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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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?