Advent Plans & Crafts Feed

Advent Plans & Crafts: The Archives!

Happy Weekend, my friends!

I am very late with this post, because as many of you know, Advent begins in the morning! (Or maybe technically midnight, but who's counting?) And you know, I have been blogging for a while now (nearly 10 years) so I have accumulated a lot of Advent-tagged posts over time. But I tend to get wordy and off-topic, and while some of these posts are, in fact, detailed craft projects and long lists of activity ideas, some are simply reflections on the season itself, and some are just posts filled with pretty pictures (usually of trees and sunsets and such).

So I wanted to give you all a way to access just the posts that pertain to crafts and activities if you're planning out an Advent journey with your family ... without having to weed through all the excess! So I went through my archives and re-tagged those crafty/planning posts with the tag, "Advent Plans & Crafts." (Clever, I know.) Then I went and played around with that vintage clipart I like so much and made up a button - which I plugged into my lefthand sidebar. And that will take you right to that archive!

Advent Plans & Crafts Button

:)

It was fun for me to go back through these older posts and revisit how we celebrated our Advent seasons in years past ... and to see all those sweet little faces - when they were still so very little!

But Advent does in fact begin tomorrow and I will have a lot to say on the season in the days ahead. We will share our first Advent Tea on Monday afternoon ... we'll be talking about "gifts from the heart" and our usual tea notes and pics. (Remember, I'd love to hear from you - in the comments or by email or link to your blog!)

And tomorrow I have a lovely post with cozy nests and thankful tea notes from readers to share. I know you will all enjoy it!

But for now, I must wrap up because we have dinner to get on the table and I've been tooling around on my computer long enough. There's a two year old climbing my back at the moment - sorry, make that, two and a HALF year old - and a few older boys wandering about making noises about being fed ...

Thanks so much for stopping by, my friends! See you here again very soon!


More Advent Fun: "The Snowman"

Snowman 3

Yesterday's Christmas vocabulary word was: snowman.

And so ... I planned to watch The Snowman with the boys, which is an animated version of an absolutely wonderful storybook by Raymond Briggs. I have loved this short movie for many years - I adore the soft animation, the dreamy music and the simple, sweet story. If you're unfamiliar with the plot, well, in a nutshell - a young boy (in what appears to be the English countryside) awakens to a snowy day and so, of course, rushes outside to build a snowman. And then, overnight (this is Christmas), the snowman comes to life and befriends the boy - taking him on a scenic journey to the north pole.

Magic.

I can watch it again and again - or just listen to it! - and all my boys have been riveted by it through the years. EB gets a little nervous sometimes so we have to skip forwards here and there ... and we also have to talk a bit about some of the boy's riskier behavior! (Leaving the house without his parent's permission, plugging in the tree lights, getting in a freezer, turning the key on his Dad's motorcycle, for instance!) Little Bear loved the motorcycle ride through the woods especially, and all the woodland animals that dashed out of the way.

Once the video had ended, we talked about how it's hard to say goodbye to someone we love. But then - when someone is gone from our life, can they still be with us in a way? I asked Earlybird: Why did the little boy feel sad in the morning? (The snowman had melted.) How could he remember the snowman when he was missing him? (Draw pictures, tell stories about him, build him again, believe he'll be with him again someday ...)

After the movie we set to work on a simple snowglobe craft. (Another Pinterest idea!)

Snowman 4

All we needed were a few pieces of construction paper, some white paint, colored Sharpies and a few cute thumbs. 

Check, check, check and double check!

Now, you'll notice there are no pictures of the baby making his thumbprint snowman ... and that's because it was very much a four-hand project (his and mine). As you can probably imagine, I held his hand and assisted him with the thumbprint making. (Keeping the paint on the paper and out of his mouth!) There are also no pictures of Earlybird making a snowman -and that's because he just flat out refused to do it, lol. Oh well, it happens that way sometimes ...

But here's how LB's craft looked (once I "finished" it up for him) ...

Snowman 2

Cute, right?

And then, while the baby napped, I had time to make some simple snowball cookies. These are a variation of the lemon snowballs I've made (and blogged about) for years - but in keeping with the snowman story, I used clementine zest and juice to flavor the dough ...

Snowman 5

I just dusted them with confectioner's sugar but they'd be such fun glazed with an orange-tinted icing (powdered sugar + milk + food dye) to look just like The Snowman's tangerine nose!

(Are oranges generally used for snowmen noses in Europe? As opposed to carrots which are the norm in the US? Just curious!)

Snowman 1

 Ah, a hot mug of tea and a tiny bite of cookie - enjoyed in a warm kitchen while the rain pelts the windows and the baby sleeps upstairs ...

* advent ❤ peace *

Well my friends, thanks for once again joining me for a little crafty fun. I hope you all had a nice Thursday! Enjoy your evening and I will see you here again very soon ...


Advent Activities: Think, Do, Read

Advent calendar 23

Well my friends ... here, at last, is my Advent activity outline! Below I have listed each date in Advent, the sticker (vocab word) I've chosen for that day, and the activity ideas I have noted in my plans.

As we are a Catholic family, many activities tie into our liturgical calendar and family faith traditions. There's also a good bit of baking and nature study, some simple conversation as well as several crafts. There are not too many outings, as we tend to stick close to home at this time of year. And it goes without saying there will be days when only a fraction of my "plans" are put into action. I try to respect energy, interest levels and moods (theirs and mine) as much as possible.

(Note: The books listed are ones we own as well as some I have on request from our local library. With the exception of the book for 12/23, which I purchased new for our collection ... because I couldn't resist!)

November 30th: evergreens

Today is the 1st day of Advent and a new Church year begins! We'll gather evergreens in the afternoon to place next to our Advent candles. Why are they called evergreens? (everlasting life) Light the first purple candle tonight.

Read: The Littlest Evergreen

December 1st: cookies

Happy December! "Rabbit, Rabbit!" Today we'll bake some cookies and talk about our favorite kinds at Christmas. (Who could we surprise with cookies who might not expect it? Let's make a plan.)

Read: The Gift of the Christmas Cookie

December 2nd: nuts and spices

Today we'll check our stock of baking supplies, especially spices. How do they smell? What makes spices so special? Why did the Magi bring spices as gifts for the Baby Jesus? We'll place our wise men dolls at the start of their journey (in a far corner of the house).

Read: We Three Kings

December 3rd: presents

Today we'll write (and decorate) a letter to Santa and then compose a list of gifts to give to our loved ones this year. What would make people happy and feel loved? (Stress actions and gestures over material gifts.) Also, we'll watch the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree on tv tonight!

Read: The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree

December 4th: winter birds

Today is the Feast of St. Barbara! We'll say a special prayer for Grandma Barbara and later on we'll snip a forsythia branch to place in water. (Might it bloom by Christmas eve?) While we're outside, we'll check the state of our birdfeeders and feed our hungry bird friends. 

Read: Merry Christmas, Merry Crow 

December 5th: ornament

Today we'll bring our Christmas ornaments down from the attic and take a look through the boxes. We'll talk about family favorites and the stories behind special ornaments. We'll make some homemade ornaments together in the afternoon.

Read: The Spider's Gift: A Ukranian Christmas Story

December 6th: St. Nicholas

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, EB's patron saint! We'll watch St. Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (Veggie Tales) with a snack of popcorn and hot cocoa (there might be a bishop's staff/candy cane stirrer in our mugs!). We'll clean the corner for the Christmas tree and at nightfall look for the Full Cold Moon in the dark, cold sky ...

Read: The Baker's Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale

December 7th: Christmas tree 

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent and tonight we light our second purple candle. Where did the custom of Christmas trees come from? We'll read "The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy," by Cicely Mary Barker. After Mass we'll head to the woods and cut down our Christmas tree! (Can we identify what kind of evergreen it is? Bring a field guide to the farm ...)

Read: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

December 8th: dove 

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception! We'll set up our children's nativity and arrange star candles and flowers around our Mary statue. How can we be more peaceful - at home and in the world? Let's brainstorm some ideas and write them in a peace & prayer journal. 

Read: Can You Say Peace?

December 9th: bell

Today we will listen for the afternoon bells at church, and make some bells of our own at home! We'll listen to Mama's favorite carol, "The Carol of the Bells," which is based on a Ukranian folk chant. We will also read: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Read: Jingle Bells

December 10th: snowman

Today we'll make thumbprint snowglobes and once we're done, we'll watch The Snowman on dvd. After Little Bear's nap, we'll have some warm milk with honey and almond and Mama's tangerine snowball cookies. We'll also read The Snowman aloud to LB. (And naturally, if we have snow, we'll build our own snowman!)

Read: The Snowman

December 11th: pinecone

Today we'll make pinecone seed ornaments for our bird tree, as well as some silver (glitter) pinecones to give as gifts. We'll attach tags that describe "The Legend of the Silver Pinecone." After dark we'll walk out to the bird tree and there will be a surprise ... colorful lights!

Read: Night Tree

December 12th: poinsettia

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! We'll visit a local nursery to see all the poinsettias - the greenhouse, with its steamy warmth, will be a nice break from the chill December air. While we're there, we'll buy some amaryllis/paperwhite bulbs to prepare as gifts. At home, while Mama works on a poinsettia ornament, we'll watch Frosty the Snowman (note the scene when he gets stuck in the greenhouse!). For snack, we'll have cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars and "sangria" (fruit punch with chunky winter fruits).

Read: The Legend of the Poinsettia

December 13th: orange 

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia! For breakfast we'll have orange-cranberry muffins (lit by beeswax candles!) and spicy Swedish "glogg" (non-alcoholic version). Later on we'll slice oranges and hang them to dry in the kitchen window - they'll smell so good! We'll also say a prayer for big brother Bookworm who starts his final exams today!

An Orange for Frankie

December 14th: gingerbread

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, and today we celebrate one of our greatest joys - our Earlybird himself! It's his 13th birthday!!! Earlybird (and his Papa, with whom he shares his birthday) will be honored at a special lunch with all his favorite foods and a delicious gingerbread cake! Tonight we light the pink candle.

Read: The Gingerbread Pirates

December 15th: fruitcake

Today we'll bake mini "fruitcake" breads for our neighbors. We'll be using the delicious fruits and nuts we ordered from King Arthur Flour. Once the breads are cool we'll wrap them well and store them somewhere cold. Then we'll make tags for the breads (which will be delivered on Christmas eve).

Read: The Polar Express

December 16th: reindeer

Today we'll watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and talk about what made him special and how it's ok to be different! How that which makes us different can also make us shine! We'll do a little research: Where do reindeer live? How do they live? Let's add some reindeer stickers to our map. Weather permitting, we'll visit our local farm to feed their beautiful reindeer.

Read: The Wild Christmas Reindeer

December 17th: stockings

Today we'll hang our Christmas stockings along the mantel and make a donation to a local toy drive. These will be items we've been adding to a bag all month. We'll talk about why it's important to help those who have less than we do, and sometimes that is in material form and sometimes it's through our time and actions. Let's brainstorm ways we as a family can help others in the new year.

Read: The Legend of the Christmas Stocking

December 18th: mint

Today we are going to bake all-natural candy-cane cookies and enjoy them with homemade hot peppermint cocoa. We will also have some homemade play-dough to shape and bake into letters. (upside down candy cane = j for Jesus) Before bed we will enjoy a minty herbal foot bath.

Read: The Legend of the Candy Cane

December 19th: candle

Today we'll roll beeswax candles to give as gifts and enjoy our supper by candlelight. We'll discuss light - the type and amount of light at this time of year (natural world) and also, why do we call Jesus the Light of the world? And tonight, a special dinner to welcome Bookworm home for Christmas break!

Read: An Early American Christmas

December 20th: snowflake

Today is the last day of Autumn! Let's talk about how seasons change, and how the Winter season is different from the Christmas season (natural/liturgical). We'll make snowflakes to celebrate the new season (either paper ones or these depending on energy and time) and brainstorm ways to get ready for winter storms!

Read: Snowflakes Fall

December 21st: yule log

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent! It is also the Winter Solstice (6:03 p.m.), the shortest day of the year! After Mass we'll go for a walk (weather permitting) and listen to the silence of the woods. We'll bring home a fallen branch to make a 12 Days of Christmas Log. We'll talk about why we love our cats and how we can show them our love (care, kind words, special attention). As a special treat there will be a yule log for dessert at Sunday dinner!

Read: The Christmas Cat

December 22nd: holly

Today we'll walk around our property and look for what's still green. Are there any holly and ivy plants? As we walk, we'll listen to the old English carol, "The Holly and Ivy" (on Pandora). Back inside we'll have a coloring picture to do (this will be the first entry in our new nature logs) and we'll copy "The Song of the Holly Fairy" to accompany the picture. Why is the holly plant like a crown? (pointy edges) Who is the newborn king - why/how/when does he wear a crown?

Read: The Story of Holly & Ivy

December 23rd: star

Today we'll put the star on top of the Christmas tree and make some simple star ornaments using cardboard and yarn. We'll find Bethlehem on the world map (approximately) and place a glittery star sticker above it. Let's look at the night sky and see what stars we can pick out. And before bed, a special surprise! A new Christmas book for our collection ...

Read: Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

December 24th: heart

Very simply: What (Who) is the heart of Christmas? Let's talk about the love Jesus has for us ... the love His parents had for Him ... and how we can we show Jesus we love Him this year? (stress the idea that Jesus is in everyone we meet) As the sun goes down we will pay a visit to the outdoor creche, and inside we'll light all our Advent candles and say a special prayer (one we've composed) together. Before bed, EB will have an herbal "Christmas" bath - soothing and softly scented.

Read: Manger

25 - Holy Family

Merry Christmas! Let's have a wonderful day!

**

Now, this calendar is primarily organized with Earlybird in mind (my 12 year old autistic son who is, developmentally, much younger than his calendar age) but as you can see, many activities involve the whole family and can be adapted for children of all ages. And as I said before, this will not all flow as smoothly as described - some days will just not go as planned. And that's ok, I've come to accept this aspect of special needs parenting! Each weekend I'll prepare in advance in hopes that things will work out, and then we'll take it day by day. I'm looking to establish a hopeful mood and make warm memories - not wear anyone out (most of all me!)

I hope, overall, that my children will remember the days of Advent as time well spent together - in a peaceful spirit, with present minds - as we prepared our hearts for the coming of Christ.

Blessings to all on this late Thursday eve ... see you here again very soon!


Our Advent Calendar this Year (2014)

Advent calendar 15

Happy Tuesday, my friends! I hope your week's going well ... :)

Today I'd like to share our Advent calendar with you all. In keeping with my hopes for the season, I tried to keep this project simple and use mostly what I had on hand. Not that I don't love me a craft store trip, but I haven't been able to get over there in a while, so I worked with what I found in various old craft bins (that have yet to be organized since the move!).

Anyhoo ... I decided to use the posterboard in the kitchen where the Blessed Turkey sat last month. I ordered adhesive library pockets online and, as neatly as I could, arranged 25 of them on the front of the posterboard ...

Advent calendar 3

The envelopes needed some decoration, so I scattered paper-punched snowflakes across them (applied with a glue stick). (Stamping would have been nice here.) I also trimmed the edges of the board with some seasonal washi tape. 

Advent calendar 4

So far so good!

Earlier last month, I ordered a book of 400 reusable Christmas stickers. It's filled with all kinds of very life-like, photgraphed images. Realistic pictures work best for EB.

Advent calendar 5 

I went through the book and chose 25 stickers to use as Christmas vocabulary. Then I rifled through my index card stash and pulled out 25 cards: 21 white + 3 purple + 1 pink. After trimming about an inch off one end (so it would better fit inside the library pocket), I wrote the date at the top of each card in green pen. (Holding the card vertically.) Each card has a sticker with a vocabulary word describing what it is. 

Advent calendar 7

And then on the back of the card there is a note about the date and a simple seasonal activity we'll do that day.

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Here they are all laid out ...

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Now, though I have all the dates organized in my planner, I am writing the cards out each night before bed. This buys me some time and discretion. For one thing, EB is quite likely to pull out a card in advance - thereby ruining the surprise! - but also, I need to gauge mood/energy and weather on a day-to-day basis before committing to an activity. (Such is life with a special needs kid!)

So here's how it all shaped up ...

Advent calendar 9

Hope 3

 (Sorry the pictures are all kind of dark. I took these photos late on a cloudy day!)

To jazz the calendar up a bit, I used some sparkly letters in the empty bottom right corner ... 

Advent calendar 1

... and some vintage silver-lined postcards along the top of the calendar.

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(I've had these cards for years and years - I'm glad to finally put them to good use!)

So there you have it - an Advent activity calendar to guide a young child through the weeks leading up to Christmas. We are on day three and so far it has been really nice for EB. He was SO excited for Thanksgiving I was afraid he'd have a hard time switching gears, but now it's all about Christmas is coming and how many more days? With this calendar, he'll have a visual way to see The Day get closer and some fun to make the waiting a little easier!

***

(By the way, we follow Advent according to the church calendar, so it doesn't always begin with December 1st as do most Advent calendars. This one began on Sunday, November 30th (the First Sunday in Advent) and will continue through Christmas Day. And yes, we include Christmas Day itself, because that just makes sense to EB. When that last card is read he will be told that Advent is actually over and Christmas has finally begun!)

:)

Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone ... have a great night and I will see you here again very soon!

 p.s. I will do a post on the 25 images and the proposed activities next!


From My Advent Notebook (Week 2)

Vh advent angel{Notes for December 10th ~ the 16th}

        * At CCD and at home, read The Lady of Guadalupe in honor of Saint Juan Diego (feast day 12/9), and light our lovely OLoG candle.

* Wish our neighbors a Happy Hanukkah this week. :)

* Attend a homeschool field trip to see A Christmas Carol, a wonderful local musical. Enjoy a little "Dickens feast" for supper that night (roast beef, potatoes & roots, Yorkshire puddings, and mini mince pies). Listen to Inside Fezziwig's, a wonderful collection of merry olde Christmas music.

* Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12) with a poinsettia ornament project, cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars served with fresh pineapple salsa, and soft chicken tacos for supper. This is also National Poinsettia Day so we'll read The Legend of the Poinsettia today.

* The lovely feast of light, St. Lucia Day (12/13) is a favorite in our home. We always have a scented (and candle-lit) breakfast bread on this morning - something homemade with citrus and cranberries or simply some refrigerated orange-cinnamon rolls if the day is busy. A few special books are placed about (Lucia and the Light, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Tomten) while our wee star boys will be on display ... and for supper there will be Swedish meatballs over noodles and hot (child-friendly) glogg!

* Earlybird's 11th birthday arrives! How can this little boy be 11 already? We'll have Daddy's "flying flapjacks" for breakfast, and he'll get to choose supper (most likely, Dominos pizza, lol). There will be cupcakes with friends mid-week and a family party over the weekend. His birthday theme this year is "The Winter Woods" :)

* If we can swing it, schedule-wise, we'll be seeing The Hobbit at our earliest convenience. The boys (and I) are ridiculously excited to see one of our favorite novels brought to life!

* And there's Gaudete Sunday to close out the week ~ which means we light the pink candle! A little party for my CCD class. Las Posadas begin on this night ... another favorite book to read aloud!

***

Our Tree, stage one (lights only so far) ... :)

Tree lights 1

Looking forward to a quiet, mostly-homey week ... Are we halfway to Christmas already?

Have a lovely Sunday, my friends!

 **


From My Advent Notebook ...

Vh advent angel 

{Notes for December 2nd ~ the 8th}

        * Set up the children's creche in the learning room.

    * Fill Advent calendar boxes with little messages or treats.

    * Decorate Christmas tree ~ I love natural decorations, and these would be lovely!    

    * Light our first Advent candle ~ Add sprigs of (kitty-safe) greenery gathered on this week's nature walk.

* On St. Barbara's Day (Dec. 4th) ~ Gather bare branches to force in a bucket of water, in hopes they'll bloom by Christmas Day.

    * On St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) ~ Hang candy canes in the tree - one for each boy - with a little note describing something he has done this year of which he should be proud. Also, place a new Christmas book for our collection under the tree.

        * Mail Christmas cards ~ Prepare a plate of cookies for the lovely ladies at the post office. :)

     * Begin "Animals of Christmas" with Earlybird ~ Organize notebook, visit "our" farm, add wooden animals to creche, and read books centering on animals of the manger.

    * Honor the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) ~ Make some pure vanilla cookies (I get these aptly named treats at Whole Foods), hang our symbolic ornament on the tree and listen to this song which never fails to move me to tears.

* Set up our Christmas card display ~ Hang felt ribbons along the windowpanes with tiny clothespins attached.

***

As the first Sunday of Advent approaches, I'm reminding myself that this can be a time of quiet and peace, despite the "hustle and bustle" of the cultural norm. I'm trying to focus on family- and home-centered activities ... less "out and about," more "in and within." I'm also considering our Advent home atmosphere ... the sights, sounds and stimuli that surround us. Being pregnant has added a whole new dimension to the season for me - in the practical and personal sense. I am truly relishing this time of year ... waiting, watching, wondering ... there are some very special weeks just ahead.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends!



A last-minute (child-friendly) gift ...

Now I know I keep revisiting this tissue-candle craft, but honestly, I'm a little in love with it! It's such an easy project and it makes such a pretty gift ... something you could make with your kids (of all ages) in a jiffy. Keep the supplies on hand and in the space of an hour you'll have a wonderful last-minute gift ... for a teacher or coach, your pastor, a neighbor or anyone, really. Because who wouldn't love a sparkly, colorful candle handmade by a child just for them? 

Crackerjack made one yesterday morning for his Art teacher ...

Candlecraft1

(Two things to note in this picture (aside from the kid and the craft) ... 1. the cat (helping as usual) and, 2. the new yellow paint in my dining room. I love it! :D)

Supplies:

glass candle holder

tealight candle

colorful art tissue paper

dry-clear glue

paint brush

clear, white or iridescent glitter

(*fixative?)

(Note: I think tearing the tissue paper into bits and setting out the pile for the kids to work from, saves time and makes the whole project less fussy.)

Working in small sections, let the kids brush the glass with glue, and then stick on bits of colorful paper.

Candlecraft2

Once the glass is covered (encourage the kids to fill in any gaps), apply one final *very thin* coat of glue all over the outside. This will smooth down any edges and keep the paper from peeling over time. (Depending on the age - and patience - of your child, this might be best done by Mama.)

The glue also creates the perfect sticky surface for sparkles! Just shake glitter over the candleholder (or roll it in glitter set on a paper plate).

Now let it dry!

Candlecraft3

The glitter idea was my mum's, and it really lends just the right festive touch to the final project. My mum made so many crafts with us when we were kids - all year long, but especially at Christmas. (I think that's why Christmas is so linked with crafting in my mind!)

One thing I wondered, though, (and it's too early right now to call Mum up and ask) is whether or not we should spray the final project with a fixative of some sort. If only to keep the glitter from shaking off. Any thoughts, dear crafty readers? :)

While I cleaned up the mess, CJ set our projects in the sunny front window ...

Candlecraft4

And before heading to class, we packed CJ's craft in a pretty little bag. We also added a small "tin" of our favorite holiday cookies:

Candlecraft5

But as pretty as the candle looks sparkling in the sun, I think it looks especially lovely shining in the dark:

Candlecraft6

:)

So there you have it! A quick and easy last minute gift - or a New Year's craft? - or maybe just a nice winter's day project. Something to keep in mind for after the holidays when Winter really sets in - as does cabin fever!

(Now, I promise to lay off the tissue-candle craft for a little while, lol!)

And it was so lovely to "have tea" with you all yesterday. As soon as I finish this post, I'll be jumping into the comments to catch up ... Maybe you'll consider joining me again today?

4:00 my time ~ I'll be here with another cup and another kind of tea ... or maybe something stronger, lol. ;)

Whether you join me or not, I do hope you all have a wonderful day! Take care of yourselves (and your loved ones!) and I will do my best to do the same.

See you all again sometime soon!

**


A Simple St. Lucia Day

Stlucia1

Happy Tuesday, everyone ~ and a Happy Feast Day, too!

Now, by St. Lucia tradition, the children of the household are encouraged to wake their parents with a special breakfast on this day, but it just doesn't work that way in our family! For one thing, we had our coffee roundabouts 5 a.m. - and for another, Bill left for work shortly thereafter! So instead, I wake my boys - my older boys that is, Earlybird is quite awake by now - by filling the house with the wonderful smell of cinnamon.

One of these years I will make homemade St. Lucia rolls, but canned rolls work all right, too. Stumbling into the kitchen, with sleepy faces and rumpled hair, my boys are quite pleased to find a plate of warm, spicy buns on the counter. They know right away just what day it is. :)

In years past, I've made star hats with the boys, but this year I'll have to content myself with the three little star children perched on our nature shelf:

Stlucia2

That's not to say we won't spend part of our day crafting - we have teacher gifts to work on today! Also, Earlybird and I will make a quick run to the library to pick up this sweet book which just arrived on the hold shelf for us.

Tonight for supper, I'm making Swedish meatballs - to serve with simple noodles, bread and salad - and I'll mull a little fruit juice for a child-friendly "glogg." And after supper, while Bill has Bookworm at Confirmation class, the younger boys and I will work on assembling the Christmas cards. They're due to arrive today (at last!) and I have everything all ready to go - labels, stamps, favorite pens, etc.

So it's just another Tuesday, but with a little "faith & fun" woven in ~ another step forward on our family Advent journey. :)

Well, my friends, I wish you all a very nice Tuesday ~ take care and take joy ~ I will see you all again very soon!



Little Lights for Dark Days

Pinkweek4

Earlybird and and I were discussing just how dark it is at this time of year - and what a blessing "light" is, especially on these very dark days (and nights). So I thought it would be fun to make some lovely little lights in the colors of the season - informal Advent candles to place on our nature shelf. There was glue involved, so EB was on board!

EB worked on a plastic cup and I worked on four glass votives (one for each week of the season).

Pinkweek3

Using paint brushes, we just spread mod podge on the sides of the cups/candleholders and then stuck bits of purple and pink tissue paper all along the outside.

We did, of course, have help.

Pinkweek5

We placed our final crafts in the windows to set:

Pinkweek8

Pinkweek6

While the candles dried, I cleaned up the glue/tissue paper mess and then EB and I made up a batch of brownies for tonight. (They'll be served with peppermint stick ice cream - for "Pink Sunday!"). By the time the brownies were in the oven, the sun had gone below the horizon and the house fell into shadow ...

It was time to light the candles!

Pinkweek9

Earlybird placed his Advent candle in the empty manger. Here it will shine as we wait for the Big Night.

(Note: EB's candle is battery-lit, while my glass votives hold real wax-and-flame tealights.)

I placed my Advent candles on the Nature Table: 

Pinkweek10

EB said they look just like the sunrise!

:)

This week we'll be logging the hours of sunlight and paying special attention to the sky at the start and the close of the day. (Goodness knows, we're up for both ends of the day!) These are the darkest days of the year ... so every little bit of light counts. But the week after next brings us the solstice, and with it the return of the light. Slowly and surely, the days will get longer ... and brighter.

Well, my friends ... I hope you all had a nice weekend. Did yours go by as quickly as mine did? (Which was pretty darn fast!)

Thanks so much for stopping by ... have a good night, and I will see you all sometime tomorrow ...



Our Advent Calendar is Ready to Go!

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Finished just in the nick of time ... with a little a lot of help from my mum!

Remember all those months ago, when I came home from the craft store with this?

Well, I really must laugh at myself. There I was thinking I was so ahead of the game, when that tree sat on the top of my bookshelf until just after Thanksgiving! Honestly, I was thisclose to just leaving it plain! But my mother very kindly offered to take it home to paint in time for December 1st. We discussed colors and design, and off she went to the craft store ...

And just 24 hours later, she brought over the nearly finished product! (I say nearly finished only because it still needed numbers and a few embellishments which we did together while the boys ate lunch.)

And here's how it turned out!

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I just love how it looks!

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As you can see, we chose soft Christmas-y shades of red, gold, green and blue ... and my mum picked out lovely, silvery snowflakes and tiny bits of vintage clip art. For the countdown, we used simple black number stickers (I attached them with tweezers as they were fairly fragile).

And at the very top we placed a beautiful angel ...

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Inside the drawers will be tiny treats and notes for the boys ...

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And on the back of the tree is a special message:

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Now, earlier today I started organizing the things for inside the drawers ...

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These are strips of scrapbooking paper and some brightly wrapped chocolates. On the strips of paper I will write an activity or idea for each day (sometimes something special, often very simple) and then roll it up tightly and tuck it inside the drawer alongside a chocolate.

(Note: I write out the strips one night at a time, working off my big list of ideas. I find it hard to plan too far ahead when weather, sickness, and all kinds of other intrusions can upset our plans.)

Now, a word on the chocolates ...

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I bought a couple of bags of mixed Lindt "Lindor" truffles, and they conveniently come wrapped in three different colors. So each boy gets a chocolate every third day. Bookworm's are blue (dark chocolate), Crackerjack's are red (milk chocolate) and Earlybird's are gold (white chocolate). Except that, EB can't eat these particular chocolates ...

So what we will do is this:

He will trade me his truffle for a special treat I have on hand just for him.

That's a win-win situation in my book! ;)

Now, I took the above pictures in the front room because it had such great light, but I've since moved the Advent tree to its permanent home, on top of the nature shelf:

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The Tree is surrounded by favorite (nature-related) Christmas books, as well as ...

... our little Star Children ...

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... and my Holiday Peace candle:

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I'm just so very pleased.

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So here we are on the last night of November, and our Advent Tree is ready to go! I can't wait for tomorrow ... December is such a wonderful month, because there are so many special pleasures in which to take comfort and joy. It's my hope our Tree will guide us through Advent, and help us prepare - inside and out - for the happiest day of the year.

~****~

Have a lovely night, my friends, and thank you very much for stopping by. I will see you all again here very soon ...

:)


Our 'Happy Winter Tree,' Part III

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First of all, a Very Happy Winter to you all!

As you can see from my pictures, we ended up having a good bit of snow overnight, which made everyone in this household very happy. Perhaps we'll have that White Christmas after all? :)

It's so beautiful here right now as I type up this post - quiet, gray, a few flurries lingering in the air. I'm sitting in the family room, nursing my coffee and enjoying the fire. It's truly a lovely Winter's day ...

 Very early this morning, we made our final Solstice Tree decorations. Bill popped popcorn and cracked open the coconut for us before leaving for work. The popcorn will be strung with cranberries for a bird-friendly garland (I'll work on it during quiet moments through the day). The coconut was halved, drained, and drilled ~ then filled with seed, dried fruits and nuts. We also made bread stars and pretty pineapple rings to add to the tree. 

Here are the tree ornaments ready to hang:

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And now for a look around the Tree itself ...

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It was too tricky to pierce and thread the bread stars, so we just placed them out along the railing. The coconut halves were looped around posts on either side of the tree. Bill used a handsaw to open the coconuts and a power drill to make the holes for the twine. The birds can nibble on the dried fruit, nuts or the coconut flesh itself if they so desire.

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Dried pineapple rings were tied on with bits of festive ribbon. They remind me of little suns or maybe full moons. Either symbol works here, really ~ on this day the sun begins to grow stronger, and this is the night of December's full moon.

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I really like how the gingebread folk came out. I think these treats would make nice gifts for people next year.

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Above is a donut ring, one of the pinecones, and a coconut half in the background.

Below is a heart ...

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Merry Christmas, dear little birdies and beasties! Our wish for you this year is that you keep safe and well fed. We look forward to watching you all Winter long. :)  

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Later today I'll bake a treat for MY little beasties ~ a lemony "sun" cake ~ and for supper tonight we'll enjoy a hearty cottage pie, some toasty rolls and warm spiced wine (cranberry juice for the kids). A real Welcome Winter Feast! :)

Oh! And as for last night ~ did anyone catch the lunar eclipse? Funnily enough, I was actually awake at 4 a.m. (of my own doing, not Earlybird's) but the skies were too cloudy to see anything but falling snow! But here's a very cool photo blog of the moon as it was eclipsed last night all across the world ...

Well, I hope you all have a lovely Tuesday for yourselves ~ Happy Winter, Happy Advent, and Thanks for stopping by! See you all again very soon ... :)


Our 'Happy Winter Tree,' Part II

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Well first of all, this has been quite a Monday! It started off pretty quiet, but before we knew it there were huge trucks arriving next door and loud engines starting up and oh my - trees were being felled! Like - really tall evergreen trees, literally right outside our family room windows! Then next thing we knew, the doorbell was ringing and packages were arriving and Nana stopped by and snow started falling - and this was all before noontime! 

If ever there was a week for "bustle," this is it ~ I love it!

It was also a busy morning in our kitchen as we set about making our Solstice Tree treats. Now, before I launch into the how-to's I'd like to mention that last week at our Nature Club meeting my friend Ketylina demonstrated a similar suet making project. I paid rapt attention and brought home the recipe as well as some ideas for making more projects at home.

 So here are the ingredients laid out by my stovetop. (And I apologize for the poor lighting in the next several photos - my kitchen is not very bright, unfortunately.)

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In front is the package of beef suet* I bought at the market yesterday, and just behind, from left to right, we have: mixed bird seed, rolled oats, dried cranberries, currants, chunky peanut butter, hulled sunflower seeds, cornmeal, walnuts, hazelnuts and dried pineapple rings (the pineapple is actually for something else, lol).

(Notes: The recipe I followed came from this site, thanks again to Ketylina. *If you don't see suet at the meat counter, ask your butcher; he or she may be able to package some up for you. Alternatively, you can use lard in place of the suet.)

I first chopped the suet into small chunks and set them in a heavy saucepan over medium heat:

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(Kind of gross, yes, but I tried not to think too much about it, lol.)

While the suet was melting (or rendering), I divided the "mix-ins" into one cup measurements (easier for small - and impatient - hands to deal with):

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Here's how the suet looked once it was finished rendering (and lingering chunks were strained out with a sieve):

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One pound of suet yielded about 2 cups liquid. Next, the boys had fun adding in all the mix-ins as I stirred the mixture with a strong wooden spoon ...

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I poured the concoction into a glass measuring cup for easier handling ...

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... and on the island I had some molds prepared:

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Gingerbread men, donut rings ...

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(Bookworm took a break from his work to gather pinecones for us from the yard.)

After filling the available molds we still had more left, so I pulled out some heart shaped ramekins and a Tupperware container to catch the remaining mixture:

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(Note: I placed lengths of twine in the molds before pouring in the suet mix. Theoretically, this will make it possible to hang the shapes in the tree tomorrow.)

And here's our spread!

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Into the freezer it all went ...

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Tomorrow, on the first day of Winter, we'll take the frozen treats and decorate our Solstice Tree (along with a few other goodies we'll prepare in the morning). I think the birds and squirrels will be especially grateful considering they made themselves pretty scarce during all the loud tree work today!

One more picture before I go ...

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Just in case the snow is gone by tomorrow, here's our Tree as it looked at 3 p.m. today. It sure looks and feels like Winter right about now!

And speaking of Winter, tomorrow brings not only December's Full "Cold" Moon - but a total lunar eclipse as well! (Details can be found here.) I may be up early enough to catch the tail end of it, but the trick will be remembering to look, lol!

Have a great night, everyone! See you sometime tomorrow. :)


Our 'Happy Winter Tree,' Part I

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If you read my blog, it's clear my family loves nature and the changing seasons of the year. I never like to pick a favorite season, because truly, there's "something bright in all," but admittedly, a New England Winter can be pretty tough to love. Most years it's a long and messy affair, and it can be a challenge - if not downright impossible - to get out and enjoy the natural world when the weather is so uncomfortable. Sure we get out for the occasional walk or sledding adventure, but the icy/slushy/sleety conditions make it all too easy to turn our backs on nature (and nature study) until grass is underfoot and the sun feels warm once more.

Still ... my feeling on the matter is, if we're going to embrace nature, we should try to do it with open and impartial arms. It's my goal - as a mother and a homeschooler - to help my children learn to notice and relish the nuances of each season. And to do that we must be present for it all - the flowers, the foliage, the rain and the snow. And yes, even the ice, sleet and slush. ;)

One of our favorite Winter activities is tending and watching the birds that visit our feeders. They bring us such joy and we appreciate the trust they place in us - coming to our yard for food, water and a bit of shelter. Our Solstice - or "Happy Winter" - tree is a celebration of Winter Nature - which for us, revolves around the little birds and beasts that call our woods home.

So, when we visited the tree farm earlier this month, we brought home two trees to decorate for the holidays. The big one for inside, the small one for outside. And yesterday Bill moved the small tree to our deck, and wrapped it with colored lights (see above) ... this morning we'll start making treats with which to adorn our tree on the Solstice tomorrow.

More on all that later, but for now, I hope you all have a nice Monday ...
Just FIVE days till Christmas, my friends ~ are you ready?!
In your heart and in your home? :)
 
See you all again very soon ...

Our Advent Tree Notes ~ 25 Days of Fun!

 Recently Lynn B asked if I would share our Advent Tree Notes and so here I am with the list. :) We've completed 19 days so far ... just five more days to go!

So here are the notes in order, from December 1st through the 25th (the last five days are still tentative) ...

***

1. Happy December!  Nana is coming to make you lunch and we'll set up our Christmas book basket.

2. Today we'll clean the Christmas tree spot and read a book about a very special tree. We'll also gather cones and needles for our Advent Nature Shelf.

3. Daddy's home today! We'll go to the Christmas Tree Farm this morning and cut down our tree!

4. Today we'll put up our Christmas lights!

5. Today we'll decorate our tree and Daddy will put up the wreaths and window candles!

6. Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas! Today we'll bake "Dutch Spice" cookies and there's a little gift hidden in the tree!

7. To celebrate the first snowfall, today we'll make paper snowflakes for the windows.

8. Today we'll explore "The Spices of the Season" and grate our own nutmeg.

9. Today we'll make foam tree ornaments for the tree!

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10. You'll be Daddy's helper today ~  doing yard decorations and running a few errands.

11. Today is your "friends" birthday party! Pizza lunch and chocolate cupcakes!

12. Today is your "family" birthday party! A yummy holiday brunch!

13. Today we'll mail our Christmas cards and bring a plate of cookies for the post office people. We'll also make breakfast treats and star hats for St. Lucia Day!

14. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EARLYBIRD! Daddy's home today - we'll have lots of fun! 

15. Look for a new book hidden in the Christmas tree ~ and today we'll play with your new Santa Playmobile set.

16. Daddy's home today! We'll bake biscuits for breakfast and read The Legend of the Poinsettia. Later we'll visit the nursery and bring home our own poinsettia plant.

17. We'll make popcorn to eat while watching a new VT movie. You can also help mama make lemon snowballs!

18. This morning we'll bring a plate of cookies to our wonderful librarians and pick out some books to read next week.

19. Tonight we'll go for a Christmas Lights Drive ...

Now, for this last week of Advent ...

(I don't have these tags written up yet - we'll see what the week brings! - but these are my tentative ideas.)

20. Today we'll make all kinds of homemade bird treats for our (outdoor) Solstice Tree.

21. Happy Winter Solstice! We'll decorate our Solstice Tree and make mini sun cakes. As the day wanes, we'll read about Winter and The Shortest Day of the year.

22. Today we'll bake (and frost!) homemade chocolate donuts for breakfast!

23. Let's make homemade marshmallows today! We can dunk them in hot cocoa and watch a special about Christmas in Yellowstone. (Thank you, Amy for the tip!)

24. It's Christmas Eve! IF it's not too cold, we'll visit the local farm and in the late afternoon  we'll deliver goodies to our neighbors.

25. Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday, Jesus! 

***

This has been quite a fun countdown, I must say! The bulletin board base, foam tree shapes and sticky notes have made it all very easy to keep up with.

Well, this is sure to be a busy, busy week but I will try to post a few more times before Christmas. I hope you all have a fantastic final week of Advent ~ thanks for stopping by and see you all again soon. :)


Poinsettia Day!

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Today's Advent tree note read:

"Daddy's home today! We'll bake biscuits for breakfast and read about The Legend of the Poinsettia. Later we'll visit the nursery and bring home a plant for our mantle."

(Officially, National Poinsettia Day falls on December 12th, but as we were busy that day with a family party, I decided to schedule our own "poinsettia day" for one day this week.)

Well, the biscuits were delicious (stuffed with cheesy, scrambled eggs) and EB half-listened to me read TLotP while working on a coloring page I found online ... and after breakfast we all bundled into the minivan for a family field trip to the nursery. (Lol, the older two never know what's coming next. What? Close our math books, grab our coats? Happy faces all around.)

To be honest, Earlybird was more enthralled with the Christmas trees for sale in the lot (and pushing the oversized nursery cart up and down the aisles) than he was with the multicolored* plants inside, lol. (Poor Bill got outside duty with EB while I savored the steamy warmth of the greenhouse inside with the older boys.)

*Oh, and by multicolored, I really do mean multicolored! There were the expected red, burgundy, pink and white plants of course - but also - purple, blue and fuschia! 

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Now, maybe I haven't been poinsettia shopping in a while, but this really struck me as odd! I insisted on purchasing traditional red plants, but the boys talked me into one sparkly blue plant as well. Crackerjack said he wanted it for their bedroom - he has plans for a Star Wars Christmas corner I think.

Here's our Earlybird marveling at the pretty Christmas plants ...

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... and Crackerjack and Bookworm, smiling for Mum's camera. :) 

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As you can see from their garb we're in the midst of quite a cold spell here in New England; the balmy greenhouse was a nice escape from the frosty weather. (A quick weather note here ~ a major snowstorm is predicted for Massachusetts late this weekend. Maybe we'll get a white Christmas after all!)

Well, from there, our day got quite busy as we grabbed a quick lunch and headed out to our December Nature Club meeting (a homemade suet feeder activity hosted by my friend Ketylina at her lovely home - more on that later!).

So we're home again at last, and supper's bubbling away on the stove. Bill's getting some work done, the older boys are playing Wii, and EB and I are watching "Dogs 101" (a favorite show of his). Obviously I'm also working on this post! 

As a final touch to our poinsettia day, I had planned to pull out our sweet little poinsettia fairy to hang on our tree, but - gasp! - we can't find her! I made her a few years back (details in this post) and I just can't imagine where she's disappeared to ~ but if I can't find her, I may just have to make her again. Hmm ... an excuse to stop by the craft store tomorrow? Maybe that's not so bad after all ... ;)

By the way, in a comment today, Lynn B. asked if I'd share all my Advent tree notes sometime - and yes, I'd be glad to! I'll write up a post (possibly this weekend) with the notes we've done so far and my plans for next week. I must say, this has been my favorite Advent countdown yet. :)

Well, thank you very much for stopping by today; I hope you had a nice day too. See you all again very soon!


The Animals' Advent

This morning's Advent tree note read:

"Today we'll read about The Animals' Advent and play with your new Forest Santa Playset."

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I found this delightful book at Barnes & Noble a few weeks back. It's a lift-the-flap, board-style book meant for very young children (and very small hands) but it's perfect for EB. He's really into the whole "countdown" aspect of Advent, and of course we love most anything nature-related. The story revealed along with each animal is told in rhyme so, it's even more fun to read along as you lift each flap.

And here's the Playmobile Forest Santa playset (an Advent Calendar actually!) ...

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... our gift to EB on his birthday!

As with any Advent calendar, it's meant to be opened a door at a time (revealing one piece of the woodland) but we allowed EB to open them all at once. :)

By the way, another favorite book about animals at Christmas is The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes (illustrated by the incomparable Tasha Tudor). It's such a heartwarming story and the pictures are so, so lovely. Next week, on the Winter Solstice (Tuesday, the 21st) we'll read this story and make some gingerbread animal ornaments. (The recipe and directions are given at the back of the book.) And then we'll decorate the little outdoor tree we bought at the tree farm with treats for "our own" woodland animals.

Thank you so much for stopping by today ~ I hope you all had a wonderful Wednesday! 


The Spices of the Season

This morning's Advent note read: 

"Today we'll explore the spices of the season!" 

Our exploration actually began yesterday afternoon, as Earlybird and I made a rich, dense cookie dough - fragrant with several kinds of holiday spices. We worked together in our warm kitchen as the daylight grew weak, and the tree lights began to glow ... 

Once the dough was nice and stiff, I rolled it into a log shape and wrapped it in plastic wrap. It sat in the fridge overnight, and this morning - just before lunchtime - I preheated the oven and we took the cold, hard dough out of its wrapping.

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You can just see all those spices!

I based my recipe on the one found here, but I only had cake flour on hand so I finagled the measurements, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best! I really like the high amount of brown sugar in these - the rustic sweetness balances the spiciness out nicely. (By the way, dough like this is great for keeping in the fridge ~ just slice and bake what you need, and save the rest for later.)

And here's how our first batch of spice cookies came out ...

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I just mixed a little cream with confectioner's sugar for the icing ~ thick enough to look like snow drifts ~ and the snowflake candies (in honor of our first snowfall this week!) are EB-friendly. The cookies were wonderful ~ a bit crisp around the edges, but chewy inside, and ohhh ... the flavor! 

So we continued our spice fun later in the day ...

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(I don't normally keep my spices on the windowsill, natch - but I tucked them in close to the tree for Earlybird to find this morning.) 

I set up a space on the counter and we smelled and touched and tested the various kinds of sweet spices I had on hand. We grated the whole nutmeg and cinnamon stick, and compared it with the ground variety. We split a vanilla bean, scraped out its seeds, and nestled all of it into a tub of sugar. (Note: though in the picture below it looks like EB is reaching for the large knife I promise you, he's not! I had used it on the vanilla bean and took this picture before I cleaned it and stored it away.) 

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When we were done, we made up a little spice sampler for the nature shelf.

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So this was a very fun day ~ and now I sit here on the family room couch with Bill who's eating the two cookies I saved just for him. He's declared them to be a success. ;) And the best part is - we still have a giant log of dough to use up in the fridge!

Well, I hope your week's going well so far ~ see you again in a day or two ... :)


A Happy New Month & More Advent Ideas

Well, I'm one day late, but Happy December, my friends! It's not feeling much like Winter here this week - we've had heavy rain, wild winds and fairly mild temperatures. It's bright once again today but not all that cold - not cold enough for snow anyway! (And Crackerjack is quite desperate for snow, lol.) Of course, it's not technically Winter just yet, so I guess this weather's just right for the end of Autumn. Still, it will be nice when it starts feeling a bit more Christmas-y ... do you have snow yet where you live?

I just have a few things to say this morning and then I must be off ... 

First of all, many thanks to The Crafty Crow, for including my post in their Advent Calendar Roundup! (I think I'm going to make it my New Year's Resolution to comb through that fantastic blog for new crafting ideas. The blog layout itself is so fun to peruse - it's soothing and stimulating at the same time.)

Our own Advent calendar is off to a great start! We flipped our first tree yesterday morning, and here's what it said (bear in mind, these are written mostly for Earlybird, my youngest) ...

"Today Mama and brothers are going to A Christmas Carol. Nana is coming to visit with you and make you lunch. Later today we'll read Gingerbread Baby* and Bookworm will let you color with his special crayons."

(*Note: December 1st is Jan  Brett's birthday.)

Today's note says ...

"Today we'll clean the Christmas tree spot and read a book about a special tree. We'll also gather evergreen cones and needles from the yard for our Advent Nature Shelf."

I was composing a follow-up post with some of my calendar activities, when I realized I could link to a couple of previous posts on the very same subject!

Comforts & Joys for my Boys!

Advent Family Fun, Part 2

As you can see, we recycle many of the same activities year after year ... but that's part of the fun, isn't it? Turning activities in traditions. :) I've got some new ideas brewing this year, and I'm sure I'll be posting about them in the weeks to come. 

Well, this week has been busy and bustling so far - as I mentioned above, we've been to see a wonderful musical rendition of A Christmas Carol. (We've been listening to the audiobook in the car for a couple of weeks now.) We also have our monthly book group this week, as well as a Yankee Swap one night with friends. Bill is taking time off from work so we can get our tree before the weekend crowds set in - we'll be heading north to a tree farm one morning this week. I'm excited to do some Christmas shopping this Saturday (Barnes & Noble's Special Educator Discount Day!) and the boys are looking forward to a pancake breakfast at church this Sunday. And last but not least, we're thisclose to getting our Christmas card order sent out!

Hope you're all enjoying your week, too - and thank you for stopping by. See you all again in a few days. :)


Two Advent Projects: Candles & Counting Down

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Every year I like to do something different for our Advent calendar, and this year it was a package of green foam tree shapes that got my wheels turning ...

Using Earlybird's bulletin board as my base, I covered the cork with Christmas wrap and draped a length of garland around the frame. Then I tacked 25 trees to the board (numbering them with a Sharpie).

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On the back of each tree is a cheery little post-it note (so much easier than making tags!) with a fun idea for the day. 

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Now, because I often need to work around last minute plans (or illness, or weather, or EB's mood swings), I write my tags out the night before we turn a tree. I do however, brainstorm a master list of ideas to choose from ahead of time ~ things like taking a night drive to look at the lights, making paper snowflakes for the windows, or eating gingerbread pancakes on Earlybird's birthday. 

Now, for our Advent candles this year, I decided to go with something very simple ...

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I bought wooden letters spelling out PEACE for the nature shelf, and to dress them up a bit I adhered a foam tree to the back of each letter. In front of the letters I placed four small glass votives, one for each week of the season.

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There's nothing so lovely as candlelight on a dark Advent afternoon ...

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For nature study this month, we're focusing on conifer trees (starting with a tree farm visit later this week) so we'll be adding various bits of evergreen to our arrangement as the season moves along. 

Well, I thank you for stopping by today and I wish you all a very happy Advent! Hope your new week is off to a good start. :)


Advent Family Fun, Part 2

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I apologize that this post of holiday ideas is coming to you so very late in the season. I hope if an idea sounds fun to you, you'll tuck it into your 2010 Christmas planner. :)

You might remember my first Advent Family Fun post, which showed you the craft-tag calendar I set up this year. Well, here are some of the ideas from my holiday planner. Not all of them got done - not all of them made it to tags! - but it's fun to brainstorm and catalog ideas ... and there's always next year, right? ;)

~ Spend the first Sunday of Advent decorating for Christmas; set up the tree.

~ On a clear frosty night, bundle up the kids and drive around town admiring Christmas lights. End our journey at a beautiful outdoor nativity scene.

~ On St. Barbara's Day (December 4th), collect bare branches from flowering shrubs in the yard (forsythia, for example). Place them in water in hopes they'll bloom at Christmas. 

~ On the Winter Solstice (December 21st), decorate a tree in the yard with bird-friendly treats like dried fruits and plain popcorn, orange halves, suet balls and peanut butter pinecones. (Making these treats can be a fun activity a day or so before the Solstice.)

~ Because I am partial to animal stories, I like to collect Christmas books that focus on the beauty and peace of nature. This year I added a new book, My Wonderful Christmas Tree by Dahlov Ipcar. Other books in our "Nature Rejoices" basket:

Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea

The Christmas Bird by Bernadette Watts

The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes

A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? by Ellen Obed

Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? by Laura Krauss Melmed

~ Bring out the Polar Express train set for Earlybird. Watch the movie and have some hot, hot, hot - Hot Chocolate!

~ Go to a local zoo one night to see the beautiful Holiday Lights and decorations.

~ Build a gingerbread construction with Nana (this year, a train).

~ Go on a nature walk and look for examples of Christmas greenery (holly, boxwood, evergreen, ivy). Take pictures of the first day of Winter and start a nature journal for the new year. Have cider mulling on the stove for when we return home.

~ Bake homemade donuts (chocolate with peppermint topping) one morning for breakfast and serve with Trader Joe's mint cocoa with freshly whipped cream.

~ On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th), make some cinnamon-sugar tortilla stars (recipe found here) and read the Tomie de Paola book, The Lady of Guadalupe

~ Make "hot" cocoa and eggnog popsicles. :)

~ Listen to A Christmas Carol on audiobook over a few afternoons - then go see the new movie starring Jim Carrey. Talk about how the movie differed from the book.

~ Set up the children's creche in the family room. Place a basket filled with nativity stories near the display. Put the magnetic manger scene on the fridge.

~ Bring Christmas arrangements to grandparents' graves; pray for our loved ones, then take Nana to lunch.

~ Attend a Yankee Swap with friends.

~ Surprise an elderly relative or neighbor with some baked goodies and Christmas Carols.

~ Spend a whole day at home baking cookies - eat some, freeze some.

~ Take the kids Christmas shopping one weekday - help them buy gifts for friends and siblings.

~ On New Year's Day (the day we take down our tree), pack ornaments and other holiday decorations in the day's newspaper ~ fun to reminisce over as we unpack next December.

Hope your Christmas week is going well! As my boys just announced moments ago, ONLY TWO MORE DAYS!!

Off now to wrap and bake and clean, etc.! I hope to pop in one more time before Friday, but in case I don't find the time, I want to wish you all a beautiful and blessed Christmas! :)