Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Winter is Creaping In

Winter has started to make an occasional appearance.  Our family hasn't experienced much winter weather (or a true winter for that matter) for the past several years, so we are excited.  I love different aspects of each season, but winter used to be my least favorite.  Now, I crave the chance to draw inward that this season creates.  We spend so much of the warmer months outdoors, the chance to cozy up inside is a welcome change.

The rhythm of our days changes with the season.  In the summer, we're up and at 'em quickly.  We're finding that the chilly mornings cause us to linger in bed longer...usually all piled together in our big bed, squeezing in every chance we can get to snuggle with our sweet babies while they still want to cuddle with us.  Some mornings it hits me that these years are limited and I am so happy that we have the time and chance to soak them in while they are still upon us.

And when we can no longer deny our rumbling bellies, it's into the kitchen we go.  Cold mountain mornings call for a hot breakfast, prepared by little helping hands.

Oh yes, I do love these cold mountain mornings and the memories they create.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advent Preparations

Can you believe this week is Thanksgiving week?!  And this year Thanksgiving falls late, so Advent starts in one week.  One week.  When I realized this on Friday, I also realized I needed to get to work on planning our Advent activities!

Advent is a big deal around here.  This will be our third year using our Advent bags.  Two years ago I made 25 small fabric bags (I don't know why, but I included one for Christmas morning also).  I intended to add felt numbers to them, but the thought of cutting out that many numbers isn't all that appealing to me, not to mention all the other crafts going on around the holidays...so needless to say it's not happening again this year.  We pin each bag on a piece of rope and each morning we take an activity out of a bag.  The first year the activities were very simple since the kids were only one and two, but last year we did a lot more crafting activities.  I didn't want our countdown to just be a small piece of candy or include 24 small junky toys.  I wanted the activities to inspire giving, creativity, and the spirit of the holidays. 

This year Mannchen and Töchterchen are more capable artistically and in other ways and we're in a new location, so I've kept a few favorites, but also made quite a few changes.  We will not visit Santa this year.  I have no problem with the kids believing in Santa - I love the element of magic and wonder he adds to the holidays.  What I don't like is he becomes a symbol of wanting/wishing/begging for more material gifts.  I think too much focus on Santa and the gifts he's going to bring detracts from more important aspects of the season - the birth of Christ, giving to those in need, and spreading our joy.  Besides, our kids think Santa only brings one gift to each child and I'm trying to keep out influences that ask "What do you want for Christmas?", after which they respond with one item, and then the adult follows up with, "That's it?  What else?".  Sorry folks, money doesn't grow on trees and that's not what Christmas is all about.

Another thing we've changed this year is we will only put our homemade ornaments on the Christmas tree.  Since we are in a small apartment, I thought it would make the set-up/clean-up easier if almost all our decorations and ornaments are ones that we will make as the season progresses.  When we celebrate Epiphany, we won't have much to pack away (my least favorite part). 

Without further delay, here is the list for this year:

1 - Decorate for Christmas! (i.e. Put up the tree and lights)

2 - Make Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments.  This is an activity we've done since year one.  We keep it a little bit more simple than Martha - just cut out various Christmas shapes and leave them plain.  My sweet friend Elizabeth introduced this craft to us and it is delightful.  While the ornaments bake in the oven, the entire house (or compact apartment) is filled with a wonderful Cinnamon aroma.

3 -  Spread Christmas cheer with a random act of kindness.  I still haven't decided what we will do, but it will probably involve sharing baked goods or purchasing an Angel Tree gift.

4 - Make Gingerbread cookies.  We will use some to make our Gingerbread mobiles and we will decorate some for St. Nicholas.

5 - Make snowflake ornaments.  I wouldn't say this was an all time favorite, but it was simple and I happen to have all the supplies leftover from last year.

6 - St. Nicholas Day!  It also happens to be the Christmas parade.  We will go to the parade, then come home to read St. Nicholas stories, drink hot chocolate, and leave St. Nicholas and his horse cookies.  The kids also put out their shoes and a letter for St. Nicholas.  During the night, he comes and leaves a small gift for each of them and a reminder to spread love and share their giving spirit all season long.

7 - Make Gingerbread Houses.  Last year my MIL gave us two kits.  The kits were very convenient, but we may strike out on our own this year and make them from scratch.  I highly recommend having the house pre-made and just letting the little ones decorate it.  The prep work was fun to do with the hubby.

8 - Make outdoor ice ornaments like these or these.

9 - String together a button garland or felted wool ball garland (if I can find our already made wool balls).

10 - Make salt dough ornaments.  We make the ornaments in the morning and paint them in the afternoon.

11 - Make natural garlands using cranberries, apples, and oranges.

12 - Birdseed birdfeeders using apples and pinecones.

13 - Beeswax dipped pinecones

14 - Another random act of kindness day

15 - Beeswax star bunting

16 - Handprint nativity craft...because you need at least one handprint craft each year to look back on years from now and remember how sweet and little their hands once were.

17 - Make Grandparent gifts - no peeking Oma, Mimi, Baba or Papa!!!!  This is a bit ambitious for one day, so maybe I should say we are going to start making this gift!  Luckily tomorrow is a low key day, so it can carry over from one day to the next.

18 - Make hot chocolate "to-go" and drive around looking at Christmas lights

19 - Make holiday soaps.  We have a wide variety of essential oils, but the peppermint and rosemary is a favorite during the holidays.

20 - Visit a live Nativity

21 - Celebrate the winter solstice!  I haven't completely settled on what our traditions surrounding the solstice will be but I think it may include ice lanterns (make them in the morning, use them in the evening), take a hike (to soak in the winter weather), and a warm hearty soup/stew for dinner.

22 - Make a snowman pizza and watch a Christmas movie. 

23 - Make Gingerbread pancakes and wrap family gifts...or if we had skip any other days, make up for it today

24 - Bake Christmas cookies and open an early gift (Christmas PJs, a book, and maybe Christmas mugs if I can find child size ones at the thrift store by then).

25 - CHRISTMAS!!! and family time!

Sometimes life gets the best of us and I have to go easy on myself for a day here and there.  Last year I realized planning ahead helped a ton, but there are still unexpected difficult days.  On those days I'm thankful my kids can't read and I can swap out the planned activity for something easier (like hot chocolate with LOTS of marshmallows! or go to the library and find as many Christmas books as possible or make Christmas pancakes for dinner).  But all in all, this is quickly becoming my favorite part of the holiday season and I love the memories we are making!
How do you celebrate Advent and the holiday season?  I'd love to hear about your family's traditions.  Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day or the Winter solstice?  If so, how do you set those days apart from the rest of the seasonal excitement?

Friday, November 22, 2013

{ this moment }

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
 Inspired by Soule Mama.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sharing Our Light

"The sunlight fast is dwindling,
My little lamp needs kindling.
It's beam shine far in the darkest night,
Dear lantern, guard me with your light."
This past week we celebrated Martinmas.  The actual day of Martinmas is November 11th, but we waited until Friday to celebrate.  I wanted two full weeks for the tale of St. Martin and this sweet story to sink into Mannchen and Töchterchen's heart and being.

Martinmas is one of the celebrations honored in Waldorf schools and celebrates St. Martin of Tours.  St. Martin was honored for his peacefulness and generosity - two extremely important qualities to embrace entering into the holiday season.  This was our first year celebrating and for the past two weeks I spent some time each day talking to the kids about what generosity is and how to show kindness towards others.  I told them the story about how St. Martin cut his cloak in half, to share with a cold beggar and we talked about what we have that we can share with others in need or who have less than us.  We discussed how his love and kindness brought warmth to others and how we can both find and provide warmth in the coming cold months.

We spent a little time each day this week working on making our own paper lanterns - to take our light out into the cold darkness of the world.  I found several tutorials on Pinterest and so many more ideas for the years to come.  We used thick watercolor paper to make our lanterns.  On Monday we painting them, Tuesday we oiled them, Wednesday we cut and glued them, Thursday we added handles, and Friday we had our lantern walk before dinner (in their PJs).  On Friday morning we also made Pumpkin muffins to share with our neighbors and family.  (The neighbors ended up not being home when we went and I never anticipated that the kids would be so disappointed!  They were so sweet and ready to share their love and light.)  We also learned the song "This Little Light of Mine".

All ready to walk with our lanterns!

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine. let it shine!"
Happy Martinmas to everyone.  We wish you a holiday season filled with light, love, and warmth.
Do you celebrate Martinmas?  What are your favorite traditions?

Friday, November 15, 2013

{ this moment }

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

 Inspired by Soule Mama.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Handmade Christmas

It's going to be a very handmade Christmas around here for sure.  Partially because it can save money, but mostly because it just brings us joy.  Of course, over the past few days it suddenly occurred to me that it is November, and after November is December...which means it's time to get to work!

I can't share with you all that I have planned for this year, but here are a few glimpses of how I will spend my evenings over the next month and a half.

Do you make your own gifts for friends and family?  What are you working on this year? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Therapeutic Mornings

When I started baking bread, I relied on my stand mixer for every bit of kneading I possibly could.  But over the past two years, I've fallen in love with the process of baking bread and have come to find a therapeutic quality to kneading bread.  It used to be the most dreaded step in the whole process for me, in fact I didn't bake bread for years because of the kneading (it just took so long).  But now, on weeks when I need a little "therapy", I set my alarm extra early on Wednesdays and rise before the rest of the house to sneak in a little time alone in the kitchen. 
This morning was one of those mornings that happens so infrequently, but replenishes my soul in a way that is beyond my understanding.  Just me, a cup of coffee, and a fresh batch of dough.  
Taking it from this ragged mess....
to this smooth ball of nourishment for my family.

Monday was Martinmas and while we will be celebrating with our lantern walk a bit later in the week, we wish you all a blessed Martinmas and hope you are able to carry the warmth and giving spirit of St. Martin with you throughout this holiday season. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

{ this moment }

{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

 Inspired by Soule Mama.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pumpkin Season

The folks around here LOVE pumpkins. 
First I was the lone pumpkin lover in the house.  Then we had kids and they joined in my affection for the most beautiful and tasty aspect of fall.  This year I think we even managed to convert hubby over to our side!
For the past three weeks we have been crafting, carving, and eating pumpkins as much as humanly possible.  I highly recommend these recipes for pumpkin dinner rolls, pumpkin muffins (just cut the sugar back to 1/2 cup), and pumpkin scones
I am very sad to report that we were unable to visit a pumpkin patch this year.  The patches here are only open on weekends and this year our October weekends were taken up with sick days, company, and travel.  At least we have a few volunteer mini-pumpkins grow in our garden before we moved - which we harvested before leaving.  In a way we did grow and pick pumpkins, we just did it back in July.  And the four that are still good are in a bowl on our nature table to remind us!

So many beautiful fall gifts from nature - acorns (which we glued onto a foam tree to make an "acorn tree"), massive maple leaves, walnuts, pumpkins, and a few other treasures the kids have picked up on our walks.
Our verse for the past few weeks came out of a Highlights magazine the kids get.  They loved it, but I didn't write it out on our chalkboard this time because it's a little too long to fit on the small board we use.
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate,
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late!".
The second one said, "There's a chill in the air".
The third one said, "I don't care."
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!".
The fifth one said, "I'm ready for some fun!".
Ohh, ohh, went the wind, out went the lights,
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.
I wish I had much better pictures to share with you of some of the crafts we did, but my camera really, truly is on its last leg now.  Sometimes the buttons won't work, other times I can't get the flash to work....so I did what I could to get a few basic shots of the kids artwork.  We were so excited about each craft, which makes it even more fun to share!
I picked this wood cutouts up at Michael's on clearance last year.  The kids used watercolors to paint them orange.  Mannchen also insisted on a green stem for his.

Another day we went on a nature walk and collected some small feathers, leaves, and assorted sticks.  I added some lentils and small shell pasta to the mix and let the kids make a jack-o-lantern with their findings.  Mannchen's is on the left - the eyes are a small shell pasta, the leaf is the nose, and the feather is the mouth...then he elaborately decorated the cheeks to "make it pretty for mama".  That little boy sure is a sweetheart.  Töchterchen had a grand time just gluing whatever, wherever.  She was so proud and carried it all over the house for a few days. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of it right away and many of her decorations fell off when she was toting it around.  Let's just say she is "a little" upset about how it looks now.

Another day we did wet-on-wet watercolor painting - first they painted the paper red, then we added the yellow to create orange.  Both kids loved seeing how the colors combine to make another color.  After everything was dry, I cut out pumpkin shapes and we drew jack-o-lantern faces on them.  Töchterchen really enjoyed coloring the faces.  With two of the larger pumpkin shapes, I punched holes around the outside so the kids could use them as a sewing card.  Mannchen wasn't as interested this time, but Töchterchen was very focused.  She let me help her, so she could practice doing a straight stitch, instead of looping it around the sides and going all over the place.  She really enjoys anything that involves sewing - I can't wait to teach her more as she gets older!

Since the first watercolor, color blending activity went so well, I decided to try a more complex painting activity with the kids.  I found this pumpkin painting story online.  As I told the story to the kids, there were times for them to paint with certain colors.  It was really neat to combine the painting, color blending, and story telling together for the first time.  I was nervous about how it would go, especially with Töchterchen (she's still a few days shy of turning three, so she is young).  But they gave me their full attention and it turned out great!  It's the orange pumpkin, surrounded by blue sky, and a green vine around the pumpkin or on the ground (the green didn't show up well in the pictures, damn you camera!).  I do recommend only giving them one color of paint at a time and only letting them have access to it when it's time for them to paint.  If I had left all the colors open in front of them the entire time, I'm sure it would have been a free for all with much less focus. 

The kids also made jack-o-lantern faces at MOPS one week!
Two precious, happy kids with our fall/pumpkin books.  The Very Best Pumpkin and Pumpkins are ones we got at our library last year and enjoyed enough that I bought copies for our house.

The kids and hubby also went to our new library and found some new Halloween books.  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything is a new favorite.  I think we will have to add it to our collection.  It's about a little old lady who meets all the different parts of a scarecrow (boots, pants, shirt, gloves, hat, pumpkin head) while walking in the woods at night.  Each part makes a different noise - so the story involves a lot of repetition involving those noises.  Töchterchen loved helping tell that part of the story.
We spent a few mornings cutting out other Halloween shapes - bats, ghosts, and more pumpkins - which the kids enjoyed taping up all over the apartment.  Mannchen is getting really good with scissors.  I traced these bats for him and he cut them out!  I'm constantly amazed at what a four year old is capable of!  It's definitely a constant lesson in how capable he is now and learning how to let go so he can grow and flourish - a whole other topic I hope to blog about soon, but I'm still in the process of gathering my thoughts and attempting to make them sound coherent to others. 
What have you been up to lately?  How did you prepare for Halloween and the fall season?  I'd love to hear about your favorite pumpkin activities!

Linking up this week with Crafty Moms Share.