A Holiday With Heart

Dec 10

This summer I had the pleasure of making a new friend, Jennifer Stagg of withHeart, at the Haven Conference. I attended her presentation on video blogging and learned her pro tips for making beautiful videos. (She has the most amazing videos I’ve seen – be sure to check them out! Helps that she’s absolutely precious too!) She inspired me tremendously and one evening at the conference I ended up having dinner with her, her sweet baby girl and a small group of blog friends. Grateful to have met Jen! When she invited me to join her heartfelt blog tour about holiday decor and traditions, I barely read through the remaining details before replying “yes!”.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of the holidays, allowing them to pass by without stopping to enjoy what the season is really about – family, friends, memories and traditions. Traditions, in particular, are what make the season…and their memories carry on within us year after year. Traditions are what make the holidays, the holidays. And I love that in this decor-obsessed blog world, Jen is helping us keep in mind what truly matters – traditions and the memories of holidays that connect us with those we love.

While in a few days you’ll see my Christmas home decor tour (which is always simple – as you can imagine), today you’ll see a few images from my decorated home…but more importantly, I’m sharing traditions we hold near and dear. If you’re coming over from Julia’s beautiful blog, Cuckoo4Design, welcome! At the bottom of this post I’ll link to the blogger to hop over to next.

a holiday with heart

When I think of my own childhood Christmases, it’s a flood of memories. I’m Catholic and attended Catholic school, so not only was there excitement of the holidays at home, but also each day at school as we participated in performances, attended weekly mass, learned about the days of advent and the real reason for the season. Of course, as little ones, all we really cared about was that countdown to Christmas break and the gifts on Christmas morning. Oh, to be a child again! Who doesn’t have vivid, exciting memories of those days leading up to Christmas morning? Or those restless Christmas Eve nights, trying to stay awake or just plain not being able to fall asleep? But the older I became, after moving out and starting a family of my own, that’s when I realized it’s the traditions and memories that make this holiday everything. I’ve also moved a lot in my adult life and learned no matter where you are, those traditions move right along with you and we don’t skip a beat.

I’ll never forget my first Christmas as a new mom. My first child was born in October and, at 2 months old, clearly wasn’t able to enjoy the holiday. Looking back, I feel as if that was my wake-up call. I took it all in – being a new mom, thinking about the fun years yet to happen, my wish to fold in traditions from both sides of the family…while also creating new traditions of our own. Maybe like you, I found our traditions haven’t been something we necessarily set out to start…they sorta happened on their own or we adopted them as the kids attached to an idea.

As a child I loved the familiarity of special decor pieces that came out each and every year. Some of my decor I’ve owned since college. And as I mentioned, we’ve moved quite a bit over the last 13+ years, so my decor has been displayed in many homes and purchased in new and different locations. No matter what, I make the pieces work because each and every one has meaning and elicits memories of the homes we loved previously. For example, these 2 wreaths and garlands on display in our playroom…

holiday home tour

…used to adorn the front doors of our Arkansas home. Arkansas holds a special place in our heart and these decorations aren’t going anywhere. No matter how many pine needles or leaves fall off, they will be part of our tradition. These large pieces welcomed friends into our southern home during the 6 amazing December’s we lived there. Looking back, I still can’t believe this San Francisco girl lived in and fell in love with the south. I had no idea how to decorate this grand, over the top huge home – they don’t make anything small in the south. I learned. And I certainly enjoyed watching my friends create trees decorated so elaborately you couldn’t possibly imagine a tree was actually hiding underneath it all. My youngest child, Natalie, was born there too, so Arkansas will always be a part of our lives…

For the last 2 years I hung the wreaths in our California kitchen…

But this year think they add so much warmth to the playroom. The kids have certainly loved seeing them in here…

Organized Playroom Media Console

Some of my favorite Christmas memories involve our nativity scene. I think my mom purchased it at a local craft fair. I remember anxiously waiting each and every year for the box to come out of the attic. My favorite pieces are the manger and baby Jesus, both made completely of hay. For some reason I was enthralled with them and it was my job each year to arrange the scene. Of course, I played with the pieces quite a bit during their display time too. Hmmmm, maybe the reason it was my job is because it kept me away from the breakables. ?? That smart mom of mine!

My mom has the nativity at her home still, but my own comes a close second…

And wouldn’t you know, this is my daughter’s favorite! Each year she waits for the nativity to appear from the box so she can arrange the scene. Sorry for the grainy cell-phone quality, but here she is last year…

a holiday with heart

I finally had to leave the stool here covered in a blanket to protect her knees because whenever we were home, that’s where you’d find her. Over the years we’ve had fun and interesting nativity visitors…

What?…Weren’t there dinosaurs back then?

Ornaments are a fun tradition in our home. When my first child was born I had an imprint created of his hands and feet. That tradition carried on as I did the same with my 2nd and 3rd child. But the vendor also offered a hand or footprint as an ornament…

a holiday with heart

I fell in love, ordered one for myself and gave them as grandparent gifts that year. These are those special memories you can’t get back…those little hands and feet frozen in time. Thankfully, we can capture them this way to display year after year. The kids absolutely love seeing how tiny they used to be and comparing their hands to see how much they’ve grown. A little too much growing and a little too fast, if you ask me! Another ornament tradition is a photo ornament of the kids each year. This little face turned 11 this past October…

a holiday with heart

And each time I see this, I’m brought back to that very moment. It was his 2nd Christmas, age 1, at the tree farm in Irvine picking up our Christmas tree. They really didn’t kid around when they said the days go slow, but the years go fast. Literally feels as if that day was a couple months ago. Again, thankfully because of this photo ornament tradition, those memories are locked up tight.

Here’s my 2nd Christmas angel in 2008, at just 2. That face gets me every time!…

a holiday with heart

a holiday with heart

A tradition the kids have enjoyed is choosing and decorating a little tree all their own…

a holiday with heart

We have loads of ornaments they’ve created by hand or picked out based on interests any given year (see more below). Each year they pick their own tree and decorate it themselves. At ages 11, 9 and 5 there’s a lot of sibling rivalry in this house, but these are the moments they’ll look back on fondly – working together to decorate, laughing when they pull out old photo ornaments… it’s very sweet to watch and hear! I know this is possible because I have a big brother and big sister. We fought like cats and dogs as children, but we’re best of friends now and love sharing all of those Christmas tree decorating stories.

a holiday with heart

Each year the kids purchase an ornament based on their interests or an activity they enjoy. It’s fun to look through that bin of ornaments. We have anything from Little Einsteins to Lightening McQueen to this sax…

a holiday with heart

My 11 year old took it up 2 years ago and last Christmas we found it at a boutique store. Loved pulling it out this year!

There’s ornaments with meaning on the big kid tree too!…

a holiday with heart

This was the first ornament I purchased after moving back home to San Francisco two years ago…

a holiday with heart

After living away from home for 13 years, I never thought I’d make it back. I did and have the most grateful heart! The Golden Gate Bridge means everything to me! I grew up seeing it from my bedroom window as a child, crossed it every holiday to spend time in Sonoma with my grandparents and got into trouble on it in high school. Don’t ask! It’s much more than a bridge. It signifies home to me…and now for my children too.

I have one last ornament to share because it leads me into our next tradition…

a holiday with heart

If you don’t recognize that “pink nightmare”, it’s from the movie A Christmas Story…and it, along with Elf, are a family favorite all season long. Much like the tree decorating time, these two movies bring the kids together for laughter. They know every word and facial expression and it’s been fun watching them enjoy it year after year. Who else watches 24 hours of A Christmas Story on Christmas eve / day? Best ever! My niece gifted us with this last year and it’s perfect!…

a holiday with heart

Traditions come in the form of foods as well. We have many recipes that only come out around the holiday, but what stands out to me is our Christmas morning breakfast tradition. It consists of 2 items – monkey bread and sausage egg casserole. Why? Well, for one – they are both delicious and an indulgence. But to admit, the tradition started a bit selfishly. Here I had planned out and purchased gifts for weeks and found myself in the kitchen on Christmas morning cooking…instead of spending time with the kids. Didn’t take long to figure out a breakfast plan for this special morning that only happens once a year.

via Pioneer Woman


via Catz in the Kitchen

The egg dish I shared is a similar one to mine, but I have a twist and will share the recipe with you in the coming weeks. I always make Ree’s Monkey Bread – very good! Both can be prepared in advance and then popped into the oven together for about an hour. While we are enjoying gifts and I’m happily snapping pictures, breakfast is taking care of itself in the kitchen. Meanwhile the kids smell each dish baking and ask a million times when it will be ready. Love this tradition!

How do I know this tradition will last forever and possibly be handed down? My kids talk about it unprompted. Matter of fact, during Thanksgiving week one of them asked if I would make both Thanksgiving morning and my oldest quickly chirped out, “No! That is for Christmas morning!”. Love it!

If you’re new here and can’t already tell from this post, I’m a bit of a photo girl. I love photos – both old and new. So you can imagine there is a lot of photo taking and photo opportunities during this special, fleeting holiday season. Some of my favorite images however are those with Santa. Over the years we’ve had lot of smiles and excitement captured with the man in the red suit…

a holiday with heart

And we’ve had an equal amount of tears or just plain bribery captured on film…this is as close as she would get at almost age 2…

a holiday with heart

This moment was so precious – he was so kind to her, just waving from across the room for a while. She was a hard no for about an hour, and then when he showed her a little red ornament…she slowly paced around and walked closer to take it from his hand…and snap – the picture was captured. But more-so it’s the memory and tradition behind the image that means more…we were at a Santa Breakfast in Arkansas, surrounded by dear friends and watching the kids have the time of their lives. Those moments mean everything and the traditions allow those memories to be made year after year.

a holiday with heart

A new tradition, just for my daughter and me, is attending the SF Nutcracker. It’s the most incredible performance in my beautiful city. Last year was our first year and she was a bit wiggly, but as the years go by I know she’ll sit still and really take it in. The boys came along with us, but were not thrilled. Ha!…

sf nutcracker

After seeing the performance, we visit the 2-story gingerbread house at the Fairmont. It’s incredible!…

We share many more traditions…baking special cookies, attending mass, giving to and helping those in need (specifically families touched by Autism, as my middle guy has Autism and the cause is close to our hearts), and I can’t even begin to list off the books we read to celebrate the season. One of my best tips is to put those special books away once the season ends. I pack them away with the Christmas decorations. The reaction my kids have each year when those books come out is priceless. I think if they simply sit on their bookshelf each month, they lose their special quality.

Whatever your traditions – even if it includes Elf on the Shelf (we have one too!) – they are equally as special because they bring you close and create memories, togetherness and warmth. I hope you’ve enjoyed a few of our traditions as much as I enjoyed sharing. Honestly, sharing caused me to pause a few times and re-write my upcoming to-do list. I crossed off a few things that didn’t really need to get done, all in the effort to spend more time with these little people. They’re growing too fast and don’t want to miss anything. Soon enough they’ll be creating traditions in homes of their own with children of their own. But for now, they’re all mine and I’ll treasure and cherish each moment.

I hope you’ll continue the blog hop by jumping over to Lindsay’s blog, The White Buffalo Styling Co. Can’t wait to see what she’s sharing!

Thanks again for taking a few minutes to stop by and read. The holidays are such a busy time so I thank you for taking a moment to pop in here. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to all of you!

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comments +

  1. The nativity visitors made me giggle, so cute and we do photo ornaments every year as well. Your home is beautiful and happy holidays.

    • Samantha says:

      Hi Julia!

      Thank you so much!!! They make me giggle every year! And I LOVED your post yesterday. I was able to read it, but couldn’t comment from my phone. I loved when you mentioned your wish of going back and possibly not doing the Santa thing. I couldn’t agree more. So much gets lost in the season when it’s all about Santa…and I loved hearing about the traditions you had outside the US.

      Thank you again for the sweet comment!!

  2. Your home is so beautiful. The nativity cracked me up – my daughters would totally mix in their characters too! I found a bunch of Barbies sitting on the tree yesterday 🙂

    • Samantha says:


      Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! Really appreciate it!

      And thank you for the home compliments – so kind!

      Love the story about finding Barbie’s on the tree – haha!!! The best! Those are the memories!


  3. Jen Stagg says:

    Sam, I love this so much! Thank you for joining in! I loved the sweet photo of your girl in front of the nativity. How special. And the visitors to baby Jesus killed me! How hilarious! Thank you so much for sharing. So glad we met! xx

    • Samantha says:

      Awe, thank YOU so much for inviting me! It really did cause me to pause a moment and take it all in. These little ones grow too fast!

      I’m so glad we met too! Amazing how many wonderful friends I’ve made from simply starting a blog a few years ago. Grateful to call you a friend!


  4. Erin says:

    Sam I absolutely LOVED this post! So much I just sent you a text. 🙂 So fun reading about your traditions. I love that you have kept those wreaths from your door when you lived in the south! And the nativity scenes just made me smile.. we have had the same little friends join our nativity in years past! Your picture ornaments are so precious. Wishing you and your beautiful family the best Christmas! So grateful we met and became friends this year. xo

    • Samantha says:


      You sweet girl you! xoxo Thank you so much for the text last night. I can’t even believe how much we have in common. Just crazy! I am so so grateful for the opportunity to have connected with you this summer. I’m looking forward to 2016 and the blog conferences that may bring us together again…or maybe we just plan a trip to SD with my people so we can do something fun on the beach!

      Thank you again so much for the comment and for taking a moment during this hectic time to read my post AND leave a comment!


  5. Sara D says:

    Timothy’s favorite movie this year is Elf. Buddy is T’s “buddy”. OMG I so need that sign with the elf quote!

    Loved seeing your holiday décor! I do the same thing with T’s Christmas books. We have the Night Before Christmas recorded and read by his Grammy. He loves it when she reads to him every night.

    • Samantha says:

      Awe, we LOVE elf…love love! My niece found the sign at Home Goods. Maybe they are offering it again this year. It’s the best!

      Thank you so much for the compliments, as well as your constant support. It really has meant so much to me – beyond touched! We need to plan something for 2016 for sure!


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