This truly has been the best Christmas I've ever had.  Cliff says it's been his best Christmas also, but I think he's just trying to make me feel better because I easily won the Worst Wife of the Year award on Christmas morning.

We started the seasonal festivities with Cliff's immediate family.  We had a delicious steak dinner, received lovely gifts (Cliff got a really nice jack for his new shop!), gave fun gifts, played board games, and danced our keisters off in competition with each other.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated with my immediate family.  We ate a delicious brunch, decorated the tree (which I hope you saw on facebook), watched our traditional "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation", and again received wonderful gifts (Cliff got a huge toolbox and floor paint/sealer for his shop!) and had fun giving gifts, too.

That evening, we got all gussied up for Christmas Eve Mass, had snacks and drinks at my Grandma's and then ended the night with snacks and drinks at Cliff's grandparents' house.

Christmas morning was upon us, and we didn't have any obligations until 2pm!  We had agreed not to get gifts for each other, so we were going to have the entire morning and early afternoon to enjoy breakfast together, lounge around, and completely relax.  I slept in until 9:00!  When I awoke, Cliff was next to me, fully dressed, and filled with excitement.  He told me he had already done chores, and we should get up and see what was in my stocking.  WHAT?!  MY STOCKING?  I imagined my stocking bursting at the seams while Cliff's hung there empty and dilapidated.  (Our stockings are only a year old, but that's how I imagined it.)  I immediately felt awful.  The things I would have normally put in his stocking, I had just bought while he was with me in the last couple of months, under the assumption that they weren't needed for Christmas morning.  I didn't even want to leave the bedroom.  I was worried that if Cliff had surprised me with some stocking stuffers, he would surely think I had done the same.  But I hadn't!  I immediately fessed up.  I told him I hadn't gotten him a thing.  He assured me it was no big deal and finally convinced me to go to the living room.

He took down my stocking and handed it to me.  Okay, not bulging at the seams.  This might be okay.  I reached in and pulled out the hidden item.  A really nice pair of leggings.  I was thrilled.  Not only because I loved them, but also because I hadn't been completely bamboozled.  He hadn't gone over the top.  This was just fine.

Then he told me to hang on.  He knew we weren't supposed to get each other gifts, but he had a card for me and it would explain everything.  At this point, I thought it was just the leggings and a card and a very thoughtful husband.  Cliff brought in his homemade card.  I started reading it--there was something about me being selfless, something about our relationship, something about things I would never buy for was hard to read through my tears.  That's right: at this point I had started crying.  Not only because everything dripped with sweetness, but because I could see this was more than just a pair of leggings, a card, and a very thoughtful husband.

Cliff carried in six more gifts.  I opened each one and every single gift was perfect.

Then I started asking how he got all of this done without me knowing.  This is truly the only time in my life that I can remember being completely and utterly surprised.  Turns out, that day that I was upset with him for "playing fantasy football online instead of working" was when he was ordering everything.  Turns out, those boxes that I carried in from my parents' front porch were my gifts that he had shipped to them.  Turns out, that afternoon that I sent him all over the tri-county area--in freezing rain--to get a teaspoon of almond extract for the cookies I was baking, was the day he wrapped everything at my parents' house in record time.  And turns out, while he was out "doing chores" on Christmas morning (while I slept peacefully) he was really carrying everything in from the trunk of his car.

And that's when I realized not only had I hit the jackpot--and not just the scratcher ticket jackpot, but like the biggest ever Powerball jackpot--in the category of husbands, but that there was also no way I was ever going to top this.  Ever.

We went on to two more celebrations that day, and have one more this weekend.  I've been constantly trying to think of a way to at least equal what he did.  No worthwhile ideas so far, so until then I guess I'll keep my Worst Wife of the Year award on the shelf.  Right behind Cliff's Best Husband of a Lifetime award.
My little brother has been on a house hunt lately.  He should could just start paying us rent since he spends about 75% of his time at our house, but for some reason, he wants to eventually grow up and have his own place to, well, basically just sleep.  And drink.  Because in the long run, he hopes my mom or me will continue to cook, clean and do laundry for him.  Anyway, the house hunt has meant that we are all on the look-out for new real estate listings or auctions.  We've been through a few houses, but nothing seems "just right" yet.  Last week, we went through a house that was scheduled to auction today.  Jake decided it was "just right"...if the price was "just right."  He talked to the bank, planned out what he would have to do to the place if he bought it, and figured up his maximum bid.  This wasn't just any old bachelor's pad.  This was a five bedroom, three bath house with two workshops/buildings, a pond and two acres of land.  I was sure he was going to need my support at the auction.
I remember going to a few auctions as a kid, but my memories just consist of drinking hot chocolate and exploring the place with the auctioneer's kids while the adults did their thing.  So, I was pretty excited about this new adventure as an adult.  And I was even more excited to decorate my brother's new house  that my brother might be the owner of his own place at twelve noon.
I helped mentally prepare by reviewing the sale bill the night before and making a list of the items I wanted to bid on.  Then I went into a slight panic realizing that I had never actually bid on anything before.  (ebay doesn't count, people.) I was just envisioning all of those comedy skits where the guy scratching his eyebrow accidentally buys Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat for millions, or the episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff Huxtable loses his will power and gets in a bidding war with his own wife and pays way too much for a piece of artwork.  So, I made a plan with Jacob that I would tell him everything I wanted, along with my top bid, and he could bid on it for me, but then give them my buyer's number.  It was settled.  I was excited again.
Then I woke up this morning and it was 22 degrees outside.  And forecast to just get colder throughout the day.  So, I showered and dressed in layers.  I don't mean cute snow bunny layers (wait, I guess snow bunnies wear the opposite of layers, right?), so...I guess I don't mean cute layers like I could pose for the cover of the Patagonia catalog.  I mean, two pairs of socks--one of which were thick, wool, mens' hunting socks, leggings, then jeans, then a tank top, a long sleeved shirt, a short sleeved shirt, a hoodie, my husband's Wick outerwear overalls, and my big puffy Gap down coat, followed up with my Muck Chore boots, a scarf, gloves, and a stocking hat.  As I mentioned, the Wick outwear was my husband's and since they were made for a man, they were quite slim in the hips.  Everything else about them fit fine, but it was a squeeze through the hips.    So much so that I couldn't tell that I had my seatbelt on when I got to the auction and tried to get out while still strapped in.  These layers also meant that there was no way I was going to be able to pee until I got home and stripped down.  Those childhood memories of auction hot chocolate were laid to rest.
I was just about ready to run (somewhat like a gingerbread man might run) out of the house and pick up my brother when I realized I probably shouldn't bring my whole purse to this event.  But what does a woman bring to an auction?  Especially when she can't carry a purse?  That's when I found a large Velcro pocket on the front of the mens' bib overalls I was wearing.  Somewhat of a murse, I guess.  But there was no way all the contents of my purse were going to fit in there.  So, I narrowed it down to: a checkbook (a must, especially because everyone around here actually prefers a check to a debit card); some cash; my ID, and an ink pen (Cliff suggested this so I could write down bids live--this did not happen).  I forgot: CHAPSTICK.  But I survived.
I stopped by and got Jacob and we headed to the auction site.  Cliff met us there, but had to leave early for court.  Everyone was gathered around a long table full of items.  Everything was selling quick!  The first item that was held up that caught my interest was an antique Nabisco Saltine crackers tin.  I tapped Cliff and he bid.  We got it.  FOR TWO DOLLARS!  This was fun!  A few minutes later, I saw Cliff bid again, but I had been daydreaming and had no idea what he was buying.  He got it.  Then I saw it.  A huge box chock full of coasters and trivets.  I have no idea why we bid on it, but at least my white elephant gift is taken care of for this Christmas.  And the whole box was only ONE DOLLAR!  Not long after that, something the auctioneer said caught my attention again and I leaned in toward the table to see what he was selling.  I slightly bumped Cliff when I did this and he thought it was my sign for him to bid.  He threw his hand up and we ended up with two antique burlap feed sacks.  That sale was completely accidental, but they actually are really neat and they only cost us THREE DOLLARS!
Then it hit high noon and it was time for the real estate to sell.  Everyone cleared out of the way and my brother took center stage.  Then a cute young girl moved up to the front edge of the crowd.  The auctioneer started chanting and the GIRL bid!  Jake bid.  She bid.  Jake bid.  She bid.  Jake bid.  She bid.  Jake thought for a long time and bid again.  The girl thought for a long time and bid again.  Jake thought for a long time and bid again.  He was at the top of what he wanted to spend.  The auctioneer stopped chanting, said they were going to take a two minute break and come back.  My heart was already racing and I was about to pass out.  Nothing like making it more suspenseful.  The crew came back and asked the girl if she wanted to up her bid.  She went up $500.  Jake thought for what seemed like an eternity, then bid again.  The girl thought for what seemed like even longer, and then upped it another $500.  Jake thought again, and then shook his head no.   The girl got it.  I was so heartbroken for him.  But later, we learned of some major water damage, flooding and sewer problems, so I think it was all a blessing in the end.
Cliff left for court.  The auction moved inside.  I bought a chest of drawers for FIVE DOLLARS!  And I bid on it MYSELF!  We moved upstairs and I bought an antique mahogany library table in excellent condition for  THIRTY DOLLARS!  And I bid on it MYSELF!  I was loving this!  I couldn't wait to bid on the items Cliff wanted.  An hour later, Cliff texted and said if I was cold I should go home and not wait for the items he wanted.   I responded that I was staying and he would need to bring a truck when he came back.
We moved to the workshops to bid on Cliff's stuff.  I was ready.  But then, I realized the auctioning of shop goods--tools, machines, motors, and the like, was like Black Friday shopping for some women.  These men were ruthless once we were in their domain.  They pushed me out of the way, stood in front of me, and acted as though I shouldn't be there.  And most of them weren't even bidding on anything!  Sadly, I ended up missing out on the couple of things Cliff wanted.
Auctions like this are one of those great small town things.  I'm addicted.  I can't wait to start scoping out sale bills.  (Like I'll have time for that!)
And just for the record: I spent five hours in the frigid outdoors and never got cold.

This is the edge of my awesome library table, piled with my day's attire.
I love to cook.  I love to bake.  And I love to eat.  I've always kind of prided myself on my cooking and baking skills.  I love showing up at someone's house with a "just out of the oven" appetizer, or filling tins with Christmas cookies and giving them away over the holidays.  Therefore, I've always been interested in having the best of the best when it comes to kitchen utensils.  It's also why my Christmas and birthday wish lists always consist of some specialty can opener or garlic press or basting brush, among other kitchen-friendly gadgets.  (Except those tear-free onion glasses.  I just can't get on board with those.)  Unlike my mother, who is still using the wooden spoons (among several other things) that she and my dad received as a wedding gift...just shy of FORTY YEARS AGO.  A concept I could never understand.  Why not spend ten bucks on a just-released cheese grater?
When the weather turns cold, I really get in the mood to cook and bake.  So, yesterday morning I woke up, brushed my teeth, and went straight to the kitchen.  I started on a big batch of taco soup, then made a lasagna, then a breakfast casserole, and topped it all off with a big batch of peanut butter cookies.
As I was standing over the second skillet of browning hamburger, chopping it up with my bamboo spatula, I realized I had forgotten to add the Pampered Chef Mix n' Chop to my 2013 wish list.  Then, in an instance, I realized I had immediately thought to myself:  I don't need a fancy hamburger smasher--my bamboo spatula is doing just the trick. 
WHAT?!  Did I really just decide to pass on a new and improved kitchen tool?
Oh no, it's true.  I really am turning into my mother.  (Although, that's not such a bad thing, overall.)
Still, I won't reject the Mix n' Chop (or any other kitchen goodies), if anyone does gift them to me this Christmas.