Monday, December 20, 2010

Teacher Gifts...

As a teacher, I know how hard the job can be.  I also know just how much it matters when a family lets you know that they appreciate the effort you are giving for their child.  And while I try my best, I KNOW my boys' teachers are doing outstanding work day in and day out.  We totally won the teacher lottery, and try and take any opportunity we have to let them know exactly that.

Christmas time is one of the great chances for us to do just that.  Mid-November I started looking for ideas for something homemade that showed our love and was replicable.  As Montessori teachers they all have an appreciation for natural materials and handmade work.  This led me to knitting and the knitted bowl.  I found the pattern here, and started in.  I figured I would just have to see how far I got.

Then a friend posted this tutorial. (Thanks, Dawn!) I fell in love with the little owls, and knew that a little owl ornament would be a good fit in a knitted bowl nest. They were a fun "in front of the TV" project in the evening.

And when it all wrapped up, these are what we had.  One for each teacher, one for each assistant, and one for the early care teacher.  I hope they enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Love those days...

At the risk of  two sugary posts in a row, yesterday was one of those days.  The really good ones.  The ones that make you feel like all is right in the world. And it couldn't have come at a better time. What made it so great, you ask?  Well:

1. Divided grocery shopping - Instead of all going together, and then dealing with the boys bickering their way through the store, we now use shopping as time for one-on-one time.  One kid comes with me, the other stays home with Dad.  Each kiddo gets attention, the shopping gets done, and there's no fighting.

2. Lots of "elving" (a term borrowed form Amanda Soule) going on - Lots of sneaking around crafting for others in the home.  I hear tales of a rocket ship being built with Daddy, and I have assisted in the creation of a treasure box.  There are plans for snowglobes and maybe even some hand sewing to be done in the next day or two.

3. Crafting time - I've been doing a little of my own elving.  Pajama pants are in order for everyone, and two pairs were finished yesterday, with the pattern-making and cutting done for the other two pairs. A cute felt gnome was also begun.

4. Baking together - With the help of both boys - and that's ACTUAL help, not "help" - we made sugar cookies, frosting, and chocolate krinkles.  They are getting better at measuring, and love rolling out dough and cutting shapes.  Turns out that the key is having two stools, and different work stations for each.

5. Delicious dinner - enough said.

6. A few snowflakes - just a few.  Not enough to stick - but enough to make the evening feel even more magical.

For a homebody like myself, this was just what I needed.  Christmas music, twinkle lights, and hot beverages. Very few arguments. Lots of laughter. Perfect.

I hope you are finding your own moments of perfection in all the hustle and preparations. I'd love to hear what is right in your world - just leave me a comment!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Zoolights and the Car

It didn't take long for their heads to fall forward, bobbing with each bump in the road. It was past their bedtime, the car was warm, and Christmas music was playing.  I wanted to be asleep, too.  But I wasn't.  As the parent, it was my job to drive them home.  And as the parent, I got to enjoy a few moments of quiet calm.

We had spent the evening at Zoolights.  That's what the advent calendar told us to do, and coincidentally, it lined up with the first night it hadn't rained in 2 weeks. Parking was a nightmare, the crowds were thick. We almost opted out.  But we didn't.  For the first time, we didn't have screaming, crying babies in arms or strollers.  We walked through, looking at the lights.  We held hands.  We talked about the animals.  A middle school choir sang "Frosty the Snowman". And while it wasn't the pastoral image of Christmas celebration, for us city dwellers, it was what we know Christmas to be.

But it was the ride home that felt like real Christmas. The thank you's all around for the effort at making it a positive experience.  The boys munching on gingerbread cookies that their teachers had so lovingly made .  The lights of downtown as we drove home.  And then the quiet.  Two bowed heads - one in a red cowboy hat, the other in a Santa hat. "Silent Night" on the radio and Christmas lights on houses. And that feeling in the deepest part of you that things are right in your world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent update...

We've been so throughly enjoying every moment of this holiday season that I haven't taken the time to write about it.  So far, the envelopes have been great.  A couple of times we have needed to adjust plans - moving big activities around for weather or to make plans with other people.  The boys have enjoyed the activities without missing any of the "stuff" that accompanies so many advent calendars. With that said, tonight's time for a quick update - what's worked, what hasn't.

1. Dance Party - didn't happen.  Sick mama and oldest kid prevented us boogie-ing down.  Since then we have had several impromptu bursts of Christmas music inspired dancing.

2.Letter to Santa

3. Work on Christmas Cards - the oldest one stuffed the envelopes, and they are in the mail!
4. Get the Christmas Tree
We have a great local tree farm that we love getting to support -  they have amazing trees, and provide the chainsaw, cocoa, chili and candy canes.  There was sunshine, a cold breeze, and good memories.

5. Make a decoration for the house
6. Enjoy a Candy Cane - never a problem!  Yum.

7. Paint Ornaments - We haven't gotten to these yet.  It will be a great project for next week when we are on vacation, though.
8. Make a list of 10 things we are thankful for - This was fun.  We made our lists at dinner time, and some of the highlights were candy canes, paper airplanes, family, fire trucks, chocolate, and the boys' school. 
9. Paint an Ornament for someone else - see #7

10. Share a meal with friends - This was a great get-together, and reminder that there is always  time for friends.  We need to make this happen more often in our non-Advent lives.

11. Go See Santa - The wholehearted belief at this age (3 and 5) is beautiful.  Love watching the innocence and excitement.

12. Drive around and look at Christmas Lights - always a fun way to spend 30 minutes before bed on a Sunday night.  

13. Enjoy a mug of Cocoa - again, a great treat.  
14. Make snowflakes - again, the night got away from us.  I'm learning that craft projects on the weeknights need to be planned for evenings when we are eating leftovers.  We're going to try and get to them tomorrow night, but if not, the weekend will give us time.

So, that's where we are.  Even though it hasn't all gone according to plan, we are enjoying the chance to celebrate the season every day.  And there's a lot more fun ahead!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A fun little decoration...

About a year ago, I stumbled up this tutorial from design sponge. Obviously, it was even old then.  But I filed it away, thinking that the simple nature of it would make a great craft to do with the kids, without it screaming "CHILD CRAFT".  So, when our Advent activity of the day stated we were to create a decoration for the house, I offered the boys a choice - the traditional handprint wreath, or paper ornaments.  Both really wanted to try the paper ornaments -especially if it meant they could use my paper cutter.  I was thrilled too - simple, very little clean-up, and no cost (all supplies on hand). Perfect for a Sunday night while dinner was cooking.

The first thing we did was cut the paper in one inch strips.  Using the paper cutter, which has a very protected blade, both boys were able to do this step - the big one on his own, the little one with just a little assistance moving the paper and applying enough pressure to cut. Once the strips were all cut, I marked the lengths we needed - 1 6", 2 7", 9", and 11" - for a total of 7 strips.  Then each boy took turns choosing the order of the strips for each ornament. I gathered the ends, and they did the stapling.  Ta Da!  Done.  With a little tape and curling ribbon, these are now gracing a window frame.

It was one of those projects I know we will do again.  The ease and ability to be successful appealed to the boys as much as the end result and cost (of both time and materials) appealed to me. Give it a shot - it's a fun one!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Our Advent Calendar...

Growing up, we always has an Advent calendar to help us count down the days until Christmas.  They were usually of the cute Hallmark variety, where each day a paper window was opened and a little picture was revealed.  It didn't matter if it were a kitten or candy canes or Baby Jesus in a manger - the delight was in the anticipation and the surprise.  At the end of the season they disappeared, and we looked forward to the next December 1st when a new one would arrive.

Advent calendars have changed a lot since then.  Now Lego, Playmobil, and many other companies make ones with toys or candy revealed each day.  They are adorable, but I'm not sure they fit the message we wanted to send.  In our home, Advent is the time to prepare for Christmas - both the religious and secular aspects of December 25th.  I wanted a calendar where each day we would be guided through the joy of the season without a lot of extra "stuff" - the holiday itself is filled with enough of that, thankyouverymuch.

So last year I decided that I would make my own.  Originally I started with an idea like this, but began too late (December 12th, to be precise), and abandoned efforts.  Honestly, I'm glad I did.  I love that style, but got to thinking about the years when we are away for days leading up to Christmas.  The portability of our old paper calendars was great - I needed something that could move to wherever we celebrated.

Here's what I came up with:

Getting it all put together was easier than I thought.  I found the ends of IKEA curtain panels that we cut off, and used that for the bag material.  The beauty of it was the 1" side hem of the curtain  was the perfect size for the drawstring top - reusing them saved me a lot of time and cost nothing.  After trying to use fabric paint and stamp numbers, I decided that using my Silhouette was going to give me more of the result I wanted - so these are cut out of their iron-on flocked heat-transfer material.  It was quick and easy, and I didn't have to worry about dry time or spilled paint. Then I sewed ribbon (3 alternating kinds for variety) about 3 inches from the bottom.  With two more quick seams from the serger, the bags were done.

Inside each of the little bags is one of these cards:

 Each has an activity to do for the day - planned out first on my calendar, taking into account other obligations and needs for different days. Here's the list of what's included:

Have a “Getting Ready for Christmas”
Dance Party in the kitchen
Build a snowman – even if there’s no snow
Let’s go see what the animals look like at Christmas time – we’re going to Zoolights!
Get our family Christmas Tree and decorate it
Enjoy a warm mug of hot cocoa
Drive around and look at Christmas lights
Watch a Christmas movie while snacking on some yummy popcorn
Paint Ornaments
Paint an Ornament for a friend
Write a letter to Santa
Make a gift for someone
Yummy, yummy! Candy Canes!
Bake Christmas Cookies and deliver them to someone
Go visit Santa
Help get Christmas cards ready to mail
Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Write a letter to someone you love
Help someone celebrate Christmas
Share a meal with friends
Read Christmas stories by the fire
Make a Christmas decoration for the house
Make a birdfeeder so the birds have something to eat on Christmas
Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows
Make a list of 10 things you are thankful for – and hang it up somewhere where you can see it every day!

 Here's a shot of the bags up close:

Yesterday was our dance party - fairly well received, given that the prime dancer was running a fever of 102-103.  Hopefully today's letter to Santa will be even better! And the great thing?  When we head to my family's house before Christmas, these little bags will untie from the stair banister and come with us. They're flexible, too - each year we can swap out activities for things that are more age appropriate, and get rid of any duds. The ideas we've included are almost entirely free (we do have to buy the tree, but Zoolights comes with our membership and the wooden ornaments for painting were 50 cents each), and have very little "accumulation" with it.  We are able to include both secular and religious activities, and many can be centered around giving to others. I love it - it fits our family.

May the start of your December countdown be merry, in whatever form it takes!

Saying Goodbye...

It's been a tough week around our house.  Last Tuesday evening, my grandmother passed away.

Let's put it this way: goodbyes suck.  Especially when they are the permanent kind. They leave that scratchy feeling in your eyes, the emptiness in the stomach. And while you know that you look normal to the rest of the world, your whole world feels tilted.  The edges of life are sharper, and you want the word "FRAGILE" stamped on your forehead so that people will give you a wider berth.

I miss my Grandma.  I miss her smile and her laugh, the way her eyes lit up when she played with my boys. She spent her whole life taking care of people - first her children, then her mother, then her husband.  The last few years she and my uncle have taken turns taking care of each other through various issues. She never complained.  Never threw the pity party that so many of us in care-giving positions are tempted to throw.   It was her gift, and and she made it look like the most natural thing on earth.

In many ways, my Grandma's life was simple.  Everything she did, she did it the right way, the first time. While the rest of us would speed through dinner, she was always the last one finished, enjoying every bite.  As my cousins and I rapidly colored 2 dozen eggs, she drew the perfect dogwood flower on one egg, taking her time and savoring the experience.  Making lasagna was an all-day undertaking, and it was always fabulous.  And she was a master rose gardener - the type of gardening that requires absolute diligence, care, and patience.

There are so many times in life I rush to get to the next thing on the list or agenda.  That rushing isn't going to give me any more minutes on the planet at the end of my life to kick back and enjoy.   Life still ends.  My grandma was the perfect model of enjoying life by taking each moment as it comes. The beacon of calm amidst a great deal of noise.

I have a lot to learn.