Christmas Traditions

Hi everyone! Hope you all had a very merry Christmas and are gearing up for a fantastic New Year! Around here, we’re also gearing up for a very special birthday party, because someone in our family is turning THREE YEARS OLD in just over a week.

But before we get too far past Christmas, I thought I’d share about some of our family’s Christmas traditions, because I love Christmas, and I love traditions, and I love hearing about other people’s traditions so I can steal adopt them for our family! So many good ideas out there. Here are a few of ours:

Every year our family, including my parents and sometimes other members from my side of the family, goes to a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree. Sometimes it’s great fun, sometimes it’s freezing cold and the kids are miserable, but whatever the case, we always take a photo in front of our selected tree.

When I was little my parents would buy me a Christmas ornament every year. Peter’s parents did the same thing, so it only seemed fitting that we carry on the family tradition from both sides. Every year the girls each get a new ornament for the tree that will go with them when they move out into their own houses. Some years I pick them out. Other times we let them choose their own. When it’s my turn, I try to find things that remind me of them in some way. This year Alethea got a Clifford ornament I scored on eBay. And since both girls are currently obsessed with ducks, Lydia got this cutie:

Our second ornament tradition is that whenever Peter and I take a vacation (with or without the girls), we buy three souvenirs: something small for the house, a charm for my charm bracelet and an ornament for the Christmas tree. We actually managed to start this tradition on our honeymoon with a blown glass Canadian flag and have continued it ever since. This year we went to San Francisco and after much searching, located this one:

I love our ornaments because very year decorating the tree is like unpacking a box of memories. A bit of our childhoods, mixed with great travel, and a dose of “oh my goodness, our children are growing up too fast”!

Two years ago I was trying to figure out how to make Jesus’ birth more central to our Christmas celebration when I stumbled on this magnetic advent calendar. It was a bit more than I was hoping to spend, but it’s been totally worth it. The girls look forward to pulling out a new character every day leading up to Christmas. Truth be told, I think they were just as disappointed to find out on December 26th that there wasn’t a door to open on the calendar as they were when I told them there wouldn’t be any more presents that day either. Most importantly, it has inspired conversations, both spiritual and otherwise, about the nativity and Jesus’ birth.

Favorite advent calendar moments from 2013:

Lydia rearranging the figures, when Alethea looks over and says, “Lydia, you have to leave ONE of the angels in the stable because SOMEONE has to say, ‘Do not be afraid’!”

Alethea constantly calling the “innkeeper” the “lightkeeper”. Thank you summer camping trip in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.

This is one of our more unique traditions, so it deserves a brief explanation of its origins. Many years ago, Peter’s grandfather and his siblings owned and ran a hardware store and by the time they closed up shop on Christmas Eve, nobody wanted to cook and the only place open to eat was the Chinese restaurant. Although the hardware store has long been out of business, the family tradition continued and evolved in Peter’s father’s generation to become a formal sit-down chow mein dinner. In keeping with Peter’s heritage, every year on Christmas Eve, we go to church and then come home to eat Chinese take-out with our friends and family. And because family traditions should evolve, we order a variety of other dishes in addition to the usual chow mein.

This tradition is a favorite with me because it combines everything I love about entertaining… the decorating, the formality, using my china and crystal, and having good conversations over a meal, while eliminating the thing I dislike most… cooking for a crowd.

Here’s a tradition that came along as a bit of a practicality. We are very fortunate that we get a lot of gently used hand-me-down clothes for the girls from some of our church friends. For whatever reason though, we always seem to still need more pajamas. Thus the beginnings of our “wear new pajamas to bed on Christmas Eve” tradition. Here’s Alethea modeling hers Christmas morning 2009:

Alright, I know this is getting long, so last one… a tradition I stole from one of the designers on HGTV. (I think it was Genevieve Gorder, but don’t quote me on that.) Every Christmas morning the kiddos are required to stop on their way down the stairs and let me take their picture before they get to open presents.




Our stairwell is completely devoid of natural light, so I know this will never be the world’s best photograph, but it does mean I get at least one shot of the kids together in their jammies on Christmas morning.

So there you go. A few of our family Christmas traditions. Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Any that our family should try out? Please do share!


As has become our annual tradition, I, along with my mother and mother-in-law, carved the kiddos’ pumpkins in their requested designs.

As you might have guessed, this one is for Alethea, who asked for another Clifford the Big Red Dog pumpkin “just like last year“. This one was tricky since unlike last year, I didn’t have an actual pumpkin pattern to follow and our printer is broken so I couldn’t even work with a computer print-out. So, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m rather proud of myself for doing a pencil and paper sketch and then transferring it to the pumpkin.

As predicted, Alethea (and her stuffed Clifford) were both quite pleased with the end result.

This pumpkin is for Lydia. When I asked her what she wanted on her pumpkin, she said, “Candy!” I have a feeling she was imagining something she could actually eat, but she seemed to like the candy carvings pretty well too.

So that’s the tale of two punkins and their pumpkins…

And one punkin yet to come…

Surprise! Happy Halloween!

Happy 4th of July!

We haven’t done anything picture worthy yet today (not that trips to Home Depot aren’t thrilling and all that), but for your enjoyment, here are a couple of 4th of July memories from years past…

Alethea sailing, July 4th 2012

Lydia at the beach, July 4th 2012

July 4th 2011… no pictures, although I do recall sitting on the couch with Alethea watching fireworks displays on YouTube. Yup, YouTube fireworks, now that’s patriotic…

Alethea hangin’ out, July 4th 2010

Alethea sailing (rather unwillingly), July 4th 2009

Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful red, white, and blue kind of day!

And…. We’re Back!

Sorry for the long blogging break.  We’ve had a busy last week or so.  Here’s what we’ve been up to…

Last week Monday through Thursday, we took a little family vacation to a hotel/waterpark in Duluth.  Not the most exotic destination, I know, but after last year’s somewhat disastrous spring break trip, we decided to keep it simple and affordable by avoiding air travel and limiting the trip to four days.  And what do you know, it pretty much worked.  There were some melt downs and Alethea started asking to go home a full 24 hours before our departure, but over all, Peter and I agreed that it was one of the best family vacations we’ve had since Alethea and Lydia arrived on the scene.

Naturally, the waterpark was the highlight of the trip and the yellow slides were the highlight of the waterpark.  It did take the girls three trips to the pool before they worked up the bravery to duck under all the falling water to access the slides, but once that was done, they were interested in trying nothing else.

The Friday morning after our trip we took it easy at home and tried to do a post-vacation decompress, but that evening I went out with some friends for a ladies night out at a restaurant/bowling alley in Minneapolis.  Unexpectedly ran into my brother-in-law there, hanging out with his friends, which made me feel good to know that I’m at least cool enough to frequent the same establishment as people who are still young and childless.  Maybe I’m not SO old?

Let’s not dwell on that question… So, Saturday we took the girls to a local Easter egg hunt.  There aren’t too many places in the world where hundreds of people would show up in 30 degree weather to pick up plastic eggs out of several feet of snow, but Minnesota is one of the few.  And yes, Alethea did choose to wear a dress and yes, she was quite cold.

The girls both enjoyed gathering eggs, were thrilled to discover that they contained candy and afterwards, Alethea was even brave enough to have her picture taken with the Easter bunny.

Lydia was not so confident and actually twitched nervously every time the bunny moved, so I have no picture to share of her snuggling up to him.  I did get a good one of the girls hugging each other though…

Sunday was church and afterwards a friend and I stayed to do some painting.  It was supposed to be a couple of quick walls, but then we kept finding more to do, so I arrived home late in the evening, quite sore, and not at all ready to jump back into our regular routine on Monday morning.  Oh well!

So now we’re all back to our usual stuff: playing with stuffed animals, going to work, reading books, teaching piano lessons, doing dishes and lots and lots of laundry.  Oh and planning Alethea’s birthday party, buying her present off Craigslist (she’s getting a bike, it’s pink and has streamers on the handlebars), prepping for Easter dinner (we’re hosting) and tracking down stuff for the girl’s baskets. And dreaming of spring… always, always dreaming of spring… sigh…

What have you all been up to lately?

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Merry Christmas everyone!

I’m happy to report that Operation Playroom was revealed to the girls this morning.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures of the space since it isn’t 100% complete.  Grandpa Chris is building the kitchen sink and they will receive it at our family Christmas on Sunday.  I can’t wait to put up a post of all the cute details in the room, in the mean time though, here is the girls’ reaction this morning on seeing it for the first time:

Hope your morning was equally delightful!

26 Christmas Trees

When I finally got around to counting yesterday, I realized that 26 is how many trees I made, bought and/or decorated this year for Christmas.  I’ll explain…

For my Christmas decor this year, I was inspired by this blog post to make mini Christmas trees by covering cones made from cereal boxes in various materials.  So back at the beginning of November, I started saving cereal boxes and by the end of the month I had made a little forest of twenty-one trees.  Nine went on the mantle:

The trees on the left include my favorite, aka the large white felt triangle tree, as well as the raffia, silver garland and book page trees.  I thought my thrift store reindeer looked just smashing perched up next to the felt tree.

The pinecones, ribbons and books I already had and I mixed them in on the right side with the feather, stick, BBQ wood chip, saran wrap and silver garland trees.  I tell you, once I got started making trees, I was looking at everything inside and outside my house thinking, “I could totally make a tree out of that!”

My favorite part of the mantle though is the center with my beloved nativity and my first ever attempt at chalkboard art.

The Christmas tree parade continues on the console table behind the sofa.  I give you the: thrift store garland, burlap, blue glass (didn’t make that one), taupe felt and beaded garland trees:

It was Peter’s idea to use pictures of Christmas trees past to decorate the table.  Perfect!

Moving onto the dining room, where seven more trees are located…

I stuck with my usual teal, silver and white color scheme for the centerpiece, so was able to use decorations that I’ve used in years past, but then added in a matching pair of teal ribbon trees.

So the grand total is nine trees on the mantle, one freshly cut balsam in the corner, five trees on the console table, seven in the dining room, and then I put one mini tree on a shelf in Alethea’s room and just for fun the girls and I went to Target and bought plastic pink, purple and teal ornaments and we put up the little artificial tree Peter and I used when we lived in an apartment.  The girls love having their own little tree to decorate (and undecorate… Alethea spent several nights sleeping with all the ornaments in her bed).

So that makes 23.  The other tree trees?  Oh, those are a Christmas surprise, but I’ll give you a hint….

Operation Playroom is still in process and Sharpie markers may or may not be involved.

Halloween 2012

We had a very busy, very delightful October 31st.  Together with Gramma Denny and Grandma Debbie, the girls and I spent the morning and early afternoon carving pumpkins, decorating treat bags, and finalizing costumes by sewing a neckerchief and adding electrical tape stripes to some pink knee socks.

The girls followed up all that excitement by taking naps while I finished carving.  When Peter arrived home, we got everyone up and ready and it was out the door to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a quick candy stop before we returned to our neighborhood and went knocking on doors.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:

Lydia was fascinated by the pumpkin gutting process.  Alethea was much less interested this year.  I guess she remembered from last year that she didn’t much enjoy touching the pumpkin’s insides.

Lydia dives in with a spoon, while Alethea carefully touches one seed.  It’s funny to me how something like pumpkin carving can so vividly illustrate the differences in their personalities.

Because you just really can’t know what you might enjoy eating if you won’t even try it.

As requested by each girl, Lydia’s pumpkin was an Angry Birds theme and Alethea got a Clifford the Big Red Dog pumpkin.

Naturally, Alethea had to bring Clifford out to see Clifford.  Also not surprising, she wanted her Clifford pumpkin to spend the night in her room.  She said she thought he’d get cold on the porch.  I told her he’d be stinky and we left him where he was.

Alethea decided to be Emily Elizabeth, owner of Clifford, for trick or treating.  She absolutely adored the costume and wore it most of the day on Halloween and all day the day after.  She’s quite sad that we have to return the borrowed white button down shirt and pink sweater.

Lydia went as Jetta, Emily Elizabeth’s friend and owner of Mac the dog, who appears regularly in the Clifford cartoon series.  We had to do some explaining to people about who she was supposed to be, but I’m glad we decided to coordinate her costume with Alethea’s.  Lydia was thrilled to the core of her being to be fully included in something that Alethea was so excited about.

This is Alethea with the boys who live right across the street from us.  No, their mom and I didn’t plan on coordinating and yes, Brody is dressed up as a giant foam finger.  Can you say ‘coolest DIY costume ever’?

Anyway, Happy Halloween just a couple days late from Clifford and the gang!  Hope you had a good one!