Making Christmas

Making Christmas

Christmas!  Just one month away.

What does “Christmas” make you think of?  Parties?  Family?  Lights, the tree, baking, candy canes, caroling, gingerbread, hot chocolate with whipped cream, handmade ornaments, ice skating, shopping, wrapping, stockings, Santa, gifts, Christmas dinner and pie?  These are the things that I think of this time of year.

Christmas in NYC is always exciting.  Seems to me, people are cheerier.  There are amazing decorations all over the city.  Holiday markets pop up all over the place; I wish I could shop every one of them.  I delight in all the commercial stuff that comes with this season.  And we will certainly indulge in much of it.

Except, Simon asks me what all these ways of celebrating have to do with Jesus being born.  And I don’t have much of an answer.

About a split second after he asks his question, Simon completely forgets about it and starts obsessing over his Christmas wish list…. but now he has me thinking….

How can we really celebrate the true spirit of Christmas?  Should we forgo all the aforementioned treats?  No way.  But can we change our focus a little?  Nothing too dramatic.  Perhaps a slight reorientation of our attitudes? 

The boys & I have a serious talk about what really makes Christmas special.  We agree that everyone loves getting.  But in order to get, someone has to give.  What if we prepare our hearts for Christmas by focusing on the giving rather than the getting?

We decide to make an advent calendar.  It will comprise 24 things we can do for others.  We throw all sorts of suggestions around and also visit the random act of kindness website for more ideas (  The final list below is what we think we can realistically do in the next month.  Beginning December 1, we will concentrate on one thing each day. 

Making Christmas for others

  1. Hold doors open
  2. Offer up our seats on the subway
  3. Write letters to our World Vision sponsor children
  4. Donate week’s allowance to church (Simon & Ethan)
  5. Smile & say “hi”
  6. Write Christmas cards (Val)
  7. Donate to New York Cares coat drive
  8. Do somebody’s chore
  9. Donate to a toy drive
  10. Bake goodies for apartment building staff
  11. Draw Christmas cards for the Grandmas
  12. Bring snacks to school
  13. Say something kind
  14. Forgive someone 
  15. Thank someone
  16. Talk or play with someone new
  17. Volunteer in a soup kitchen (Jin)
  18. Make teacher gifts and cards
  19. Donate to a food drive
  20. Pray for someone
  21. Give someone a “pat on the back”
  22. Pick up trash  
  23. Be positive
  24. Be grateful

And, lest you think we’re not treating ourselves …

Making Christmas for ourselves

  1. Ice Skating in Bryant Park
  2. Visit to Macy’s Santa Land
  3. Watch favorite Christmas movies – Nightmare before Christmas, Elf & A Christmas Carol
  4. Christmas Spectacular?
  5. The Christmas tree by the NYSE
  6. Holiday markets in Grand Central Station & Union Square
  7. Craft play dough snowmen
  8. Paper snowflakes
  9. Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice!
Bahamian Crafts & Inspiration

Bahamian Crafts & Inspiration

Our week of romping about Atlantis is coming to an end.  The luggage has been repacked and our carefully collected seashells and Tortuga rum cakes tucked away.  Time to head home for another New York winter.

This year, I’m bringing home extra souvenirs – Bahamian handcrafted goods and a whole lot of inspiration to learn how to plait (“plait” pronounced to rhyme with “sat”).

As we walk from our water adventures back to Home-tel each day, I stop to admire the crafts displayed in the shopping area (Marina Village).  I become especially intrigued when I notice one vendor weaving palms to make a turtle.

We wander over to watch him.  His name is Romel.  He’s also known as “Hat Man.”

Romel’s impressive display of hand woven goods includes bowls, hats, turtles, a big lizard, and a two foot tall palm tree.  He gives us a friendly greeting and answers my many questions with amused patience.

  • Yes, he cuts his own palms. 
  • An old friend taught him to weave a long time ago.
  • It takes him 2 1/2 hours to complete the turtle.
  • The palm tree breaks down into 2 pieces for packing.
  • To get that nice shiny finish that he has on his hat, I just have to wait until the palms completely dry out and then paint on 2 coats of varnish.
  • His crafts will last years.
  • Yes, I can come back after dinner for a weaving lesson (yes!).

He chuckles in his deep deep voice and beckons my boys closer to him.  With a few strips of palm leaves he deftly weaves a fish for each boy. 

Simon and Ethan thank Romel for the gift and run off waving their fish about.  I admire the clever,  simple design and think these are ever so much better than balloons.

Later that evening, I return for a weaving lesson with Romel.  He guides my hands to weave the fish (tougher than it looks) and demonstrates how to cut the finishing touches on the fish.

I buy a woven bowl from Romel.  He makes me a grasshopper to perch on the side of it.  I also purchase two of his soda can guitars for the boys.  He tells me he uses four cans to construct each one.  I am delighted with his ability to turn trash into an aesthetically pleasing and fun piece of art.

Ethan is so impressed with Romel’s work that he requests another visit to watch him work.  The next evening, he weaves a little flying bird for E.  This one has other tourists oohing and aahing.  We’re stopped more than once with inquiries on where we got the bird.  Romel also sends me off with a handful of palms and instructions to go practice.

That night, I sit down with a paring knife, the palm leaves and a whole lot of determination.  I end up making …. a big mess…. palm scraps everywhere.  My fish looks right but it won’t hold its form.  I fail miserably with the bird.  But quite by accident, I stumble upon the method of the other plaiting I’ve been admiring – the hand plaited totes. 

I treated myself with 2 hand plaited totes this trip.  I bought the larger one from Dorothea at the Bahamas Craft Centre and the smaller one from The Plait Lady in the Marina Village in Atlantis.  I’ve been trying to figure out how these bags are crafted all week.

As I said, I botched the bird.  So I start playing with a basic under-over weave pattern instead.  I experiment with plaiting 2 five strand strips together and am surprised to see a clumsy lopsided version of the plaiting I’ve been puzzling over start to take form.  I manage to plait enough to make a rough book mark.  Now I am even more impressed by the patient and expert craftsmanship demonstrated in my purchases.

I have one last palm leaf left and one final afternoon on the beach.  It’s too windy and cold to swim today, so I sit and practice plaiting while the boys build sand piles.  I still have so many questions.  What will I practice with when I go home?  How do I weave in new strands?  How do I turn plaited strips into a whole bag?

I decide my first successful plaited strip is perfect as a headband.  It’s a start.  I am so excited to continue exploring this craft.  I am thankful and touched that a master of his craft was so generous with his time and so willing to share his knowledge.  Thanks Romel – for everything – I’ll be back next year!

Thanksgiving Fun

Thanksgiving Fun

 Walking on the beach
How can the water be this beautifully blue?

 Searching for seashells.
I can this do for hours.
This picture doesn’t look real to me
But I’m the one who took it
 The Dig
A jaw dropping impressive aquarium
 Is it shuffleboard or a sparring match?
 Playing around at the pool
Happy Thanksgiving!


It’s our favorite week of the year.  It’s Home-tel week at Harborside in Atlantis.

It started four years ago.  Jin and I decided to take a family vacation; a getaway with lots of sunshine, beach, water and no obligations.  We booked a week stay at the Atlantis resort and packed the boys and all their assorted toddler gear up and headed down for our first trip to the Bahamas.  It was going to be a wonderful week.

Except it didn’t start auspiciously at all.  In fact, it started downright awful.

We check into the hotel & barely sit down to lunch when Jin receives an emergency work call.  He disappears for the duration of the meal to handle the situation and then, unfortunately, continues to work the rest of the day.  The boys and I walk around the hotel but I’m not up to the task of taking a 4 year old and 2 year old out to the water park alone.  We order room service for dinner and I just about faint when I realize we’ve spent $100 on a plate of pasta, some chicken and a salad.  Ethan has a booming scratchy voice that comes in only one volume – really loud.  His music and art teachers have dubbed him “outside voice.”  We have become desensitized to him and can tune him out.  But the woman in the next hotel room can not.  She bangs on our door our first morning and  proceeds to tell me my children have been screaming for hours and that they are wild animals.  Since I am experiencing my first and hopefully last migraine ever, I am in no shape to deal with her.  I am also trying to hide the fact that I’ve opened the door with no pants on.  The best I can do is to stand awkwardly behind our door while stupidly trying to blink my headache away and figure out why she thinks my kids have been screaming (remember – desensitized).

Nope.  Not a nice start of a vacation at all.

Things start to look up our second night, I tuck my boys (including Jin) into bed and take some me time to explore the premises.  I meander through all the stores and browse to my heart’s content.  I play $20 at the quarter slot machines.  I wander through the giant aquarium.  All the while, I’m trying to figure out where there are cheaper eating options within the resort.  I see some friendly looking hotel employees standing next to models of the Atlantis resort.  I stop to ask one where we can find casual dining.  She tells me some options, then offers me free breakfast and $150 cash if my family and I attend an informational meeting about the new Harborside resorts.

Free breakfast and $150?  Of course we’ll go!  I return triumphantly to our hotel room.  In just a few hours of exploring, I have figured out where everything is in the resort (including daily complementary movies) and I scored free breakfast for us!  I should pause here to clarify something.  Since we are  vacationing in the Bahamas, we are obviously not poor.  But I grew up on a very tight budget.  To this day,  there are just some things I have a hard time spending extravagantly on.

Back to my story.  The next morning, I cheerfully inform my family we are having complementary breakfast in exchange for just a little bit of our time.  We head over to the sales center, sit down for bananas, cereal and coffee… and walk out 4 hours later as timeshare owners (we call it Home-tel)

That may seem a little silly, huh?  Too cheap to buy breakfast, but willing to invest in a timeshare.  Luckily, Jin & I are on the same page when it comes to money so this makes perfect sense to us.  And we have never regretted it.

This is our fourth year to use our timeshare.  There’s no question about whether or not we should take our annual vacation.  This is our family date.  Thanksgiving week is our time.  Jin still ends up working through parts of our holiday, but we’ve learned to deal with this.  We eat lunch by the beach but have breakfast and most dinners at Home-tel.  Frankly, I find this not just more economical, but more pleasant than schlepping out to a restaurant three times a day.  And luckily, E now differentiates between inside voice and outside voice.

We checked in Saturday.  Sunday we had a most marvelous day together.  We spent a good two hours on the river ride, ate burgers while enjoying the ocean breeze and sunshine, combed the beach  for seashells, dug holes in the sand and swam in one of the many pools (actually, they swam, I lounged and drank a daiquiri).  At the end of our day, we headed back to Home-tel, cooked up some pasta & played 5 rounds of Monopoly Deal (a card game Simon managed to win 3 times).  And we get to do it all again each day for an entire week.

This is the week we look forward to the most.  Family week at Home-tel rocks!

Even or Odd?  (visualizing math)

Even or Odd? (visualizing math)

I helped myself to Simon’s Lego guys today while he was at school.  You know what?  Legos are fun to play with.  No wonder why my kid keeps saving up to buy more sets.  But I digress…

I really want to show you how I taught my boys about even and odd numbers (we worked with non-negative integers only).


The definition of an even number is any value that can be written in the form 2k where k is some integer.

Or, you can say an even number is any number divisible by 2.

Generally,  if you’re talking with your five year old about what an even number is, neither definition will be that helpful. 

Instead, I say an even number of “guys” is when every guy can be assigned exactly 1 buddy.  For example, at school the students line up 2 by 2.  So we know there are an even number of students when each person has a line buddy and no one is left out.

 Visualizing why 8 is an even number
My boys used manipulatives (starbucks frappuccino caps, lego guys, any same sized manipulatives) when first exploring whether a number is even or odd.  
Is the number 8 even or odd?  Count out 8 guys first.  Then see if each guy can be assigned exactly 1 buddy.  Yes?  Okay, 8 is an even number.
What about odd numbers?  An odd number is defined as any value that can be written in the form (2k + 1) where k is some integer.  Once again, this definition is probably not helpful for our purpose.
To the kids, I say, there are an odd number of “guys” if every guy except 1 can be assigned exactly 1 buddy.  In other words, exactly 1 guy has no buddy.
Visualizing why 5 is an odd number
In addition to having my children determine if specific numbers were odd or even, I also asked the following questions:
  1. Is zero an even or odd number?  (zero means no guys, so no one can be left without a buddy, hence zero must be an even number)
  2. Consider the ordered numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, … Can there ever be two even numbers side by side?  How about two odd numbers side by side?  Can you explain your answer?  Is there some kind of pattern of even and odds when we are counting?
  3. I take an even number of manipulatives and group them so there are 2 guys left alone.  Then I ask, “Are there an even or odd number of guys here?”

When I’m asking my boys questions, I’m not necessarily looking for a correct answer.  If they get it, then great.  I know I can dial up the notch a little on the next question.  Even if they answer incorrectly, I want to hear their reasoning.  What I’m looking for is an opportunity for conversation.  I’m also curious to understand how their minds process information.  I am frequently surprised by what they are actually able to explain to me and how they came up with their answers.

We had a little friend over to play last weekend.  At one point, the topic of even and odd numbers came up.  She was not familiar with the idea.  Both Simon and Ethan jumped at the chance to explain to her their understanding of these two categories.  I had a really happy moment as they chattered on about whether or not every guy had a buddy and why zero is an even number.  And that’s when knew I had to pull the Lego guys out to show you too.