Advent Countdown

Advent Countdown

My kids asked me what I’d like for Christmas this year.   I requested that they celebrate the season with me all December long (and perhaps put a book or two under the tree for me).

So my Christmas gift from the kids began with a brainstorming session about all our favorite ways to make Christmas – both for ourselves and for others.

Last year we thought up 24 ways we could mindfully prepare for this wonderful holiday.  While both boys diligently followed through with each day’s task, their hearts didn’t stay enthusiastic for long.  So this year, we decided our advent countdown should comprise of  just 12 mini tasks we could do for others and 12 of our favorite family traditions.  Here’s what we came up with:

Making Christmas for others:

  • Donate coats to New York Cares coat drive
  • Bake cookies to share with others
  • Donate to a toy drive
  • Donate piggy bank money to a Salvation Army Santa
  • Donate to a food drive
  • Write Christmas letters to the Grandmas (in color and with their very best handwriting!)
  • Donate week’s allowance to church
  • Clean up random trash- either at school, in the subway or just while walking down the street
  • Make teacher gifts
  • Be extra courteous to others – smile, greet someone new, hold doors open for others
  • Hand out holiday Thank You’s to all the guys who keep our building safe, clean & beautiful
  • Sing Christmas carols with Mommy (with lots of cheer and no complaints!)

Making Christmas for ourselves

  • Make our Christmas wish lists
  • Have a snowflake cutting session
  • Enjoy hot chocolate with whipped cream &/or marshmallows
  • Pile into bed together & watch a Christmas movie
  • Read a Christmas story aloud
  • Picture with Santa
  • Brave midtown to see the holiday lights and giant tree
  • Go ice skating (Jin required to go at least once!)
  • Decorate the front door &/or foyer
  • Decorate cookies
  • Gingerbread house
  • Visit the NYC holiday markets

Once we agreed on our 24 Christmas activities, I decided we’d have more fun if I added an element of surprise to our countdown.  Even though we chose our activities together, I would decide the order of execution & package it for them in the form of an advent calendar.

Went digging through my craft closet to see what kind of calendar I could come up with.  Found stickers, envelopes, blank tags and about 8 years worth of old Christmas cards.  Definitely more than enough to cobble together a little advent “calendar” of our own.

I chopped up some old cards, wrote one activity on the back of each , numbered the labels and then went to town decorating the envelopes with Christmas stickers.

The result was a cheery stack of numbered envelopes; each containing one item off our Christmas list.

As for my Christmas gift – the one where the boys make merry with me all month long – well, it was definitely off to a wonderful start when Ethan discovered the pile of cards this morning.  He examined all the stickers and then tried to guess which activity was contained in every envelope.

You know, there was a time when I thought wrapped gifts under the tree was the most important part of Christmas.  Still enjoy those gifts (so if you’re reading this, Jin, I’m eagarly anticipating whatever you dream up this year), but really, I think it’s the month of making Christmas that I love best.

The Wizard of Washington Square

The Wizard of Washington Square

Book #15 of our reading streak was The Wizard of Washington Square by Jane Yolen.

It’s a quick, fun read aloud.  Made even better if you are actually familiar with Washington Square Park in the heart of NYU.  I intended to take my boys to the park to read at least a few of the chapters, but alas, we didn’t make it there before we finished the story.

Still, they enjoyed the book… despite their determination not to like it.  I think they didn’t care for the picture on the cover.  It probably didn’t sound exciting or scary enough for  them either. Could also have been because I had never read the book and didn’t have any particular opinion about it.  But I was curious to read it since a good friend had not only recommended the book to us, but had lent us her copy as well (Thanks Melissa!).

They griped through the first three chapters.  Stopped me as soon as our 10 minute daily minimum read aloud time was up.  But somewhere in the tunnels under Washington Square Park – on the way into the wizard’s warren and before meeting the six legged table who liked to roll a ball from foot to foot, I saw the story take hold of them.  They stopped fidgeting.  Started really listening.  Laughed aloud during the silly parts.  Got mad when injustice occurred.  Wanted to hear just one more chapter.  They still won’t admit it… but they liked it.

As for me, I particularly enjoyed Jane Yolen’s comments and descriptions about New Yorkers.  I thought it quite accurate and funny when she pointed out just how much a New Yorker will simply choose not to notice (like a table paying a token and then getting on the subway).

And now that we’ve been introduced to this author, I am very interested to read more of her work.  In fact, when my boys & I visited their school library this week, the first thing I saw when I was another novel by Jane Yolen.  The boys weren’t in the mood for another Yolen book just yet… but I was.  Had Simon check it out for me & now it’s on top of my reading pile.

Just Yarn

Just Yarn

Actually, not just a big platter of rolled yarn balls sitting on our coffee table.

I’m working on a Christmas crochet project (show you next week) that goes easier if I can see my entire color selection of yarn in one glance.  Rolling all my miscellaneous skeins of yarn into balls and grouping them in plain site serves the practice purpose of helping me choose color combinations.

Actually rolling the skeins of yarn turned into some quality family time.  I’d wandered into Ethan’s room to see what he was up to.  Found him utterly focused on rolling his loose yarn into balls as well.  So I drafted him to come out to help me with my project.  As we worked, we chatted about Christmas, crafts we might make together and gifts we should prepare for friends and family.  When Simon showed up to tell me a story about his day, I handed him a skein of yarn too and instructed him to roll as he talked.

When we finished making our pile of yarn balls, I was pleased to see it was quite decorative as well.  We’d set up our Christmas tree already.  The warm woolly look of the yarn offset our homemade felt garlands made in previous years perfectly.

Setting up my color palette.  Spending some quiet time with my boys.  And ending up with something cozy and festive looking as well.  Not bad for a bunch of balls of yarn, huh?

Some Plastic with those Seashells

Some Plastic with those Seashells

Trash.  Washing in with the tide.  Buried in the sand.  Scattered across the rocks.  The trash was the one thing that made me really sad during our recent trip to the Bahamas.

Our family loves to just hang out on the beach all day.  Jin and Simon dig trenches and build sand castles and giant hills.  Ethan searches for hermit crabs and other live things.  I wade in the water, listen to the water crash on the sand and look for seashells.

We did all this last week.  And we had an incredible time playing on the beach.  But this year, I noticed a whole lot more garbage on the beach… dirty wet resort towels, plastic cups, water bottles, broken shards of bigger plastic containers, beer bottles, crumpled rusted cans, straws, broken sunglasses… you name it, we found it.  Most nasty of all was that tampon applicator Jin and Simon dug up…

Of course, the resort guys are out on the beach cleaning every morning.  But there’s a whole lot of beach to deal with.  Now, part of the excess trash this year was probably a result of Hurricane Sandy.  But I think much of it was just folks bringing their drinks & such out to enjoy & then forgetting to carry their trash off the beach.

It makes me sad.  And it reminds me of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and all the plastic I’m not seeing just floating around out there.

What to do?  Well, we still stayed out on the beach every day.  And I tried not to obsess about the garbage I came across or to despair over the immense amounts in the ocean I couldn’t see.  In the end, we just did a little clean up each day.  On the way off the beach, Simon, Ethan and I filled E’s bucket with bits of trash (and yes, I disposed of that tampon applicator).  I brought in hazardous shards of glass to toss in the garbage bins and Jin dragged in wet, sandy towels.  Just a little clean up each day.  No where near enough to be significant.  But I have to believe that a little clean up is better than none.

Quarter Slots

Quarter Slots

Yes, I know.
I know, I know, I know it’s a stupid game designed to take my money.
I might as well take my dollars, shred them up & toss the bits and pieces one by one into the trash.
But…
I really love the blinky lights
and
the cheesy music
and
the spinning reels
and
the chance…
just the smallest chance…
that the next spin might be jackpot.
So once a year, I indulge this silly habit.
I play.
Sometimes I win a little.
Mostly I lose.
But I still love playing.
Heading home soon.
Not enough time to swim 
or 
romp on the beach…
But perhaps
just enough time to indulge myself in one more round of quarter slots.