Monday, December 24, 2007

Day 24 - Sharing Bread

In our home we always share bread on Christmas Eve. It's a Polish tradition, and you can get a special wafer called oplatek for the occasion. But we have also used plain bread or crackers when we didn't have the real thing.

Before starting dinner, everyone attending the Christmas Eve celebration gets a piece of wafer and has to share it with everyone else present. Sharing, community, generosity and plenty. This is one of my favorite holiday traditions.

So ends my advent for this year. I hope you've enjoyed following our journey to Christmas. From my home to yours, with love and gratitude for this wonderful community I have found this year. Merry Christmas.

Day 23 - A Walk

I've written about walks before, how they clear your head and energize your body. I have always loved walking and am so happy that we love walking as a family. I love that Sabrina will actually ask to go for a walk, and that we opt out of driving places or doing other activities in favor of just taking a walk.

It's what we did today, after a morning of rain and fog. The air cleared up, the rain turned to mist and the temperature rose. Out we went. Walk walk walk. Bye bye all thoughts of the holidays or Christmas or errands or gifts. We were just a family with nearly two weeks of vacation from work and school ahead of us, some happy people walking (ok, the baby was bouncing in her sling). Stop at the bookstore. Quick pizza for dinner. Home in time for baths and stories. Perfect.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day 22 - The Snow Child

Today we went to see The Snow Child at the Classika Theatre in Shirlingotn, Virgina. My sister came over to be with CC (thank you!) and it was a nice opportunity for Mommy, Daddy and Sabrina to have some special time together. The show was great--a combination play/puppet show and a sweet story.

The Classika Theatre, dedicated to shows for children, only puts on a few a year suitable for three-year olds, and The Snow Child was one of these. Sabrina was totally absorbed by it and could not take her eyes off the Snowflake Queen played by Julia Tasheva. Note for those who live in the DC area: the show last through January 6.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day 21 - The Wrapping Feast

Over wine and little snacks Patrick and I wrapped our gifts--all in one big push. And to make the work a little more meaningful, on the tags we wrote special notes to the recipients of the presents. Our girls can't read and Sabrina will be too excited to listen to us read the notes to her. But the beauty was in the writing, in remembering why we chose each gift and what our hopes are for our children, our loved ones and for each other.

Day 20 - Shopping for Baby

I should have had all my shopping done by now, but I did not. I had been planning, researching, shopping for a lot of people, but one little very very important person on my list had only one gift, and it was a set of prints.. not really something she'll be playing with!

It's hard to shop for a baby who is happy with pretty much anything and already has a dozen beautiful wooden rattles that look like little sculptures. So I did the unthinkable for me this time of year and actually went into a toystore for inspiration. Lucky for me there are a number of very inspiring independent toystores near our home. I immediately saw lots of things CC will enjoy, like felt balls with chimes inside, a pink bilibo, black and white flash cards, fun board books and her own Ugly doll (she loves Sabrina's) with lots of places to grab and chew on. I even found something for Patrick and Sabrina (of course!).

Day 19 - The Elves Were Here!

After days of Sabrina begging to eat, play with and pick candy off her pretty much petrified gingerbread house, Patrick and I came up with a way to get rid of the sweet project. We told Sabrina that we would leave the house in the fireplace and that Santa's elves would come and take the house to Gingerbread Land, where gingerbread people lived in the North Pole. As a thank you they would leave her a little present. She was fine with this, and even more fine when she got her present the next morning--two cookies, one tree-shaped and one present-shaped. Just one problem, Sabrina's been asking to see pictures of Gingerbread Land... so I'm doing lots of online searching to find good pics!

Day 18 - School Party

Today was the last day of preschool before Christmas break, and the children performed some Christmas songs and had a little party for their families. Sabrina was a perfect little hostess, showing us around (again!) and making sure we had lots of gingerbread cookies and popcorn. The performance part of the event was not as fun--Sabrina did not like having so many eyes on her and stuck close to her teacher, avoiding eye contact even with us. Well, at least she did not pick her nose, which is what about half the children in her class were doing by the end of the performance!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day 17 - The Card

Ah, the card. A join effort between Patrick and I, and something that always always gets left for the last moment. A few years ago we started on a yearly LOVE PEACE JOY theme with photos to represent each of those sentiments. The card is still in draft form but at least we got started by sifting through a year's worth of pictures and coming up with a concept. Oh, and I also have envelopes and stamps. So close to getting these to people by the 24th!

Day 16 - Nativity

Today Sabrina and CC received their first shared gift--a little wooden nativity scene. We have a beautiful Spanish nativity set, but it's made of ceramic and fragile, and I really did not want to stress about it getting broken. So I got this adorable and sturdy set. I also got this book that explains the historic and religious reasons for our Christmastime traditions, and so we learned about, acted out and talked about the Nativity story pretty much all day. Telling and retelling and hearing Sabrina tell the story of Jesus made me feel the season a little more deeply. It was also fun to see Sabrina's no-nonsense reenactment of events: "The fairy angel is flying through the air and sees the three kings." Then the "fairy angel" addresses the three kings: "Jesus is born. Do you have the gifts?"

Day 15 - Family and Friends

Every month I get together with my sister and three girlfriends for a girls' night. We take turns hosting dinner and it's something we all look forward to all month and dream about on those days when mothering our young children starts to get the better of us. Tonight my sister hosted a girls' family night, a holiday potluck dinner for the girls and our families. With ten adults, three infants, two toddlers and four preschoolers, it was a great evening of sharing food, ornaments, plans and good wishes. Here's to our family and friends; they put the good + happy into our days.

Day 14 - The Tree

Tonight we got a tree, a lovely fragrant Douglas fir. Sabrina stayed up late to witness the one-hour ordeal that it was to get it straight and solidly planted in its stand. We strung lights, leaving the ornaments for the morning. Then we turned off all the lights, cuddled on the sofa and gazed at this lovely symbol of the holidays. Sabrina thought it was Christmas Eve, so we had to explain that not yet. Although our home looks, smells and feels like Christmas now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day 13 - Santa Lucia

Today is Santa Lucia and to celebrate I got up at 5 am to make traditional buns called Lussekatter. They're made with saffron and raisins and are perfect, yeasty, warm, sweet but not too much. My favorite kind of pastry bun.

Now I know I said I was going to keep it simple, so why am I observing a Swedish tradition? My justification is that we do have some Swedish in our family--my brother's lovely girlfriend is Swedish! Also, I have a love of Swedish things--from Pippi Longstocking and Moomins to IKEA and Marimekko. But if I tell the whole truth, I became obsessed with making these cute buns a while ago and figured that it would be perfect to make them for breakfast on Santa Lucia. Well worth getting up early, and it was nice to fill the house with the smell of baking first thing in the morning.

Here's the recipe I followed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Day 12 - Gingerbread House

Our first gingerbread house! We got together with some friends to decorate the houses, and you would not believe Sabrina's delight, or maybe you would, at seeing a table covered in little bowls of candy. For every piece she stuck on her house she ate about five. Her first taste of marshmallow, gumdrop and red licorice. Can the holidays get any sweeter?

Day 11 - Christmas Books

We brought the Christmas books down from the attic and started reading them. I love these stories dearly and am having so much fun seeing how a year later Sabrina understands them so differently. We spent the coziest afternoon curled up reading about Christmas and introducing CC to her first books about the holidays.

Day 10 - Little Signs of Christmas

Oh, there have been rumblings of Christmas decorating going on, but nothing serious yet. I am holding off until this next weekend--I don't want to be burned out on the tree by the time Christmas comes around. But Sabrina was eager to start decorating so we pulled her cheesy and magical ceramic Christmas tree out of the attic, together with some snowglobes.

She slept with the tree lit up all night as a kind of holiday night light. I have to say it is pretty magical and cozy! Patrick got it last year because he remembered having one like it growing up, and when he brought it home I instantly remembered also having something similar in our home when I was little. Like no other time of year, during the Christmas season I take such joy in just recreating my childhood, for my children and for myself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day 9 - Honey Cake or Piernik

On the 9th day of December we made the cake of my childhood, piernik, or Polish honey cake. The family recipe is all about a teacup of this and a little of that, which seemed risky wihtout my mom around to taste and test. So I searched the web for some authentic recipes and settled on one that called for all honey, no sugar. Sabrina loves honey and was beyond excited to pour nearly two cups of golden oozing honey into the batter.

The cake was delicious, though a tad different from what i remembered. My grandma's recipe called for a little bit of cocoa, so maybe that's the difference? In any case, like all spice cakes and breads, this one got better and better each day. By day three there was just a sliver left and it was perfect with my morning coffee!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Day 8 - Breakfast with Santa

Another thing I love about Sabrina's school is that it takes things that are cheesy and that I dread and turns them into opportunities for building community and encouraging exploration in a safe, nurturing environment. This morning the school organized a Breakfast with Santa event, complete with caroling, story time with Mrs. Claus, Christmas crafts and a delicious potluck breakfast. It certainly beat going to the mall for some holiday cheer!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Day 7 - Paper Snowflakes

The simplest activity in the world and it charmed Sabrina all afternoon. Quite addictive, these snowflakes. We made about twenty of them with no particular purpose in mind, just for the pleasure of seeing how each would unfold. Here's a quick refresher on how to make paper snowflakes for those of you who like me, have not practiced since you were ten.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Day 5 - Keeping it Simple

Today is Saint Nicholas, for some people the official start of the holiday season. My first instinct was of course to DO something about that fact. Order some books, bake cookies shaped like the old guy, bring out shoes to fill with little gifts. None if which was part of my or Patrick's childhood, none of which anyone I know really does. But could I knowingly pass up an opportunity to make a minor fuss over something related to the holidays? I could and I did. I took a deep breath and said, nope, not adopting another tradition no matter how cute. I have enough on my plate celebrating, explaining and making meaningful for my children the Nativity story, the Santa Claus myths and Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Three Kings which is celebrated in Spain and which I really do want to make part of our holiday tradition.

So my way of enjoying the season today is remembering that I don't have to do everything to have a good time. In fact, that I have a better time when I keep it simple.

Plus, today is already a celebration in our family, it's my nephew Nico's nameday. Feliz santo, Nico!

Image from La Legende de Saint Nicolas available on the St. Nicholas Center, a wonderful place to learn more about the real Santa.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Day 5 - Let it Snow!

The weather provided the celebration today with our first snow of the season. It snowed and snowed for hours, light little snowflakes that accumulated just enough to cover the world in white and lend that peaceful stillness to the air. The urge to turn up the holiday tunes and cocoon indoors was strong, but I embraced the outdoorsy side of me, bundled up my children and stepped outside to enjoy a brisk half hour in the backyard. Sabrina made a mini snowman (just about 5 inches tall) and CC experienced her very first snow!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Day 4 - Community Gifts

Through Sabrina's preschool we are donating Christmas gifts to a local children's hospital. There's a little tree in the school lobby bearing paper ornaments with gift ideas on them. I really wanted the donation to be meaningful to Sabrina, so I set aside today to talk about the donation, think about the gifts we wanted to give, purchase them and then take them directly to the school to drop off. It seemed to me keeping it all in one day would help her understand and make the giving tangible.

First we discussed hospitals and illness and how what makes her happy would probably make other children happy too. Sabrina said books, art and blocks make her happiest of all. Books and art have always been her favorites, but blocks are a recent love, and she has been building with them every day for a week now. I pushed a little more and asked her which books make her coziest, especially when she is not feeling good. She had a bad cold last week so could relate.

In the afternoon we got Kitten's First Full Moon and Zen Shorts, a big box of Melissa and Doug blocks similar to the ones she has, and a bunch of art supplies and craft kits at our local toystore.

The gifts can't be wrapped, but we taped little tags to them explaining why Sabrina loves the gift herself. For Zen Shorts she said "This book is about children and a bear who are happy. It is a story and pictures that will make you happy." I wrote, she added a big smiley face. So starts another nice tradition, I hope.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Day 3 - Jingle Bells

Can anything make you cozier than some perfectly selected holiday music? Last year Patrick made a fantastic holiday file on our computer so we could listen to days of uninterrupted songs with no repetition. I started playing from the file today. Elvis' I'll be Home for Christmas. The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Unrecognizable person singing a fine version of Jingle Bells. The Three Tenors doing The First Noel. New Age renditions by Windham Hill and jazz versions of old favorites. More and more I enjoy modern versions of my favorite carols, and luckily there is no lack of new albums out there. Black Eiffel has a nice list.

Sabrina is not always open to new music, but she must remember these from other years or from the womb, because she just went about her business with an extra spring in her step, kind of dancing around as she did things. And CC, hearing all of these tunes for the first time was delighted, bopping in her highchair. Must be in the blood, love of Christmas music. I twirled in the kitchen. We were straight out of a holiday romantic comedy when Patrick stepped in from the cold.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Day 2 - Snow Globe

With that gray chill in the air signaling possible snow, today was the perfect day to work on the snowglobe that I got for Sabrina a while ago. It's supposed to be a double sided snow globe picture frame, but we used it to inserted two small collages. Sabrina drew a snowman, a Christmas tree and a hat for the snowman, then I cut them all out. Then she glued them onto the contrasting paper, the tree for one side and the snowman for the other. Very fun, simple project with nice results... and if we tire of the design, we can start over as many times as we want this season. But for now, the globe sits on Sabrina's shelf and she keeps reaching for it from her bed to shake.

To tie off the theme, we read The Snowglobe Family, a book about a tiny family that lives in a snowglobe and the real family that owns the snowglobe. It's a great book with cute pictures that puts the whole family into the coziest of moods.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Day 1 - Fresh Start

I am not one to start decorating on the first of December--by Christmas I would be sick to death of it all. So we typically start by cleaning up and weeding out. I write about weeding a lot, don't I? It's just never ever done! Around the Christmas season so many things come into our home--gifts from others, gifts for others, gifts for each other, cards, wrapping paper, treats. I expect December to be a very productive time at Sabrina's preschool too and need to make room for new art. So it just makes so much sense to start with a clean slate.

We already had a bunch of bags to donate from a pre-Thanksgiving raid on stuff. Also a bag of stuffed animals I had hidden in the attic about a month ago to see if they were missed. They have not, so it's bye-bye to them. Today we worked on toys and books. No hard decisions, I would never make Sabrina give up something she enjoyed. So we were just moving out some things outgrown, never used, no longer used. The toys really boil down to: books, blocks, cooking, jewelry, dolls and doll accessories, animals, puzzles, musical instruments, art supplies (galore!), a few board games, and some other items like binoculars, a kaleidoscope, etc. We kept only the best in each category and most loved.

Sabrina was fine with what we were giving away and her room now looks like the colorful but minimalist space where her imagination could soar that I had originally envisioned and that it was for a short time. And now I can also see how a dollhouse or some other large Christmas gift might fit into her remaining collection of toys. CC's things too got a weeding--how many rattles can one baby have? I kept only the really great ones.

I also took some time during naps to take back my home after my four days of being a sicky. I tidied up, cleaned some, moved things back where they belong. Patrick did yard work that he had not gotten to since he was taking care of the girls while I was sick. So we ended the first day of December with a tidy, weeded, raked, bagged home. Oh, and a piece of gingerbread each! Not too early for that.


Well hello there! And so sorry for the long silence. First there was Thanksgiving, which we spent happily in New Jersey and New York City with family. But right after returning, I got sick and have been sick sick sick all week, with four whole days spent in bed, not reading or blogging or watching TV, just kind of out of it. I had to reserve my energy to nurse CC and chat with Sabrina and it took all of my motherly love to muster up the force for those moments.

But today I woke better and feel like I'm back from a long trip, ready to embrace my old life and also start all kinds of things. Funny that it should also be the start of a month, always a favorite time for me, and also the start of the time of Advent, such a lovely, warm, optimistic time. So many of you have already started writing so eloquently on the holiday season and sharing such inspiring ideas I cannot wait to try.

I had this little idea as I was picking out the advent calendar for Sabrina that leading up to Christmas I would do my own Good + Happy Day advent calendar--each day I'll mention one little thing we're doing to celebrate the season. I'll post my first day shorty... I'm so glad to be back! I missed writing!