can figure out how to make money working from home with a new baby, or maybe of even start a new business, or launch new innovative initiatives to help our city, or inspire others to join a team, or produce useful, viral content, or live uninhibited by doubt…who knows! Maybe none of this will happen, but what we can know for sure is that they definitely won’t happen if I don’t imagine the possibilities in the first place. 

As a community, we likewise can employ imaginations toward building a more harmonious 2017. 2016, we can agree, has been marred by nasty and widespread divisions which, it could be argued, come down to a failure to imagine life in the shoes of another. How much effort have we put into creatively asking questions of people outside our spheres? How often, or not, have we sought common ground, rather than dismiss fellow humans for viewpoints different than our own? Again, this might sound Sesame-esque, but these fundamentals have clearly been neglected.

A friend of mine recently asked me how to fix the country. I told him it would mean a return to nuance. By this, I meant that we as a population need to rediscover habits we’ve lost, namely appreciating that most situations are more complex than surface level, recognizing that social media soundbites aren’t helping anyone, and most importantly, deferring judgment given the likelihood that we might just be wrong, or at least ill-informed. All of these habits will require sufficient imagination to see a world in the future free, or at least partially so, from the fear-mongering and hate-flinging reality in which we live.

So is this too much to ask? I don’t think so. Imagination costs nothing. We all have the resource available, whether or not we exercise it regularly. So let’s take up the challenge, and make our days a little more merry and bright.


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Let the Christmas Crafting Begin!

The last few Christmases I spent more money at Michael’s craft store than I care to admit. Normally I’m not the “crafty” type. I don’t typically strive to make things generically cute, and I never scrapbook. I have nothing against scrapbookers; I just don’t cut things well–very bad with scissors.

But at Christmas a change comes over me and I get the urge to create adorableness and give it as gifts. Last year I wrote about this same phenomenon. I said how growing up we had a refrigerator magnet that read, “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here,” but judging by my Christmas crafts I didn’t deserve the magnet anymore.


I channeled my inner Martha, and it looks like this year will be similar.

Add to this that this year, working for Edible Nashville, I am exposed to so many nifty ideas for food gifts to give that it is difficult to set boundaries. Here is a list of five fantabulous new challenges I plan to undertake:

  1. Sugared Cranberries from Love and Olive Oil
  2. Homemade Bourbon Marshmallows from For the Love of the SouthBourbon-Vanilla-Marshmallows
  3. Passionfruit Caramels/Gingerbread Caramels, Love and Olive Oil
  4. Rhubarb Simple Syrup(Assuming I can find rhubarb in December)2014-05-19-rhubarb-syrup-1
  5. Goozy’s Chocolate Decadence Cookie

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Have yourself a merry little Scav Hunt!

Christmas has so much potential for creativity! This year, my brother and sister whipped out a gloriously creative Capo family tradition that goes way, way back: Christmas morning Scavenger Hunts!

Scavenger hunts for gifts serve a practical purpose: sometimes the size or shape of gifts, however well wrapped, will ruin the mystery. Imagine seeing the tree on Christmas morning: Oh, what could that bicycle-shaped thing be? A Bowling Ball? (This is a joke my Dad would make. In fact, each year he pretend-guesses something is a bowling ball. This year my siblings even put bets on what it would be). Our family has always been big on the anticipation and surprise in our gift giving, so the scavenger hunts have proven very useful over the years.

Our mother was the original master of this creative art. The gist of it was that she would hide an inconveniently-shaped present elsewhere in the house along with a series of goofy, often rhyming clues that led us this way and that until we finally arrived at our surprise. Over the years, my siblings and I have taken this art form to new heights. I once sent my sister on a scav hunt that involved kayaking across a small bay in the Hudson River. My brother once sent a friend of his on a Shawshank Redemption-themed scavenger hunt that ended with a box buried at the foot of a lone tree in the middle of a field. My masterpiece was a birthday scav hunt for Josh in downtown Chicago that involved his coworker, a florist, a barista, a friend dressed like a spy, Civil War history, Eddie Izzard jokes, a train ride, and fried chicken on a roof.

This year, my brother surprised us with a new TV. Because he knew I would know what it was as soon as it came through the door he didn’t bring it in. Instead, he and my sister concocted a much better reveal. As our gift-giving drew to a close, they handed me an envelope. Inside, I found this:


Looks like someone’s KRAMPING your style…

If you wish to have the Krampus curse reversed? 

I’ll need a certain potion first:

The cow as white as Christmas, 

The coat as red as poinsettias, 

The hair as brown as chestnuts. 

The sandal as pure as gold. 

Bring me these before the chime of midnight, 

and you shall have, I guarantee, 

a present as perfect as present can be! 

Ok, let me break this down for you:

A) This Christmas day, the movie version of Into the Woods hit theaters. My sister and I know every word of that musical, so she knew I would recognize the theme right away. These scav hunt instructions mirror lines from the play where the main characters are forced to find ingredients of a potion that will reverse a witch’s curse.

B) Krampus, apparently, is the evil counterpart to Santa Clause in German tradition. This devil-like creature punishes children who have misbehaved. (Apparently German children really do have to watch out!) My siblings and I only learned of Krampus this year, hence the reference.

C) The instructions indicate that there are four clues to find:

1) The Cow as White as Christmas. I didn’t get this one right away. Not until someone said, “Grab the Cow,” did I know to look under the milk jug. This referenced a ridiculous line Bing Crosby speaks in the movie White Christmas where instead of saying, “Bring the milk,” like a normal person, he says “Grab the Cow,” because he’s Bing frickin’ Crosby. (See video at 1:00)

2) The coat as Red as poinsettias. Easy. My sister’s coat pocket.

3) The Hair as Brown as Chestnuts. Strange. My sister had stuffed the clue in her own hair. DSC_0623

4) The sandal as pure as gold. Apparently, the nice conversation I had with my brother in the kitchen was just a ruse to distract me while my sister excavated my closet.

Each of these clues yielded different parts of the final clue:

1) Into the Woods…
2) We have to see…
3) What’s waiting in…
4) Your CR-V!

Sure enough, there was the enormous box in the back of my car. My dad was especially proud because apparently this whole thing took my siblings 20 minutes. My family rocks!




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Christmas Overboard

_DSC0683Me: Woof, Christmas is exhausting.

Husband: Christmas is always going to be exhausting if you keep doing big projects.

Me: But I have to do big projects. My mom did big projects. So I have to do big projects.

Husband: I know. I look forward to having our own little daughters with their own little issues.

This exchange really happened. Just the other day. And it’s rather telling. Indeed, I have a tendency to go overboard with Christmas activities. For example, I am currently sitting in my pjs at 2pm on the Saturday before Christmas watching the Rick Steve’s Christmas in Europe Special. I just finished assembling treats for neighbors–but not just any treats: white chocolate bark with passion fruit caramel swirl, dark chocolate bark with almonds and pumpkin seeds, chocolate-covered pretzels, gingerbread, and Lintzer cookies with my aunt’s homemade jam. _DSC0685We ran out of the Rice Krispie Treat wreaths last week after the cookie making party when our church friends came over to decorate cookies, drink mulled wine, and watch Muppet Christmas Carol. We hosted that party the day before Josh’s family (13 people) came up to go see It’s a Wonderful Life at the Music Box Theater where we all rang our bells for Clarence and hissed at Mr. Potter.  After the show, we went out with his family to Julius Meinl, an Austrian cafe, for tea and spaetzle. Josh and I afterward proceeded to the Moody Church Christmas festival to hear their full orchestra and choir sing the Christmas favorite hymns.

And this just the tip of the iceberg. There are still carols to be sung, presents to be purchased and bequeathed, movies still to be watched. We’ve already watched a half-dozen movies, attended three parties, ate sausages at the Chicago Christkindlmarkt, decorated our apartment, and a whole bunch else. We keep track of it all here on our idea board. _DSC0691

I know a lot of folks go nuts with activities this time of year with traditions, but I had an interesting exchange yesterday that forced me to remember why we go so nuts. A friend of mine, having not grown up with any Christmas traditions, was struggling to see the point of all the Falaladerol (I made that up!). Yes, she was, in fact, looking for the true meaning of Christmas–cue Charlie Brown and Linus! I reflected that when it comes down to it, many of the traditions we have we celebrate for tradition sake, and it is so easy to get lost in them. It is also easy to get overwhelmed and make ourselves sick (last year I was sick for the 3 weeks after Christmas). We can get to the point where we feel like we are going through the motions. We might want to punch someone if they sing Frosty the Snowman one more time. But take away the nostalgia and the commercialism and the red-nosed reindeer and what do you have? The annual reminder of how our sovereign king came into the world and promised us everlasting joy, peace, and freedom from suffering; a light in the midst of the darkest time of year. I am happy to go overboard for such a king.

Merry Christmas to all! I leave you with the lyrics of O Holy Night to remind us why we stretch ourselves so thin every December:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

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Thinking outside the piano box…

Here is another video to get you into the Christmas spirit, and also to stretch your head with all of the ways a piano can make sounds. What is the essence of a piano, anyway? Whatever your answer is, these Piano Guys will change your mind.

In many ways, this video is a perfect example for how to think outside the box–perfect, in part, because there actually is a box in this case. Most likely, this was an organic, serendipitous discovery. When these Piano Guys first started turning their pianos inside out, I imagine the process looked something like this:

I’ve always wanted to touch the strings in a piano. Ooo, cool! Listen to this! What if we took bow strings to it? Nifty! What if I pluck, you play, you pull, you drum, we all sing…Glooooooooooooorrriia!

 Assuming the discovery of these sounds was more accidental than intentional, we might conclude that such inspiration requires waiting around for accidents to happen, or at least, waiting around until we do something as mischievous as messing with the strings in a very expensive instrument (I’m imagining the look on my piano teacher’s face now, should I have ever dared to even breath wrong on that Steinway). But when I see this video, I see a creative process in action. We can draw a lot from this process and apply it to any number situations requiring creativity–albeit, a little less organically. Breaking this down, the process might look something like this, probably repeated a number of times before coming to rest on a creative solution:

  1. What are we trying to achieve?
  2. What assumptions can we question? Is there anything we can use in ways it wasn’t meant to be used?
  3. What happens if we move this/touch this/juxtapose this/add/subtract/multiply/expand/etc.?
  4. How does this get us closer to our goal?

Does this resonate with you? What does your creative process look like? Leave a comment and keep the conversation going!

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Another Flash Mob…and Christmasy too!

Another blogger kindly linked to my recent post, Beethoven, the Flash Mob, and in so doing tipped me off to another Flash Mob video, this time with the Air Force Band performing in the middle of the Air and Space Museum.  It was so awesome, and so fitting for the season, I had to share it with you:

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