Tag Archives: Christmas

Late for Christmas?

I envisioned this December much differently. We would finish up with schoolwork early in the month, then sit back and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the holiday season. We’d spend a day baking cookies for a friend’s cookie swap party, work on Christmas crafts together, look at the  various holiday light shows, and make some handmade gifts. And I would actually get my Christmas cards out on time this year.

But like everything else lately, Christmas hasn’t come like I thought it would. Our tree still isn’t up. The house isn’t decorated. We haven’t been out to look at the lights. I didn’t make any gifts. And I can’t even seem to locate our advent calendar.

Just days after we arrived home from a Thanksgiving visit with family, my oldest daughter had to go into the hospital with a ruptured appendix. Though my husband was able to get time off so we could take turns sitting with her, things at home fell further behind. It’s as if I’ve spent the last week or so just trying to catch up — trying not to be late for Christmas.

But it’s never too late to consider the real meaning of Christmas. That amid the hustle and bustle of holiday “have-tos”, the reason for the celebration is still there — the birth of Jesus, God’s Son come to earth.

And while we can remind ourselves, we can remind our children, too. Snuggle on the couch and read a Christmas story book. Set up (and even play with) a nativity scene together. Help them wrap a gift for a needy child in your church or neighborhood.  Talk about what it must have been like for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men as your driving in the car.

So even if the mistletoe isn’t up, the stockings aren’t hung, and the lights aren’t blinking on the lawn, you’re not late for Christmas; any time we think about God’s wondrous gift is the right time.

Time for Re-establishing

After lots of traveling over Christmas and New Year’s, we had our first quiet week at home this week. Our co-op did meet on Monday, so that day was full, and Tuesday the girls had music lessons, but that was all we had on the calendar. And, for a few days our car was in the shop, so I couldn’t have gone anywhere anyway. I had anticipated getting a lot done, including unpacking from our trips, putting away the Christmas decorations, and cleaning the house.

But the house is still a mess and the Christmas tree is still up. Instead, this was the week of re-establishment.

First, we had to re-establish our school hours, and it took a couple of days before the routine was set again. Some of that time was also spent looking for workbooks that somehow disappeared. One math book is still on the loose.

Then we re-established the daily chore plans, including the “before breakfast” and “after school” lists. After several weeks of letting daily chores slip by, it’s nice to have some helping hands with the housework again.

Because adjusting to school and chores again can be tough, we had to re-established the “No Whining Rule.” That one was a little harder and involved a few more tears, but it’s coming along too.

We also re-established the “Video and Computer Games May Only be Played on Saturdays” rule. We set up this rule about a year ago when I felt the boys were spending too much time at the games, and it works well for our family. During holidays, however, it’s an easy one to bend, especially if they get a new one for Christmas.

Looking at the state of our house this week, one (especially my husband) might wonder what we did at home all day. But we did work at some hard things, and the year is off to a good start, even if the house isn’t. 🙂

Photo by Grafixar

Cooking Up Something Sweet

The holidays are the perfect time for trying out new recipes, especially with your children! There are simple recipes for desserts to share with friends and neighbors, as well as foods you can make to give as gifts. If holiday baking with your family is part of your plans this week, here are some websites to check out:

Families Online Magazine – This site features treats you can make with your children, including Candy Cane Cookies and Popcorn Snowmen.

Family Fun – Family Fun is one of my favorite magazines, and one of my favorite websites too. Here you’ll find recipes for advent calendar cookies, cookie kids, and dancing gingerbread people.

Dreams Alive Magazine
– On the page featuring Christmas crafts and cookies just for kids, you’ll find the directions for making chocolate coffee spoons with peppermint and a Christmas chocolate kiss tree. There’s also a recipe for gingerbread cookies in a jar, a nice gift kids can give to relatives or neighbors.

Easy Kids Recipes – While this site has a few interesting recipes posted by the author, there are many, many more on the “Cookie Recipe Contest Page.”  Just click on the link, and you’ll be directed to the 2010 winning recipes as well as 40+ other recipes to try.

Apples4TheTeacher – There are quite a few ads on this site, but once you close them you’ll find a number of tasty recipes, including chocolate fudge and candy cane marble.

NorthPole.com – You’ll find lots of recipes for baking with kids here, so many that they are divided into categories: cookies, cakes, pies, candy and fudge, breads, and other recipes.

Kids Cooking Activities – This is one of my favorite sites for cooking with kids, and they have a page dedicated to Christmas cookies too. Visit this site for the basic sugar cookie recipes for making cut-out cookies, as well as the directions for making jam-filled wreaths, reindeer cookies, and gingerbread men.

Photo by cohdra

Let’s Have a Parade!

This week, we met up with family to spend a day together at a children’s museum. While we were there, we began talking about Christmas parades, and my grown niece commented that one of her dreams was to be in a parade.

“Really?” I replied. “That’s funny, because we’re going to be in a parade this Sunday. We’ve been in one every year for the last five years.”

“But I thought you had to represent a business or an organization,” she said.

But in our little country town, you don’t. Participation is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, which ranges from $10 – $20 depending on what you are entering. The categories always include commercial and non-commercial vehicles and floats, classic and antique vehicles, recreational vehicles, horses, pageant winners, and walkers/marchers.

Those may seem like difficult categories for a family to fit into, but they’re not. We enter every year as a non-commercial vehicle. We decorate my husband’s old pickup truck and dress up to fit the theme of the parade. My husband drives the truck, and the kids and I all ride in the back, waving and tossing out candy and wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.”

Our parade offers plaques as prizes for the entries with the best decorations, and would you believe it, for the past five years we’ve placed either first or second in our category? When I first came across the entry form six years ago, I thought it’d be fun to enter it on a whim; now it’s become a family Christmas tradition. And the kids are always anxious to see if we’ll win again.

If your children would like to be in a parade next year, check into your town’s entry requirements. If you do need to enter as a group, you could enter as a club, a church organization, or a homeschool co-op. Then, with a little creativity and a lot of planning, you’ll be ready to join in the fun!

Photo by gracey

Books for Advent

When my oldest son was much younger, a friend of mine introduced me to the three-book advent series by Arnold Ytreeide. I borrowed one of hers and purchased another, and I was glad I did. Soon after that the books were out of print, and for a while the only ones available to purchase were very costly. Happily, though, another publisher picked them up, and I can recommend them again!

The series begins with Jotham’s Journey, the story of 10-year-old Jotham who, while searching for his family, encounters many dangers, including robbers and kidnappers. Along the way, Jotham also meets shepherds, wisemen, and innkeepers, until he finally finds his way to the Savior born in a stable.

In Bartholomew’s Passage, young Bartholomew faces the destruction of his village, the loss of his family, and his own enslavement. Readers can follow along as he escapes, reunites with his family, and finds the Christ child in Bethlehem. And along the way he’s made a new friend — Jotham!

Tabitha’s Travels is the third book, featuring a young shepherd girl named Tabitha. As her family is traveling, her father is taken prisoner by the Romans. During the course of the story, Tabitha spends time with Elizabeth and Zachariah and helps Mary and Joseph just before Jesus is born. She, too, finds some new friends — Jotham and Bartholomew!

While it sounds like you might be doing a lot of reading this Christmas season, don’t worry — the books are designed in such a way that you would read just one book a year. The first year, then, you can read about Jotham, the next year Bartholomew, and then finally Tabitha. Or, you might choose to begin with Bartholomew or Tabitha instead.

Each book is divided into short chapters, one for each day of advent. And each chapter is suspenseful and exciting, ending with a cliff-hanger to be resolved the following day.

If you’re looking for a good book to read with your children this holiday season, try one by Arnold Ytreeide.  It’ll be a Christmas adventure your children will enjoy. And who knows? It might even become a new holiday tradition!

Break Time

113697753842We decided to wait until the second week of January to get back into our schooling routine, so we used the time we had this past week to reorganize our home. It’s something I had wanted to do for quite a while, but busy schedules just hadn’t allowed it. So for the past few days, we’ve been moving furniture, sorting through books, weeding through the toys, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. And each day, after a few hours of work, we all take a break.

Break time for the kids means free time, which they have been spending playing with new Christmas toys. But for some reason, their free time this week has been exceptionally loud. For the most part they’ve been getting along, laughing and shouting — it’s just been so loud, that it just doesn’t count as break time for me.

My idea of a break is quietly reading a book or magazine in my room, taking a quiet walk by myself, or listening to some quiet music while I work at a hobby. There is a key word in all these activities — “quiet”.

For the most part, homeschooling parents are home with their children most of the day, every day, except when we’re running them to classes and lessons or taking care of household errands. No wonder we need a break from the activity — a quiet one. Although we can enjoy this time when our children are young and moving and playing, we shouldn’t feel guilty about sending them to their rooms, closing the doors, and going outside to sit under a tree. In fact, we need to do just that. We need to take the time to rest, relax, and recharge ourselves so we can move on well with the rest of the day.

So whether you’re schooling, working, cleaning, organizing…whatever you’re doing today, try to find a quiet place to take a break. Make it a habit, for you and your children, and you’ll be able to enjoy being with them even more.

A Gentle Reminder

DSCF5054This year, I was going to be ready for Christmas early. I had finished much of my shopping after Thanksgiving, and I was going to have all my Christmas cards addressed and ready to go by the first of December. And to add a special touch, I was going to make the cards or have the children help me make them. I planned on printing photos of the family to include in the cards as well.

But then, one day slipped by, then another, and another, until finally it was too late to send the cards — again. Too late for the cards to arrive in time for Christmas, too late to send a holiday greeting to friends and loved ones that we don’t see very often. Another year, and another missed opportunity.

But is it? I could set my cards aside, and plan on doing better next year. But then, would I let another year pass by before I sent them a note saying I’ve been thinking about them?

But Christmas isn’t a deadline — it’s a reminder. A reminder for people like me who, in the day-to-day busyness of life, too often forget what matters most. It’s a reminder to reach out those we care about and to care about those less fortunate than ourselves. It’s a reminder to do those things we should have been doing all year, but may have let slip by.

And most importantly, it’s a reminder of God’s most precious gift to us, His Son, Jesus. It’s a reminder that He sent Jesus to die and rise again so we might spend eternity with Him. It’s a reminder of His incredible love for mankind, a love He wants us to share with each other.

So the cards may not go out on time this year, but I’ll still send them out — and I’ll remember.

Christmas Programs and Improvisation

missyredboots114This past Sunday was the last Sunday before Christmas, and the pastor of our church wanted the children to do a special program. We attend a very small church, however, and some of the children don’t attend on a regular basis, so planning a Christmas program wasn’t easy. Add to that the fact that we had bad weather on Friday, and it became even harder to put together. Instead of a practicing a skit, then, I offered that my children prepare a few Christmas songs to sing or play on the piano.

We had the same sort of program planned for our nursing home visit this month, and it went well. I had the older children read parts of the Christmas story from Scripture in between the music selections. We didn’t have a lot of time to practice before the church service, but we had done it before, so all would be fine.

Or so I thought. During Sunday School, I was told that on the days the children have a presentation, the pastor doesn’t plan a message. We would have a lot more time, then, and nothing to do in it. I asked my husband, who is very good at public speaking, if he would read the scripture and fill in where necessary. He agreed, and I felt a little better…

…until the service began. My husband started reading the first few verses from the Bible, and I told my oldest son John to get his piano music ready to play. He opened his folder and searched through it, but his two pieces of music were missing!  He panicked and became upset; as I tried to calm him down, telling him not to worry about it, my husband finished the verses. I motioned to him to keep going, which he did, while John went to search in the car for his music. He never did find it, so after he returned we sang a Christmas carol and moved on with our presentation.

After more scripture, my daughter Lillie played her song on the piano, and we sang again. During the third carol, though, my youngest, Luke, decided he would sing directly into his microphone. This would have been all right if he had known the words. He didn’t know any of them, though, and instead made up his own as we tried to sing. My other children started giggling, and I couldn’t help laughing (quietly, of course), so much of that carol went unsung.

After church was over, the children all agreed it was not a good program. “Well,” I answered, “we learned some things. We learned that sometimes things don’t go just right, and you need to improvise. And even when that happens, Christ can still be honored by our efforts. And we learned that we need to be careful when we give Luke a microphone.”

“Yes,” my daughter Cassie answered, “it wasn’t the best program, but it sure was the most fun!”

My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday

01 birthdayWhen my oldest son was about five years old, we went to a “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” party at the church we were attending. The pastor’s wife read the book My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday by Holly Davis. It was the first time I had heard the story, but I really liked it at the time.

A couple of years later, we were traveling to visit family when we stopped for a break at a shopping center with outlet stores. In one of those stores, I found that same book on sale and purchased it for our family. And it’s been one of my favorite Christmas books ever since.

The story is actually a comparison between “my” birthday and Jesus’ birthday, or Christmas. On the left side of each spread, the narrator tells about the time she was born; for example, on one page she talks about how her parents carefully thought about and chose her name. The right side of the spread, then, compares it with the time when Jesus was born, as God told Mary and Joseph what the baby’s name would be. The narrator was born in a hospital; Jesus was born in a stable. The narrator’s grandparents came to visit when she was born; the shepherds came to visit the new baby Jesus.

The book continues in this way to the last page, which features a big birthday cake with the words “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” on it. The text, the layout, and the illustrations all make this an ideal book for teaching little ones about Christmas. We’ve used ours so much over the years that some of the pages are coming out.

So today I searched the Internet for another copy, and sadly realized…My Birthday, Jesus’ Birthday is out of print! The only ones I found for sale were way over-priced. I did find it at a few libraries, however; even if your library doesn’t carry it, you could probably get a copy from an inter-library loan service. Perhaps Zondervan  (the original publisher) will print it again, but until they do, I’ll be keeping an eye out for a used copy. This book really is a great find!

Lessons on Parade

JGS_mF_AndHeresSanta…Or perhaps this should be entitled, “Lessons from the Parade?”

This past weekend, we followed a family tradition we began five years ago: we entered the Christmas parade of a neighboring small town. For a small fee, we enter the “Non-Commercial Vehicle” category, decorate our old pick-up truck according the theme of the parade, and dress up appropriately. The children and I ride in the back and toss candy while my husband drives. At the end of the parade, plaques are awarded for first, second, and third place in each category. All in all, it’s a really fun time.

This year, though, the theme was a little harder to develop, so I waited… and waited…and waited for inspiration to hit, which it never really did. We worked hard on the decorations, though, and we thought we had a chance of placing. But the weather was damp, and the duck tape we were using to hold our decorations to the truck wasn’t sticking. We were still rushing around as the parade was about to begin, fixing this, taping that. During the parade, I even had to hop out of the truck and walk along beside it so I could pick up anything that fell off!

We made it past the judges in one piece, though, and they gave us a good score. We took first place in our category (yay!), and we were all surprised. But there were some good lessons learned:

1. Cuteness counts!  My youngest, Luke, was dressed as a chick in an egg, and Lillie, my nine-year old, dressed as a farm cat. I think that helped a lot!

2. Prepare ahead of time! I waited too long to get started on this project. While we finished our design in time, it was stressful trying to get it all done.

3. Enjoy the process!  While the kids enjoyed the parade, they also enjoyed working on it. They painted almost all the props, and Luke especially was proud of his work. To me, this was the best part of the parade this year.

So, are we going to be ready next year? I’ll answer with a “Yes!” — that is, if we’ve learned our lessons!