Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our Christmas, the lazy Elf, an unsupervised child in the middle of the night and a Colonial Christmas Dinner

It was strange unpacking my Christmas things this year.  When I packed my decorations away earlier this year I never dreamed we would be spending our next Christmas in a different house.  Knowing that next Christmas will be in yet another place and keep our decor to a minimum this year.  
Except for having two trees. That didn't really fall into the "keeping things simple" plan.   I really wanted a tree to put in front of the big window in the living room but we spend most of our time in the family room so we wanted to have something festive there.  Since this is most likely the largest house we will ever live in we decided to take advantage of the space and have two.  It worked out beautifully, I was able to put my favorite ornaments on the tree in the living room and let the kids decorate the family room tree.  According to my kids the tree must be redecorated every day, their morning ritual soon included moving all the ornaments around on their tree. 

Wythe decorating their tree
The kids wrote their letters to Santa.  I thought that since handwriting is still laborious for them they may shorten their list a little but they showed remarkable perseverance in laboring over all that handwriting.  It did take a few days to complete the letters but when we went to mail them we realized that our new town doesn't have a Macy's.  Fortunately Peter had a meeting in Northern VA and we were able to go with him and get our letters mailed.

Wythe was given a bunch of Hess toys this fall, they have become his "favorist thing in the whole earth!"  He brought them out to show them his Christmas tree.
introducing his Hess trucks to his tree
Our elf, Notch, had a difficult time finding us this year. I guess he didn't receive our change of address form, he didn't show up until about a week before Christmas.  It was really odd, maybe he was exhausted from the work of trying to find us, but once he got here he just picked a spot and kept returning to the same spot.  In years past we had to search each morning to find him but this year he returned to the tree every-single-morning.  
And that folks, is what we call "lazy parent Elf on a Shelf". 

Our elf, Notch, apparently found the perfect spot this year!
This year we didn't participate in many Christmas activities. I'm sure this town has more than I was aware of but definitely not the options we are used to.  We did do the Gingerbread Express, which is a Christmas light tour.  Before the tour you meet at the children's museum where they serve cookies and hot chocolate then everyone piles into a school bus for a tour that lasts about 45 minutes.  We enjoyed it, the kids were particularly impressed to ride a school bus and somewhat amazed that it was my first ride on a school bus too!   I do think the bus could have been a bit more festive,  some Christmas music would have been a nice touch.  We tried to be jolly and even sing a bit, one other family attempted to do the same but the rest of the bus stared out the window or dealt with fussy toddlers up past their bedtime.  If we do it again we will try to go with a group of people we know.

Christmas Eve

saying goodbye to Notch (kinda feels like he just got here...)

Before tucking the kids into bed we explained that they were not allowed to open any presents until everyone was awake and that 'when it was morning' they could wake mom and dad up and we would all go out and see what Santa brought.
A little before 4 a.m. Wythe woke me up.  "Santa came and brought LOTS of stuff!!!  And he brought me the Hess truck I asked for!!!   I sorted it all out for you and I kind of got into my stocking."
I told him it was too early to get up and put him back to bed.  A little while later we got up and then realized what he had been trying to tell us.  I'm not sure what time he actually got up but it was apparent he had been awake for quite some time before he woke me up.  He had emptied his stocking, laying out everything on the floor, he had eaten many of the treats in his stocking, including the hot-chocolate-on-a-stick mixes in his stocking.  I'm not even sure how one swallows that mix......ugg!     He also sorted out all the gifts under the tree.  As you can see in the previous pictures Santa does a pretty good job of stacking the gifts around the tree in a manner that is pleasing to the eye.  Wythe's way was different.  He pulled out every gift that had his name on it, regardless of whether it said "To: Wythe" or "From: Wythe" and piled those packages underneath the piano.  So, he was busy while we were sleeping soundly!  I do have to give him credit, he didn't open any wrapped gifts!

people around the town probably heard the shrieks "a Frozen watch!!"

"Santa got me the exact truck I wanted!!"

the aftermath

That evening my brother and his family joined us for our Christmas dinner.  Once again I tried for a Colonial/Dickenson Christmas meal.  The menu was:
Peanut Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted brussels sprouts with chestnuts
Ham with brandied peaches
Sally Lunn bread
Mince meat pie (made by my sister-in-law)
I normally buy a Christmas pudding from a lady at the local church, this year I didn't get one from her since we had moved.  It was too late to try my hand at making one since it needs a couple months to cure. I was able to find one but it was so tiny that it wasn't even enough for each person to have a bite, so we had a cranberry pie as well.

Christmas dinner - wearing our hats from our Christmas crackers

Christmas Dinner 2014

'til next time...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Observing the Winter Solstice

Once again we set aside the day to observe the Winter Solstice.  I have really enjoyed setting aside this day to have a quiet, reflective day. Solstice can be a pause, a time to reflect in the midst of the holiday season.  With all the hustle and bustle in the last few days leading up to Christmas it takes some planning and commitment to set aside a day, it often means saying no to a fun Christmas activity but I think we have all benefited from having such a calm day in this busy season.

Weather permitting we try and spend a lot of the day outdoors. At our old house we would have had a bonfire but being in town and at a rental house it seemed prudent to skip that for this year!  We typically collect greenery, herbs, holly, etc to decorate a "yule" log for our dinner table.  This year I realized that I didn't have my herb garden and holly tree anymore so Peter took the kids on a walk through the neighborhood to forage, they got to knock on doors and ask if they could take a few cuttings from various holly trees and evergreens.  Great way to introduce yourself to your new neighbors!

 In addition to spending time outdoors we limit the use of electronics and try to keep the day as calm as possible.  It is a good time to talk about the year you had, things you want to let go of, things you want to change.

Dinner is by candlelight and foods that are yellow/orange or round in shape, all to resemble the sun.  This year we had pumpkin soup, sweet potato, oranges, carrots and cheese.

During dinner we listen to solstice music, I would describe it as earthy, celtic, relaxing.  We read some poems about the solstice and talk about our year.  It is such a peaceful, calming dinner, it is amazing how mellow the kids are.

After dinner we read some books about the solstice.  My favorite is The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer.

The book talks about the short winter days and how the children look forward to summer.
"On short winter days, children bundle in warm clothes and walk through a frosty white world, dragging long shadows behind them."

"On long winter night, families eat dinner while it's dark outside. Children wonder when the days will get long again so they can play outside after dinner like they did in summer."

The books tells some of the ancient beliefs and practices of the winter solstice.

It talks about the different customs around the world....

And even a brief description of the Equinox.

Another nice book is The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson.

It begins with the ancient pagan customs of a Scottish family.

It talks about how different cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice, the Romans, Celts, the Peruvians, and more.

We also really like Night Tree by Eve Bunting.

This isn't a book about the solstice but fits in quite well.  One of the things we like to do on the solstice is put out food for the birds, squirrels and small animals.  Making treats to hang outside can be a really fun craft for the children.  This book tells the story of a family that has a tradition feeding the wildlife.  It is a beautiful story and the  illustrations are lovely.

As Susan Cooper says in her poem "The Shortest Day", 
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

'til next time...