Snow Day

Adam was suppose to be at work bright and early this morning…7 AM…and just as he was getting ready to head out the door, the restaurant called to say they were still deciding on whether to open.  So instead we had a leisurely breakfast of eggs, hash browns, sausage, banana muffins, and french toast with coffee.  We talked away the morning and did nothing until lunch.  Then, after snow blowing the driveway,  Adam took the kids out sledding.  That lasted about 20 minutes tops as it is still icy cold out.  But I think the kids enjoyed themselves anyway.  They got to wear snowsuits and boots, eat snow, and make snow angels then come back inside to steaming mugs of cocoa.  Adam still ended up going into work in the late afternoon but what better way to play hooky in the morning!

And mom’s newly found most-excellent homemade instant hot cocoa recipe:

2 C powdered sugar

1 C unsweetened cocoa powder

2 1/2 C powdered milk

1 t salt

2 t corn starch

pinch cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together (I use hands to smoosh out clumps).  Put 3 spoonfuls in mug.  Fill with hot water (I add a splash of whole milk or half and half for a creamier flavor).  Top with marshmallows.

These are a few of our favorite things…

I am humming this song as I merrily snap pictures of our family’s favorite gifts.

Check out the goodies below!

Gabe ~ the elves custom made these woolly bear caterpillars!

Lily ~ Fancy Nancy Doll...or Annie as Lil likes to call her!

Luc ~ a most-loved Brachiosaurus

Delilah ~ her best friends...Lumpy and Roo!

Ivy ~ it sings and she squeals!

Dad ~ what boy can resist a sword and comics?

Mom ~ my new winter reading material!

Our Christmas day was peaceful and relaxing.  We cooked a duck for the first time and served it with a fabulous wild rice walnut pilaf and a sweet potato cream cheese casserole.  The duck turned out well…a very french feast inspired by watching Julie and Julia (wonderful movie…even better book!).  Don’t know if we will do it again next year though.  The kids didn’t eat anything – too much of  a “grown-up” meal for them.  Adam and I want to nail down some traditions and one of those is the Christmas dinner.  We already do turkey for Thanksgiving and ham for Easter.  Maybe Christmas should be completely kid-friendly?  Adam is a chef for an Italian restaurant…maybe Italian? Who doesn’t love that!  Am getting ideas already!

Christmas Breakfast: Blue's Banana Muffins topped with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles!

~Christmas Dinner~

Leave me a comment below as to what were some of your favorite gifts this year!  Or email me with the Christmas happenings at your house.  Merry Christmas and may everyone have an upcoming Happy New Year!

Twas the night before Christmas…

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring all the creatures were stirring just like a mouse!  Last night was a bit of a disappointment for the kids.  With extra snow piling up in our current blizzard (over the 12″ we already received a few weeks ago),  our plans for Christmas Eve were canceled.  No Grandpa Dave’s…no cousins…no extra presents…just sitting at home with mom (even dad had to work) and watching boring Christmas specials on T.V.  What is a child to do?

Luckily, grandma and pop decided to surprise the kids with their Christmas pajamas and stockings a day early.  They live only a block away and were willing to get stuck driving down the street knowing it was only a short walk if they needed to bail the car.  The kids were so excited…for pajamas…plain old clothes…gifts that would otherwise have been tossed aside amidst the excitement of toys.  And so our evening took on a much needed different hue…back to a silent night.  Now sitting with mom watching Christmas specials didn’t seem so bad.  Now mom wasn’t stressing about wrapping and getting cranky-up-too-late-full-of-too-much-sugar kids to bed at a decent hour.  And when daddy got to come home a bit early, we were able to sit by the fire and read the much anticipated Clement’s Twas the Night Before Christmas…a Payson tradition.

The evening ended peacefully…a silent night if you will, much needed by mom after the day’s activities!  Now…the being all tucked warm in their beds is another story.  And, after much coffee today, one that mom is still too groggy to tell!

Merry Christmas everyone!  Have a blessed day!

I didn’t know…

Last night for Advent we read a story I have been meaning to get to for a long while…An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola.  We are in the middle of studying early American History so when I spotted this little gem at the library I snapped it up.  I meant to do it as a history study but time ran out and it has been sitting there on our shelf while we are busy preparing for Christmas.  I finally got it down and decided to read it during our evening meal.  After many false starts and warnings about paying attention (there may have been a threat or two about not getting to do the Advent calendar) we got on with the story, and what a story it was!

I have always loved Tomie’s books, especially his own children’s autobiography (which inspired me to go out to buy each child their own box of 64 count real crayola crayons).  This one was no exception.  His author’s note is at the beginning instead of the end and helps to set the stage for the story of how the colonists might have celebrated this special time of year.  The story was simple, the illustrations wonderful, but even better it was filled with tidbits of information we never knew before.  Like the bayberry bush.

Summer Bayberry

Winter Bayberry

Now I have heard of bayberry candles…I think I may have even smelled them at one point.  I’m sure they smelled spicy with evergreen undertones.  But I always assumed it was a candle scented like a bayberry (having no idea what a bayberry was).  But did you know that bayberries can make wax?!?!  Reading this book immediately sent me on a computer hunt.  What is a bayberry?  How does it grow?  Can I grow it?  Can you get real, authentic bayberry candles?  Can I make my own?  I feel another project bubbling under the skin.  I know, I know…trying to slow down.  This will have to be a project for next winter.  But I feel it will play into my winter reading of garden catalogs!  How fun to grow and make your own bayberry candles.  What a new and fun concept to add to my growing list of sustainable skills to know!

Authentic Bayberry Candles

Towards the end of the book, when Christmas is finally brimming, the kids were intrigued by making your own ornaments out of dough.  This made me remember just having seen such a recipe in Susan Branch’s wonderful book Christmas From the Heart of the Home!  If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it!  It will instantly transport you into the Christmas season no matter how much like scrooge you feel.

We set to making dough, which the kids loved doing.  The recipe is absolutely simple and the kids loved squishing, mushing, and using all the cookie cutters.  My only warning is to anyone with dry winter hands.  Wear Gloves!!!  The cup of salt the recipe calls for works it’s way into any little nicks on the hand and stings like needles for hours, as Lily and I both came to find out later!  Today we spent the afternoon painting them – interesting to say the least (will put pictures up tomorrow).  Then tonight we will bake and put a clear sealer on the top.  The kids are so excited to be making their own.  Lily even said that painting these was better than getting a gift!  All in all, I’d say this little Christmas book led to some wonderful rabbit trails for us.  May it do the same for you!

Our Gingerbread Cathedral

Last night we finished the yearly tradition of building a gingerbread house.  Adam created this tradition quite a few years ago when he was working at Cracker Barrel and made an amazing replica of their store for a Christmas work party.

He has been perfecting his technique and recipe since.  This year Adam drew up plans for a grand castle.  After glue-icing it together, it looked more like a church – a cathedral of sorts.  And since this has been a central theme to my week that is what it shall remain! This year we let the kiddos in on the action.  Granted, this created a lot of chocolate stealing, fighting, and a very imperfect church, but what better Advent activity for our family to partake of.  Our church (the whole church – all denominations) is one big family of imperfect, fighting, messy people.  This is how HE chooses to work through us.  And I am thankful HE chooses to be patient beyond measure with HIS family as HE gently leads the way home.  Our cathedrals may seem messy, a bit broken, not quite Martha Stewart matching, but we are building for HIM.  Someday we will get to see the glorious finished work and oh what a day that will be!  So…without further ado…here is our messy family-built cathedral!

Have a merry evening tonight with friends and family!

Christmas Conversations

Christmas conversations overheard between my very contemplative six-year-old daughter and other family members.

Over a “Real” tree:

Lily – “You know this tree is fake, grandma.”

Grandma – “I know.”

Lily – “It’s not a real tree.”

Grandma – “I know.”

Lily – “Look…you can feel the branches and tell.”

Grandma – “I know, Lily.”  Wandering where this is going.

Lily – “So then does that make it not really Christmas?”

Grandma – “Well, honey, Grandma is allergic to real trees.  They make pretend trees for people who can’t have real trees.”

Lily – “Oh.”  Muling this over in her head.  “Well…it’s still a fake tree you know.”

Over the “true” meaning of Christmas:

I’m standing in the kitchen washing dishes when the end part of this argument catches my ear.

Lily – “No it’s not, Luc!”

Luc – whining, “Yes it is!”

Lily – “No, grownups don’t get presents.”

Luc – “Yes they do!” Very drawn out for emphasis…argument is escalating.

Lily – very matter-of-fact, “No, grownups realize the true meaning of Christmas.  They know it’s really about the birth of Christ so that means they don’t get presents.”

Luc – “No, Christmas IS about presents.”

Over number of gifts:

Older cousin – “No, Santa will bring me whatever I want.”

Lily –  “No, didn’t you  hear?  Santa is only bringing three presents to everyone this year.”

Cousin – “I have NO idea what you’re talking about.”

Lily – “He changed.  He is only doing three presents this year.  Like baby Jesus got three.”

Cousin – “Huh?”

Lily – “When you wake up on Christmas morning there will only be three presents under your tree.”

Cousin – “I don’t think so.”

Luckily, adults intercede to put kids jackets on.  Lily is saved from the crashing disappointment of the Santa bubble being burst.

Making a Connection

We’ve all grown up with the song “Jingle Bells” stuck in our heads at one time or another throughout the many Christmas seasons.  It’s a classic, lovable Christmas tune for the littles and my children are no exception.  It is probably the most heard Christmas song sung around our house other than “Away in a Manger”.  Why do kids love it?  Most likely the catchy tune and, if they can get their hands on a pair, the jingling bells.

But last night as we sat down to read a Christmas story before participating in the Advent Calendar a deeper connection to the song was made.  As it was drawing close to bedtime and the kids were clamoring for a story, my hand went to draw the shortest one I could find out of the Christmas book basket. I’d like to say I planned this beautiful moment but, as most know, when I “plan” a beautiful moment it usually turns into a chaotic mess.  So what I was really thinking is the kids needed to wind down and get to bed quickly because I still had a lots to do for a Christmas party happening the next day.

My hand grabbed the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” with illustrations by Susan Jeffers This is a book we own and have loved reading every year.  The pictures are exquisite – lots for little eyes to pour over at their leisure. As we slowly, and I do mean slowly for this is a poem that just cannot be read too fast or the fun will be over with too soon, read through the poem and our eyes drank in the feast of delights, a connection was made for me.  The song “Jingle Bells” popped into my head as I was staring at this sleigh…a one horse open sleigh…with this one horse wearing a harness of bells that jingled.  So I pointed this serendipitous moment out to my children.  The “awwhhhs” escaped in precious surprised sighs as they too made the connection.  I drew my fingers slowly over the pictures while softly singing, stopping my finger to emphasize a picture word, trailing my finger over the field of snow.    We talked of why someone might be driving a sleigh – how it differed from wagons.  We talked of promises he had to keep in the poem and what that might mean, letting our imaginations run away with us.

These are the precious few moments I love on our homeschooling journey.  The planning is good.  It needs to be there to guide and direct our small family tree, shaping and pruning as we go.  The planning ensures that great books like this are stocked in our Christmas book basket to begin with.  But not every story is received warmly.  Not every story captures the imagination enough to still little one’s wandering hands and incessant, interrupting questions.  Not every story leads to unexpected rabbit trails.  But when they do…oh how delightful!

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Have a quiet evening everyone!