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Christmas Advent Calendars

I love Christmas countdown traditions.  From easy ones like paper chains, to elaborate homemade countdown items.  This post will look into some Countdown Ideas that will help children, old and young, anticipate that special day.

Missy's Advent Calendar

 Muffin-Tin Advent Calendar

My dear friend Missy Glancy, put this one together for our Relief Society Super Saturday Activity (it’s a gathering where woman from our church sit down and make homemade items).  It’s basically a muffin tin in which you can insert small gifts or slips of paper listing activities that you and your children can do together that day.  You cover each tin with a piece of decorated card-stock, and those papers are held onto the tin with a small magnet.

Missy said that this is a very easy set-up.  She puts in some big activities (going to see the lights) and some small ones (reading a Christmas story or watching a Christmas movie).  If one day they are not able to do an activity that they had planned, she can switch it out for an simpler one.

A Stocking Countdown Calendar

Disney's Family Fun Advent Idea

For this next one, I turn to Disney’s Family Fun Magazine.  Their idea is quite festive and fun – if you can find the right socks. 😉  You basically fill a sock for each day until Christmas with a treat, small present, or activity.  These socks are hung with clothespins across a piece of yarn, twine, or small rope.

The magazine also presented some fun stocking ideas for each day –

  • “Get Out of Chores Free” or “Pick a Movie Rental” cards — each good for one use!
  • A puzzle distributed in pieces among the socks; kids can put it together over the course of the month
  • Trading or sports cards
  • Special coins such as foreign currency or a silver dollar — chocolate coins are always a hit too!
  • Music or other gift cards
  • Jokes or riddles (stick the punch line in the next day’s sock; see AZKIDSNET.COM for ideas)
  • A game (a Mad Libs or Sudoku a day)
  • Art supplies, such as a mini paint kit and pad
  • A special ornament to add to the tree
  • A new pair of socks. 

You can see the full article here. 

Paper Chains

Simple Paper Chain

This can be as simple or elaborate as you wish it to be.

Instructions –

  1. Cut up 24 pieces of paper (red and green construction, beautiful wrapping paper, crafting paper that matches your Christmas theme, or even beautiful Christmas ribbon).
  2. Wrap the first one into a circle and secure the ends together with tape or glue.
  3. Insert the next paper through the first and secure the ends of that link together.
  4. Continue with all of the papers until you have a paper chain.
  5. You can hang it horizontally across a wall or vertically by a door.
  6. Cut off one chain each day until Christmas.

You can do the following to “spice it up” if you’d like, or leave it as simple as the chain –

  • Write an activity on the papers (do this before you begin to link them).
  • Make a treasure hunt out of them.
  • Write a Christmas poem on the links.
  • Choose a person to contact (letter, phone call, card, etc.) or serve each day.  Write their name on the chain links and have fun with your family doing (RAKs) random acts of kindness for a new person each day.

Mom's Advent Calendar

Wilhelm Family Advent Calendar

When we were little, my Mom made this calendar at a RS meeting.  I have such fond memories of it.  We’d pin the little sequinned felt ornaments on the little tree, starting with a star on the first and Santa Claus on the twenty-fourth.  Then a couple of years ago, my mom gave each of us (each of her four children’s families) an advent calender that she had handmade.  She said that she couldn’t get the little sequins on the calendar any other way but by hand sewing each piece.  It was one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received.

The great thing is, I can incorporate any of these ideas in those little pockets for my family.

Other Family Countdown Traditions

Chocolate Advent Calendar

We love the German Advent chocolate countdown calendars.  Each day you pen a door and find a piece of lovely chocolate inside.  When I was a young girl, we lived in Germany and my parents bought each child a Chocolate calendar.  I remember having a friend over and for some reason, we were hanging out in my brother’s room.  She and I ate all of my brother’s calendar chocolate. There is something much more satisfying (surprisingly enough) to savor these each day, rather than gobbling the whole calendar of stolen chocolate in one sitting.

My girls love these calendars and I even buy one for my husband each year.  The women at his work tease him, “What are you five?”  but, as I said before, countdowns are about helping children, both old and young look forward to that special day.

What do you and your family do to countdown to Christmas?

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Homemade Gifts, Treats, and Other Delights

 

Yesterday I went to a store (not naming any names) and was wholly drawn in by their sale on Christmas items.

I began to muse about  friends and what they’ve done for gifts, etc.  For example, my sister Fiona (yes, just like the Princess on Shrek) gives away homemade jewelry.

Really beautiful bracelets, earrings, etc.  So whenever she has a little extra money, she goes into a craft store and buys some of the materials.   Then, when she needs a gift, feels like someone needs a little “pick-me-up”, or wants to brighten a day, she has a truly lovely present.  She’s taught herself to do it, and I’m amazed at the creativity that goes into her gifts.  Sometimes, I’ll walk up to a friend who is wearing her jewelry and say, “Are you wearing a Fiona original?”

Some people do this with blankets – crocheting, knitting, tying a fleece blanket (here’s a great site that gives instructions for fleece blankets – babies LOVE to play with the tassels).

My cousin Jana made me a hat and scarf one year that I still wear to this day because I LOVE it sooo much!

My sisters-in-law are fabulous at giving homemade, heartfelt gifts.  Here are a couple of them –

The girls each got a piggy-bank from Aunt Heather when they were born. 🙂

Aunt Heidi made a nativity that the girls, and especially younger children love to play with.  My two year old organized them this way and was really upset that one of the sheep is missing  (I think it’s under the tree in our mess of presents and Christmas books :)).

Another gift that I really treasure is a hand painted Christmas card that I got from a friend in Bulgaria that has since passed away.  We bonded because he was from Germany and I lived there when I was little.

It means so much that he put the time and effort into it, for me.

Alas, my homemade contributions seem to be at a minimal these days, due to a crazy schedule.  But, whenever I need to bring anything to a get-together, my pantry is always stocked with the ingredients for Snickerdoodles and Lemon Squares.  Somehow, “from scratch” always tastes better.

Here’s one of them (I wrote about it in an earlier post) –

Snickerdoodles

(From The Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook, aka “The Plaid Bible” :))

1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (or ¾ tsp lemon juice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 375 ° F.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium for 30 seconds.  Add the 1 c sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar.  Beat until combined scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour.  Cover and chill dough until easy to handle if too soft.

3.  Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll them in the cinnamon –sugar mixture to coat.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake 10 to 11 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

I usually double this recipe when I need to take it to a party.  Cream of tartar works best (found in the spices of most grocery stores) but you can use lemon juice in a pinch.  Very kid friendly – they love to help put ingredients in the bowl, roll the dough, and then coat the dough balls in cinnamon and sugar.

 

 

Do you have a talent/skill for homemade gifts?  If so, what do you do?

What can you teach your children about giving, and how?

What are some gifts that they can do/have on hand that will help them feel good about developing talents and giving?

What have you received that has been meaningful?

What are some other ideas that you have?

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The Christmas Present – Barbie Dresses

The Elizabethan outfit.

The Elizabethan outfit.

So here is the beautiful dress that I made for my daughter for Christmas.  I love it, but it was a lot of work.  I was going to do this project with three other women, but we each finished one dress and were done.

Here is the one that my sister made –

The Magical Fairy Dress
The Magical Fairy Dress

My daughter seemed to love this one more than the one that I made for her – ugh!  It is lovely.  I give my congratulations to my Sister who said that she couldn’t sew. This proves that determination, perserverance, and a little imagination can work wonders.

I do plan on making some more.  It was a rewarding project.  Here are some things that I liked about it.
The patterns weren’t too expensive (varies in the $5-$20 range).  You can get doll patterns from most sewing stores (in their pattern catalouges) or from the websites of the major pattern companies – Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, etc.  The website that I really recommend is – http://momspatterns.com/home. She has a lot of beautiful vintage Barbie patterns that are out of stock.
Another thing that I liked about the project was that I didn’t have to buy a lot of expensive material. I simply cut up old dress-ups that my daughter had but was unable to wear any more (such as the lovely maroon party dress that got a gob of gum down the front.)  The material is wonderful and because the Barbie is smaller (dur!) I can reuse a lot of the fabric.
The dresses became easier once the initial learning period was over.  We didn’t do more at the time because Christmas is a silly time to take on huge projects with so many other things going on!

I love the lace trim on this one.

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Scarlet O’Hara & Christmas Ideas

My three and a half year old daughter has suddenly discovered the world of Barbie Dolls.  She wants to play with them all of the time.  The problem is, I can’t seem to find a lot of clothes for her dolls, and the ones that I do find are cheaply made and thus on the verge of falling apart, or really trashy (Barbie looks like a woman that I would never have my girl hang out with).  I remembered back to my childhood.  My grandmother had some Barbies that her girls had used.  They had made homemade outfits –  a lot of beautiful 1950’s poodle skirts and other outfits from the day. The dress that I loved the most, the one that I have the greatest memory of was a Scarlett O’Hara dress from Gone with the Wind.  It was GORGEOUS, complete with a hat.  Well, it left quite an impression on me.  I LOVED dressing the dolls up in those lovely outfits and wished that I had them at home. 

So, this Christmas, some friends and I are going to make Barbie dresses – big, beautiful, period dresses.  I scoured the Internet looking for patterns and realized that I wouldn’t even need to spend oodles on material.  I have quite a few lovely dress-up dresses that cannot be salvaged as a little girl dress, but will be perfect for a little girl’s dolls.