Hello my friends, and Happy first week of Advent! A very Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate as well!
Well, the holiday season is now underway and as usual, it seems to be FLYING by.(For example, I just realized we have only TWO solid weekends left before Christmas - and by that I mean THIS weekend and the next. Because a week after that it's CHRISTMAS EVE weekend, and, well ... YIKES. 😳
So how are you feeling these days? Are you getting in the spirit of things? Feeling a little behind? Maybe you're wishing it would just hurry up and get here already, lol?
I myself do not feel quite ready, and I'd like Christmas to slow its roll a bit! I still have many things left on my to-do list (cards to mail, gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake etc.) and without some careful strategizing, there might not be enough time to do it all! #isaythiseveryyear
I am however, in the holiday spirit - that's for sure!
Take my new mug shown above for example. Isn't it festive? I got it on sale at Joann's last month. My usual mug for the first Tea of Advent (a soft green with white stars) is an old standby which, sadly, was broken by he who shall not be named - but who answers to "Fenway" - last month. So I splurged! And this one holds a nice amount of tea, or coffee as the case may be, and has a smooth, solid feel to it. (Still miss my old mug though!)
Anyhoo, my seasonal beverage today is Harney & Sons Holiday Tea. It's been my favorite holiday blend for years now, because it's a strong black tea with subtle Christmas flavors ...
From the H&S website:
Holiday Tea, spiced with citrus, almond, clove and cinnamon has become a year-round favorite black tea. Delicious hot or iced, it's a wonderful addition to a holiday table, served piping hot on a cold winter morning, or anytime you crave a holiday-inspired brew.
Ingredients: Black tea, cloves, almond flavor, orange flavor, vanilla flavor, safflowers, three types of cinnamon, orange pieces. Contains natural flavors.
I really love a bit of citrus in my holiday blends. I feel it pairs perfectly with the traditional holiday spices - keeping them from being too spicy, if you know what I mean, while adding a fresh and bright note.
(Do you have a favorite tea for this time of year? Please let me know in the comments below if you do. I'm always on the lookout for new blends to try!)
As for my "baked goodie" this week I'm enjoying a batch of shortbread that I made up last week. (I've kept an extra log of dough in the fridge just for this occasion!) I always make Scottish shortbread on the last day of November, in honor of St. Andrew's Day as well as my family's Scottish heritage ... but this year I decided to try a new recipe, one that featured fresh chopped cranberries and - yes, a bit of orange zest!
They are truly delicious - definitely, a new favorite! I love how they look too, so merry and bright. :-)
Now, you might notice in the background of the above picture a whole bunch of numbered paper stars. Well, the other thing I do on the last day of November (or hopefully a few days before) is to get the kids' Advent countdown project ready!
As with most annual traditions, I like to try something a little different every year, but always I look to nature for inspiration. This year I decided to use the branches we had on our Thanksgiving table (from which our family's grateful leaves hung) as a base -
- taped (much to Bill's chagrin) to the kitchen door.
Now, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I love the rhythm of a Waldorf-inspired Advent, with each week focusing on a different "kingdom of creation" (1st - mineral, 2nd - plant, 3rd - animal, 4th - humankind). I use these themes to create a specialized, family-friendly, nature-based Advent calendar.
In this first week of Advent then, we explore stones, crystals and shells as well as bare branches or sticks (which are the "bones" of the garden). I also include sand, salt, sun, moon and stars in our first week's activities, hence the theme, "Heaven & Earth."
Ok, let's get back to our branches!
I used some pre-cut Kraft paper stars I had on hand and on each one I wrote a number (24 in all). I used red and green crayons for this and you'll see why in a bit ...
(And miraculously Fenway has only tried to down them down once!)
Each day the boys remove a star from the door, and we enjoy a special (yet easy) Advent activity. My thought was that Earlybird and Little Bear would take turns coloring in the day's star (with the aforementioned crayons) which would then be hung on a branch as decoration. They're also sharing a chocolate-a-day calendar and I figured one could color while the other could eat the candy ...
As it happens however, my kids are not as excited about coloring as I am - so it's Mom who's doing the coloring, decorating and hanging, lol. (Funny how I don't get any chocolates though!)
Anyways, it's still a wonderful visual for them, seeing all those plain stars slowly disappear to be transformed into festive ornaments. Because the more the stars disappear from the door and reappear on the branches, the closer to Christmas we get!
As for the activities ... well, I've learned a thing or three in my 22 years of (special needs) motherhood - and that is to keep expectations REALISTIC, be FLEXIBLE and don't OVERPLAN! But as a somewhat idealistic, semi-rigid, very type-A planner this is a lesson I need to learn again every day!
So instead of writing the activities on the back of the star tags (as I've done in the past only to have something not fit right - whether it be the weather, our energy levels or the logistics of the activity itself) I leave the stars blank. Instead, the kids bring me the numbered star and I consult Mom's "Advent Calendar Key" to see what's in store for us that day.
The Key is basically a page in my master home planner (an A4 discbound notebook) where I jotted down potential activities for the days leading up to December 25th
It might look like a lot, but I work on it in increments. I start by brainstorming simple individual activities, writing them on small sticky notes, and then organizing them by weekly theme. (For example, painting rocks would go in minerals week, while drying orange slices for decoration would take place during plants week.) There are also activities tied to special events - such as Earlybird's birthday on the 14th and the Winter Solstice on the 21st.
I then sketch out a schedule and, using ERASABLE ink, match activities with days. This is only for Mom's eyes!!
I already had to make a change to my schedule when I came down with the cold that Little Bear and Earlybird had been fighting and a "nighttime star walk" just was not to be. Instead we made star-shaped sun catchers!
Had the kids read a tag promising a nighttime stroll, they would have been sorely disappointed when told it couldn't happen! The craft - though admittedly, less flashy than the stroll - was fun, took all of 10 minutes (with a bit of easy prep by me) and the stars look so darn pretty in our living room window!
So our first Advent star revealed a familiar but super exciting activity and that was to put up the Christmas tree! And this year we had a big reveal for the kids - because Bill and I decided to purchase an artificial tree! To be perfectly honest I do prefer a live tree. Unfortunately though, it's just not practical for our family. For one thing, we really like to put the tree up very early and no matter how hard we try our trees always end up near death come Christmas morning. A very ugly and depressing (not to mention potentially dangerous) situation. Also, we have two cats and a dog who absolutely LOVE to drink up that pine-needle-enriched tree water. Then get sick under said tree.
Archie sampling the new plastic needles - he was (thankfully) not impressed.
Here we have Bill and Little Bear working the branches, by "fluffing" out the tips to fill in the empty spots ...I have to say we were pleasantly surprised by just how "real" our new tree actually looks!
Let there be peace on earth ... and, fingers-crossed, under our tree!
Finally, on Sunday I set up our Advent Spiral. I have done some variation on this idea for years - using apples, salt dough, acorn caps, stones, or pine branches etc. Usually I set it up inside, but one time we had it outside! That was so fun - Little Bear was a toddler and it was just magical. :-)
Maybe we'll do that again one year, but this year I'm trying to keep it - yup, you guessed it - simple. Recently though, I saw this beautiful craft on Pinterest, and knew I had to try making it!
I started with a wood slice I had on hand and painted it with celestial colors, then added a silvery star path with a metallic marker. In the center I glued a small wooden star. This would represent the Christmas star, where our Advent journey ends!
Next I took a small wooden candleholder and painted it in matching colors. I then found an image online of the holy family and traced it onto very thin paper. Once I had the outline how I liked it, I colored it in with black ink and then cut it out using fine-tipped scissors. I attached the image to the candleholder using a coat of Mod Podge.
Final touch - a blue beeswax candle the boys and I made last year!
I placed the Spiral in our front window, and every day we move the candle one star further along the path, with the idea that on Sundays we'll bring it to the table to light at Sunday dinner.
(I was in bed most of the day this first Sunday so we'll start the dinner lighting this weekend, I hope!)
I also placed a cool little geode that Little Bear cracked open some time ago, in the middle of the Spiral as a representation of our current kingdom. (Next week there will be a pinecone, the week after that a small wooden animal and in the final week, a felted heart shape.)
Well, my friends - I am so happy to be back here again and especially to be sharing some tea, cookies and crafts with you all. I feel I must apologize that I have basically abandoned my blog this year. I truly had all intentions of getting back into the blogging "groove" this past year and then, well ... life happened. And as you might know, Earlybird had a rather serious injury requiring multiple surgeries and a prolonged recovery. (I'm happy to report he is back to his normal cavity level and feeling great!)
And while I hesitate to promise the frequency of posting I once managed (HOW, I wonder - how on earth did I manage that??) I do hope and INTEND to renew my blogging habit once again, even though I know blogging has become somewhat passe´ ...
It's been so fun to sit down and share a little bit of what we've been up to and chat about the season at hand. Thanks SO much for joining me and I will see you all here again for TEA next Friday afternoon!
Our Advent theme next week will be: Season's Greenery. :-)
Take care, everyone!