Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Grotto

Hi Everyone! I HAD to get this post out before Christmas, as I've told a few friends about it, and frankly, its just too good to leave unshared!

Several friends back in the States have asked if Christmas in London is all classy and traditional and Dickens-ian. To which I reply a resounding NO! So here are a few pics to support my declaration.

This is a house just a minutes walk from us. It just cracks me up to see the decorations stop abruptly at the edge of the townhouse!

However, the following house is the real inspiration for my post! Its just a couple blocks away, on a corner lot, and they take their decoration seriously! There are lights all over the house, on the roof, and they even built a 'deck' for their nativity, since they have a wall that would keep you from seeing it in their yard.

But the kicker is the 'grotto'.

To the side of the house, they have a one-room building that they keep decorated. In summer, it hosts a koi pond and plastic lawn ornaments, such as chickens. (I kid you not, plastic lawn chickens keeping watch over golden koi!) For Halloween, they stuck a life-size Dracula in the corner... which freaked me out a little.

But Christmas is their true love, and they go all out, with a Christmas village, polar bears, penguins, wise men, Frosty, and of course, several Santas (because simply one Santa in the room would obviously be insufficient!) all accompanied by a children's recording of Christmas songs. Apparently, its quite well known/loved among the families in the area. The owners used to decorate the whole house inside and out and give tours before Christmas, until the government decided they were pushing the limits of 'residential' zoning and becoming too 'commercial' in their enterprise. :-) My questions lie less in the zoning, and more in the disbelief that parents were actually okay with children going into a stranger's home for the decorations! I assume the children were accompanied, but still... it rings a bit... strange to me. I leave you to judge for yourselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Grotto"

And lest you feel like you're still not fully informed, I took a video for you. (Apologies for the car noises in the background.)

I'm sorry, I'm sure they are lovely people, but every time I walk past, I think of this:

** On a happy note, my friend came up with this and I told her I'd post it and make her famous! Don't buy an expensive back-of-seat mount for your iPad for kiddo entertainment. Just make a hole in a gift bag the size of your iPad, slide it in, pull the strings out one side and tie around your headrest! Brilliant!

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Honest Christmas

I have a confession to make: I lied.

Well, not so much lied, as I gave a false impression of the truth. (I know, Mom, same thing.)

But its a Facebook thing, so does that count?

We all know it happens, and I think we all do it at some point or another. You know what I mean- that bit where we take the best of ourselves to post on Facebook while hiding the worst. We post fun, gregarious pictures that make our lives look fantabulous, while in reality, reality is rather mundane. Don't get me wrong- I don't necessarily want to go to a depressing 'realistic' Facebook where everyone posts every bad mood, poor grade, worry, fear, and mess. I've had a few friends who made that their norm, and quite honestly, its depressing. But it's tricky to find a middle ground.

Anyhoo... here's my boldfaced lie:

Looks cozy, right? A fireplace with candles, Christmas decor, and twinkle lights reflecting in the flame. It was cozy, and it did make me smile to see, so it wasn't all a lie. But let me tell you about the reality behind this photo:  the hubby is off to the side (you can see his arm on the right edge), after having just given up on a project that wasn't working for the evening. Me? I'm on the sofa across from the fireplace, where I've been all day with a cold, in my leggings, mens flannel shirt (that I sewed in hopes of looking cuter in it), and knee socks that are bunched around my ankles because they're too tight to go up to my knees without cutting off circulation. My day consisted mostly of fooling around on the laptop, too sick to be very profitable, too stubborn to actually sleep. (Though the hubster did eventually make me take a nap). After minimal food and various glasses of water, tea, and lemonade (the boring British version of Sprite), I ended the evening by throwing up in bed. Don't worry- I had a bucket.

See? I lied. It wasn't a wonderful cozy evening of reading and cuddling by a fire. I was miserable and searching for something to make me happier. And when I found it, I shared it. Trust me, you didn't want to see anything else described in my day!

I did manage to do a little bit profitable. Do you mind if I share? I promise to be honest in my presentation.

I did get a few more Christmas decorations up. I love decorating, especially for Christmas! There's so much potential for sparkle, and lights, and glitter, and fun! But life doesn't always deliver just that.

*Side note- That eucalyptus hanging is from the Pinterest post that said if you hang it in your shower, it makes your bathroom smell nice. They lied.

Okay, so for the sake of honesty, I admit. I edited these pictures. Trying to photograph a room by Christmas light makes it all weird and orangey-yellow. Oh, and windows... yeah. Not black and lovely, just a mirror for everything else in the room that distracts from the main subject. 

Honestly, I'm pretty happy with our decor this year. It feels cozy and warm. And there's a bit of nostalgia with the paper stars, glittered leaves, and cranberry/popcorn garlands. But can I tell you a secret? I wasn't necessarily going for the vintage look. (I just posted an article about hipsters faux nostalgia). In truth, we have cranberries, leaves, and paper because they're cheap. Christmas decor is stinking expensive until after Christmas, which wasn't an option for this year! So we made do... and its enough.

In fact, that's what I'm working to learn right now-- that concept of 'enough'. I love The Nester's philosophy that "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." I want to believe that. But in a day of Pinterest and Facebook and my natural perfectionism, its darn hard!!!

And by the way, a London Christmas doesn't look like this:

Right now, our London looks like this:

Yep- cleaning crews blowing damp leaves off the grass and cement. Did you know that London doesn't get snow? It'll snow once or twice a year, making the roads a muddy slushy mess before melting away.

Fortunately, we do have pretty things like this house-way, and December blossoms.

Its been an interesting holiday season. I've known about the 'real reason for Christmas' for years and years. We've read Luke 2 every year for as long as I can remember. But still, its so easy to yawn through the story, complain about a Christmas Eve/Day service, and then race back home for the 'real' fun. **Can I admit it, I still LOVE getting presents!** But I feel like this year, God's asking me if He's really the most important. If there's no snow on the ground, no family on Christmas Day, and if my homemade gifts/decor really aren't super impressive and Pinterest-worthy, can I still be joyful? Can I still praise Him? Can I still be thankful for the blessings he's giving, materially and spiritually? To be honest, I've not done so great this year. I've found myself 'bah-humbug'-ing a few too many times.

But I AM blessed. I have family at home who loves me a lot, and technology means I can call them whenever I want. I have old friends and new friends here in London who have opened their lives to us, and invited us to share houses, meals, and parties over the holiday. I have a sweet, newly renovated home, and a church that let me borrow craft supplies to decorate cheaply. I have a Christmas tree with white lights and sweet decorations from our pasts. I have the love and care of a godly man who seeks to serve me and make me smile on a daily basis. And I have the gift of salvation- bringing joy and comfort to my darkest days. His word and His Spirit never fail, never disappoint, and provide peace beyond December 25, if my heart will seek Him.

So here's to an honest Christmas in London, where its grey and wet and 53˚, and God is teaching me about joy more than ever!