Holiday Prep and Cheer

This is the first year we put our tree in the activity room.

December has been a whirlwind of activity, though I don’t think we experience the busy-ness that many families experience. We don’t spend a lot of time with extended family. Relatives either live too far away; or they have their own lives, commitments and interests; or both. The adults in my family don’t exchange presents either. But we still hustle and bustle to figure out what to buy for our own kids, each other, and a few others. So it’s never completely exempt from stress!

Although doing Christmas cards is not my favorite thing to do, I try to write out a few notes and letters because I much prefer getting real mail than an impersonal card without even a real signature on it. As such, I keep my card recipient list to a minimum, and sometimes I send out e-mails instead. Every year, I tend to do things a little differently, and this includes decorating too. (See below to see how we decorated this year.)

The 10-year-old sewed a Santa's hat for his little brother's favorite toy bird,
The 10-year-old sewed a Santa’s hat for his little brother’s favorite toy bird, “Chick.”

I’m grateful that the holidays for us mostly means the four of us relaxing at home, making ornaments and decorating leisurely. It means watching more documentaries and movies too. It means pulling out the Christmas storybooks, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bake something too.

Unfortunately, this week brought illness to our house. My husband and 10-year-old are feeling very poorly, but somehow my youngest son and I have stayed healthy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m sad for them because for my husband, it’s not how he wanted to spend his vacation, and my son was also sick on his birthday this year. I’m hopeful that he’ll be feeling much better on Christmas Day.

black-capped chickadee
black-capped chickadee

At least, we have the next week and a half without any appointments or any commitments, and that feels pretty awesome to me. Our busy time was the first half of this month, and it was pretty special too because the 10-year-old performed in two recitals. The first recital was here at our house — I invited my dad, step-mom, two aunts and uncle to hear him play his latest piano pieces. (He played 13 pieces of classical music.) I made two kinds of soup, three loaves of bread, homemade fudge and a homemade apple pie. It was all delicious, and everyone enjoyed themselves, and I was so very happy to do this. But my son was the star of the show, and he wowed my family with his piano playing. Better yet, we’re going to try to do a family recital twice a year, and this experience reminded me how music can really bring people together, and I’m so grateful to my son for bringing music into the house. It was a day to celebrate for sure.

One week later, my son performed in his new piano teacher’s performance group, which is basically a recital. She does this four times a year, and what a pleasure it was to hear her other students and give our son a chance to perform in a supportive, relaxing atmosphere. And he played his four pieces perfectly! He was so proud of himself, and we were on Cloud 9 all day.

The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.
The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.

My youngest son is still fond of birds, so together with his brother and I, we decided to do something different this year. We kept most of Christmas tree ornaments in storage except for the beautiful balls. Then we decided to make the rest of the ornaments — mostly birds! So our tree is full of birds this year, and it’s so pretty and delightful. My eldest son and I did most of the work. He is very good at drawing and painting, so he made some pretty ornaments. My younger son gets frustrated with his handiwork and gives up quickly, but I think he had fun trying.

Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
From left to right: cardinal sewed by 10-year-old, blue jay painted by me, starling painted by 10-year-old, and an American goldfinch I made last year for the 7-year-old.

And how can I forget — before we even came up with the bird ornament idea, the 7-year-old decided we needed more outdoor decorations. (All we have is a wreath on the door, but several of our neighbors have lots of lights and decorations outside.) He didn’t know the name for it, but he described it to me, and I realized he wanted to make an evergreen garland for our porch. He was determined to make it and not buy it, so I said that we could walk around our yard and see what we could find to use. I told him that we might have a problem though — we couldn’t cut too many evergreen branches from the trees or we might hurt the trees. So he was very conservative, and we picked just a few pretty pine needles, sprigs of cedar and a couple sprigs of holly too. This, of course, was not enough material to make a garland that would stretch across our porch.

I tried to work with his ideas as much as I could, but once he “got tired” and said he didn’t want to do it anymore, I made some big suggestions. (I have realized that when he gets “tired” that means he doesn’t know how to proceed and needs help.) My suggestions revived his enthusiasm for the activity, and he finished off the decorations with his very own ideas — to hang an ornament from them and to hang them from the hooks on the front porch. I think they turned out quite pretty, don’t you?


I hope wherever you are and whatever you celebrate (and even if you don’t celebrate this season), you are warm, healthy and at peace. I hope you’re with people you love, and I hope you’re engaged in activities that make your heart sing. I know many people struggle this time of year and throughout the year, but this is my wish for everyone. I would like for us all to live in peace with one another and share our unique gifts with each other. I hope everyone has someone else to support them in this.

Much love and thanks for reading. Happy New Year too!
Shelli

Birthday Week

20160818_092049I’m writing this post on the morning of my youngest’s 7th birthday. He’s still sleeping, and his brother is at a piano lesson, and I just finished mopping the kitchen floor. I’m waiting for it to dry so that I can go start making yeast rolls, which is one of things he requested I make for him. Yesterday, we made a chocolate cake together, and I made tomato soup which I’m going to serve for lunch when my dad and step-mother come over to help celebrate his birthday.

We aren’t doing big parties this year. I had a party for this little guy last year, and it was a big success, but he’s a happy little fellow whether or not I have a party for him. As are most kids, he’s pretty excited about getting presents as well as the simple fact that he’s turning seven.

Exactly one week from today, my eldest son will turn 10, and I’m marveling at that two-digit number. I remember the year I turned 10, my mother had a slumber party for me. I invited a bunch of girls from school. At least one of them I didn’t know as well as the others, but I guess I thought she was cool. I have very few memories of the party now, but I do remember all us girls sleeping on my basement floor, and I let every girl pick out one of my stuffed animals to sleep with. It was a fun party, but I ate too many sweets, and I got sick after it was over. I also remember some kind of squabble between two of the girls. My mom said she’d never give me a slumber party again after that, and I don’t blame her. I’m sure it was a lot of work.

I never planned for my boys’ birthdays to be one week apart in August, but it’s been convenient and fun. We have “birthday week,” and it’s at the perfect time of year right after I finish up our homeschool year and before we start the new one. Both boys are equally excited since they both get to have birthdays. We always do separate celebrations for them, so they don’t feel like they have to share a birthday. However, they do share the decorations. It’s a tradition to decorate our house for the birthdays a day before my youngest’s birthday and take them down after my eldest’s birthday. They love having a whole week to savor the decorations!

I finally finished our end-of-year slideshow. We watched it last weekend, and I gave the boys a certificate of completion for the 3rd grade and Kindergarten. So now I have a 4th grader and 1st grader! How exciting! We will begin our “new” school year in September, and when I have time, I’ll write about what curriculum we’ll be using, etc.

I have already written about how I wrap up the end-of-year and do our record-keeping on this blog, but you can also read about My End of the Year Record-Keeping on the home/schoo/life blog, if you’re interested in that.

If you have a minute, tell me what’s happening in your world this week. 🙂

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.

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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!