Top ten favorite Christmas albums

Tracking Pixel This post is sponsored by Aether Cone

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music. It makes me feel all warm and glow-y for about a month, and then I grow totally sick of it and don’t want to hear it again for another year. I think a part of this is the fact that, really, it’s pretty much the same 25-30 songs being recycled into different versions and genres every year.

Growing up, my parents listened to the same couple of albums each Christmas: Manhiem Steamroller, Sandy Patty, Anne Murray, Statler Brothers, and Handel’s Messiah. If you are guessing those are not on repeat play in my adult years, you would be correct.

This year we're discovering a lot of good new holiday music via our new Aether Cone speaker. It's called the "thinking speaker" and it really is crazy how well it works. It uses voice commands, so you say an artist or song that you enjoy and it will pull up a customized playlist. You don’t have to look at a single screen to use Cone. And the more you use it, the better it gets. The kids are loving that they can talk to the Cone and tell it what to play.

Here are a few of the artists I'm digging, and that create a great playlist on my Aether Cone:

Sara Groves: Oh Holy Night

Sara Groves: Oh Holy Night

I love Sara Groves' mellow, raspy voice, and the harmonies on these arrangements of old hymns are just dreamy.

A Very She and He Christmas

A Very She and He Christmas


Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward collaborated for this throwback album with a 1950's-lounge-singer feel.


Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas



Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas

Songs for Christmasis quirky and different, with traditional old hymns sung in an alt-rock style.


A Christmas Together


A Christmas Together






This compilation album includes alt-rock arrangements of classic Christmas songs.


Hotel Cafe presents WinterSongs

Hotel Cafe presents WinterSongs

This compilation album features Christmas standards sung by the new Lillith Fair set: Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, Fiona Apple, Colbie Caillat, et al.



Josh Groban: Noel

Josh Groban: Noel

This is a nice album that has mass appeal and classic Christmas songs. Good for dinner parties or family gatherings. If you don't think Josh's voice is dreamy you may not be human.



Maybe This Christmas

Maybe This Christmas

I have no idea where I got this album initially (Urban Outfitters?), but I've had it since 2002 and it's the one Christmas album I could listen to year after year. It's a random mix of artists from Coldplay to Ben Folds.Unfortunately, this out-of-circulation CD is going for $39.99 on Amazon.com.



Olive Newton John & John Travolta: This Christmas

Olive Newton John & John Travolta: This Christmas

Just kidding. I've not listened to this one. I just like bringing up how creepy that photo is.



This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday 8

This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday

This is the second Christmas collection from Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records label, with holiday originals covered by Jack Johnson, G. Love, Matt Costa, and more. (The first album is worth a look, too).



Glee: The Christmas Album

Glee: The Christmas Album

I do realize that Glee is an acquired taste, but my kids and I loved their Christmas album last year, and I'm thrilled they made another one this year. Of course, I would be happy with an entire album of just the Warblers doing covers of holiday fare.

Justin Bieber: Under the Mistletoe



Justin Bieber: Under the Mistletoe

DON'T JUDGE ME.

What are your favorite Christmas albums?  What do I need to add to my Ultimate Holiday Playlist 2014?

This post is sponsored by Aether Cone


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What I want you to know about having an abortion

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Anonymous.

I never thought I would be in the shoes of a woman who has had an abortion. I am Catholic. I tried for six months for this baby. I wanted this baby. I remember when the stick showed two blue lines. I was pregnant. I immediately got on the phone and called everyone I knew; I was so happy. I went to my routine doctors’ appointments, happy and hopeful. I bought a new double stroller that my baby would share with his sibling. I already had two children at home. (I had had a previous stillbirth of a baby with birth defects. I remember the doctor telling me to terminate the pregnancy and how strongly I had said “NO!” because he did not know what the future would bring. He could not be certain she would die of her heart defect. Because I always thought she had a chance. I had hope for my girl. I ended up losing her at 20 weeks when the doctor could not find the heartbeat and later she was stillborn. I left my 16 week doctor's appointment after having my blood screened for birth defects. I really didn’t give it a second thought. 

I remember being at work and getting a phone call that there was an abnormality in my blood test in the marker for neuro-tube defect. I remember googling and googling from home, convincing myself that everything would be okay. Worse-case scenario my baby would be in a wheelchair. I could deal with that. I made an appointment to get an amniocentesis. That way I could prepare for the baby in the best way, give him the safest delivery possible so I would not harm his spine, if that was the problem. 


The day finally arrived. I went to the doctor and sat in the waiting room. When it was finally my turn, I laid on the exam table, pulled up my shirt and felt the cool gel on my belly. The tech doing the ultrasound immediately left the room. She returned with a group of doctors. I remember this happening when my daughter was diagnosed. I knew that it was not good. 


The doctor told me that my baby had Anencephaly. That he would never live. That I should have a D&C and try again in a few months. I shook my head and started to cry. I could not believe this was happening to me again. A different birth defect but a similar scenario. I asked to know the sex of the baby and they told me he was a boy. I named him. 


The days that followed I cried into my pillow every day, I remember reading bedtimes stories to my children as I sobbed. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. I wanted to die, too. I went back and forth between wanting to have the baby taken out of me. Begging my husband to let me have a D&C. I knew my baby would die. I had no hope. I looked up pictures on the internet of baby’s that were anencephalic. They looked like frogs, like monsters. The image of my baby changed. I felt I was carrying a monster. Every time he kicked I resented it. Why are you still alive? Why are you forcing me to make a decision between death and death? How can a person be pregnant with someone that does not have a brain?


The panic subsided and I did tons of research on the internet. I read all types of birth stories about anencephalic babies. I read about people carrying to 40 weeks, their babies seizing, gasping for breath. This terrified me. I didn’t want his last hours to be filled with pain. I did research on people that had D&C’s, how their babies were cut up into pieces and removed from their womb. My baby had a beating heart, I did not want him dismembered. I would not even put a dog to sleep this way.
I finally decided to continue to carry until I was ready to have him. My belly hardly grew and always stayed pretty small. It was different than other pregnancies as if my body did not acknowledge my pregnancy at all. At 26 weeks I thought it was time. I called my doctor. We set up a meeting at the hospital. I was placed in a room, given an IV and the induction started. I periodically had the nurse check for his heartbeat. I wanted to make sure he was not in distress; the baby remained calm through the whole experience, his heart rate steady. After two difficult days of induction, he was born around 4 o’clock in the morning. I closed my eyes, afraid to see him; afraid he was a monster. My husband came to my bedside, his eyes filled with tears, and told me it was okay to look. He was beautiful. The doctor put a hat on him so I wouldn’t see his defect. His eyes were puffy and deformed but the rest of him was perfect. His body was warm in my arms. I stared at him and we cried as his body slowly cooled. The chaplain came in and baptized him. I was filled with peace, with relief, with joy that he had not suffered. That very same morning I came home. I went on to have two more children. I am at peace with my decision. My baby died with dignity. He did not struggle. It was the saddest most serene experience of my life. 



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Merry Christmas from Beer and Hymns

Every year for the past nine years my friend Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month has hosted an annual online concert featuring bloggers performing their favorite holiday standards. Neil’s intention in the concert was to bring the blogging community together, regardless of race or religion, for some holiday fun. I decided to enlist my Beer and Hymns crew (Chad and Lauren) to sing Joy To The World with me, since we were already working on our Christmas gathering. (And if you are local, you missed a really fun party at The Boathouse. Join us at the next event January 18th!)




My kids and I have been watching the concert at Neil’s site all morning, and there really is something fun and magical about hearing people sing their own holiday songs, even (and maybe even especially) when their voices are not perfect. Head on over to this link for the rest of the show.

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Mama Said: Real talk about being a blogger


In this episode Sarah and I are having a real-talk discussion about the ins, the outs, and the aggravations of being a professional blogger.

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Get one, give one: making donations at Christmas


Tracking PixelThis post is sponsored by Savers.

We have tried really hard to avoid being too consumerist over the holidays. We attempt to limit the kids' toys, and try really hard to focus on experiences over things. For example, this Christmas, a bulk of our children's presents involve tickets to see some Broadway shows throughout the coming year.

However, there will be some new toys and new clothes under the tree this Christmas. A couple of the kids still have Big Ideas about Santa and have made their requests. Each child has a couple items that they have been asking for all year, and Christmas is also the time that I tend to replenish their wardrobes. Each kid has some new clothing, new shoes, and new pajamas coming, and some toys I won't mention until they've been opened.





One of the rules that we have instituted about getting new things is that when a new item arrives, we pull an old item out and donate it. So, if one of the girls gets a new dress, a dress they no longer wear is put out into our donation box. This holds true for Christmas as well. In the days leading up to Christmas we have a massive clean-out g to make room for any new toys.

My kids are not always keen on giving up their current toys, but in addition to their excitement over receiving something new, we are trying to instill in them a value about donating things that are still in good condition, and that could bless another child. When we are filling our donation box, I really press the kids to consider parting with things that still hold some appeal. It's not about just getting rid of stuff we don't want anymore, or things that are in disrepair. It is about making a sacrifice and thinking about our belongings and what things we own that may be passed on to someone else to enjoy.



One of the benefits of donating at Savers is that, in addition to the donations being available for others to buy at a price much lower than retail, donations made at Savers go to benefit the community and support a local nonprofit partner such as Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Epilepsy Foundation.


Tracking PixelThis post is sponsored by Savers.

This holiday season, three lucky givers will have the chance to win when they share how they’re #GiftingBack to their community during the holidays. Just show how you give back to your community by sharing a photo, a story or both on the “Gifting Back” contest tab located on the Savers Facebook page, or by using the hashtag #GiftingBack on Instagram or Twitter by January 3rd for the chance to win a $1,000 Visa Gift Card. To spread the cheer event further, Savers will donate $1,000 to the nonprofit of your choice! Two runners up will receive $500 Visa gift cards and Savers will donate $500 to the nonprofit of their choice. Learn more about the contest here.


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