Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Season, A Time For Traditions

Is it me or does it seem to you as if time runs faster during the Christmas season (that is from Dec 1 to Dec 24)? My guess is that children think the opposite; time does not go fast enough as they excitedly wait for Christmas day to open presents.

Christmas tree decorated in white lights

There are so many things that have to get done, such as: house decorating, Christmas shopping, food preparations, school events, family visitors, family parties, work parties and the list seems to be endless. When you become an empty-nester you would think life would be easier, and it is to some degree, but you start to miss parts of that crazy life.

Outdoor Christmas light decorations

Christmas decorations go up and shortly thereafter they must be taken down, signifying the holiday season is over. I must confess I start decorating for Christmas on Halloween day; yes, it is crazy, but that is also how I manage to get it all done and enjoy it.

But what is Christmas?

The Christmas season is a great excuse to decorate the house differently with bright colors, mostly red and gold. I have garlands and bows decorating window sills, door trims, wreaths and Christmas trees. I love how they make the house feel festive and offer a happy glow.

Windows decorated with Christmas garlands and red bows

Door trims decorated with Christmas garlands in gold

I decorate two artificial Christmas trees. Decorating them is an event because this is the first time I put on Christmas music, drink some wine and slowly attach the branches to the tree, then adding the lights and finally the decorations.

Christmas tree decorated in multi-color lights

I also set up a Pesebre, a Nativity scene. This activity definitely brings back happy memories of my childhood. A pesebre is basically a recreation of the little town of Bethlehem where baby Jesus was born and where the three Magi find Him. So yes, you must include the three Magi, and throughout the month you must move them along closer to the stable where baby Jesus lies. The set up can be simple or elaborate; from my childhood I recall houses in the neighborhood with enormous Pesebre setups, some taking just about an entire room. They were beautiful. In the last few years, I have relinquished this task to my grown children when they come home during the holidays. Our pesebre has some pieces from my childhood that while they are showing their age, are precious to me.

Nativity scene - Pesebre decorated

Listening to Christmas carols is something my husband and I enjoy very much and cannot wait to hear. Our Christmas playlist has over 650 songs, and now that we have signed up with Google music it is basically endless. I also like to listen to Villancicos, which are Spanish carols, another pleasant memory for me. My children have even learned to sing them in Spanish.

The Christmas season is also a time when I look forward to cooking specialty foods from my native country, Colombia. It is the time when I cook Empanadas, Bunuelos, Natilla and Pandequesos all of which my kids have grown to enjoy and look forward to eating each holiday. So while I am cooking, I sip on wine or glogg, listening to my Colombian music and dancing along the way. Let the Party begin!!

A plate with holiday latin foods - empanadas, bunuelos, pandequesos

December 24 is a very special day for the Colombian family, as it is Christmas day. It is the day when relatives and friends come over to celebrate and enjoy food, drinks and dance the night away. I remember many big gatherings at my house or a friend's house or neighbor's house where the party would go into the wee hours. Good music for dancing is important at these parties because everybody loves to dance. You can find the parents and children sharing the same floor space while dancing. Later on, I recall spending the night playing with all the children that were at the party. For Spanish families, baby Jesus is the one bringing the presents. The best part is that baby Jesus does not require you go to sleep by midnight to receive presents; therefore getting home in the wee hours is just fine, because the presents show up after you wake up at home. They are not placed by the Christmas tree, but are set by the side of your bed or underneath it.

Dinner table setup for Christmas dinner

So what is Christmas all about?

It is about practicing old traditions and building new ones unique to your family. It is about leaving a legacy of memories to your children and building memories for yourself and friends. It is about creating warmth, it is about eating comfort foods, it is about listening to traditional carols. Christmas is about being with your family. Christmas is about giving thanks for the present while holding in your heart hope for a wonderful future for those you love.

Wall Christmas decoration with an Angel

On this joyful time, may the season bring you joy and knowledge that life is good. May the New Year bring you Peace of Mind, Health and Love.

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fun Holiday Events in the Baltimore - DC Area

As I start to write I realize that while it is a few days after Thanksgiving I already feel hassled with the realization that the holidays are going by way too fast. There is so much to do, see and enjoy. There are free holiday events everywhere, some new and some that I have seen in years past and still enjoy, but there is not enough time to see them all.

Here are some of the events in my area that are fun and enjoyable.

The Ugly Sweater 5K run

This is not a free event but it is for a good cause, to benefit Save the Children advocacy group. The idea is to wear your ugliest sweater while going on a 5k run (or walk) through a designated route. There are plenty of holiday festivities at the start and at the end of the run. To find if this event is coming to your city, check their website.

People at the ugly sweater run in DC

group of participants at the Ugly Sweater Run in DC
A fun group I met at the Ugly Sweater Run in Washington DC

3 people wearing their Ugly Sweaters at the DC run
Notice the small reindeers on the sweaters. 

3 friends at the Ugly Sweater Run in DC

People wearing their Ugly Sweater waiting for run to start

The starting line for the Ugly Sweater Run in DC
The starting line at the Ugly Sweater Run in Washington DC

The US Botanical Garden Holiday Exhibition

Since 2004 the US Botanic Garden has created holiday exhibitions to the delight of children and adults. This year they have created miniature replicas of many U.S. lighthouses displayed on meticulous landscape settings. They also have several model trains running through the landscapes. The amazing part is that all the miniatures are created using dried plant material and the amount of detail in the miniature replicas is amazing. This is a FREE event. For more read US Botanic Garden Holiday Train Display, a Hidden Gem.

Miniature replica of the Smithsonian Castle
Miniature replica of the Smithsonian Castle made from dry plant material

Miniature replica of the Washington Monument
Miniature replica of the Washington Monument made from dry plant material

Tuba Christmas Concert

Have you heard 50 tubas play traditional holiday music? It is a joyful sound. Most of the tuba players wear Santa hats and there is even a Santa playing a tuba. Towards the end of the concert they encourage everyone to sing-along. The Holiday Tubas had their first Christmas Tuba event in 1974 at the Rockefeller Center skating rink. This national organization has concerts in many states so check the website to find the nearest one to you.  I have seen it several years now and I look forward to hearing them again. It is a sure way to get you in the holiday spirit. It is a FREE event. I recommend it and wear your Santa hat. Here is a recording of the Carol of the Bells the Tuba way.

Tuba Christmas group playing in Baltimore
Tuba Christmas playing holiday music in Baltimore

Santa playing tuba at the Tuba Christmas event in Baltimore
Holiday Tubas event in Baltimore

Light Boat Parade

If your city has a marina then why not have a Light Boat Parade to celebrate the holiday season. I have seen the Baltimore Light Boat Parade several years and still enjoy it. The fun comes from watching the various types of boats decorated for the holidays as they compete for prizes. The friendly competition includes categories such as Best Illuminated, Best in Christmas Theme, and several more. I enjoy the festive sounds that come from many of the boats and their creativity. It is a FREE event.

A sailboat at the Baltimore Light boat parade

A sailboat at the Baltimore Light boat parade

Christmas Tree Lighting in Baltimore

The annual lighting of the Baltimore Christmas Tree is a FREE fun event, filled with holiday music, activities for families, Santa, fireworks and a laser show.

Christmas Tree Lighting in Baltimore

Washington National Harbor Holiday Events

Just like the Baltimore Inner Harbor, there are lots of things to see and do at the Washington National Harbor during the holidays. The Christmas tree, the Gaylord National resort and the National Harbor ICE exhibit are a few of the attractions to see at the National Harbor.

At the National Harbor you can also do Holiday shopping, ride a Carousel with Santa, listen to holiday carolers and watch the Holiday Tree light show.

Christmas tree at the National Harbor - DC

After spending some time at the harbor it is time to head to the Gaylord National Resort to warm up. The resort atrium is expansive and beautifully decorated for the holidays with a large Christmas tree hanging in the middle of the space along with streams of lights that change color. There is a fountain show and characters from Dreamworks are available for photos.

Holiday decorations at the Gaylord National Resort - Atrium
Atrium at the Gaylord National Resort in Washington DC

The best section is the second floor open bar and sitting area overlooking the atrium, the chairs are very comfortable and while nursing a drink (not required) you can enjoy and take in the holiday atmosphere.

If you are in the area with children, then you should buy tickets to see ICE. It is a theme based attraction made all from ice blocks. The 2014 theme is Frosty the Snowman, when I went a few years ago it was all about the Grinch. It is a very unique experience, and they provide warm coats so you can enjoy the event.

Who-ville set at the ICE show

Who-ville set at the ICE show

Yes, holiday happenings are all around us. Keep these in mind for next year, you will enjoy them and it is a sure way to get you into the holiday spirit.

Do you have a special holiday event in your neighborhood you like to see?

A woman wearing a reindeer hat

I hope you have a Wonderful Holiday Season and Happy Travels in your Neighborhood.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

US Botanic Garden Holiday Display - A Hidden Gem

The US Botanic Garden is a beautiful place to visit any time of the year but during the Christmas season it is particularly nice to see. The entire front section of the building; the East Gallery, the Garden Court and the West Gallery is decorated for the holidays.

Pink Poinsettia planter at the US Botanic Garden in DC

The East Gallery

Since 2004 the US Botanic Garden has created special theme displays for the holidays, to the delight of both children and adults. The 2014 theme is lighthouses from the U.S., 33 miniature replicas are displayed in meticulously designed landscape settings. And, if you like model trains then you will also enjoy this because within the displays numerous train models are running. Here is a small video of one of the trains.

Miniature lighthouse display at the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC
A miniature lighthouse on display at the US Botanic Garden

Holiday display at the US Botanic Garden featuring Lighthouses in the United States
US Botanic Holiday display featuring lighthouses in the United States

MIniature lighthouse on display at the US Botanic Garden

One interesting aspect of the holiday display is how they are fabricated. A closer look at each of the miniature lighthouses on display show they are all made from dried plant material. The most commonly used plant materials include pine cones scales, willows, screw pods, grapevine tendrils and acorn caps. They are amazingly beautiful, rich in detail and take hours to make from talented artists.

Holiday display at the US Botanic Garden
Landscape scene at the US Botanic Garden featuring miniature lighthouses in the United States

The Garden Court

The front mid-section of the building is decorated with beautiful pink poinsettias and miniature replicas of historical buildings around the National Mall such as the Smithsonian Castle, the US Supreme Court, the Capitol, the White House, the Jefferson memorial, and the Washington Monument among others. Again, these are all made from dried plant materials that will leave you amazed because they are so beautiful and rich in detail. The miniature historical buildings are on display every year during the holidays.

Big bear holding a pink poinsettia sculpture made from plants.
Sculpture as seen at the US Botanic Garden - Garden Court section

Miniature sculpture of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court miniature replica

Smithsonian Castle miniature replica seen at the US Botanic Garden
Smithsonian Castle miniature replica made with plant material

Capitol building miniature replica as seen at the US Botanic Garden
Capitol building miniature replica made from plant material

Washington Monument miniature replica at the US Botanic Garden
Washington Monument miniature replica at the US Botanic Garden

The West Gallery

This section holds interactive displays focused on the senses such as smell. A series of pots hold spices and herbs from all over the world for you to sniff. This area also holds a large Christmas tree nicely decorated and with a model train running at its base.

Christmas tree at the US Botanic Garden - West Gallery

The Conservatory - other areas

Of course, while you are there, take some time to see the rest of the Botanical Garden. There is a fabulous Jungle section with a canopy walk where you can admire the beauty of the tropical vegetation from above. Other sections show vegetation from Hawaii, the World Deserts, and one dedicated to just Orchids which is gorgeous. I am always inspired and in awe after seeing the wonderful plants they grow.

Orchid flower as seen at the US Botanic Garden

While there are many places to visit during the holidays in Washington DC, I must say the United States Botanical Garden is one of the my favorites. It is FREE, less crowded, and the holiday display is different each year. I recommend it, you will enjoy it.

After you visit, let me know what you think?

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your Neighborhood.