Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Week in Photos : Part II

Here was the plan: get away the day after Christmas with my whole family. Go somewhere beautiful where we could spend time together in the absence of other distractions. We found a place, packed up and left, driving with dreams of snow covered mountains.

It was beautiful: a lake overlooking ski slopes, a little cabin with a wood burning stove. It rained, my parents couldn't make it because they're in the middle of a move, but we all made the best of it.

We spent two days reading, warming up by the stove, chatting, and cutting out paper dolls. The girls were very excited to get to sleep in little "closets" (hideaway beds in little nooks).

And we couldn't help ourselves: we went for a traipse around in the cool rain by the rocky shore of the lake (the girls and I in ponchos, Hugo in a rainproof backpack, Ben in a raincoat, and Great-Aunt Basia at our heels). It was refreshing and perfect, and we did warm up eventually after a good soak in the tub.

I'm sure there will be other years with skiing and sledding and all sorts of wild fun, but this year we were happy to curl up together!

Hope you guys are staying warm, too!

The Week in Photos: Part I

Merry Christmas, friends! Somehow, quite unexpectedly, I spent the last week entirely unplugged. And of course, when life is the fullest (and there are actually the most things to take pictures of!) I seem to just sit down and soak it in rather than take pictures. But, pulling out my camera card, I realize there are bits and pieces of our last week documented!

Homemade Christmas stockings for the girls... somehow I pulled it off at the last minute.

Two girls ready to go to our Polish wigilia. Bows are mandatory.

Christmas pajamas waiting on our beds when we got home from our traditional Polish Christmas feast. Did you know that Santa comes for Polish and German Children on Christmas eve (I mean, Santa can't possibly get to all the kids on one night, right?)? And since our girls are a little of each, they get a little something on Christmas eve.

Not one but TWO Jesus babies in our lovely nativity, now supplemented by a beautiful Haitian nativity set. I have no idea how this will impact our kids theology in the long run, but for now it seems harmless.

And then a super relaxed Christmas morning at home. Hugo seems to appreciate the hand puppets.

Some embers in the fireplace.

And of course some Christmas loot. Initial mugs and a pipe for Papa Bear, retrieved from the stockings.

And here's my Christmas confession. Our tree is STILL NOT DECORATED! Can you believe it? Perhaps this afternoon we'll do it. I mean, we are still well within the twelve days of Christmas, right?

Sending Christmas love to you and your family!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gathering Around the Light

Today is the winter solstice. Or, "the shortest day of the year!" as my little 4 year old likes to explain (and yes, I do beam with pride when her teacher tells me she explains this stuff to the class... what a little smartie pants). In previous years, this might mean that we do a special little craft that involves light, or make something warm and delicious to eat, or some other little ritual celebration of this day: the depth of darkness, which has a certain beauty to it.

But this year, the solstice has not really been on our minds, because not only is today the shortest day of the year, but it is the day that our beloved Aunt Irene and Uncle Robbie join us for their winter break: a day that we have all been waiting for for weeks, no months.

We will light our advent candles, and gather for a meal together, but the real light and warmth will be shining from our own hearts on this day! It is such a deep and simple joy to be with the ones that you love, in person, as a family.

So today I wish that each and every one of you may find that same warmth and light in your midst. And with that, dear friends, we are off to the airport for a welcome! Yipee!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

This and That

We made a little gingerbread house. From a simple kit from the store, but the girls ran straight to it in the morning to take turns looking at it. We also have some little gingerbread men we've been handing out as a special treat to spare that little house. So far, so good.

On Saturday morning Zosia and I snuck out, just the two of us, for a little special date: the Nutcracker at the Puppet Theater at Glen Echo. For those of you in the DC area, this little puppet theater is an absolute gem. The show was cute, and I loved holding Zosia's hand and having her sit in my lap. Four is big, but also little. I didn't take my camera, but we came home to two happy little ones spending some wonderful time with their Omi. Today we were in the car listening to classical music and Zosia recognized the nutcracker music before I did: perhaps we have a budding musician on our hands?

And then we realized that we somehow had several dozen apples in the fridge. The solution? Some yummy pear-applesauce that has just about been finished off as of today. Who says that applesauce cannot count as a vegetable dish at the dinner table?

A Few Simple Gifts

Are you in the Christmas homestretch? Somehow, regardless of how well I plan, I run out of little gifts for all those people that I love. I've learned it's nice to have a few simple homemade gifts on hand to spread Christmas cheer. Here are some tried and true favorites:

How about some homemade hot chocolate mix? Here's some we received from some friends last Christmas, and it was deLIcious! Here's a recipe to try.

A country angel ornament is a sweet and thoughtful gift. We've made these before, and I think I might make a couple this year because we have the materials on hand.

Perhaps a coffee cozy for someone you love? I made this one years ago, and just heard that my friend uses it almost every day. Again, it's something so quick and easy if you have some fabric scraps on hand.

As you can see (above), I'm a sucker for monogram mugs, and *love* this little diy tutorial you've probably seen around.... now I just need to find some cute white mugs at the thrift store.

And then we always stock up on extra boxes of chocolate, bottles of wine, and homemade chex mix... and that way we have something waiting for even the most unexpected of visitors.

And now I would love to hear from you! What little homemade gifts do you go to during the holiday season? Are there any you can get the kids involved in?

Sending you much holiday love!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lickety Split

Warning: If you're a family member and hoping for a Christmas surprise, you may want to read no further! Christmas secrets are being divulged below!

Christmas making is in full swing around here! This past summer, when I saw some thick upholstery fabric on sale in bright colorful prints, I couldn't resist. I knew just what I would use it for: some tote bags for women in the family (of which there are many!). After all, there are so many bright colorful women in my family, and I have learned that a tote bag is always nice to have around. Last year I made several classic totes to give as gifts: they were a hit, but I was looking for more of a messenger bag style, and I stumbled upon the lickety split pattern: so cute, and really quite fun to make! And even though the pattern is $6, I've already made eight and have several to go, so I think it's worth it!

Here's what I like about it: it's reversible. Above is one of the totes one way.

And reversed! And it has a total of four pockets, which is handy for keys and wallets and things like that.

Also, I learned that one yard of fabric can actually make two bags (if you're willing to patch one of the sides together from two pieces of fabric), so I threw in some tote bags for preschool teachers, because they're just so wonderful. And of course, most importantly, they really are lickety split to make, even from little pieces of time stolen here and there.

Any other christmas crafting happening out there?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Christmas Work Day

What should you do if you're realizing that you're in a bit over your head with this whole Christmas business? Why, put on your elf hat and get to work! That's what we did yesterday after I realized that due to our particularly low key and introspective Advent, Christmas needed some attention.

Peppermint bark is a good place to start, because not only is it delicious and a nice present, but when eaten, it will give you energy for the other stuff.

The paper whites seem to know it's time to get festive, too! Will they still be blooming at Christmas?

Packages need to get wrapped, and then sent. Did you know you can print labels at home and schedule a delivery? I am quite thrilled by the discovery!

There's one of the elves! Working on a little holiday card garland, made simply by punching two holes and threading (not unlike the orange garlands, come to think of it).

And what's that? TWO elves with packages in hand, delivering gifts to some neighbors. Ah, yes, it seems that our little Christmas work day was just what we needed!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When All Wrong is All Right

Another little something from the archives this week while try our hands at some holiday baking:

It's been one of those days-- well, a couple of days, really. The handle to our car door broke. We moved mountains to borrow a car, scrambled to get out the door this morning to our doctor's appointment (to that wonderful pediatrician all the way across town), to drop off that trusty old car of ours. One thing after another: a lost wallet, a dirty diaper, a muddy dog. And then when we had finally let out a sigh of relief, when we had imagined that we were in the clear, the final blow: that appointment that we had thought was today was tomorrow at 9:15. It was just becoming comical-- a comedy of errors.

As our morning routine had been going so wrong, Ben and I had started listing things we were thankful for, things that were going right-- the change in attitude kept us going, seemed to override all these little blips. But then on the silent ride home from the doctor's office, the practice of gratitude became slightly more difficult.

We came home, had some coffee, settled the kids into their routines. And flipped open to our daily Advent reading, which somehow has this way of speaking so eloquently to our current dilemmas. Today's words for us:
"Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights, and rule with great power...; the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind, the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement... He is the source of all peace."

And then there was a glimmer of clarity. Because there is beauty, and even sacredness in those moments that are "all wrong." Sometimes when things don't go the way they're supposed to-- when our best efforts result only in mistakes, when our hopes fall like dominoes, one after another, we enter into the realm of the divine. A divinity that came not through power, but meekness, who did not cling to divinity, but chose powerlessness. That divinity is the source of all peace.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tangerines Have Seeds

Did you know that tangerines have seeds? I apparently did not, when, three weeks ago, I bought a large bag at the grocery store. "Oh, we love these," I thought. But then I got home and realized that tangerines have seeds. And are difficult to peel. And therefore are not the ideal food for a family with little kids. At first I just thought Ben and I would eat our way through them, but then my lovely sister showed me some pictures of citrus garlands, and I knew what I needed to do! So if you, too, have mistakenly bought tangerines, or if you have a surplus of citrus, or if you just like having a little extra Christmas cheer, this one's for you!

Slice your citrus into small rounds and place on a baking sheet (mine is lined with parchment because it makes everything easier).

Place in your oven on lowest heat (ours is 170) for approximately 10 hours. When done, they will be pliable but dry.

Now string your citrus rounds onto thread. I've seen it done with ribbon, too, but I prefer the minimalistic look of lightly colored thread.

And then hang near some light and enjoy! You could also easily make some Christmas tree ornaments from these or use in other crafty ways. They have a faint citrus sort of smell and look colorful and cheerful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Filling the Darkness

We are busy little elves running around in preparation for the holidays, so today I bring you a little something from the archives:

Every year I am presented with a similar challenge during the winter months: How can I make the long, dark evenings feel as full and vibrant as those of the summer months? Certainly there will be less activity-- more quiet, more introspection, more time huddling indoors. That is the gift of the season: stillness. But too often stillness morphs into emptiness, loneliness, despair. We even give names to this lack of substance: seasonal affective disorder, depression. Names to a very real experience of feeling that something is lacking, that our sunny full days have disappeared into darkness.

I am still trying to cultivate a love for this season, for the simplicity it ushers in, for the way that the cold sends us into our hearths to light a fire. We make more of a "to do" of dinner in these months, spending longer around the table, having an official dessert course. And I make sure to get outside with the girls for as long as possible during the daylight-- one or even two hours-- which makes spending an evening inside feel a little more "right."

I realized that there is a beautiful wisdom to the fact that here in Virginia, the most holiday-filled time of the year falls during the darkest months. We fill the cold emptiness with a silent hope, with quiet preparation and aromatic baking. Those of you who know me well may have noticed that I have been filling my own heart and mind with a craftiness that is uncharacteristic of me. And a certain joyful member of our family has filled her own time to mastering the art of crawling this past week-- certainly a change of seasons in our family life (can you say babyproofing?). We seem to take up more household projects during the winter than in the summer-- I know there is along "to do" list that I am already dreaming of completing. And we are much more likely to have guests over for supper during these months-- small and large alike. But no matter how busily we try to weave a little cocoon for ourselves this season, the facts remain the same; it is cold, it is dark, the trees are empty. Our activities do not change this. And maybe there is a certain beauty and wisdom in such scarcity.

How do you pass your winter months? How do you fill the darkness?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Thrifted Infusion

Some of you may remember that Ben, ahem, I mean Santa, was quite good to our family last year and brought us a play kitchen. Quite some play kitchen for a woodworking novice, if you ask me! Oh, well I guess Santa has his elves to help him, right?

We have been through varying phases with this kitchen. The kids will play with it for a while, then forget about it. Isn't it that way with all toys? We occasionally use it as a piece of furniture. When I'm teaching a class, I put a monitor on top of it.

The other day while I was at the thrift store I picked up a few kitchen-y items: a new pitcher, a small pan, a ceramic bottle. I actually intended them for our real grown up kitchen. But when the girls claimed them as their own and played with that kitchen nonstop for several consecutive hours, I realized that they were meant for those little hands. And just like that, our little kitchen has a second life! I'm trying to take note so I can actually plan this sort of thing next time...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Christmas Picture

(last year's winning picture)

Oh, it seems that these simple words can instill dread in the heart of any parent. For starters is the issue of getting everyone in the picture together. We have lots of pictures of the kids, and a handful of each of the parents with some kids, but ones of everyone together? They just don't seem to happen. But a Christmas picture is more than this. It is a picture of everyone together, smiling, or at least looking at the camera, free of debris, spit up, with hair combed. Talk about an idealized picture of life.

(Christmas 2009)

And yet here in our family we love Christmas pictures. We eagerly open envelopes during the Christmas season, hanging those pictures of friends and family members somewhere special where they gather up over the holiday season. It is so special to see all of those families changing, growing, and growing up. So we participate, too, year after year. And we love looking back on Christmas cards from years past. I hope to hold on to them so the kids can laugh at them one day, too.

We have been procrastinating with our "Christmas picture" this year. Three kids and two adults all awake, clean, attentive? Whew! Finally, on Sunday, we realized that if we did not order some Christmas cards soon, they would not go out before Christmas. And so we all combed our hair, set the camera timer, and cleared some toys off the floor. We sat down and smiled. No, actually, that is not what happened. We sat down, Hugo pulled Zosia's braid, Lily squinted, and Ben chewed on something. Exhibit A:

And then there's the issue of the computer screen (on which we had just finished watching "Miracle on 34th Street"). Okay. So you reset the camera, sit back down, count to ten, and smile. But the girls aren't smiling. And Hugo is just so interested in that braid! Exhibit B:

I think Ben's look of resignation (and my look of over-enthusiasm) speaks volumes. What have we gotten ourselves into? Folks, we ended up taking TWENTY FOUR pictures. And not because we were looking for a perfect picture. Such pictures do not exist. We were just looking for a picture in which everyone was looking at the camera, looking somewhat normal. "Wait, should Selma be in the picture?" Ben asks halfway into this.

Yay or nay? What do you guys think? Then there's the moment that the two year old of the family starts crying because her sister is saying "Cheese and candy!" instead of "candy and cheese!" when the camera clicks. Ah, the trials of being two.

Okay. We need to regroup. We need a miracle. No, what we really need is potty humor. And so, dear friends, it is with some embarrassment that I confess that our "winning" Christmas picture was taken while yelling something like "Potty!" or "Spit up!" or "Goober poop!" I have my dear husband to thank for the last one.

We actually had quite a good laugh about it in the end. And that is just as it should be.

And drumroll, please, this year's Christmas picture, funny and juvenile, and imperfect, just like our little family: