Holiday Traditions & New Year Wishes

Welcome to 2015, everyone! We rang in the new year by watching Back to the Future, and falling asleep way before midnight like the old people that we are. 2016 may be the year we institute the 10 p.m. early celebration time.

I hope that all of you had a very happy and safe holiday season. Both Russell and I had time off of work, but it went by way too quickly. I’m not feeling as well-rested as I had hoped, but we will just consider it a hangover from too much food and fun. That sounds better than, “I wore myself out by baking way more cookies than we could ever eat and by cooking a dinner better suited for 20 instead of two.”

This year, I tried to incorporate a few new traditions, along with the old. When you get married, it’s really important to have your own traditions, ones that you as a couple enjoy doing together. Sure, there are some family traditions that no one wants to let go of, but the holidays can make or break a couple. No, seriously. Some will say that before you get hitched, you should travel with your partner and see how it works out. I vote on spending Christmas Day together (or another important holiday) and seeing how you navigate that. Do you split up? Do you fight? Do you just want to go home together and not talk to anyone else in the world for the next week?

Let me tell you the truth for a minute – we have been a combination of all of the above. We have split up before. We have gone without seeing each other on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day before. Russell and I have been together for ten years, starting at age 18. During those first few years, we weren’t quite young enough to be with our families all the time and not quite old enough to be completely on our own. It was hardest during college, trying to navigate how to be committed to each other and to our families, and as we got older (moved in together, got more serious, became engaged, got married, etc.), we started putting one another first over our families a bit more often. Most recently, we’ve stuck together, beginning our own traditions and creating our own memories. We’ve recently claimed Christmas Eve as our own, the one day we stay at home and enjoy each other’s company, and only each other’s company. It’s been our little holiday life-saver. We exchange our presents on Christmas Eve, watch the Grinch and drink hot chocolate, and although we didn’t make it out this year, we usually drive around our neighborhood and look at the lights and decorations. We also always have a special meal for just the two of us.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I think dinners are extremely important. Sunday dinners, holiday dinners, dinners in front of the TV – it doesn’t matter, as long as you are spending time together, eating food that will bring you back to a special moment in time. I always cook a holiday meal for Russell and I; even if we’re going to four other places on Christmas (yes, it’s usually three to five places, really), I still make a special meal for us to have at home. Growing up, both of us had our own favorite foods we enjoyed, but because families grow and change, we don’t always get to experience those traditions anymore. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to make us a special holiday dinner that includes both of our favorites. The best of the new and the old.

I’ve made my Nana’s ravioli, and we eat usually spaghetti on Christmas Eve. I almost always bake a ham, and although I don’t like pirogies, I would like to try making them for Russell on some holiday since that is what his family always had. One year, we had “Christmas Steak.” I kid you not. We knew we’d have ham and pasta everywhere else, so Russ brought steak home from the grocery store and we didn’t look back.

Christmas Dinner and Desserts | Life Is Sweet As A Peach

This year, our Christmas Eve dinner included baked ham with cloves, brown sugar, and ginger ale; cheesy au gratin potatoes; broccoli cheese casserole; and carrots and shallots with a cider mustard glaze. We had canned beets from our garden, so I mixed those up with a bit of horseradish to go with my ham (because sweet and spicy is my favorite flavor combination, ever). It was way too much food for two people. Next year, I’ve got to stick with just the ham and potatoes.

I also baked four types of cookies: Oreo truffles, peanut butter blossoms (Russell’s favorite), waffle cookies (my grandma’s recipe, and one of my favorites), and chewy fudge cookies. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we also walked to our local bakery, and picked up a yule log. It was our first time trying the traditional French dessert, and I think we both may have appreciated it more if we didn’t have so many other sweets to pick from.

Christmas in the Country | Life Is Sweet As A Peach

Holidays in the country…you really can’t beat that.

On Christmas Day, we packed up the reindeer-outfitted-truck and headed to our family’s. We had brunch at Russell’s dad’s in the country, and I took an egg casserole which I’ve previously made on special occasions. We made ourselves a french toast casserole (recipe here) to have in the mornings over break as well. At my dad’s, we had the best ham ever (because my step-mom Shirl is an amazing cook), and my dad made Nana’s ravioli, which was a treat (because they were delicious AND I didn’t have to make them). Finally, we visited Russell’s grandma’s, and although we didn’t eat because we had already stuffed ourselves twice, they had the most amazing cookie and treat spread. His grandparents used to own a bakery, so this is pretty much the norm for any holiday. It was a pretty busy day, full of food, presents, and running around, but one of the better holidays we’ve had in recent memory.

Christmas 2014 | Life Is Sweet As A Peach

Russell and I on Christmas Day – note the Grinch shirt, representing my fave; my Dad receiving an anniversary edition Ford Mustang clock that revs an engine at the top of each hour; my cutie-pie little niece, Zoey; and Russell and his sister, Deanna, with her creative gift of “Reinbeer” for the win.

This Christmas was one of the more sentimental ones for me, and I owe a lot of that to my husband. I don’t really enjoy getting presents; I’d rather give them, because watching someone else light up is basically all I need. I consistently spoil gifts for Russell because I can’t wait to give them to him. (I held strong this year though!) But this year…this year, I was moved to tears. Twice.

Russell and his parents really, truly gave me amazing, wonderful, meaningful gifts, as did my step-mom. I know that Russell gave his parents the ideas, but they still followed through, and I’m…I’m still just so touched.

First, Russell gave me a beautiful turquoise porcelain enameled cast-iron dutch oven, which I fell in love with and have already used twice. His dad, Dave, gave me the pasta attachment for my mixer (another treasured gift, because my best friend’s all pitched in and gave it to me for my bridal shower). This was hugely sentimental to me, because of the aforementioned ravioli and homemade spaghetti. Going to my great-grandma’s on Christmas Eve for the traditional Italian feast is a wonderful memory of mine, and now it will be easier for me to recreate this tradition in my own home.

Speaking of my Nana…she used to crochet us little kids booties – essentially slippers, and I loved them, had a million pairs. Shirl made both Russell and I a pair for Christmas, and I don’t think he probably got how important that was to me, but there were a lot of memories attached to those booties, and I was so touched that she took the time to do that. She put so much effort into incorporating some of my dad’s and my traditions into Christmas this year, and it was…well, just really important, sentimental, gracious, and wonderful.

Then, I go to Russell’s grandma’s, and find out that his mother gave me the rest of our wedding china. We didn’t get our china for our wedding, and I was pretty sad about it, because it meant to me, lots of parties, formal dinners, you know…tradition. Russell and I bought what we could afford ourselves, but didn’t complete the collection, and then our pattern was retired. Russell’s mom somehow found the rest of the pieces and bought them for us. I was floored. I don’t know that I’ve ever received so many thoughtful gifts in my life, for any one holiday or birthday – anything. Russell spoils the crap out of me, and now I feel super duper spoiled and kind of don’t know what to do with myself. I’m so touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness. This will stay with me for a long time.

10 Year Anniversary | Life Is Sweet As A Peach

Look as us young pups…on our first date on Dec. 30, 2004 and our on ten-year anniversary, Dec. 30, 2014.

Russell and I also celebrated our ten year-dating anniversary this year on Dec. 30. Ten years ago, we went on our first “date” – to our Senior Snowball Dance. We had gone just as friends, but within a few months, we were together. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first summer we spent together, right after graduating high school and before leaving for college. Oh, to be that young and free again.

We booked a fancy hotel room in the city to celebrate, and spent the day walking around one of our favorite parts of Pittsburgh – the Strip District (which is really an outdoor shopping market and not at all as wild as the name implies). Then we had a wonderful dinner and just enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet after the holiday rush.

PPG Place, Pittsburgh | Life Is Sweet As A Peach

The view of the city from our hotel room.

Most readers here probably don’t know this, but 2013 was a pretty bad year for us. I was stuck in a very stressful job, and ended up having surgery. We had some tough things happen to us. We were a mess, and had high hopes for 2014. We worked at it, and honestly, it was a great year without too many trial and tribulations. It was also a year of growth, for both of us, professionally and personally. I was therefore a little sad to see 2014 go, but hope that 2015 will be even better.

Last year, I made everyone at our New Year’s Eve party fill out their resolutions for the upcoming year, and Russell and I opened ours together recently. Mine was a challenge to myself to grow, learn to say no, and learn to put myself first. It’s been a constant struggle, but a worthy one. It’s kind of ironic how hard it is to learn to take care of yourself. And Russell’s? Well…

New Year's Resolution

Yep. He wanted to spend more time with me. So make that the third or fourth time I cried over the holidays.

There a lot of challenges that the holidays pose, for everyone who has any sort of family or life drama. I especially think that it’s hard for young couples to find their groove. What makes the holidays special to you as an adult may not have been the same thing as what you enjoyed as a kid.

If I could give anyone advice, I would say to not make your resolutions too difficult to achieve; don’t put so much pressure on yourself, thinking you have to enjoy the holiday so much that you don’t enjoy it at all; and pick and stick with the two or three things that make you the most happy. Watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas for a half hour is my favorite tradition, and even though it doesn’t take very long, it’s meaningful to me. Russell and are I finally in a place where we think and act more like a couple, a small and childless family unit, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. (Well, ok, maybe a kid or two…eventually. Or a dog. Or a cat. Whatever). I love both of our families, and our friends who I also call my family, but I love the one we’ve created the most.

If you have a holiday tradition, whether it’s an oldie but goodie, or more modern, I’d love to hear about it. I hope everyone has a wonderful and blessed New Year, filled with much laughter, good luck, and many wishes for good health. Best Wishes to all, and thank you for supporting me while I continue this blog. I appreciate it very much. Stay peachy!

– Aubrey


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