Christmas 2016 - JanessaMann.Com

Christmastime!

Nic and I had a wonderful second Christmas together. On Christmas Eve we woke up and shared presents, cuddled with Toby (whom we’re bunnysitting) and went for a tea date at Black Squirrel Books. In the evening I had the privilege of singing in the service.

Christmas 2016 - JanessaMann.Com

Christmas Day Nic and I drove out to my parents’ house where we celebrated with them and my brother and sister-in-law. We had lots of fun singing Christmas carols, opening presents, playing games, and exploring in the snow. We even got to see 5 deer running across our path, although the pictures didn’t show much.

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On Boxing day we hosted both our families for games and pizza, then went to see Rogue One. December 27 we had Christmas with Nic’s family, which ended with a rousing game of Boggle as usual!

We had a wonderful Christmas catching up with family and friends, were blessed with great meals and presents, and got to play outside in the beautiful white snow. Merry Christmas to you, and I can’t wait to get to the cottage for New Year’s on Friday!

Christmas in Ottawa

Nic and I were very thankful to go home to Ottawa for a week and a half over Christmas. Our parents still live there, so we had a lot of fun.

The Cobers

Nic’s dad does Bonsai, and this is his gorgeous jade
Pileated woodpecker

One of my favourite aspects of Ottawa is the Greenbelt, which is a protected natural area surrounding the city. My parents live an easy drive away for hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.

It was surprisingly cold

Snow, at last!

Chickadee
I love feeding chickadees in my hand!
Mann stockings

My brother and sister-in-law arrived, so we had Christmas with them, next.

Nic’s loving the foot of snow that dropped!
The Manns
National Gallery of Art

Deanna wanted to see the Art Gallery, which is always one of my favourite places to go.

My Christmas Break Recap- Toronto

Nic and I walked around our neighbourhood to check out the Christmas lights, and ended up at Casa Loma-to celebrate 6 months of marriage!!!
Looking out over Toronto
We went to see Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform Messiah. It was good, but I wasn’t a fan of the “Mega Messiah“. 
Our widdle Christmas tree with our presents for each other and for our families. 

As Nic said, “the stockings were hung on the roadbike with care…”

Christmas Carols: My Top and Bottom Five!

Niagara-on-the-Lake Candlelit Stroll

I’ve done music my whole life: it’s a huge part of my passion, so I knew I had to share my favourite and least favourite Christmas carols- from all those concerts I’ve sung in, listened to, muzak in stores, and ridiculous covers on the radio.

Ottawa Regional Youth Choir in 2009 at the EU’s Christmas Concert in Ottawa, I’m in the front row in Swedish “Sankta Lucia” dress

Top 5 Christmas Carols

1) Lo’ How a Rose/ Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen

This hymn is often a part of my home church’s Christmas Eve service. The lights are dim, we have our candles burning, and we sing a verse or two in German. I may not know much German, but it’s the language of my Russian Mennonite ancestors (even my parents grew up speaking German) so it always makes me feel like it’s even more holy and special. 

2) Hark the Herald Angels Sing

It took me a while to love this hymn, I never found it all that interesting until I started my tradition of watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” each year as a young adult. At the end of the movie, when the kids realize that Christmas is about Jesus, they start singing this around Charlie’s sad tree. Which reminds me, I should find a stream of that and watch it soon!

3)  Oh Holy Night

Every Christmas Eve service at my church, one of the best sopranos sings this at the end. I usually bawl. She’s phenomenal. Last year with my voice teacher I managed to hit the top notes for the descant part, and I loved it.

4) Swedish Carols

For many years, the Swedish Embassy in Ottawa partnered with IKEA to put on a Sankta Lucia concert at the beginning of December. It was always one of my favourite concerts to do, even with the burning candles we had to carry! It’s been many years since I last sang them, and I tried to hunt down a video of the version of “Away in a Manger” that we sang, but I can’t. Either way, it’s beautiful. It was also always fun doing a Christmas concert in your pajamas under that white robe, with the tinsel in your hair!

I’m in the middle of the group with the side braid.

5) O Come All Ye Faithful

I love the chords, and I love the descant for verse three. It’s always so much fun to sing!

Bottom 5 Christmas Carols

1) The Twelve Days of Christmas

Is there any song more annoying than that one? Doubt it.

2) Huron Carol

When I was 19, my choir (Ottawa Regional Youth Choir) made a Christmas CD. We basically practiced and recorded for a whole year, so I never got away from Christmas. My conductor’s arrangement of the carol had some tricky parts, so we sang this over and over. And over. I’m so over this carol.

3) The Drummer Boy

I take back my comment for the Twelve Days of Christmas. This song is more annoying.

4) Frosty the Snowman

Super depressing. Also, what did it have to do with Christmas?

5) Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabelle

Not interested in this song at all. Had to sing it one year at the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s free Christmas concert in the NAC lobby, and I hated it. Maybe it’s too peppy for me?

Check out some origins of certain carols!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles

Every year my Mom makes these phenomenal peanut butter chocolate truffles, and I devour them. I can never take just one at a time (and  I wonder why my body fat percentage has gone up!) but this year I’m going to try.
The recipe is surprisingly easy, which is good because they disappear so quickly.

Peanut Butter Truffles

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup soft butter
1 1/4 cups icing sugar

Mix well. Chill dough for a minimum of an hour, but you can go longer.
Form into balls by rolling in your hands. You may have to chill dough again in between because it gets soft. 
Place balls on baking pans and chill well or freeze.

8 oz. (225g or 8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate, melted (you’ll probably need more)

Melt chocolate in microwave in bowl that is large enough to dip balls. Don’t overheat the chocolate.
Dip peanut butter balls in melted chocolate and set on waxed paper on baking pan.
Chill well.

That recipe makes about 2 dozen. My mom usually has to double it because I’m so obsessed. I only made one batch. I should have made more. 


Christmas Decor on a Budget

Christmas is absolutely my favourite time of the year. I love the music (I’m sorely missing good church music and singing in a choir this winter), the decor, the get-togethers, the excitement of picking out the “perfect” present for your loved ones, and celebrating Jesus’ birth. 
The problem is, decorating and all that stuff gets expensive, and I’m guilty of wanting things to look adorably perfect. 
My number one tips for decorating for Christmas on a budget:
  1. Buy things on sale after Christmas when it’s all discounted.
    1. This is easiest if you keep a steady theme over the years instead of thinking you need to redo everything year after year.
  2. Make what you can
    1. But remember that sometimes buying all the parts to make something can be more expensive than buying it.
  3. Always use coupons. Michael’s? Absolutely subscribe to it!
  4. Find out if any friends are tired of their previous decor and are willing to give it to you or sell it for cheap. 
  5. Plan your decor before you do any shopping, or make sure that you can return things you buy if they don’t work well together.

I made this super easy advent wreath for our table. The wreath and candle set are from Bed Bath & Beyond, I bought them last year when we had the ridiculous post-Christmas sales. I threw on the gold beads from Dollarama which I had previously used as a garland on my tiny tree.

For the beginning of December, I put out this green tablecloth from Ten Thousand Villages since it’s not overtly Christmasy, but it is green.

I set up this little vignette on the piano. The fake poinsettia and the pot are from IKEA, the red candle is from Dollarama, and the little statuette is a gift from Sweden.
Christmas lights always make things feel festive. Except that I have mine up year-round, because at night we like to cuddle on the couch in the romantic lighting. #newlyweds
For many years my youth choir performed at the Sankta Lucia celebration in Ottawa. We would sing Swedish Christmas carols, wear white robes, and hold candles in our hands. It was always a magical night. My Dad has been on a couple business trips to Sweden, so one year he brought back a little Sankta Lucia for me. She’s adorable.

Earlier this week I posted about our Christmas tree. Despite fake trees not smelling right, not looking right, etc., you can buy them on sale, and save them for the next year. (Last year when Mom and I bought our large, real tree, it was at least $80. This tree was $25.) When decorating your tree, go for slowly collecting items that you can use for years and won’t go out of style. Mom gave me the gold balls, which will probably be in our scheme for a while.
I may wish I had tons of vintage balls and other vintage ornaments, but for now, with our limited budget, that’s not feasible. Maybe once we’re both out of school? (Hah, that’ll never happen lol.)
Cheap tree skirt? Put a pretty scarf down. This one isn’t warm enough for the winter, so it was great covering up the plastic base.

Easiest wreath ever: grab a wreath on sale and add a fake bird. (Anyone remember Portland, “Put a bird on it!”)

Every year I make my advent calendar using this little tree. I bought a set of 24 pearly bulbs, and have been putting them up one day at a time.

Merry Cookiemas! – Cookie Decorating Party

For our first Christmas, I wanted to host some sort of a Christmas cookie party. I figured for the three houses of my friends from undergrad, we should either make cookies together, or exchange them, so we have more cookies. We ended up decorating regular sugar cookies, and doing Maddie’s cool egg-wash orange cookies, and splitting them up at the end. 

I set up our side table with the baked cookies (since Maddie was baking the orange ones in the kitchen at the same time), hot chocolate stuff, and someone even brought Bailey’s.

Nic’s parents lived in Zambia for a few years, and came back with this sugar cookie recipe. Nic was adament that we had to make!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 cups flour

Instructions:

  1. Cream sugar, butter, shortening, and salt.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
  3. Stir the baking powder into the flour.
  4. Alternate adding milk and baking powder/flour mixture slowly.
  5. Chill dough.
  6. Roll out, cut out shapes, and bake at 350* for ~10 minutes.
I got these stunning copper cookie cutters at my bridal shower this spring, and I love how they look! My other cookie cutters are 5 dinosaurs that I got from Dollarama. We used both. 
 
We made basic icing with butter and icing sugar, and added food colouring.

 Maddie really wanted to do her egg-wash orange cookies. I’d never seen these before, so it was really cool to try them. I found a recipe from Pioneer Woman that you can try out. You roll them out, then paint them with different egg-washes, and then bake them.

I didn’t do a cost breakdown, but I’m pretty sure that all of us chipping in for 4 dozen + cookies was cheaper than doing it all separately. And way more fun.