Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa Claus :: the Ultimate Fan Fiction

So, the Mommy Wars have been raging I guess over St. Nicholas vs. Santa Claus. I say, "I guess", because I refuse to read all the click-bait gems that are popping up in my news feed. Most times, the title tells you all you need to know. 

I'm not going to tell you what you should or shouldn't tell your kids about Santa Claus vs. St. Nicholas. I have no authority from which to speak, except in my own family, but I recognize that that authority does not translate to worldly or internet worldly authority no matter how amazing or awesome I think my family's traditions are.

It's not my job. It's not anyone else's job. It's your job to figure it out. I will tell you that I think you should sit down and discuss it with your spouse first. Decide what your goals and desires are for your family. Think long term. Discuss honestly what you loved about being a child at Christmas and what you didn't like and be prepared to compromise and make allowances. (Hopefully you have a husband who is willing to discuss this with you.) For us, all of the wonderful, fanciful stories and legend of the right jolly old elf are like the ultimate fan fiction! Let me tell you how we got here...

When my oldest was a babe, Sean and I talked about our family traditions and what we remembered loving as a child. Frankly, the whole elves and North Pole aspect of Santa Claus never made the cut. Especially Mrs. Claus. It was weird. For both of us. His family celebrated St. Nicholas Eve by leaving their shoes outside their door and finding a treat inside the next morning. He remembers vividly the year he found a note saying he had received a new baby brother instead of a candy bar. So we've done the shoes/slippers for St. Nicholas ever since the big kids were little. But in his family, like mine, Santa came back on Christmas and dumped a pile 'o stuff under the tree and in the stockings. And the one thing we both remembered was feeling that law of diminishing returns in action on Christmas Day. The more presents we opened from Santa, the less exciting they were. Maybe that wasn't the case for you, but we both felt like one or two carefully chosen gifts for each child would be more exciting than a pile of stuff.

Since we knew we were going to teach our kids that St. Nicholas was a real person who was now a saint in Heaven as part of their religious education, we wanted our children to know that St. Nicholas practiced moderation. That he could not be expected to bring ALL of whatever their hearts desired. So we limited his scope to the stocking only. If it will fit in a stocking… St Nick has a thing for foot wear, I guess… then you can ask him for it. My husband was adamant about this and I'm so glad we followed his lead although there have been a few rare years when the packaging of a special request would not fit in a stocking and so the child would find their stocking draped over it. 

Now, please don't think that our children are deprived of gifts. They get gifts from three sets of grandparents, two of whom usually give family gifts and one who tries to pick something special for each child and usually can't contain herself to just one thing. Some of them also get gifts from their godparents and then there are ornaments, books, games and hot cocoa packages that come from aunts and uncles for the whole family to enjoy. We also give each child a stack of books and usually a bigger special something or a couple of little something specials that we know they have been wanting but never asked for from Mom and Dad. Those go under the tree and they say, "From Mom and Dad".

We never liked the idea of everything under the tree being from Santa because when the "real world" runs into that "reality" that's been created, it seemed like too much of a let down. St. Nick is only one of the many generous people in our lives. And yes, we do let them believe that the stocking gifts are left by him. We don't tell them any differently until they are old enough to ask and know. By that time, we talk about the spirit of St. Nicholas still inspiring us today, because he does in very real and tangible ways the way that many of our saintly friends lead and inspire us. That has made the transition from childhood to young adulthood so nice. The older children have insisted on maintaining that spirit for the little ones because it was such a treasured part of their childhood.

Some of the aspects of the secular Santa story have made their way into our family. Our children write letters, asking for a special gift (one small enough to be left in a stocking) and leave them in their shoes on the eve of his feast day. St. Nick, much in the same vein as Tolkien's Letters From Father Christmas, writes them letters in return sometimes with fantastical stories but always with a request to work on a particular virtue for the rest of Advent and a promise that he will return on Christmas to celebrate the birthday of our Saviour! We leave milk and cookies for him, although everyone knows St. Nick really prefers homemade fudge, and the stockings (his gifts) are the first things my children run to in the morning leaving all the under the tree gifts until we return from Mass. 

So you see… we do still do some of the Santa Claus traditions. But we decided a long time ago that the elves and the North Pole and the reindeer and the Mrs. Claus were like… fan fiction. Stories that people wrote about a character from history that they obviously respected and admired enough to write stores about. And we certainly enjoy writing and reading fan fiction around here, so to call it "fan fiction" is not a denigration in any way! It works for our family and it allows us to enjoy both the religious and secular aspects of good 'ole St. Nick.

My kids have seen Frosty the Snowman where Santa comes to save the day and turn a puddle of water back into the beloved snowman from New York who can only count to 5. They've watched Hermey fulfill his dream of becoming a dentist. They've set out cookies and milk and letters to St. Nick. 

But YOU have to do what works for your family without guilting anyone else to do the same or guilting yourself over choosing to do it differently. What we sat down and talked about 18 years ago has paid off for our family, giving us the kind of holiday season we enjoy most. You don't have to accept whatever the culture hands you. You are the parents. You can pick and choose. You can make it work for you or dump it all together. If you have your family's best interest at heart, you will not ruin your children for letting them believe in elves and flying reindeer and you will not ruin them if you don't. One thing is certain, you will have a lot of questions to answer, so you better be prepared for them. Parenting isn't easy whichever way you go. 
We aren't British, but there are always Christmas crackers with crowns!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

How we do St. Lucy Day...

Heather over at Audrey Eclectic is having a St. Lucia Day blog procession. Have you seen her amazing artwork? I'm trying to decide between 2 or 4 or 10 of her pieces because I love them all so much. Here is a little peek at our celebration.

St. Lucy Day was never a tradition in my family or my husband's since neither of us are of Scandinavian descent, but I bought a Lucy Wreath (with a matching one for her dolly) when my oldest daughter, Sunshine, was only a few months old and we've been enjoying this special day ever since. 

I made my own wreath for daughter #2, Rain, also with a matching dolly wreath. Look at how tiny they were!!! This year, they opted not to wear their wreaths but instead, passed them down to Cupcake.

Our St. Lucy Day always includes dressing up for the girls, bread or cinnamon rolls with candles, decorations, books and waking everyone up early for breakfast. We've never done the bringing food into the bed, rather, the girls simply wake everyone and call them to the table for breakfast. I think those Scandinavians probably stayed in bed because it was warmer there than anywhere else! (The cold never bothers us here in Texas!) Today, we will put lights on our tree and then go looking at Christmas lights tonight.

So, that's our tradition. 15 years going strong and beloved now by the oldest and youngest ones alike. Just this morning I promised to make Lucy Wreaths for all of my future granddaughters and my girls squealed with delight!

Lord, may the intercession of Your Virgin and Martyr, St. Lucy, help us so that, as we celebrate her heavenly birthday on earth, we may contemplate her triumph in heaven. Amen.

Happy St. Lucy Day!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

{Etsy shop update… SOLD OUT :: I had intended to continue taking orders until tomorrow but I am sold out of most of my supplies and I won't have a chance to restock anytime soon. If you placed an order in the past two days, I will still be able to fulfill your order and have it mailed out by Monday at the latest. Check back during Lent if you'd like to place an order for Easter.  Thanks so much.}

It's the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe today. We've been celebrating like this for years. The littlest ones (and some of the bigger ones) love decorating the table cloth with pretty star stickers so that it resembles Mary's starry mantle.

I found this lovely little candle at a local store. Cupcake loves that it's pink! We will enjoy some Aztec Hot Chocolate for an after dinner treat. I'm thinking we will try either this recipe or this one. You might also enjoy this coloring page  I made many moons ago. Cupcake is not big into coloring just yet. And, of course, offer a prayer for the unborn.

We will be reading Cupcake's favorite OLG book… it's a pop-up. Who doesn't love a pop-up? In fact, she's been "loving" it so much, I might need to order another copy. Pop-ups are no fun when they only flop-up.

It doesn't take much to celebrate a feast day. Food, books, a special decoration and the "why" shared with your kids. It's what this online Catholic community has been sharing with each other for years to encourage each other to celebrate feast days and make new traditions. Don't let anyone make you think it's some new innovation or some difficult thing accomplish. And for Pedro's sake, don't fall for shameless self-promotion gimmicks. Do what works for your family. That means some families will do more and some will do less. It doesn't matter. Just do something. Enjoy this special day!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jesse Tree Treasures

{Please note… I am closing down my Etsy shop for the Christmas Season on December 13th. All orders for embroidery kits placed prior to that will be shipped out on December 15th at the latest.}

Hi. I'm Charlotte… and I'm a Jesse Tree addict. This year, I did NOT participate in a swap so, I'm working on moderation. I did however agree to accept a beautiful set from Jesse Tree Treasures in exchange for a review so… there goes moderation, I guess. I promise, it's going to be an honest review for anyone thinking about ordering their own. (And of course there is still time… Advent's not over yet!!!) Here is what I like:

The artwork is nicely done
While I have enjoyed my experiences in the world of Jesse Tree Swaps, there is just something to be said for a set that looks like it was put together by the same artist. The colors are complimentary. The style of the art is similar on each piece. Also… I love the bare wood on the backside. Wood is so beautiful, it should never be painted unless is absolutely has to be.
Cupcake loved looking at all of the pretty pictures.
Uniformity of size
Each piece is the same size. Some of the swaps I've participated in had dimension limits on the pieces being made but you still ended up with a variety of sizes. Some teeny tiny things, some 4x4 numbers. I think everyone has their own idea of where they are going to hang their Jesse Tree symbols and that influences the proportions  of the pieces they make. But to me, uniform pieces mean a nicely balanced, even look to wherever you decide to hang them. In our case, it's a skinny little 6 foot fake Christmas tree.

This is probably my most favorite thing. There are so many options with this set. We have a felt Jesse Tree that a sweet SIL made us that is starting to show it's age… it's been well loved. That Jesse Tree only has enough symbols to go from December 1st through the 25th. But some years… Advent starts in November! With this set from Jesse Tree Treasures, you can decide when you'd like to start your Jesse Tree. And some of the symbols can be used for different stories. If you have a Bible storybook that your family loves, I'm sure you could find symbols for the stories that you want to include. If you decide you want to focus on the female characters in Christ's genealogy, you can do that too.

Let's say you want a strict story telling focus, not a people of the Bible focus, you can do that with this set. You can tell the story of Moses' trip in the basket, the burning bush and the Ten Commandments all with different ornaments!

Right now, we are following my SIL's reflections (see her right side bar). Hers are based on the old felt version that we both have (same SIL made one for each of us) and we have been able to find symbols in this set to work for each of the original symbols. Next year, we might try a different line-up. It's the options that this complete set provides that I love.

But in case options make you break out in hives because…ahhhhhhhh... too many choices... this set comes with blank cards that you can fill in with the name of the symbol, the verse or story and create your own order to be used year after year without thinking about it. Jesse Trees should not cause you to sweat.

Now, I told you this was an honest review… so, here is what I don't like.

The set comes with thin little pieces of thread to string each ornament up with. Little wisps of thread that are way too hard for a toddler's uncoordinated hands to figure out. That's just not going to cut it for Miss Cupcake who wants to do everything by herself these days. (Pray for us, please!) I'm planning to get some thicker thread or string or ribbon to use instead so that it's easier for her to hang them on our tiny little tree. The holes that are in each ornament aren't very big so as not to obscure the lovely artwork, of course, but that means it's going to be tricky to find something that will work. I think I can do it. Maybe I'll try some wire twisted into an S shape. I'll let you know what ends up working.
Trying to decide on a favorite...
And finally…my one neutral thought:

Some of the ornaments that I've received in Jesse Tree Swaps didn't hold up against the heat of a Texas garage in the summer time and I just don't have enough closet space to store everything inside. These little ornaments seem like they will survive better but since I just received them a few weeks ago, I can't really be sure until we've lived through another summer. I'll get back to you on that.

Monday, December 8, 2014

More Kits Available for Order Now!

I was able to make all the kits that were ordered last week except for 6 because I ran out of gold floss. And that was after restocking twice! I have more coming in today so those orders will be mailed tomorrow, everyone else's was mailed today. 

I have also listed a limited number of more orders that I will take this week. My cutoff is going to be Saturday, December 13th. All orders placed prior to that date will ship out no later than December 15th. Then, I will close my shop until after Christmas. Those of you who contacted me about after Christmas items, I will get in touch with you privately. Thank you all so much for your interest in this endeavor. I hope your children have fun coloring their saints with thread. I hope it brings them closer to these heavenly friends and inspires an interest in crafting by hand.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Etsy Shop Update: Open for Advent

I've been getting a lot of questions about my Etsy shop over the last few weeks. I had planned to open it back up before Advent started, but the ugly, nasty, horrible, terrible nogoodverybad virus that hit our family like a ton of bricks postponed that. So, now I am opening up the shop for the next two weeks taking orders for embroidery kits only. They will be shipped out in time for Christmas.
I do have two completed dolls for sale, Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Cecilia, but I won't be making any more before Christmas, so when they are gone, they are gone!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Club 911 :: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Last month's book club book was Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library. Due to illness, we had to postpone our meeting until today. This delightful story has been a favorite of Bigboy's since we first discovered it last year. It's still a favorite of everyone here and it was the hands-down favorite of all of the other kids in our book club. 

The Game is On!
When I decided to make it a book club book, I knew I wanted to host it in our local library doing a kind of scavenger hunt, but I had no idea that the publisher had already created one! Thanks for making it super easy on this busy mama! You have to send an email requesting access to the files, so give yourself plenty of time to do this, if you want to set up your own game. For our discussion, I used the discussion questions found at the end of this page. Then we moved on to the game.

We divided the group up into two teams of four kids each. Team Lemon and Team Cello used clue cards to guide them to specific books or sections using the Dewey decimal system. At each location, they discovered a Pictogram card which they used to solve a final puzzle and printed it on their answer sheets. When they solved the final puzzle, they were awarded their goodie bags as a prize. 
Team Lemon finished first and got their picture taken with a quote from Groucho Marx that shows up in the book and in our library! Team Cello finished up a few minutes later and met us over by the treat bags and cupcakes. 

There might be balloons! (and cupcakes)

Googley-eyed Lemoncello Cupcakes
I sent the cupcakes home with the kids since our library had no good space to chow down in. 

Gift Bags
What's a party without a little bag of fabulous prizes to take home? 
These were the most fun to put together. 

A pine scented air freshener as a reminder of the smell-o-vision games from the book. I wanted to find some actually shaped like pine trees, but those were all Margarita and Vanilla scented. Go figure.
Each child received a quarter and a nickel along with a plea not to break any windows. It's an inside-the-book-joke. I also made homemade bookmarks with this Dr. Seuss quote also in the book. 
There were goofy glasses that looked like something you'd find on Luigi Lemoncello's nightstand… or face. And I also included a cipher disk for making secret codes. 
What's a party without party blowers? And lemon drop candies just for fun. 
I also printed out some rebus, anagram and pictogram puzzles for more puzzle solving fun. 
I'm pretty sure this one was the best one yet!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Must Have Christmas Books!

It's that time of year when everyone starts sharing their favorite Advent/Christmas books {and Amazon affiliate links}! We have long had the tradition of wrapping up a picture book to share each night of Advent and the 12 days of Christmas. Usually, I select which books are read which night.  I decided to do something a little different this year. I spread all of our books out on the bed and brought the big kids in to tell me which ones were their "must have" books. Which books do we HAVE to read because it's just not Advent without them?

I was a little surprised by some of the picks, not surprised at all by a few and laughing hilariously at the ones that were chosen by them all (including my husband) for the "please let's NEVER read this again" pile… I'm looking at you, An Orange for Frankie! A few of these were sentimental favorites from their early childhood. Bigboy, as big as he is, is still partial to anything that has the word Christmas and kitten in it. Oliver All Alone was such a beloved story to Rain that it used to stay on her shelf all year long.

I'm sharing the list here hoping to introduce you to our favorites but also as a permanent record for this forgetful brain of mine.

While creating this list, I was horrified to see how many of our must have favorites are out of print. I better start looking now for gently used copies to hand down to future grandchildren.


On the "please let's never read this again" pile…
An Orange for Frankie (not a fan of the illustrations and... he dies!)
The Little Match Girl (hauntingly beautiful illustrations but... she dies alone… in the snow!!)
The Little Fir Tree (weird little tree that can survive being transplanted year after year but hey... at least the kid doesn't die!!!)

Now, we have a ton of Christmas books. Seriously… they would not all fit on my bed, but then again, my bed is a Queen size so, maybe that's not so bad. We decided to pull those books that we all liked but were more like chapter books instead of picture books and set them out in their own little basket this year so that everyone can enjoy them on their own time. I might list those later if anyone is interested.

And for anyone looking for Advent activity ideas, here is a an almost complete archive of our Advent adventures past:

And here is an old post for those of you tempted to stress out and try to do ALL THE ADVENT ACTIVITIES:

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Foggy Birthday in London Town

I'm leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it's not raining.                                                                            ~ Groucho Marx
My sweet Rain, the child formerly known as Shortcake on this here blog, turned 14 yesterday. So, as of today, my three oldest are 16, 15 and 14. I'm not scared at all! Really. Teenagers are awesome… hormones and everything! Just wanted to get that PSA out of the way for the moms of all littles out there. Hang in there, Mama. This day will come.

So, back to Rain- inspired by Sunshine's Pink Paris themed birthday, she picked a London theme for this year so that she could enjoy her little Anglophile self and celebrate her birthday with so many of her favorite things… London, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Tolkien, etc… {with Amazon affiliate links, but you probably already knew that…}

The day began with London Fog Tea Lattes (sooooooo delicious) and homemade scones...
 We decorated our breakfast nook with pictures from a London themed calendar and this amazing dry erase wall pop decal shaped like a British phone box!

 This Union Jack birthday banner was a downloadable find on Etsy.
We decorated the table with things to represent London… this sweet 3D Keepsake Cityscape, a beautiful coffee table picture book and a delightful story  called Katie in London by James Mayhew about a little girl and her brother exploring London with one of the Trafalgar Square Lions.
 Here is a close up of that dry erase decal. Ten points to Gryffindor if you know the phone number written up there! ;)
A little Hobbit joined us (in her jammies). She was most delighted with the pictures of the castles! Real castles, Mama!!!
My poor husband had to try to interpret an idea I had in my head. Somebody should have bought him a crystal ball when we got married since he so often has to read my mind. The droops of tulle hanging from the ceiling was my idea of London fog rolling in. Can you see it? Doesn't matter. I can. Thanks, Sweetie!
 Sherlock and Watson showed up along with The Doctor. (She has seen only a few of these shows and a few Doctor Who episodes since some are not appropriate for her yet. And even of the ones that she's seen, we've skipped scenes and muted some conversations. Just FYI.)
 More table decorations… Tolkien's pipe, The Daily Prophet, a black lotus flower napkin and Sherlock's magnifying glass.
Since my boys were down this week with a minor cold and the littlest one is three (toddlers and tea pots do not mix), we decided to take just the big girls on a shopping trip to the British Emporium. What a fun place. I'm so glad we discovered it. After seeing the pictures and hearing the girls talk about it, the boys can't wait for us to go back…

British people like weird flavored chips… Tingly Prawn Cocktail, Worcester Sauce, Roasted Chicken whaaaaaaaa??? Crazy Brits!
Afterwards, we went out to lunch, just me and my big girls. Husband insisted, so did the recuperating  boys. Such a wonderful gift from our men. We've decided to make it a tradition! 
We came home and played a round of Sherlock themed Cluedo (that's just Clue to you non-anglophiles) It was a free printable I found online, not the official board game version that you can buy.  I had the board game printed up at Kinko's since it needs to be a larger size (11x17, I think). The cards and stuff can be printed on card stock at home. I mentioned to my kids that we could get the board game version if they liked it but they prefer the printable one… they like that you have to figure out who killed Anderson instead of who killed Moriarty. The actor who plays Moriarty looks a little like their Uncle Gavin so they don't want to see him bite the dust (no, they haven't seen that episode yet).
However, nobody likes Anderson! Hahahah!

The Cake…er… Trifle… um... The Trifake?

Rain asked for a proper British trifle as her birthday treat. A chocolate butterscotch trifle with Reese's peanut butter cups inside…okay, so maybe not very proper, but this girl knows what she likes! She was torn because she wanted some decoration on it too. My trifles are usually too lumpy on top to really decorate. So what I did was save the top half of the chocolate cake that went into the trifle and placed it on top, covering the trifle. I poured on a thin layer of ganache and then added decorations made out of marshmallow fondant to make it look like the door the 221B Baker Street. 

I think she kind of liked it.
She tells me she had a wonderful day. That smile says it's true.

We love to celebrate birthdays with a fun theme and as many festivities as we can pack in, but it's usually just our family so that makes it easier on this busy homeschooling mom. You can see all of our birthday party themes on this page.