Sunday, November 20, 2011

Preparing for Advent

We have a strict "No Christmas Before Thanksgiving" rule in our house, but I have to sneak a little thought and planning in beforehand. The first day of Advent in 2011 begins SundayNovember 27, 2011.  In case you're looking to prepare meaningful crafts, traditions, and activities for your family, I thought I'd break our pre-Thanksgiving rule to share our family favorites with you.

You might be asking "What is advent?" Well, the word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means "coming".  During the Christmas season, we celebrate that Christ came to earth as our Saviour and we celebrate that He is coming again.

There are no rules written in stone for how you must celebrate Advent.  It is a precious time that will be made unique by your own family.  My family began celebrating Advent years ago, before our first child was a year old.  We were young parents exploring how we wanted to establish our own traditions.  We knew that we didn't want to raise our children with a typical Santa Claus Consumerism holiday.  We wanted to pause and savor the true meaning of Christmas.  We ran across an article by Focus on the Family that introduced us to the idea of Advent, and we quickly adopted the tradition.

As time went on and our children grew, we realized the season was still rushing by us too quickly.  I discovered The Teaching Mom's Advent Calendar and we began a new tradition that we call Christmas School.  Our regular homeschool studies stop for Advent and we fill our days with a new style of learning.  We've incorporated many different traditions through the years and I'll happily share them with you here in the upcoming weeks. 

These ideas are meant to help savor the season, not to add to the rush.  I'll share more ideas than any one family could do in one season, so feel free to pick and choose your favorites.  Because my family does most of our activities during weekdays, the weekends won't share as many activities as weekdays.  If you are doing activities primarily on weekends, you'll want to borrow from other days.  

As much as we love the activities that we've chosen, I would still love to hear about your holiday celebrations! Please share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions!

Now, let's get started!

Some excellent books you might enjoy while preparing for Advent include:

Great websites include:
Though it isn't necessary, an Advent wreath is a beautiful addition to your advent celebration.  My family uses a cheap, simple wreath with short candle holders inserted from the bottom.  We place taper candles into the holders through the top and then place a white pillar candle in the middle.

The Basics

The Wreath:

Here are some websites for wreath ideas:

Traditionally the candles include 3 purple, 1 pink, and a white center candle, but these aren't always easy to find and variations are perfectly acceptable.  Blue is a nice replacement for purple.  My family often uses burgundy candles. We prefer to save the candle lighting until just before bed so that we can enjoy their beautiful glow in the dark evening.  We have found that it works best to not keep them lit more than 5 minutes per night to avoid them burning down before Christmas gets here. We gather together in the family room for our Advent reading and then light the candles as we read the verse and/or pray.  Some families prefer to only light the candles on Sundays for Advent Readings.


Descriptions of each candle's name and meaning can be found here:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent Day Two

The second day of Advent was the first day of Christmas School for my gang.

Nothing beats a Dutch Baby for a great start to a great season. Yummm!

Also known as a German Pancake, this gets some protein in with the carbs I crave in the morning.  I don't know if there is anything authentically German about this, but the name fits in nicely with today's geography studies.

We make our Jesse Tree part of Christmas School, doing it only on weekdays. The first day of Jesse Tree is marked by a hunting for the perfect branch. Each child scours the local backyards for a branch with a curve and little knobbies. It's just how we like them. Traditionally Jesse Trees are displayed upright in a pot, but we like ours on the wall. I use the removable 3M tabs & hooks to hang ours right over our Advent Wreath.

It looks a bit plain at the moment, but the daily ornaments will soon jazz it up. This year, we're using ornaments from Homeschool In The Woods. They make up a very small portion of the History of Holidays unit study pack. I'm pinch my pennies pretty tightly, but this is worth the investment. We've only used homemade/hand-drawn ornaments before because my children hate "Fakey" looking things. When they saw the print-out of Amy Pak's gorgeous drawings, they were happy to make the switch.

Today, we made Peppernut cookies that went with yesterday's Norway studies. I was skeptical about making a cookie that included black pepper, but these were AMAZING. Definitely a keeper. We'll be making more to share with the neighbors.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Day One

The first day of Advent - Ah! The magic!

This morning, we were excited to see that our church is also observing advent. We were also excited to see cinnamon rolls served during Sunday School. After church, we enjoyed delicious food and good company at Grandma's house.

We explore the Advent Wreath on the first day of Advent. Ours is old and cheap and definitely showing its age. But it has served us well and will continue to do so for a while. Want to know how to make your own dilapidated Advent wreath? Well then, you came to the right place!

Pick up a cheap wire frame and a cheap wreath. Ours joined our family already old and dilapidated, from a secondhand shop. If you would like new, check out Joann Fabrics stores after the first week of advent when they go on sale.

A Simple Advent Wreath Tutorial:

Take four candleholders and shove them up through the bottom of the wreath and frame.

I feel the need to point out here that I am not, I repeat NOT, giving my wreath "the bird".  Look closely and see that I have two fingers holding up this contraption.

Find the candleholder through the top again and clear a spot for the candles through the branches.

Reflect on your fingernails while you're at it and consider taking more vitamins to keep them from peeling like that.  Shameful.

Sometimes I need to twist some of the branches around the candle to keep them held upright.

Then consider using a little lotion on your dry, crepe papery hands.

Place a larger candleholder in the center, for the Christ candle.  We never remember to buy the proper color candles for Advent.  They aren't available in our town and require a small expedition to find them.  We've become accustomed to cranberry candles and hardly even try to remember any more.  Whatever colors you choose, insert all of your candles and you're ready to go!

I also inserted some extra greenery and wrapped bits of metallic ribbon through mine.  To be honest, I'm not a fan of the end result, but it's how we've done it for years now.  The flowers and bows stay attached to the wreath year-round in the box and seem to have grown together somehow.  There is no changing it now.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for my crappy stove

Thankfulness requires contentment.  A thankful person is a content person....content with what they have.  Content with where they are.  It doesn't mean they wouldn't change things if they could.  It doesn't mean they will not always strive for better.  It means they will not waste time bemoaning what isn't. Instead, they are thankful for what is.

Most days, I think I'm thankful, but then I stop and whine about something or other and realize I have a long way to go.  My stove is my reminder to be thankful.

The content face I should have

It is ugly as sin and older than dirt, it has been with me since...forever.  I honestly can't remember where it came from.  It must have been in the first house we bought. It would have looked nicer then, since I have no memory of its beginnings.  If it had been awful then, I would probably remember hating it.  Through the years, it's white finish has been scratched to reveal black.  It's black finish has been scratched to reveal dull grey.  The knobs require a special touch (read: extreme pressure) to turn just on, but only sometimes, so that occasionally when you push like crazy, you find yourself sliding all the way around.  The large burner on top has completely burnt out (literally, it caught on fire) and the drawer underneath doesn't actually close, it just shoves into place.  mostly.  when it wants to.

Three meals a day.  Every day. Every week. Always, I cook on my small three burners that are not level, causing my food to slide to one half of my pan and I slide my large pan halfway onto my small burner so that the half with food can cook on the half of the pan that covers the burner.  And I complain.  "I cannot WAIT until we get a new stove.  A black stove to match our black kitchen."  But we have all white appliances. "Yes, but our new kitchen will have all black appliances."

A more accurate representation of my content face.

But that new kitchen is never at the top of our priority list and my white appliances continue to rebel against their expected duties.  And I continue to complain.

A small video at church on Sunday reminded me of what I already knew: a thankful person is content.  Cooking that Sunday, I recalled the overwhelming nostalgia that overcame me when I retired our old high- chair. Wow, that thing was ugly.  And uncomfortable.  And inconvenient.  But not at first.  It started beautifully, it just didn't age well.  I never seemed to notice though.  I just appreciated its faithful service.

My stove started fine and didn't age well, just like the high-chair.  But how many soups and stews had been simmered on that stove for my sick sweethearts? How many grilled cheese sandwiches had been fried up for a quick lunch?  How many pancakes flipped? Green tomatoes fried? My babies grew up with good memories of Mama cooking in the kitchen and not one of those meals could have happened without that faithful, ugly stove.

My dream kitchen.  Yes, I realize it's not black.

I cannot say that I now feel emotionally attached to my cantankerous stove.  But since my revelation, each meal I've cooked has been a reminder to be thankful for everything that I have.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas School - Day 3

Our verse today is Genesis 3:4 and led to great discussion. We discussed that perfect world that God created, which we discussed yesterday and then we talked about the lie Satan brought into it. I asked the kids if Eve dropped dead the moment she ate it (no) and then asked if that made God a liar. I loved the discussion the kids carried out from here. Even the four year old was able to explain what God meant when He said they would die. We talked about the fact that Satan's lie sounded almost like the truth. I asked them if they could think of any other lies Satan tells to us today. My six year old said he lies and says that we should do anything we want. I asked what happens when we do that and she said that sometimes people get hurt or can have their feelings hurt. Wow. I need to stop and listen to my kids more. I spend so much time lecturing and not enough time listening...they are much smarter than I give them credit for.

Christmas School - Day Two

aWe studied the history of the Christmas Card - one of our favorite Christmas School days. This one might be more fun if studied in the second week of Christmas, after the Christmas Cards start rolling in. But this allows us to make lots of Christmas cards in time to send them out. It's also a great day to pose for pictures and order Christmas cards online.

We spend hours cutting and gluing and creating Christmas Cards. I'm amazed the kids don't get tired of it. We keep the Christmas Music going - jazz! and the hot apple cider flowing and the day just slips by us. We were also supposed to study England and the history of Christmas traditions in the UK, but we never made it that far. We'll get to it eventually.

Jesse Tree Day 2 - we put up the first Jesse Tree ornament. Our verse was Genesis 1:1 and colored a tiny picture of the earth. So many different things could be done here and one day I'll get brave enough to make ornaments instead of drawing them on gift-tags. It would be fun to find one of those small globe keychains to hang.

We wrapped up the school day by delivering our first cards to grandparents. I love our family and am so glad they live near!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas School - Jesse Tree Day One

With such a busy season, we've tried to fit school into the month of December, but it is never productive. There are so many extra things that I want to stop and take time for and it always felt as if we were rushing. A few years ago, we began doing Christmas School and it has been a success.

Each day, we begin school, but our regular devotion time after breakfast is exchanged for Jesse Tree devotions. We've used devotion books written just for this, but our favorite is to just read the verses and talk about them. I enjoy discussing things with my kids. Jesse Tree celebrations are generally done every day of Advent, but we choose to make it part of our weekday-only, Christmas School studies.

On the first day of the Jesse Tree, there is much excitement over finding the perfect branch. The boys scour the yard and bring in samples to lay out on the table. We hold them up to the wall one by one and decide which looks the best. In all my Jesse Tree studies, I've never seen another branch decorated sideways, but it's how we've always done it and we just like it that way. Perhaps we chose horizontally on the wall because we never seem to have an available surface to put a vertical tree onto. Who can remember? It's tradition now and there's no changing it.

The boys do copywork after devotions and this is replaced with Jesse Tree copywork. Today's verse is Isaiah 11:1. I am only making them 3 days at a time at the moment, but if you would like a copy of them as they come, leave a comment with your email address and I'll send them to you. As I make them, I'm creating them in cursive, cursive-dashed, print, and print-dashed for the Kindergarten age. Please specify which version you would like.

We hang no ornaments today, but much to-do is made of hanging the Jesse Tree. This year, the boys spied a brush pile and a friend delivered a huge Jesse Tree branch. It is much bigger than any we've used before, but it is so pretty that we couldn't pass it up.

We are going through our Advent Calendar out of order so that we can be a day or two ahead of anyone else using it, in the hopes we can catch errors before we confuse anyone's celebrations. Today we studied The Nutcracker and the country of Russia. The kids watched the Nutcracker Ballet and then built a nutcracker out of a pr*ngles can. The original instructions said to use felt and such, but we stuck with construction paper. We glued on three bands paper, using a paintbrush to spread the glue finely. Pink for his face, green for his shirt, and blue for his pants. The boys put rubber bands around the paper to keep it attached while it dried. For the shoes, a plain band of black would work, but we trimmed it to have two rounded bumps in the front to be the tops of his shoes. We used hot-glue to make the ribbon stick to his shirt and for the arms made out of rolled paper. Regular glue attached the yarn hair and the boys attached a hat to the lid of the can. They cut out and glued facial features onto the pink paper. For the mouth, they cut out a square of white and then drew in red gums with a red Sharpie marker to separate teeth shapes.

They want to fill it with nuts and give it to friends. I'm so proud of their work, I selfishly want to keep it!

The boys also discovered a huge brush pile of greenery while hunting for their branch and have been decorating the porch with it. Let's hope it doesn't turn brown! I love this small town that we live in. I love neighbors calling and smiling over the two boys they watched riding their bikes down the street with their backs laden with branches. No one wonders too hard anymore what they might be up to, they just chuckle at those Harrison it again.