Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Fall Leaves

Immaculate Conception Novena: Day 2

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God - the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being his beloved mother. By the power of his Cross, he preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.
I pray first of all that you would make me worthy to call you my mother and your Son, Jesus, my Lord.
I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.
Hail Mary...
Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests...
(Mention your intentions)
My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God's will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God's grace with humility like you.
As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!
Hail Mary...

Follow along with - you will receive a daily email reminder of the current novena, along with the prayer and some words of reflection.

Also, the St. Andrew Christmas Novena begins today and ends on Christmas Eve. Check out this beautiful prayer (printable prayer cards)!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. States Study: Week 7

Virginia & West Virginia

I am definitely going through some nesting here. Most of all, I am glad to finally wrap up the last few weeks of state studies Skipper has done. He has three more classes to do before Christmas before another break comes. I have no doubt we will not finish his scrapbook until this summer! As long as it is done before next school year, I am O.K. with that!


Postcard, state bird (cardinal), state coin, state flower (American Dogwood), map, flag and info.

A "quilt" Skipper made during class. This was his favorite activity of this particular day. We had a little glue accident but I was able to get most of the paper off.

A little extra "fun" at home with our states workbook.

West Virginia

Postcards, state quarter, map, flag and info.

What is Coal Mining? done in class. At home, Skipper wanted some lapbook-type work so I made him up a quick one (could find very little around the web).

Some extra fun again.

The State Meal

Our original meal was going to be: baked ham (VA), fried okra - or another veggie if needed (WV), something to do with tomatoes (VA), another side (not state particular), and a hot applesauce crispy (WV - from the book Eat Your Way Through the USA by Loree Pettit). I jokingly said we could eat some roadkill as it is an actual law in West Virginia that states that residents can eat roadkill IF you are the one that runs it over, you cook it for dinner that night, and report it within 12 hours. Talk about a lot of work to eat dinner! Besides, the family was not interested whatsoever in this idea. Imagine!

On the day we planned our state meal, however, I was not feeling well so the kids ended up eating toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, tator tots with ketchup, and apples. They loved it.

Immaculate Conception Novena: Day 1

O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God - the Queen of Angels and of men. I humbly venerate you as the chosen mother of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the singular grace and honor of being his beloved mother. By the power of his Cross, he preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and bold confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.

I pray first of all that you would make me worthy to call you my mother and your Son, Jesus, my Lord.
I pray that your prayers will bring me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.

Hail Mary...

Now, Queen of Heaven, I beg you to beg my Savior to grant me these requests...
(Mention your intentions)

My holy Mother, I know that you were obedient to the will of God. In making this petition, I know that God's will is more perfect than mine. So, grant that I may receive God's grace with humility like you.
As my final request, I ask that you pray for me to increase in faith in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in hope in our risen Lord; I ask that you pray for me to increase in love for the risen Jesus!
Hail Mary...

Follow along with - you will receive a daily email reminder of the current novena, along with the prayer and some words of reflection.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Astronomy for Little Ones

Apparently, astronomy is a magnet for kids of all ages. We have only done two lessons, but Skipper is hooked, and Critter wants to join in on the fun. Unfortunately, the lapbook Skipper is working out of is a little too advanced aside from a few items (unless I want to do all the writing). And, around the web, I had trouble finding anything coherent for him, or at his skill level. What's a mom to do? Make a notebook for him of course (and be a little obsessive about it along the way)! A notebook for his very own, at his skill level, and I will share it with you in case your own pre-k kid is dying to know about the planets, the stars, and anything to do with space!

I plan on printing out the pages and putting them in a cheap 2 pocket folder with the tabs on them (what are those things called anyway?). Each lesson has a basic format of:

  • handwriting practice (the title)
  • coloring image
  • 2 different lapbooky kind of items to add to the notebook based on the lesson
  • a box to fill in what child has learned (his/her own words but in parent's handwriting)
A few lessons have some extra items to add to the notebook. I also included a page for hands-on activities. Aside from the title, these pages are intentionally left blank to add pictures, words, etc. of what the child did since plans are always changing - at least for us!

My basic outline is a simple reminder to me of what I want to accomplish with Critter for each lesson, as well as some hands-on and extra ideas. Note that some of the hands-on items may be a little much for a pre-k'er doing the work solo, but I included them because Critter will be tagging alongside his older brother (and his dad or I) in these projects. Also, we are using the book, Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright, which I am really liking - plenty of pictures, easy to understand text (can easily adapt for different age kids), and plenty of hands-on stuff to do. If you do not have this book, or prefer not to use it, you will just have to find some back-up info/books to share with your children to reinforce the notebook. We read sections of the lesson from the book, and follow-up with the lapbook part, and wrap up (or break up) the lesson with a hands-on activity. Seems to work well for us.

We are taking our Astronomy study slowly, with each lesson taking 1-2 weeks (more like 2 to include the fun hands-on activities) and sometimes a week goes by as a break. I plan on taking a break once the baby is here but if I keep to task outside of that we will wrap up our studies end of May/early June.

For the notebook pages, go here.

For my basic outline, go here.

If anyone has gone through Astronomy and has any ideas to add, I would love to hear about them!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Prayer for Advent

Dear Lord,

When I become harried
and impatient,
when I think I have too much to do
and not enough time,
when I feel burdened
by obligations,
activities and
please, Lord,
give me the grace to remember,
always to remember,
that my obligations,
activities and busy-ness,
spring from
an abundance of blessings,
enormous, ineffable blessings,
help me to see my busy days
and busy ways
as the privilege and the gift
that they are.

Help me to remember, pray for,
and tangibly support
those who are not "burdened"
by too much to eat,
too much to bake,
too much to decorate,
too many books to read.

Help me, Lord, to see the Advent of Your birth
as a time to remember all of these things,
to drop to my knees and thank You,
always to thank You,
for so much undeserved Love.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Week of Thanks: Thursday

Give thanks!

Courtesy of Skipper, who absolutely loved picking out what he was grateful for each day on our "Grateful Tree." (The other two really did not get into it.) In no particular order:

For our van...

For family...

For having a neighbor...

For our cat, Sirius...

For Earth, the planet we live on...

For picking up...

For water to drink...

For doing school...

For sunshine...

For life...

For sleeping...

For having neighbors...

For jumping in leaves...

For food & to play...

For showers (the kind you take, not rain)...

For trees...

What are you thankful for today?

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Walter Rauschenbusch

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Week of Thanks: Wednesday

Give thanks!

Little giggles...

A baby's heartbeat...

A relatively clean house...

A pumpkin pie shell waiting to be filled...

Simple dinners...

Charlie Brown, an endless classic...

My prenatal cradle giving support...

Sweet treats...

A cuddly cat...

Kids' excitement over going to the car wash...

A quiet moment...

What are you thankful for today?

Maple Syrup Popcorn Balls

Two years ago I started a Thanksgiving tradition of making maple syrup popcorn balls. I am not quite clear now why I did this since maple sugaring season is in the early spring/late winter. However, I think that my reasoning was that it was the Native Americans who showed early settlers how to "sugar," and I seem to remember a little fictional story of a young Native American boy sharing his maple syrup (or candy) with early settler children around harvest time. So... anyway, it doesn't really matter because this is a fun thing to do with the kids and they love it. Plus, it helps foster patience (for me...) since whisking and waiting for that maple syrup to ball up seems to take forever.

First, put 1/4 cup popcorn kernels in a bit of canola oil and wait to pop.

It's popping! When done, put into a large bowl. If you remember, take out the kernels to make eating the balls easier.

Now for patience... In a small saucepan, combine 1 1/2 tsp. butter (we used Earth Balance soy/dairy free) and 1 cup real maple syrup (mine was room temperature which will speed up cooking time). Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a drop forms a ball in cold water. Mine took about 13 minutes. Once there, pour over popcorn. And yes, Miss Bear is always naked nowadays. At least she keeps the diaper on.

Time to make the balls. Once you poured the candy syrup over the popcorn, grab a sheet of parchment paper and lay on the counter. With a spoon, stir the syrup and popcorn until all the popcorn is coated. Make sure the kids wash their hands if they're helping. The popcorn should be cool enough (though still warm with some hot spots) to form into balls. Ours made about 5 large balls and 5 smaller balls.

Enjoy fresh and warm if desired. If you do, this will be a much stickier experience! If not, allow to sit out at room temperature until completely cooled and the syrup "dries up" and is more sugary/candy like instead of sticky. Enjoy!

After we made the treats, the kids and I sat down (for a much needed rest for me!) to read The First Thanksgiving Story, a perfect story for younger elementary aged children.

Astronomy: Fun with the Sun

Skipper wrapped up his second Astronomy lesson (The Sun) a few weeks ago from the book, Exploring Creation with Astronomy by Jeannie Fulbright. He is really loving Astronomy and is eager to continue - right after Thanksgiving with Mercury. Though he is devouring all he can thanks to Dad on other topics, like the moon, black holes, and more.
Besides reading the chapter and following up with the lapbook, Skipper was able to do a few hands-on experiments. The first experiment, testing the power of the sun, was meant to be done during the hottest months of the year so I was doubtful that it would work. However, we lucked out and had a few amazing sunny days and no-jacket days so we headed out to try our luck. The experiment uses two things: a magnifying glass and some chocolate. I chose dry leaves instead, thinking they would be more likely to catch on fire than a piece of chocolate at this time of year. And I am glad that I did because it worked! We happily spent quite a bit of time charring leaves on the driveway. Skipper struggled a bit at first trying to focus the sun's light, but eventually he got the hang of it and went to town. Critter joined the action, but I definitely had to help him more. They had so much fun that later they had to do it with Dad - using the deck rail as backdrop! Good thing the sun wasn't at it's full power!

The other experiment we did was to illustrate a solar eclipse using a flashlight, a globe, and "moon" (in our case, a small toy ball with yarn tied to it). I think we needed a darker room - still had those sunny days, long ago the memory seems - but it worked out fine enough that the boys got the gist. And had fun playing with it themselves. The power of flashlights.

The book also suggested making a solar eclipse viewer (similar to one like this - scroll down for instructions), but since our next solar eclipse (partial one) that we might be able to see is not until May 21, 2012, I thought this could wait until then and be a Dad/boys adventure.

All in all, a success, and I am so glad we switched up science!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Week of Thanks: Tuesday

Give thanks!

Sleeping tots...

Children's excitement...

Creating something new...

A warm jacket...

Baby's movements...

Simple games...

"Whatever" dinners...

A husband braving the store so I can make the kids a GF (and egg/dairy-free for me) pumpkin pie tomorrow for Thanksgiving.

What are you thankful for today?

Patriotic Alphabet Parade: "H"olidays

This was actually last week's AEP class letter. I am already losing track of the days! The kids spent some time having fun with U.S. specific holidays as well as holidays celebrated worldwide.

Our format week-to-week is pretty consistent:

  • sing ABC song have a grab bag with letter of the week items (H: hat, hood, heart, hair, head, hands, house, hammer, hippo, horse, hog)
  • read "My 'h' Sound Box" book by Jane Belk Moncure
  • practice letter writing and color a picture using the pages I created (H is for Holidays: Pre-K version or Kindergarten version)
  • eat a snack (hummus and carrots) and read a book about a U.S. holiday
  • craft time:
    • craft: holiday collage. I printed off various U.S. holiday images for the kids to glue on their paper and then they filled in the collage with bits of holiday extras (ribbons, stickers, cards, etc.).
    • letter collage using collage sheets I made (H is for Hearts - using heart stickers).
  • Played Holiday Bingo.
At home, I took Critter's papers, finished what I needed to with him, and continued work on his alphabet scrapbook. Here is what I came up with:

Handwriting/coloring page.

The collage sheet - Critter loves blue, but there are a few hearts in there.

The holiday collage sheet.

Holiday Bingo game.

Yesterday the kids learned all about the Letter "I" for Inventors and Immigrants (coming soon!). Next week we have off, but then the kids will come back for "J" is for Jazz.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Week of Thanks

Give Thanks!


Messy messes...

Quiet mornings...

Children eager to learn...

Phone calls from friends...

Moonlight in a cloudless sky...

A chance, desire, and willingness to pray...

A special someone who takes care of you when you need it most...

What are you thankful for today?

Patriotic Alphabet Parade: "G"eorge Washington

Last week the AEP kids had fun with the letter G and learned all about George Washington. Plus, at home, we had a lot of fun with our George Washington extras!

Our format week-to-week is pretty consistent:

  • sing ABC song have a grab bag with letter of the week items (G: green, glitter, goose, gorilla, guitar, giraffe, gift, ghost, goat, grapes, grasshopper, girl)
  • read "My 'g' Sound Box" book by Jane Belk Moncure
  • practice letter writing and color a picture using the pages I created (G is for George Washington: Pre-K version or Kindergarten version)
  • eat a snack (Grapes) and read a book about George Washington
  • craft time:
    • craft: read The Cherry Tree and made cherry tree mosaics using construction paper and glue sticks (see picture below).
    • letter collage using collage sheets I made (G is for Green and Glitter - can use green glitter, or color in green and then add glitter, or just put on glitter. We used glitter glue sticks.)
  • Played with quarters - looked at the images (had magnifying glasses), tried quarter rubbings (did not turn out well - perhaps use a thinner paper than construction paper?), flipped quarters and guessed heads or tails (probability).
At home, I took Critter's papers, finished what I needed to with him, and continued work on his alphabet scrapbook. Here is what I came up with:

First Page

The handwriting/coloring page. 

Second Page

"G is for Green and Glitter" - Critter skipped out on coloring but used green glitter quite a bit. Miss Bear really, really enjoyed using glitter glue. Perhaps a little too much!

Third Page

Out of all the kids in the class, I think Critter really enjoyed this and did a great job (and I'm not being biased because there are so many times he does not want to participate!!!). To make the craft easier (and quicker for our short time slot), I had pre-cut shapes of construction paper that the kids then tore into pieces to make the bark, leaves, and cherries. I also printed up some labels of "I cannot tell a lie" to go along with the story of The Cherry Tree.

Fourth Page

And the fun lapbooky part of the scrapbook. I think Skipper was a little jealous (they really get into lapbooks!). First we did a little memory exercise with the cherry tree story. Critter told me what he remembered - with a teensy bit of prompting - and I wrote a simplified version for him on this template (scroll down). Then we made a little book and read about George Washington's life (I read and he guessed what tab it went under - childhood, jobs, military, family, presidency). From there, we made up the Many Talents of George wheel and the picture name wheel (and talked about each as we did it).

Today we are doing the letter "I" for Immigrants and Inventors. It should be a lot of (messy) fun!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ is Our King

Today has been a tad rough. I have been sleeping half the day - on the couch, in bed. Needless to say, we had no fancy dinner as planned like I have done in the past. It was a regular old meal of pork chops (that needed cooked), mashed potatoes, peas and crescent rolls. We did have some sparkling apple-grape juice as a treat, but no dessert (I like to make a simple - yet absolutely divine - orange bundt cake with orange rum sauce for the occasion). The kids were happy enough to raid the Halloween stash instead.

Our the Christ the King banner turned into a coloring page of a stand-up Christ Our King that they placed at the table. No song, nothing too much out of the ordinary, but always a prayer (and surely that is all that we need anyway?).

Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before you. We are yours, and yours we wish to be; but to be more surely united with you, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to your Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known you; many, too, despising your precepts, have rejected you. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to your Sacred Heart. Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken you, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned you; grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house, lest they die of wretchedness and hunger. Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and the unity of faith, so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd. Grant, O Lord, to your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give tranquility of order to all nations; make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving School Fun

With only a few days next week, and plenty to fit in, the kids are taking a break from their normal school schedule for some fun Thanksgiving "school." In addition, on Monday we have our usual AEP class in the afternoon and pottery painting on Tuesday.

To "replace" school for the week, I am printing worksheets from Thanksgiving Printables (both the preschool and kindergarten level - some of the sheets even work with Skipper with slight changes) and from The Simple Homeschool (more Skipper's level but some were ok for Critter). While you're at The Simple Homeschool sign up for the 12 days of freebies starting December 1st (you have to subscribe to be on their "secret" list). I also found a cute activity page for both boys, as well as a fill in the story and mini book for Skipper. To wrap up their activity "books," I printed out some coloring sheets (this allows Miss Bear to take part too): cornucopia and various other sheets here (praying pilgrims, pilgrim with native American, and turkey). All this will be very casual. We'll sit down at the usual school time but the kids can pick and choose what they want to do.

Artwork for the week is a simple fingerprint turkey craft that the kids can wrap and glue around an empty toilet paper roll for a table decoration. This would make a cute card too. Maybe I'll have them do some cards to give to family on Thursday since it's so simple. One day we'll read The First Thanksgiving story and make maple syrup popcorn balls (a tradition). And when all else fails (or to help fill in the rainy days coming next week), some online games and puzzles.

Friday, November 18, 2011

December Liturgical Plans

Finally, the last of the December plans falling into place. I chose some old favorite feast days as well as a new one this year to celebrate and recognize. Keeping with my theme this year, all my activities/plans will be simple!

Monthly Dedication: the Immaculate Conception

This will truly be woven throughout the month, especially as we near Christmas. Of course, there is a special day set aside for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception that we will observe (see below).

St. Nicholas (December 6th)

Saint Nicholas is always a fun feast day. There are truly hundreds of ideas out there, but we are keeping it simple. The kids will wake up to some St. Nick coins (golden coins with pictures of St. Nicholas attached) as a surprise. We will also read St. Nicholas, the Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer, as well as watch Nicholas, the Boy Who Became Santa. A special pizza for lunch, hot cocoa as an afternoon treat, and having the kids do something in secret will round out the day.

St. Ambrose (December 7th)

This is such a simple feast day for us, but it is so much fun. This is the day the kids and I make our Christ candle. Last year we simply stuck some Nativity stickers around a white pillar candle. This year I may do the same. If I am up for it, I would like to have the kids make holiday candles for Christmas. This kit looks neat (or go to Hearth Song directly to see some fun candle decorating kits), but to keep costs down, a few plain, white candles and some crayons will do the trick. Plus, the kids will have fun melting wax and creating a unique candle. A great book to read on this day is The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th)

A holy day. That means Mass is in order. In addition to Mass, the kids will do a crayon resist art project using Catholic Icing's coloring page of Mary in the womb and we will read Mary, Our Mother. This is the day we make our "Mary" candle using the Christ candle we made the day before. The candle sits in the center of of our Advent wreath, and to make it a Mary candle, it is covered with a white cloth (ours is a doily) and tied with a blue ribbon. The Christ candle is then unveiled Christmas Eve night.

If I am up for it, we will also have a special "white" dinner: white tablecloth, white lilies/flowers, all-white dinner. Based on my dinner ratio lately, this might not happen!

Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th)

At the very least, we will recognize this day by reading The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie de Paola and having a Mexican-themed dinner (always a favorite here!). Some festive tableware would be in order - blue tablecloth with golden stars and roses. I would love to do make a textile picture for an art project (using things like dried rice, beans, popcorn kernels, cornmeal, etc.) for this image of OL of Guadalupe. The kids have enjoyed textile pictures in the past and it has been a long while since we have done one.

St. Lucy (December 13th)

This is a new feast day for us. At the very least, I have a prayer/poem to read to the kids as well as the book Lucia Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde. It would also be fun for the kids to dress up and/or have some traditional St. Lucia crown/bread or sweet bread/rolls, but we will see how it goes.

The O Antiphons

One other Advent tradition we started last year was adding the O Antiphons to our nightly prayers. I fell in love with the ornaments at Under Her Starry Mantle and pretty much copied hers (why mess with something so beautiful?). At first, I was not sure how to hang the ornaments. Perhaps on the kids' mini tree? On a golden tree limb? On the Christmas tree? In the end I found a golden, swirly kind of stand at the thrift store that was perfect for the O Antiphons. Now, the stand takes a place all its own and glows softly on Christmas Eve as candlelight warms our home. (The stand will work great for the 12 days of Christmas as well should I ever make ornaments or some kind of display for those days - which I would love to do!)

The O Antiphons are a beautiful prayer for the seven days before Christmas (starting December 17th) that tell of each of Christ's seven Messianic titles based on Old Testament scripture: O Sapienta (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord and Ruler), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Dawn of the East), O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles, and O Emmanuel (God with Us). The images are a nice way to illustrate the prayers though absolutely not necessary to begin the O Antiphons this year! Some easy ideas would be to print larger images to hang on the wall, to make paper ornaments, to view a picture on the computer as you say the prayer. Add the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel (see link below for the appropriate verse) - sing it or play it for those who are tune-challenged, as I can be!

I could copy all the prayers for you, but you can find a beautiful spread at Family in Feast and Feria to print and use that I found last year. Take time to read the post as well. I believe it is well worth checking out. She also has other suggestions in bringing the meaning of the O Antiphons to children such as through song, food, and symbols.

This is an easy tradition to add to your Advent season, and one that draws you back into the season of preparation, as it is so easy to become side-tracked this close to Christmas (I know I do!).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

O blest Elizabeth, in glory
Enthroned amid the heavenly throng,
Be gracious to accept the praises
We offer you in cheerful song.

As you from home and hearth were driven
And forced in direst want to roam,
So now direct us lonely exiles
And help us reach our heavenly home.

You practiced poverty: enrich us
With heaven's choicest gifts secure;
You daily mortified your body:
Help us to keep our bodies pure.

The luring world and wily Satan
You overcame by watchful prayers;
Teach us with steadfast heart to conquer
Our enemies' deceitful snares.

To God the Father highest glory
And to his only Son, our Lord.
Together with the Holy Spirit,
As years and ages endless run.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Other Advent Traditions

After writing about music, books, the Jesse tree, and the Advent wreath, it sure feels like we do a lot. Though, in actuality, those are very simple things to do during Advent - if you have everything gathered and ready to go, that is! Naturally we have other plans and traditions as well that I will share with you. Again, my goal is to keep it basic, yet traditional, with only a few new, easy additions to spice it up a little.

Advent calendars

The Advent calendar is a fun activity. I really enjoy the first calendar pictured. It has a little books for each night of Advent (well, the 24 days before Christmas anyway). Each night, before bed, one of the kids will give me the appropriate mini book, which I will read, and then one will hang it on their mini tree in the boys' room. The books are filled with quick "stories" and carol snippets.

The second calendar is fun too, and I think we will do this over the lunch hour. Though it says "Catholic Family Christmas Celebration" it still begins on December 1st. Each day has a window to open, and on Christmas Eve (or day, I can't remember) a pop-up manger comes out. I think ours broke last year, the first year we had it. I do like the little booklet that comes with it. It has two pages per day with a very brief, simple description along with a prayer for the day and something you can do that day for Advent (typically very simple and easy to do - requires no forethought).

Advent chain

This is the classic countdown to Christmas chain that nearly every child makes when young. This is a dad and kid project. A star tops the chain to represent Christmas Day and the birth of Christ. Each night one of the kids get to tear off a piece of the chain, and they (hopefully) remember to say a small prayer to the Infant Jesus. A cute idea (not this year) would be to write in prayers for each chain to say aloud.

The Nativity Scene
I think I could become a little obsessive over finding nativity scenes. As far as decor for the holiday season, it is my favorite (ok, the wreath is too and the tree), but seriously, they all have similarities and yet, are so drastically different from each other in style. For many years my mom has wanted to carve a nativity. I keep urging her to, but alas, she has yet to do it. Meanwhile, I started a Fontanini Nativitiy 5-inch collection. I started with the basics and add a piece each year. This year I am adding the Star of Bethlehem along with a stand to hang it.

Last year I put the nativity up way too early, I think, during the first week of Advent. This year, I will have the main living area clean by the end of that first week of Advent (a tall order presently!) and put up the empty scene on the second Sunday of Advent and bless it. Then, it remains empty until the next Sunday when we will add a few pieces. Additional pieces will go up the fourth Sunday, which is when Mary and Joseph will begin their journey to Bethlehem throughout the house. They reach the scene come Christmas Eve. That night, the baby Jesus makes his arrival, along with the Gloria angel, and the star. The wise men begin their journey the day after Christmas and arrive by Epiphany.

I also have a kids' nativity scene for hands-on play that will go in the boys' room. Plus, I ordered a new (different) one for Miss Bear's room as well for a surprise.


The kids become so excited to hang up their stockings. They love it. Next year I will have to find additional stocking holders (and a new stocking). I like the simple hooks over the fireplace since we have had too many holders fall and break. That alone is worry enough. Those figures are heavy. Can you imagine if one fell on one of the kids? Ouch!

We started a little tradition last year that was simple, yet meaningful, and cute during the first week of Advent. We read "A Stocking for Jesus" and hung a small stocking for Jesus. I would like to buy a special stocking for Jesus but for now we use a little red, gift stocking. The kids then, with my help, write a letter to Jesus. This is a chance to mention their gift desires, but also a chance to mention prayer requests/intentions as well as to offer a promise of sincere effort to please God, especially during this Advent season. At night, while they sleep, the letters are carried off by "angels." I leave their little guardian angel figures in the stocking for them to find.

Our Christmas Tree

The tree is one of the biggest changes I have made from my childhood memories. As a child, we eagerly brought down our artificial tree and ornaments and began assembling it as early as Thanksgiving Eve itself! It was a mad rush to finish it up, and though we usually were pretty nice about it, at some point there was a little snippiness as we tired. In the last few years, especially last year, I have begun to spread out our decorating - to make it more fun, and to bring meaning to it and not just another to-do to check off the list.

Last year we made the big decision to go from artificial to live tree, and we enjoyed the experience and plan to do so again. The best thing that came out of this is that we do not have the urge to put up and decorate our tree so early, and instead purchase our tree roughly two weeks prior to Christmas. We set it up in the house with water, and there it sits for another week, bare. Finally, we spend a Saturday (before the fourth week) decorating and blessing it, before finishing the day off with a pizza picnic dinner while watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas." This year the decorations will be simple since my husband has to put all the decorations away. Actually, I will probably only put up a few "extra" decorations outside the tree, the wreath, and the nativity to make it easier on him.

The Empty Crib

I tried this idea out last year - to have the empty crib and fill with straw for good deeds. The problem? Children - and a cat - who liked to play in the straw and who also did not seem to really "get" the idea. So this year I will change it up a bit. Either during that last week of Advent or on Christmas Eve itself, one of the kids will place the empty crib (my daughter's wooden baby crib) under/by the tree and line it with cloth. Then, during the night, I will place baby Jesus (one of my daughter's babies) in the crib, wrapped in a white shawl. It will be in front of the presents for Christmas morning.

Other Fun Stuff We Do

  • Christmas ornaments: The kids have wooden penguin craft ornaments from Grandma and Grandpa to color/paint and add their picture to. Also, we will make some simple pine cone ornaments by spray-painting some pine cones gold and shaking them in gold glitter. When dry, hang with some extra yarn.
  • Cookies: simple cut-out cookie shapes for the holidays. I plan on baking early, freezing, and having them ready to go for Christmas Eve morning for decorating. I love the idea of working with this Starlight Cookie recipe for Christmas Eve (to make it gluten/egg/dairy/soy-free) but that will have to wait until next year. I also usually do more baking in the kitchen come Christmas, but this year any baking/cooking I do will be reserves for post-baby. I can barely get dinner on that table now!
  • Movie night: Game nights are reserved for Friday nights during the darker months, and during Advent, Saturday is our movie night, where we will watch some classics. Each year it changes based on what we want to watch but at some point we watch Miracle on 34th StreetIt's a Wonderful Life, The Littlest Angel, and Rudolph (who can resist the little misfit?).
  • Christmas cards: keep it simple and just send to very close family and friends. Kids may or may not create an insert. I have cards from last year so those will be used (vs having the kids make them).
  • During the last week of Advent, the kids get comfy in their pjs and we head out in the van to check out neighborhood Christmas lights and listen to Christmas carols. We then head home for a little treat before bed.
  • And of course we celebrate a few feast days in there, but that is for another post! This one is long enough!