Posts tagged ‘traditions’

December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice!

winter solstice-2

My five-year-old and I made winter solstice trees today with branches, twigs and paper snowflakes. My eight-year-old decided to make a mossy swamp tree! There is moss on its bark and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs (the dried strings of glue were left there on purpose). It even has a dead branch underneath it with red mushrooms growing on it! I love how he gets these crazy ideas and just goes with it!

winter solstice-3

Five-year-old’s tree is on the left. Mine on the right.

winter solstice-1

Close up of eight-year-old’s “swamp solstice tree.” LOL

What are you doing to celebrate the winter solstice?

November 23, 2013

Letters to Santa

{Addresses for Santa Claus to receive a reply}

Note: Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting a few of my holiday posts from the past, which people seem to like. This will also give me a little holiday break too. (But there will be new stuff coming up too!) ;) Thanks.

This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on December 5, 2012.

I’ve created a tradition of having my six-year-old write a letter to Santa every November, and he loves doing this.  He definitely wants Santa to know what he’s wishing for.

My son doesn’t know it, but I use the opportunity to let him practice his handwriting and learn about letter writing.  Usually I let him dictate what he wants to say, and I write it down, and then I have him copy it in his handwriting, or either I call out how to spell the words like I did with the one above. I also have him watch me address the envelope and fill in a return address.

I addressed our letter simply to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” and the year before last, I stealthily stashed a postage stamp into the envelope without my son noticing.  We got a reply back from Santa before Christmas that year, and since I remembered to do it again this year, I hope we get another reply.

I haven’t tried it, but according to The Christmas Almanac (published 2003 by Welcome Books), you can guarantee a response by secretly enclosing your own “reply from Santa” and sending it to Santa c/o Det. 2, 11th WS, Eilson AFB, Alaska, 99702.  Elves working for the Air Force Weather Squadron will turn the mail around so that your child receives the reply.  Be sure to send your letter before Dec. 10th in order to get a reply back before Christmas.

The Christmas Almanac also gives an alternate address, and you’re supposed to receive an authentic North Pole postmark if you send a self-address stamped envelope to Postmaster, Attn: Steve Cornelius, North Pole Branch U.S. Post Office, 325 Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska 99705-9998.

In “Letters to Santa full of chuckles, but also tears” on TODAY via NBCNEWS.com, I read that the U.S. Postal Service receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year, with increases during tough economic times.

The article describes the research done by Carole Slotterback, a psychology professor who wrote the book, “The Psychology of Santa.”  She analyzed approximately 1,200 letters sent to Santa between 1998 and 2003.

“From the humorous to the heart-wrenching, children’s wish lists to Santa reveal that children aren’t as toy-centric as parents think,” the article states.

This doesn’t surprise me.  Children can be amazingly selfless when they want to be, especially when they have dealt with hardship in their life. I’d wager that children who are a little selfish actually have a good life at home with parents who love them unconditionally.

Slotterback said that one child asked to be an elf, another said “NO CLOTHES,” and another asked for a mom. What did my child ask for?  A rocket. Then he was concerned because he couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Yep. That’s a child who has a good life.

The article also said that children weren’t always as polite as they should be.  “You’d think if you were asking for a lot of presents, you would throw in a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you,’” she said.

Uh oh. I opened my photo program and looked at the picture I took of my son’s letter.  Ah, shucks! I forgot to have him write, “thank you.” Oh well. (I did tell him it was polite to start a letter wishing a person well.) I guess even mamas need a reminder to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ sometimes.

***

Last year I asked readers to comment about the debate of letting children believe in Santa Claus. I’m not going to include that here, but if you’d like to comment, I’d love for you to add to the discussion in last year’s post. Click here for that.

November 7, 2013

The Day of the Dead

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.

Since my son and I are learning Spanish together, I decided to celebrate the Day of the Dead or “Dia de los Muertos,” which is celebrated over two days, November 1st and 2nd.  The purpose of Dia de los Muertos is to remember and honor friends and relatives who have passed away. It’s not supposed to be scary or morbid. Instead, it’s a celebration of their lives and a way to remember that death is a part of life for everyone.

The roots of this ancient holiday can be traced back thousands of years to the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. After the Spanish conquest, the festival blended with Spanish customs, and eventually became Dia de los Muertos. It’s celebrated throughout Mexico, and Mexican Americans and other people around the world celebrate it too. The holiday continues to evolve as each culture puts its special spin on it.

I like the holiday because it is another way for me to teach my boys about their ancestors and the people who were once an important part of my life. Sharing family history and stories is important for children because it teaches them where they come from and gives them a sense of belonging.

Honoring the dead is a tradition from my husband’s family, and each Memorial Day we visit the cemeteries where some of my ancestors are buried. Those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos may visit cemeteries now and clean the gravesites and decorate them with flowers and other memorabilia, but since we visit cemeteries on Memorial Day, I decided we would celebrate Dia de los Muertos in a more simple fashion at home.

I chose to make a “shoebox altar” to honor my grandmothers and our more recent animal friends who died in the past few years.  My boys can remember Millie, our dog who died over a year ago, so I thought the celebration might have more meaning for them by including a friend they remember.

Altars are decorated in bright colors. Flowers, particularly marigolds, toys, photographs, bread and other foods are all traditional items that may be placed on an altar. The idea is to invite the spirits of the deceased to come back and celebrate the day with you.

I remember that both my grandmothers had plenty of sweets on hand whenever I visited them, so I put some candy under their photos. They also loved flowers and gardening, so my boys and I made some flowers out of tissue paper to add to the altar. For the dogs, my son put out a little dog food, and since Millie loved to steal our socks, we put a sock out for her as well.

The most common symbol of Dia de los Muertos is the calacas or skeleton.  Again, it’s not supposed to be scary. Calacas may be dressed in colorful clothes or painted with flowers and religious symbols.  I made a skull out of paper mache, and I decorated it with flowers and my favorite colors. My boys laughed at it, which was the reaction I was hoping for.

Every evening I make up a story for my seven-year-old, but on these two nights, I retold him the stories I remember my grandmothers telling me about their childhoods. I don’t know if their spirits actually visited our house those days, but by making the altar, looking at photos, and reminiscing, I felt the spirit of their lives and how they helped shape me as a person. It felt good to honor and remember them.

March 31, 2013

From my egg makers to yours…

Happy Easter and Happy Spring.

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

This has been a great year with so many wonderful memories.  I put together this slideshow of some of the places we’ve been and our adventures in homeschooling the boys.  It may be more interesting to our family members, but I hope you enjoy it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And WordPress tells me these were my most popular posts in 2012.  I thank each and every one of you for stopping by my little corner of cyberspace. You know I’m always here if you have any questions or want to chat about homeschooling!

I wish you and your families a fantastic 2013 with hopes that you’ll have lots of fun learning while making wonderful memories!

December 13, 2012

The Gift of Story

storytelling drawingNote: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, December 12, 2012.

If you’re running out of money searching for the perfect holiday gifts, remember that sometimes the best presents for young children are free.  Telling stories to children is a gift they’ll never forget.

When I was young, my grandmother told me stories about her childhood living on a farm. I can still remember the sound of Granny’s voice, her laughter and the way she used her hands when she talked.  The stories have stayed in my memory because they delighted me so much, and now I tell them to my own children.

She told me about the “tricks” she, her brothers and cousins used to pull while growing up on the farm.  She was the youngest of three daughters, so she wasn’t needed in the house.  She became the ringleader.

Once they stripped a pine tree of its needles, and when my great-grandfather drove by it on his tracker in the field, he couldn’t figure out what in the world happened.  He came and got his family to look at the pine tree that shed its needles, and they all wondered what happened.  My grandmother and her brothers didn’t say a word.

Another time they had a water-drinking contest that she said almost drowned her littlest brother, James!  And the best story is how they took a bite out of every peach on the peach tree because they were told not to pick any of the ripe peaches.

She also told me about the time my grandfather wrapped a huge box, labeled it to my grandmother from him and put it under the Christmas tree very early in December.  He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was.  All he said was that it was very practical.  On Christmas morning, everyone wanted Granny to open that box first.  What was in it?  Toilet paper.

So you see, I come from a line of tricksters and practical jokers, and if it weren’t for these stories, I would never know that. True family stories tell children where they come from, and they teach them lessons that their elders learned the hard way.

I believe every parent should tell stories to their children, but they don’t have to be true stories. Children love it when their parents make up stories for them. Trust me – it doesn’t matter how bad you think your story is – you’ll have a captive audience.

Two years ago I started a nightly ritual of making up a story for my six-year-old.  Now he won’t let me go until I tell him a story, but that’s okay.  I know that my stories are a treasure to him, and even though he might not remember all the stories, he’ll always remember me telling them to him.

Most nights my mind is a complete blank.  I have no idea what to tell him. Sometimes he’ll give me an idea, or else some character, usually an animal, will pop into my head. I just have to go with whatever comes to me or else I’ll never get a story told.

It’s amazing that as I start with some kind of character and setting, the storyline will arise from that almost as if by magic.  The more I tell, the easier it is for me to stop worrying about telling a good story and just tell something. No matter how silly I think it is, my son always smiles and wants another one.

So this holiday season, think about starting a storytelling ritual with your children. Start with something from your child’s life – a toy, a favorite animal.  Make it come alive, and you’ll be amazed to see that made up stories can be the best entertainment, the best way to share your values, and the most rewarding gift you can ever give your child.

Do you tell stories to your children? Do you want to, but you’re not sure how?  Please let know. I’d like to offer more resources on storytelling, and I’d like to get a feel for what you would like or need.

December 6, 2012

Letters to Santa

{Addresses for Santa Claus to receive a reply}

This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on December 5, 2012.

I’ve created a tradition of having my six-year-old write a letter to Santa every November, and he loves doing this.  He definitely wants Santa to know what he’s wishing for.

My son doesn’t know it, but I use the opportunity to let him practice his handwriting and learn about letter writing.  Usually I let him dictate what he wants to say, and I write it down, and then I have him copy it in his handwriting, or either I call out how to spell the words like I did with the one above. I also have him watch me address the envelope and fill in a return address.

I addressed our letter simply to “Santa Claus, North Pole,” and the year before last, I stealthily stashed a postage stamp into the envelope without my son noticing.  We got a reply back from Santa before Christmas that year, and since I remembered to do it again this year, I hope we get another reply.

I haven’t tried it, but according to The Christmas Almanac (published 2003 by Welcome Books), you can guarantee a response by secretly enclosing your own “reply from Santa” and sending it to Santa c/o Det. 2, 11th WS, Eilson AFB, Alaska, 99702.  Elves working for the Air Force Weather Squadron will turn the mail around so that your child receives the reply.  Be sure to send your letter before Dec. 10th in order to get a reply back before Christmas.

The Christmas Almanac also gives an alternate address, and you’re supposed to receive an authentic North Pole postmark if you send a self-address stamped envelope to Postmaster, Attn: Steve Cornelius, North Pole Branch U.S. Post Office, 325 Santa Claus Lane, North Pole, Alaska 99705-9998.

In “Letters to Santa full of chuckles, but also tears” on TODAY via NBCNEWS.com, I read that the U.S. Postal Service receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year, with increases during tough economic times.

The article describes the research done by Carole Slotterback, a psychology professor who wrote the book, “The Psychology of Santa.”  She analyzed approximately 1,200 letters sent to Santa between 1998 and 2003.

“From the humorous to the heart-wrenching, children’s wish lists to Santa reveal that children aren’t as toy-centric as parents think,” the article states.

This doesn’t surprise me.  Children can be amazingly selfless when they want to be, especially when they have dealt with hardship in their life. I’d wager that children who are a little selfish actually have a good life at home with parents who love them unconditionally.

Slotterback said that one child asked to be an elf, another said “NO CLOTHES,” and another asked for a mom. What did my child ask for?  A rocket. Then he was concerned because he couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Yep. That’s a child who has a good life.

The article also said that children weren’t always as polite as they should be.  “You’d think if you were asking for a lot of presents, you would throw in a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you,’” she said.

Uh oh. I opened my photo program and looked at the picture I took of my son’s letter.  Ah, shucks! I forgot to have him write, “thank you.” Oh well. (I did tell him it was polite to start a letter wishing a person well.) I guess even mamas need a reminder to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ sometimes.

***

Do you let your children write letters to Santa Claus?  Do you do Santa Claus at your house?  I know many parents don’t like to lie to their children about Santa, and I tend to agree, but after much thought, I have decided to let my children believe in Santa Claus.  It’s a treasured memory of mine from my childhood, and I feel no resentment toward my parents for lying to me about it.  In fact, I think I’d be angry with my parents now, if they had not done it!  What is your take on this debate?

November 12, 2012

Creating New Family Traditions

Note: This column first appeared in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 (you can view it online here), and shortly after, appeared on my blog. I’m re-posting it now because we’re entering the holiday season again, which can be stressful for many, including me. It’s important to think about what you want for your family at this season, and I hope this inspires you. Please leave me a comment and tell me about your favorite family traditions. (Psst…This also happens to be one chapter in my e-book, Then There Were Two: Essays on Motherhood.)

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

You can view all my posts regarding seasonal traditions (which I’m still working on) here: Traditions / Rituals / Holidays

October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Pumpkin with a Brain. For instructions, click here.

Note: This column is printed in the October 31, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Once a couple creates a family, they realize that family life is full of harrowing moments and howls in the dark. Little monsters — ahem — Lovable little monsters invade their lives…

This will be my sixth Halloween with children, and in that time it’s become my favorite holiday.  The fact that it’s also my birthday might play a part in that too, but really, it doesn’t have the stress that comes with Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Stress shouldn’t come with any holiday, but unfortunately it does.  Halloween…it’s just fun.

The weather is beautiful. I love autumn temperatures, changing leaves and the opportunity to make soup. We can get outside frequently, do some gardening and pull out the hiking boots.

Costumes are fun, though sometimes a challenge.  At one-year-old, my sons were both too young to protest the pumpkin costume I made them wear.  As they get older, they are more opinionated.  At two, my eldest liked the Peter Pan costume I picked for him, but I knew better than to try to put anything over his head.

At three, he had his “not interested in Halloween” year.  The decorations in the stores scared him, and my husband ended up treating him to McDonalds on the night of Halloween while I stayed home to greet the trick or treaters.

Last year my three-year-old also went through that phase, and he wanted nothing to do with trick or treating or a costume. I don’t know which way he’ll go this year, but I haven’t bothered to buy him a costume. I can’t get him to wear long sleeves let alone a costume (and coincidently his brother dislikes short sleeves – go figure.)

My six-year-old is all into Halloween costumes now, and this year he made it easy on us by not having any pre-conceived idea of what he wanted to be. He just wanted to go to the store and look.  We were there quite a while and almost came home empty-handed. Why do costume makers think all little boys want to be super heroes?  My son is not into super heroes at all.

Finally I spotted something we had overlooked, and my son grabbed it right away – an extraterrestrial!  It’s a green costume with three-fingered gloves and a mask with big, black eyes. The torso has a faint outline of the internal organs of this alien. Simple, yet very cool looking.

All children should be encouraged to play make-believe, and I consider Halloween a celebration of that.  As with any holiday or ritual, each new family has to create their own traditions and meanings.  Sometimes we keep old traditions, tweak them, or change them altogether.  For me, Halloween is for the children.  It’s a chance for them to be whatever they want and continue the play as they step out into the community.

It’s also fun for me because I get to watch how excited they are, and I get to accompany them on their journey around the neighborhood – a good excuse to get out and say hello to the neighbors too.  The candy is another story, especially since I end up eating so much of it, but that’s a small price to pay for a day of play.

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy Halloween.

February 22, 2012

January / February Activities with Small Children

One of my goals this year was to plan a lesson / activity around each of the holidays, and I wanted to try to start some new traditions too.  Unfortunately, I have not started off well in this 2012 New Year.  Though I’ve done a few projects for New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and even Groundhog Dog, I didn’t feel very prepared, and I didn’t do anything for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or Washington’s Birthday.  Oh well.  I plan to do this every year, so I’ll make up for eventually.  Since my boys are so young, I have probably done just enough anyway.

To help myself, I’ve just looked up and bookmarked some sites that will tell me the holidays.  Here they are:

2012 American holiday schedule:

Here’s a few visuals and notes about what I did accomplish these past two months. (I’ll repost this next year before the holidays.)

January 1, 2012 – New Year’s Day

For New Year’s, I thought it would be a good time to go over the months of the year with my five-year-old.  He has already learned the days of the week on his own.  I think he’s motivated because he likes to know what our plans are, and he understands that some of our routines happen on a weekly basis.  He almost knows the months of the year, but not quite.

I made these calendars with the boys and laminated them, but I admit, it was more for me than for them.  They had fun creating a list of their “favorites” for 2011, though.  It’s a great item to put into their keepsakes box.

We put a 2012 calendar on one side and their list of favorites for 2011 on the other.  I invited them to decorate the calendars, but the five-year-old wasn’t really into it.  (This seems to be typical of him.  I think decorating is more of a girl thing.)  He did want to cut out his calendar and list and paste it to the construction paper, though.  He also picked the color black – one of his favorites.

I also made this peace dove for New Year’s.  Again, I thought five-year-old might enjoy making it since he likes making so many animals out of paper, but it turned out I did the creating here.  And it turned out rather blah too.  Oh well.

February 2, 2012 – Groundhog Day

If it wasn’t for checking the Internet on the morning of the 2nd, I would have missed Groundhog Day altogether.  Athens has a pretty fun Groundhog Day celebration with Gus, the groundhog who resides at Bear Hollow Zoo.  We may have been able to make it there that morning, but it was cold, and I wasn’t feeling that energetic.  So, I turned to the Internet to help me.

I printed off some fun sheets to color, which you can access by clicking here.  Whereas in the past my boys have not been into coloring at all, I’ve noticed that changing a bit.  They had fun with these sheets, and we hung them on the bulletin board.

I told my five-year-old what the holiday was about, and we watched several videos about groundhogs and Groundhog Day on YouTube.  Here’s a couple, and you’ll find many more on YouTube.

  • Ground Hog Day (2012 HD) – watch a real groundhog take a peek outside his burrow.  I enjoyed the music on this one.
  • Groundhog Day – Get some more information about groundhogs and Groundhog Day history on this one.
It happened to be a lovely, springlike day, so we also went outside to see if we could see our shadows!!
Despite my lack of preparedness, I could tell that my five-year-old enjoyed learning and celebrating Groundhog Day.  At the end of the day, I said, “I’ll have to check the newspaper to see if Gus saw his shadow today.”  The five-year-old said, “I just don’t understand…..groundhogs don’t understand like people do.”  He’s a smart little guy.  I told him, “Yep. The groundhog has no idea what all the fuss is about.  This holiday is just for fun….”
February 14, 2012 – Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d get an early start (unusual for me, if you can’t tell), so we started making crafts a week or two early.  I made this Valentine’s mailbox, and the five-year-old helped me decorate it.  I wrapped a box with some old paper that they had already drawn on.  (I try to recycle whatever I can.)

The best part of preparing for Valentine’s Day was teaching my five-year-old how to make a heart: by folding a piece of paper, drawing half a heart with its center on the crease, and then cutting it out.  Once he opened it up, he was so happy to discover a perfect heart!

However, he couldn’t quite draw half a heart very well, so my five-year-old was very disappointed with his first attempts.  Since he can be quite a perfectionist, he usually gives up when this happens.  I was pleasantly surprised to watch him keep trying this time.  Soon, he mastered heart making, and once he could make some good hearts, there was no stopping him!  We strung his hearts up along the doorway to our activity room and also pinned them to our bulletin board.  It was really fun for me to watch him do the decorating on his own!

We’re lucky to own a few Valentine’s Day books, so we read those too:

  • My First Valentine’s Day Book - This a great book for 2~3 year olds, and my 5-year-old still likes it too.  It consists of simple rhymes, and there are little cards on each page that your child can take out of an envelope and read.
  • The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson – Also for youngsters. A cute book emphasizing how we make our own Valentines and give them away.
  • Valentine’s Day by Cass R. Sandak – This is a great book, but I got lucky and found it at a library sale. It has the history and customs of Valentine’s Day throughout history. It’s for older kids, so I only read my five-year-old a few pages.

We also made (and bought) some Valentines for each other.  I made each of the boys a special card with their names on it and described their personalities and things they like to do.  Similar to the calendar, and it’ll go into their keepsakes box.

Unfortunately, on Valentine’s Day, I was extremely sick with a bad cold and fever, so some other things I had wanted to do will have to wait until next year.  :(

So please tell me, what kinds of traditions do you have during January and February?  Do you celebrate these holidays and/or celebrate other holidays / traditions this time of year?

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