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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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The Nutcracker Ballet

 

I think that little girls are hardwired to love ballet.  Maybe it’s the costumes, maybe the very beautiful dancers, the music … who can really say?  All I know is, I loved it when I was a kid, and tonight, my girls (ages 5 and 2) are GLUED to the TV watching  PBS’s Programming of the San Fransisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker. More information can be found here .

The thing that intrigued me is that this particular production was set it in San Fransisco 1915, during the World’s Fair, which made it unique and visually stunning.  The production was choreographed by Helgi Tomasson, and scenic design by Michael Yeargan.

Here is a video snippet from it –

This is a link to a very informative ten minute video that PBS produced about the history of the 1915 World Fair.

Dance in America: San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker – Video: The 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco | Great Performances.

For any of you locals to SLC, it’s on KBYU 11 tomorrow night (December 24th, 2010) at 1 am in case you’re up late wrapping Christmas presents or want to record it for your little ones.  Just a little Christmas treat – enjoy!

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Handel’s Messiah

As promised, I wanted to write in more detail about Handel’s Messiah in connection with the Christmas season and the previous post about George Frideric Handel in the composers section, then I read an article that perfectly stated the things that I wanted to share, and added much more.  An excerpt from it is as follows:

After all the music he had composed throughout his lifetime, Handel would eventually be known worldwide for this singular work, Messiah,largely composed in just three weeks during the late summer of 1741. Upon completing his composition, he humbly acknowledged, “God has visited me.”5 Those who feel the touch of the Holy Spirit as they experience the overpowering testimony of Handel’s Messiah would agree.

To the sponsors of the first performance of the oratorio, Handel stipulated that profits from this and all future performances of Messiah “be donated to prisoners, orphans, and the sick. I have myself been a very sick man, and am now cured,” he said. “I was a prisoner, and have been set free.”6

Following the first London performance of Messiah, a patron congratulated Handel on the excellent “entertainment.”

“My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them,” Handel humbly replied. “I wish to make them better.”7

The full article, Handel and the Gift of Messiah, by Elder Spencer J. Condie can be found here and is well worth a read.

Then today, I had a discussion with a friend about the Messiah, and he said that he didn’t know it.  I sang a few bars from the Hallelujah Chorus, which of course he had heard.  So, in honor of that friend, I will post a few of my favorite pieces from that Oratorio.

If you ever go to a Messiah sing-along, they are amazing!  The entire Messiah can be as long as three hours, (there are 52 movements, or sections, total) and it typically is performed by an Orchestra and Soloists, and the Audience sings with the soloists on the major ensemble pieces.  Here is a site that lists the movements and the text for each of the sections.

I’ll just share a few of the more familiar parts of the Oratorio –

For Unto Us a Child is Born the text comes from Isaiah 9:6 This is a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Hallelujah Chorus the text comes from Revelation 19:6, Revelation 11:15, Revelation 19:16.  This is a Flash Mob performance at the The Welland Seaway Mall, in Niagara Falls, Canada on November 13, 2010.  I chose this performance because I was truly touched by the emotion of  both the singers and the observers in the mall.

I Know that My Redeemer Liveth the text comes from Job 19:25-26.  I searched for a video that I thought did it justice, and though this is just a live recording, I love the ethereal sound of the soprano and the way that her voice sounds with the acoustics is just lovely.  It was sung by soprano Luísa Kurtz, accompanied by the UCS Orchestra on December 12, 2007, Catedral de Santa Teresa, Caxias do Sul, RS – Brazil.

(There is also an up-tempo, “pop” performance by Sister Gladys Knight.  I love it because she is singing her testimony.)

Some other lovely movements from this work are:

  • Comfort Ye My People
  • O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion
  • Glory to God in the Highest
  • Worthy is the Lamb and AMEN
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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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And an Orange Peel on a Christmas Tree (sung to the tune of 12 days of Christmas)

Last week we went to dinner at the *Moseman’s house, (*name changed to protect the innocent, and not so innocent :)).  After a great dinner, we were sitting around eating “cutie” oranges (the kind that are so easy to peel).  The kids (five of them ages 6-18) were peeling their oranges in really elaborate designs.  Later, I saw that the peel was on the Christmas tree, and I laughed about it, until I noticed that there were a lot of peels on the Christmas tree.

When I pressed the issue, I was told that the girls of the family decorated the tree in orange peels this year.  I love it!  I love that the kids are allowed to do their wacky ideas in that house.  The thing that’s really amazing about this family is that the father and grandfather build airplanes.  Not model airplanes, but real two passenger airplanes in the barn in their backyard.

Yeah, as in “See ya later Ma, I’m  just going to go out and build an airplane with Dad, be back for dinner!”

We had the dinner with the Mosman Grandparents and the grand matriarch, let’s call her Maggie, asked me to look at a book that her daughter had written and illustrated.  The design of the children’s book took my breath away, and even more shocking was the fact that this daughter had written it when she was a teenager.

The house was full of inventions, design, and creativity.  I asked Maggie how she taught her children to be so creative, and she said that it was because she and her husband were creative.  But I need to add that these people were not just the “idea” type of  people, but the “doing” people as well.  The couple possessed the twin virtues of vision and work ethic – and the kids followed suit.

I told Maggie a little about my oldest daughter (who calls herself an artist).  Maggie told me that in order to encourage her, I should go to the store, buy some mats, and frame her work.

A couple of days later, my daughter drew a picture for me and wrapped it up as a present.  I took Maggie’s advice, and bought a frame.  When I showed the frame to “J”, she looked like her five-year-old heart would burst with joy and gave me a gigantic hug.

When I asked the Orange Peel father (Maggie’s son) about writing this post and how often the girls decorate for holidays, he said that they are fanatic about it, “doing up the home” with wonderful wacky children mayhem for every holiday.  I asked if he was OK with it, and he said, “you think I could stop them?”

I guess orange peels on the tree serve a grand purpose after all, your kids just  might end up being  the next Wright Brothers!

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Reindeer Thumb-print Cards

Today I was babysitting my nieces, which seems to always turn into craft time.  They were getting tired of just making collages (one of my favorite things to have kids do, because it’s simple and creative. :))

So, I got out a craft magazine that had some instructions for simple Christmas cards, and I pulled out some craft items that made their eyes POP out with excitement.

In the magazine, there were three thumb-print reindeer, Rudolph in the middle.  Each one had mini googly eyes and a miniature pom-pom for the nose.

I had neither googly eyes, nor pom-poms.

I asked the girls what they would do to finish out the project.  I love making crafts in which I don’t need to follow every detail of the template.  You get the most creative ideas that way from the kids, and they feel empowered to create!

So, here is my attempt at the card (are you ready for cheesy?)

Outside of the card

Inside the card (click on file to see more detail).

Other ideas for Rudolph and friends?

How about ideas for thumb-print cards?

(I saw some really cute snowman thumb-prints once.  I’ll have to replicate here sometime.)

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Another Fun Birthday Idea

Have a “Nature” theme party. Put masking tape around each child’s wrist and have them go outside and get certain things to put on their tape ie pieces of grass, rocks, flower petals etc. when they are done they have a nature bracelet. Then have each child paint a pretty good sized rock. Hide their painted rocks in the yard and have them find them like a treasure hunt.

Thanks so much to Jamie for those great ideas!

Now that I think about it, I’m going to put up an email address in case you’d like to contact me, but don’t want to leave a comment.  Please feel free to send ideas, suggestions, requests, etc.

laryssa2@juno.com