This past weekend, as if it was no big thing at all, Ben grabbed hold of the side of the toy chest and stood himself up on his own! He’s been inching himself toward it for the past month, practicing his downward dog, and staying up on his own two legs when we stand him up. At 9 1/2 months, he’s not even close to letting go, nor to taking steps, and that’s a-okay with us. Charlie took his first steps at 10 months and was running by 12 months. I will definitely take as long as I can get with my little roly-poly pumpkin pie crawling around like the baby he is.
I don’t recall doing an advent calendar growing up, but we (catholics) always had a little visual countdown with our advent wreath at dinner time. Every week leading up to Christmas, a new candle on the wreath is lit signifying Christmas day (and sweet baby Jesus) growing closer. Lighting (and blowing out) the candles was an event. Dad always lit them, but who would get to be the one to blow out the candle at the end of dinner? I begged for it every night. The glow of those purple and rose colored candles in the middle of the table added to the magic of the month. My parents light their candles every December to this day, and it’s a tradition that I want to continue with my family, but this year, fire is just something I can’t commit to yet with our tiny ones at the table
For now, opening little boxes topped with trees and filled with a small strip of paper with a holiday activity is such a sweet evening ritual to look forward to. It really makes the countdown to Christmas an event, and puts that whole “good cheer” and “merriment” of the season right in our midst. Within each box, I wrote a little Christmas activity to do on that day. I make sure to put all of our favorite Christmas movies and treats in the boxes. Some (especially weeknight activities) are easy, some more involved with a bit of planning.
In a year or two, when the boys get a little bit bigger, I’ll start subbing in more activities for the good of others (Donate toys! Volunteer! Buy a gift for a family in need! Send homemade Christmas cards to a nursing home! Bake cookies for the homeless shelter! Etc. etc. etc.) and more outings as our kids age (Go to the Nutcracker! Drive around to see the Christmas lights! Go ice skating!). But for now, we’ll settle for a watch of The Grinch on the couch before bed, or a night of wearing Christmas hats with Christmas tunes tinkling in the background.
In the rush of coming off of travel and Thanksgiving being so late this year, I didn’t even put our Advent calendar out until the 5th. But the 5th was just as good a day to start as the 1st, or even the 10th.
I made our advent calendar last year, and love it just as much this year. I got everything from Michael’s when they were having a 60% off sale (as they are this week!) and the only other supply I needed was a sharpie and a hot glue gun, which I had at home.
I used this set of 21 bottle brush trees from Lemax. To fill in for the other 3 boxes, I used this set of pinecones and a little bag of silver bells. Berries would be nice too. Make sure to set your trees out in the order that you’ll glue them to the boxes to make sure the heights are appealing to the eye. Try to vary the heights a little.
The boxes are small kraft paper boxes from the jewelry section at Michael’s. These are very similar. I wrote the numbers on the outside with a thin Sharpie and then simply hot glued the trees, pinecones and bells to the tops. Inside, tuck your activity and set up on a long table, or windowsill for little hands to open when the day arrives! In the spirit of full disclosure, Charlie did pull a bell off of a box today, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with another dab of hot glue.
To store, I have a sturdy little cardboard box that I tuck them into at the end of each season, and you could even tuck them away after the day passes, but I kind of like looking at them all lined up the whole month. They are a decoration as much as they are a calendar!
No doubt, the holiday wants and needs of your family are different than my own, but here are 24 ideas that I tucked into my own Advent calendar this year. The dates may shift, activities may pop up unannounced and some may not even happen (Naps! Meals! Work! Foul moods!), but that’s the beauty of the holidays, isn’t it?
1 – Set up the advent calendar, and fill with all our favorites!
2 – Choose Christmas books from the library!
3 – Watch The Grinch – the original, very Dr. Seuss-y version, of course.
4 – Put up the nativity.
5 – Put out shoes for St. Nicholas Day.
6 – Go out to get our tree & decorate!
7 – Our town’s Christmas tree lighting.
8 – Outdoor lights go up!
9 – Christmas hats & Christmas tunes blasting
10 – Make Peppermint Bark.
11 – Watch White Christmas!
12 – Visit our church’s Christmas Village.
13 – Make a tree shaped pizza!
14 – Bake Christmas sugar cookies!
15 – Watch Elf!
16 – Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and one million marshmallows.
17 – A seasonal coffee treat from Starbucks.
18 – Make salt dough handprint ornaments.
19 – Charlie’s holiday performance at school! (There is nothing on this list that I’m looking forward to more than this.
20 – Homemade egg nog with a little splash of something to warm our bellies.
21 – Wear red and green!
22 – Make a batch of wassail for the Metrokas’ arrival!
23 – Wrap presents with Christmas movies on!
24 – Appetizer night at home and mass, of course.
Can’t even believe that we only have two weeks to go!
Mike’s cleaning the laundry room. He cleaned the garage earlier today while I took the boys to the park, and I knew he has his eyes set on some cabinets and drawers next. He’s going through a real moment of tidying things up before his parents visit in a couple weeks. I hope it sticks because I could get used to this. I’m lounging on the couch next to the Christmas tree, The Holiday (one of my favorite Christmas movies!) on in the background while I look at the overview of our week and finish up my Christmas card order. My Sunday bedtime is quickly approaching, so let’s take a look at our week. Hamburger pie is on the menu for tomorrow night – ground turkey, salt, pepper, ketchup (a good squeeze – maybe 1/4 cup?), 1 can each of diced tomato, green beans and corn. Mix it up, and top with creamy mashed potatoes and then cheddar cheese on top of that. One of our favorites in the winter. Taco Tuesday this week is chicken enchiladas. I’ll do the chicken just with salt and pepper in the crock pot to make it easy. Monterrey jack cheese to fill with, and I use canned enchilada sauce these busy days. Extra crock pot chicken from Tuesday’s enchiladas will be for the stir fry on Wednesday. Broccoli, onion, carrot, and pea pods with rice. I usually wing the stir fry sauce – soy sauce, garlic, a little brown sugar. Thursdays are for leftovers, and Pizza is our Friday tradition. I made granola for a better breakfast, and I have sugar cookies on the plan for Friday.
Not too many other extras this week. Mike doesn’t have any events, so we’ll have him to ourselves on nights, thank goodness, and for me it’s all just getting ourselves to Christmas break in two more weeks!! I’ve planned a couple running days and yoga. I have a few more Christmas to do’s, but our tree looks beautiful and it’s starting to feel more like the holidays around here. On Saturday we went to our town’s Christmas tree lighting – they had fireworks! It was so very exciting!
We chose a sweet little fraser fir this morning down the road at the high school Christmas tree stand. We were the only souls there at 8:30am other than about ten high school honor society students. They were polite, helpful and happy to take pictures. 🥰
Charlie ran around the place with Mike chasing behind, while Ben and I slowly walked the aisles, on the hunt for the perfect tree. Not too tall, not too full, a little bit skinny and the best smelling we could find. She’s waiting on the porch now, while we straighten up, dig out the tree stand and have final discussions about placement. “Play room!” “No! Living room!” I have a feeling that Mike’s argument of playroom so we open present on Christmas morning right next to her will win. I can’t wait to see her all dolled up!
Do you have your tree yet? I feel like everyone but us has theirs already!
1. this tree-scape advent calendar…because it’s loved just as much this year as last.
2. this sheep refrigerator art…and the tiny hands who made it at school this week.
3. this collection of things found in my pocket…when self care, lunch duty, and babies collide.
4. this mason jar…and the vast expanse of water it has helped me drink this week.
5. this play nativity…for day 5 of the advent calendar, and for the full hour of entertainment it provided yesterday.
in other news:
this was one of those glorious weeks that passed by so quickly, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen at all. i keep asking myself, was there school on monday? am i sure? there was, it flew, and the week is behind us already.
this weekend, the rest of the christmas decorations are going to be pulled out of the giant chest they live in. it’s our first year in our new house, and i’m itching to decide where things should go. the christmas tree has been a discussion – the playroom, or the living room – and we haven’t quite settled on it, but one of us is going to reason their way into success.
it was a good, easy week at school. the excitement about our christmas tree in the corner, the book tree in the hallway, twinkle lights on every surface and the wrapped boxes underneath have been highlights in my chats with my students. thanksgiving memories of turkey and stuffing are far behind us. i’m reading the grinch with my kindergarten and first graders, and mike reads it nightly with charlie (‘gwinch! gwinch! ‘lou who!’) and i swear i have it memorized.
it’s the best time of year, friends, i hope you’re soaking up every little moment.
“staring down from his cave with a sour, grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town. for he knew every who down in who-ville beneath was busy now, hanging a mistletoe wreath.” –how the grinch stole christmas! by dr. seuss.
I read this quote last night before bed and it made me tear up then, and again this morning when I re-read it. Motherhood is a wild, crazy, personal thing. This hit the nail on the head. I love the last line so, so much. Leaving it right here to remember.
–by Kate Baer, an excerpt from What Kind of Woman coming out in 2020
I often, especially at that hour after my students leave, but can’t yet leave school to pick up my own little loves, find myself in need of something to munch on. I’ve gone through phases of handfuls of pretzels, tupperware-d muffins, little jars of plain yogurt with granola, tins of chex mix, baggies of graham crackers, or a simple, not overly sweet cake wrapped up in a napkin and tucked in my lunch box to enjoy with a steaming mug of peppermint tea in the afternoon.
But a couple weeks ago, it was after the boys had gone to bed, and I had in my mind these date bars that are a bit of a tradition for me to bake pre-anywhere travel. It had been a long school day, I had been making lists all week of things that needed to be remembered and packed before our trip. I typically double Smitten Kitchen’s recipe to fit in my 9×9 square baking pan, and to make more of a thick breakfast bar than the single recipe makes.
As you can probably see where I’m going where this, a few things went awry in my dark of night cooking. I was doubling all the ingredients in my head (always write them down. always!). I also didn’t have exactly all of the ingredients that the recipe called for – dried cherries rather than dates, frozen fruit to make up the difference, regular granulated sugar instead of raw, ginger instead of cloves, and the use of a whole cup instead of a half measuring cup. A few changes and mistakes that led to the greatness of a crumbly but chewy, sweet but tangy, sweet but also a little salt to take the edge off, homemade granola bar. The perfect after- school, or afternoon treat to enjoy with a hot cozy drink in a mug.
Homemade Cherry-Berry Granola Bars
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the filling:
What you need:
5 ounces dried cherries
1 cup frozen (or fresh) mixed berries
1/2 cup water
What to do:
+ Combine cherries, berries and water in a small saucepan.
+ Simmer over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and begun to thicken.
+ Set aside while you make the dough.
For the dough:
What you need:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cups oats, quick-cooking or old-fashioned, plus another 1/4 cup for topping
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
What to do:
+ Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease sides and bottom of a 9×9 baking pan.
+ In a large mixing bowl, or in a Kitchenaid mixer, combine the sugars and oil. Add the flour, 1/2 cup of the oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda and salt. The mixture will be the consistency of a cookie dough.
+ Press about 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of your baking pan. Spread your filling on top.
+ To the remaining 1/4 of the dough, add 1/4 cup of oats and mix together. Sprinkle this on top of the fruit filling and press lightly to cover.
+ Bake for 30 minutes or until light brown at the edges. Cut into squares after cooled. Store at room temperature if eating soon, refrigerator for about a week, or freezer for longer.
We are very thankful for time spent with our families in Indiana this year. Flying with our two little guys wasn’t any easier than I thought it would be, but it was better than it could have been. Taking them out of their routine showed us that we should probably make it more of a habit than we do now. All the missed naps, refused feedings, and early wake ups were so worth the time spent with both sides of our families.Our parents’ houses were full of laughter, food, wine and loved ones, just how I like it. While we were home, we also had a baby shower for my brother’s wife. They’re expecting their first, a baby girl, and we couldn’t be more excited for them.
We got in all of our Thanksgiving traditions: The turkey bowl at my aunt’s house, Thanksgiving dinner at home, trivial pursuit at Uncle John and Aunt Dianne’s, and then down to Mike’s house for Ben’s (and his cousin, Harper) baptism the next day (more pictures to come for that).Honestly, I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked. I just didn’t ever have my phone on me! Too busy enjoying my time with everyone. That’s a good thing! It’s so hard to be far from family and only have a couple visits a year to look forward to, but I can’t say I was sad to leave the icy temperatures behind. I said to Mike when we got outside the airport, “oh my gosh, it’s so humid. It feels amazing.” Words I never thought I’d utter.Those wide open skies, red barns, bare trees, and fires in the fireplace make my heart squeeze with the homesickness of it all though. Until next time, Hoosier state!
We’re home after a whirlwind of a week in Indiana. Our parents’ houses were both packed with food, family, laughter and wine which is just how we like it. Days passed by in that busy mode of doing everything and nothing all at the same time. A walk down the street felt like true achievement. Now that we’re home, we’re in vacation recovery mode, practically buried under piles of laundry and half empty bags with fingers crossed that our house doesn’t succumb to the flu bug that’s been going around the rest of the family.
This week looks to be pretty quiet. I’d like to get the Christmas decorations out, but have low expectations of getting anything up. The weather was so beautiful today that I took the boys to the park after school. Dinner, we pulled out that half gallon of mommy soup from a few weeks back and just had to heat it up and make a few peanut butter sandwiches to go with. Taco Tuesday follows, then sheet pan chicken with broccoli and potatoes on Wednesday. Thursday is a night without Mike, so I’ll heat up tacos for Charlie and I, and then Friday is, of course, pizza night. I also pulled out some frozen pumpkin muffins that I made a few weeks ago, there’s cheesecake ice cream in the freezer and Mike’s making popcorn for our snack tonight as we speak, and hot chocolate is in the pantry for another night, so those are some treats to look forward to this week.
I’m hoping to get a couple runs (honestly, walk/runs) in during the week and then one night of yoga (I’ve been so stiff lately!), and this weekend we’ll get another couple runs in together if the boys allow it. Other than that, I started a new book today from school, and I can already tell it’s going to be so cute. We’ve got a hallmark Christmas movie on, and it’s supposed to get down into the 40’s tonight! Brr! We put the boys to bed in their flannels, and sweatshirts and long pants are laid out for the morning. I can’t wait to hear Charlie say “Brrrrr. Told.”
It’s been a busy trip home already and we are loving every second of our time with family. Here’s a little glimpse into our week.
I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday. Really soaking up this time with our loved ones. ❤️