Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Countdown 20a - skating village display

When I was a little girl, my grandmother loved Christmas. She had lots of decorations, many of which she'd brought back from Germany and Austria (and maybe Sweden and Denmark). Our family on that side is German, so she may have visited some of my grandfather's family back then—it was my great grandfather who came over to America so many years ago.

One of her prized decorations was a winter skating scene, with little lead figurines, each interacting with the winter elements in his own way. Skaters, snowball-throwers, gentleman callers, riders in a one-horse open sleigh—they all played across the dining room table on a large oval mirror usually used to display perfumes and hairbrushes in her bedroom.

I was lucky enough to inherit the set last year, after sending my dad on a treacherous mission to his attic Christmas boxes, and I wanted to figure out a display this year.

The pieces are tiny, and I believe they are lead. No wonder she wouldn't let me touch them.  I've been using white cotton gloves from the photo lab where I worked after college to handle them.

Last year, I made some winter displays in apothecary jars, and for the Christmas dinner table, that I'd meant to put away in January. Only I couldn't! They are just too sweet! The scenes have been changing with the seasons.

I don't have fall evergreen trees, so this really is the summer display.

It doesn't have quite the impact of the other scenes, but the figurines in the jars solves several challenges: It keeps the figures out of reach from Starboy's touch, while letting him look up close, and it keeps the figures from being knocked over in our tiny house.

Unfortunately, only about a quarter of the figures will fit comfortably in the jars. Here is a gentleman pushing a lady on a sleigh, a couple ice staking, a boy playing on the ice, and a woman wrestling with her umbrella.

In the other jar, on epsom salt snow, another ice skating couple, a couple in a one-horse open sleigh, and a snowman.

 Aren't they charming?

 Brrr! Cold today!

This whole deal wasn't great from Starboy's point of view, because I didn't need much "help" and I didn't want him to touch anything. Unfortunately a lesson in patience for him, and valuing "special" things, which in itself isn't a bad thing. But maybe not his first choice in an advent activity. Them's the breaks, as they say.

Winter Nature Table - Christmas countdown 21a - Solstice

I'm not sure whether the solstice nature table counts as an advent surprise or not. I guess it depends on how flush you are with ideas. Last year, I decided it counted.

This year, I have a few additions to the table. First, Starboy's wonderful wooden Christmas tree, that he made with Techman a month ago and I haven't taken the chance to post about yet. I LOVE this tree. He "decorated" it by coloring the whole thing with sidewalk chalk. And I LOVE that he and Techman made it together.

Next, the frozen pond. It reminds me of my grandmother's snow scene that she used to put out on her dining room table, when I was small. It was a skating scene and she would spread the whole village out on the mirror from her vanity.

Then, some netting to pose as snow, a new piece of snow/felt (that I once again cut too small and it doesn't cover the whole table, sigh), and a new pinecone christmas tree decorated with glitter and pom-pons. And of course, the pipecleaner snowflakes.

Backlit. Sorry.

Today's book was excerpts from The Shortest Day, by Wendy Pfeffer. If you choose the pages carefully it still sort of sounds like a story. The book is a bit wordy to read in-depth to a preschooler, but it will be handy in a few years when he's able to better understand the concepts.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas countdown 20 -- Christmas tree elf ornament, USB tree

I couldn't resist this darling ornament published at Buzzmills. It was fun to make and quick to pull together. It took Starboy a while to find, and he thinks it's a hedgehog, despite knowing that it's supposed to be a porcupine like Sylvia likes.

Starboy's still under the weather, and it's been a quiet day after a longish night. He is enthused to re-discover a little fiberoptic USB tree we were given last year, that changes colors in the dark. He waited for hours to be able to turn it on. And he's enthralled.

Starboy has been excited to hear about snow, snow, snow, and made a sled so his stuffed animals could go sledding on a hill made out of a chair with a fleece blanket and a layer of white netting over it. So today we read "White Snow, Bright Snow," a classic by Alvin Tresselt.

Christmas countdown 19 -- Christmas tree elf ornament

We've been listening daily to the Sparkle Stories Advent Calendar stories—which are wonderful! You know what huge fans we are of the series, and of David and Lisabeth, who create the stories.

On the Sparkle Stories Facebook page, I saw a link to a wonderful felt ornament created at the Buzzmills blog. You see, in one of the stories, a Christmas Tree Elf appears to care for the tree, and he shows you that caring, by producing new ornaments for the children to notice.

Starboy found this one right away. Though he can't decide what the Christmas Tree Elf looks like.

I found the easy snowflake ornament by googling "felt ornaments." Very quick to come together. Though it could use some glitter, somehow.

Today's book: "My Prairie Christmas," by Brett Harvey. A wonderful picture book that is a great companion to "Little House on the Prairie" books (Starboy calls them "Laura and Mary books.")

I'm a little late posting this week's activities, because Starboy has come down with a fever and hasn't been wanting to do much but hang around. Poor guy. So it's been low key around here, and some of the better activities have been set aside.

Christmas countdown 18 -- chocolate treat and big tree

We had the chance for a Grandma & Grandpa day, so that pushed the errand to the outlet mall to the end of the day—after our special lunch at the neighborhood burger spot. Starboy was extremely patient and helped with the shopping, despite feeling tired and worn out and not hungry for dinner. 

So mommy suggested it might be a good day for a taste of Christmas chocolate, while Starboy ogled the ginormous tree at the outdoor mall. It was a special moment, but maybe not on my original list for Advent activities. It's been a busy week.

Book: A Pussycat's Christmas, by Margaret Wise Brown, with unnaturally modern illos by Anne Mortimer

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas countdown 17 - storybook

 So today's surprises included the Elf on the Shelf dangling over the bed at wakeup, finding the Christmas Tree Elf, and listening to an electric storybook. Starboy knows that Elf on the Shelf is a fake-o toy elf that we move around. He knows it's plastic and doesn't really have magic. It's very interesting, since other animals and fairies are magical to him. I'm not sure I'll even bring it out next year. I'd rather have him focus on the magical stuff, and not have the plastic toys give him the idea that everything is so contrived.

We don't do a whole "thing" with the Elf, though I try to move him around each day. It's just for fun.

The book is "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," read by my dad (Grandpop), who's Back East. He picked it up at Hallmark and sent it a couple of years ago, and although it's a very goofy setup, it's also pretty cool. Better living through science, eh? Starboy is really into it, even though it's super loud with no volume control (he's covering the speaker in this back-focused shot)—which is exactly how my dad talks on the phone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas countdown 16 - enjoying the tree

A very busy work day at school followed by a long meeting kept us from doing much in the way of special Christmas stuff today, and Starboy was having a difficult time falling asleep. So Techman set him up with the special Christmas pillows as a bed under the tree in the living room and eventually he conked out nearly two hours past bedtime.

Tonight's bedtime reading was "A Forest Christmas" by Mayling Holm, which is a lovely story about the forest animals getting together for a Christmas Eve party. Very simple illos as well.

*Sorry, originally this post was numbered Christmas Countdown 17.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas countdown 15 - Swedish Christmas fair

 Today's exciting adventure was at the SWEA Christmas fair and Santa Lucia pageant! Starboy loved the Swedish pancakes for lunch. He also liked the challah-like buns.

 I didn't get any good pictures of the tomte, straw goats, dala horses and much, much more. But there sure was a lot to see!

 Folk dancing in period dress!

And many hilarious t-shirts and mugs.

An Astrid Lindgren book would have been perfect today! But we read it yesterday. I swear, a better plan next year. So today we read "Snow," by Uri Shulevitz.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas countdown 13+14 — a tree! and snowstars

 Starboy has been very concerned that without a Christmas tree, there will be no Santa. He is worried that Santa will not come to Grandma and Grandpa's house unless they have a tree as well.

He has been very helpful in that excited way that just slows you down and it's all very cute. He insisted on helping carry the tree to the baling area, and was oblivious to the fact that Techman nearly knocked him over with it a couple of times.

There wasn't time for full decorations, but Starboy was able to put on his wooden animal ornaments before bedtime, once the lights were up.

I tried to lure him away from Techman's lighting mission with a snow star project for a tree in the front yard. It kept him engaged for about four minutes, and between us we have two stars to show for it.

Today's books are both new to me: "Christmas in Noisy Village" by Astrid Lindgren, which is lovely. Highlights several Swedish holiday traditions.
And "How Santa Claus Had a Long and Difficult Journey Delivering His Presents," by Fernando Krahn. This is a funny story with no words about how Santa gets ditched by his reindeer and has to find alternate ways to get his sleigh flying. A happy ending, and cute pictures that made Starboy laugh out loud.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas countdown 12 — cinnamon star ornaments

This holiday favorite comes courtesy of 5 Orange Potatoes. We've made them before, but I can't link it because Blogger's search function is kaput. Pressing onward.

 The dough is equal parts cinnamon and applesauce, with a little white glue as a binder. You can leave them out several days to dry, or put them in a low-temp oven for about 90 minutes. We made extras to hand out to the senior citizens at the rec center tomorrow, when we go to sing Christmas carols with Starboy's school. The kids at school made some, too.

 I could go blind with the nighttime lighting in my house. Photography fail.

Starboy enjoyed this one: quick and easy.

 A simple bead and bakery string, et voila — gifting goodness. We had at least 40 stars, so he needed an assist with the beading and tying.

And hey, the book even matches today, sort of. I'd rather have made the white stars, but let's not let Perfect be the enemy of Good. "The Silver Christmas Tree," by Pat Hutchins.

Christmas countdown 10 + 11 - Santa mouse and painted ornaments

This is a craft I remember fondly from the third grade—I remember being delighted to make something so cute. We had pink ultrasuede for our tails then, fancy! Starboy and I just used felt.

He wanted his a one-eyed mouse. He's starting to enter that "humor" phase. Next stop: knock-knock jokes.

 We were shopping recently in Crate and Barrel, and Starboy saw these wonderful little laser-cut house and church ornaments. They were beautiful and simple, and he insisted that they were unfinished and needed to be painted. We made a deal that he could keep one if he gave the other two as gifts.

He just used liquid water colors (I limited the palette), and they turned out beautifully. In the next scene, he was playing with all three houses in the rice bin. I explained the deal we'd made to Techman, and he said flatly: "You got scammed."

Wednesday's book could have been Santa Mouse, but instead we read Ann Purnell's "Maple Syrup Season," which isn't even a Christmas book, and had pancakes with syrup for breakfast, which I forgot to photograph, although it was such an utter miracle that Starboy was eating spinach that I didn't want to disrupt the balance, either. We also read "Five Little Foxes and the Snow," about a Gramma who won't let the kids go out and play because it's too cold, but then she gives them mittens for Christmas and they have a ball in the snow. Cute story.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas countdown 9 - Santa!

Today was the day. Starboy previously had said that he was just going to say hello to Santa, and not tell him what he wanted. This made me a little nervous. A test?

He gave Santa a wood reindeer ornament, with his name written backwards. He explained: "It's backwards because it's on the back." Santa totally didn't get it. Techman and I both think it's hilarious. I said, "Just hold it up to the light and it will read right." (Which of course was just funny, because the ornament is wood.)

Santa didn't get that either. He probably thinks our family is crazy.

Especially since I snuck in and asked him to explain to Starboy that he couldn't bring a pet meerkat on Christmas, because a meerkat wouldn't be happy without all of his friends, and anyway he needs to live in a burrow and we don't have one. I overheard Santa chiding, "You can't have a meerkat as a pet! It's a wild animal! It will bite you! You don't want that!" 

Jesus. Starboy laughed and said, "Not a pet meerkat. A pet wouldn't bite you!" And they proceeded to have an argument about it for a few minutes.

It's a good thing I have a few things set aside for Starboy's stocking this year, because it should cover up those lumps of coal Santa might be slipping in there.

In spite of all of this, and in spite of the fact that some kids at the festival on Saturday told Starboy that the Santa there "wasn't the real Santa," (Really?!? I'd hoped for one more year.) he still wanted to write a letter, and post it in his private box.

 And then we had macarons. Because it's Los Angeles, and we can.

"Santa's Snow Cat" would have been a good choice, but since we'd already read it, I chose "One Snowy Night" by M. Christina Butler because it's a cute story, it's short, and I was running late on bedtime.

I guess this year isn't going to be organized after all.