Archive for the 'holidays' Category


Signs of the season

Aside from some Christmas-related stuff (lights and ornaments, mostly), we don’t have a lot of store-bought holiday decorations. Our holiday-themed decorating is pretty restrained–partly because we don’t want to have to store the stuff for the rest of the year, and partly because our quotidian stuff already takes up most of our space.

But we do like to make things, and now that Sylvia has become fairly adept with scissors, glue sticks, and crayons/pencils/markers, she likes to work on these crafts too.

First up this year, an autumn tree for our front door. (We actually did this one a few weeks ago, when the leaves first started to turn.) We did something like this two years ago, but at that time Sylvia’s only contribution was patting into place the leaves I had cut out and backed with rolled-up pieces of tape. (She was only two then–not quite ready for scissors.)

This year, however, she cut out all the leaves herself! (I made stencils for her to trace onto construction paper.) I cut out and taped up the trunk and branches, and she put all of the leaves exactly where she wanted them.


Next up: some mice for the steps! I did all the cutting for these, but Sylvia put (most of) them in place. (I did have to offer suggestions now and then, to ensure that we didn’t end up with six mice on one step.)


And of course we needed some bats! These are solar shades, which block harsh sunlight and UV light but don’t block all light and still allow visibility. (We prefer to have no curtains or shades on our windows, but this room gets bright morning light, and we need to protect the piano.) When they’ve been pulled down in the evening in anticipation of the morning sun, they provide a nice amber-hued, slightly glowing backdrop to the bats.


Here’s some more of Sylvia’s (mostly) solo work. The spiders were easy: one circle for the body, one circle for the head, and eight strips for the legs.

I made eye, beak, wing, and chest feather stencils for her to use for the owl parts. By the time she got to the third owl, she said, “I don’t feel like doing the chest feathers.” I told her that it was okay for the owls to be different–they didn’t all have to look the same. She wasn’t satisfied with this response, though, and scowled until a lightbulb went off in her head: “I know! This one can be a baby owl whose chest feathers haven’t grown yet!”


Our final project was this leaf garland. I made stencils of oak, maple, and birch leaves, then traced them (with tailor’s chalk) onto craft felt. Sylvia and I each cut out half of them (some of hers required a bit of “smoothing” on the edge by me afterward), she chose the order in which they should appear, and I sewed them together with invisible thread.



Happy Star Wars Day

May the Fourth be with you!


Easter humor revisited

I posted about funny Easter candy last year, but it still cracks me up. So take a look if you’d like a chuckle, too.

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

March forth, everyone!


How I celebrated Valentine’s Day

I have never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. (This opinion has been true regardless of my relationship status at the moment.) Fortunately, my husband feels the same way, so neither of us expects any super-special display of affection on that day. (We have a private joke about it. I ask him several times during the day, “Where are my diamonds? And my flowers? And chocolate? And balloons with a stuffed animal—ideally a teddy bear? Don’t you love me?” and he rolls his eyes. Heh.)

p2136239allcookiesftf.jpgMost people in our society do engage in a “traditional” celebration of Valentine’s Day, though. As Sylvia has grown into a fully talking-thinking-soaking-it-all-in individual, Jan and I have realized that the two of us, as adults with a lifetime of experience and some ability to analyze popular culture, can critically examine and resist the consumerism-driven aspects of Valentine’s Day, but that she doesn’t yet have the tools that we have—and that her own life experience will involve exposure to all sorts of cultural concepts and practices. We can’t shield her from all of the ones we dislike, but we can try to mediate their impact on her by discussing them and, we hope, teaching her how to think critically about them.

Last year we started explaining to Sylvia that Valentine’s Day is a special day when people like to tell people they love them (taking care to point out that that’s a nice thing to say to people on any day you like). We talked about valentines, too, and the idea that people often do special things on that day.

Now that she’s in preschool, she had her first-even valentines swap on Friday. It was rather sweet (even though nearly all of the cards given were character-branded items that are basically advertisements for the latest Disney/Pixar/Barbie endeavor), and she really enjoyed making cards at home and passing them out at school. She made a card for her dad, too, a few days ago—and could barely keep the secret. (Example: “Daddy, don’t look on top of the bookcase, okay? It’s a secret!”)

p2136242cookiesftf.jpgThe best part was when the three of us made these shortbread cookies together. As a vegetarian, Sylvia can’t eat traditional conversation hearts (they contain gelatin), so these are a nice substitute. As a future geek (she has two geeky parents, so she doesn’t stand a chance; she already has her own dice bag) we figured we should give her some early lolcats exposure. And of course she just loved seeing her name on several cookies!


Holiday greetings

Things have been quiet on this blog for the past week. The three of us have been busy getting ready for Christmas: baking cookies, sending cards to friends and family, making and hanging decorations, and listening to music of the season. (I also did a lot of knitting, having decided two months ago that I would knit socks for my parents for Christmas. Last week I wasn’t sure I’d get the final one done in time, so I mailed a package to Illinois with three socks in it. Happily, I finished the last one just a couple of days later and was able to send it out on time!)

And getting excited about Santa. Sylvia, who (except for a few phases) has been a champion sleeper most of her life so far, has had trouble getting to sleep the last several evenings. When we check on her to see what the problem is, she says, “I can’t sleep! I am so excited for Christmas!” For weeks she has been carefully planning exactly which cookies to leave on the heart for Santa.

And then tonight we introduced her to this.* She is beside herself with happiness. I’ve always liked Christmas, but experiencing it with a three-year-old is just amazing.

I’ll likely be scarce online for the next several days. So I’ll take this opportunity to send wishes for happy holidays (whichever ones you celebrate) to everyone out there!

*When I was a kid, all we had was the “Doppler radar view” of Santa on the local news. This is so much better than that.


Holiday music

I love the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the lights and the decorations and the smells (cookies!) of the holidays. It annoys me to no end when retailers start pushing holiday wares and exuding forced Christmas cheer early in the fall, when we haven’t celebrated Halloween (or even Labor Day, in some cases!) yet. Once Thanksgiving has arrived, though, it feels as though Christmas is now “permitted.”

No doubt this is partly related to the fact that, when I was little kid, my dad announced that “once you see Santa [in the Macy’s parade, which we watched on television every year], then the Christmas season has officially begun.” Like most people, I reached a point during my childhood when I realized that my parents didn’t know everything after all. On this, however, I still think my dad is right. Maybe that’s why, even though every year I tell myself that “next year, I will start my Christmas crafts in July so I have time to get them done!” I just can’t just find the right mood for them before November.

I am especially fond of Christmas music, even the schmaltzy stuff (though the Muzak versions and midi files definitely rank low on that list). Even though I am somewhat allergic to the word God, I actually like the sacred music more than the profane. And I like the old music more than the new. I’ve nothing against songs about Santa’s travel itinerary, but when it comes to stirring the pot of emotions they don’t hold a candle to songs about the religious aspects of Christmas or rousing tunes about wassails and boar’s heads. It’s sort of like walking into a huge, old cathedral in Europe and just feeling the waves of belief that built and sustained this amazing piece of art and culture, even if you harbor no such faith yourself.

Every year after Thanksgiving I pull out our books of Christmas music and start doing my best to fill my house with decent renditions of those songs. But because I haven’t played them at all for eleven or so months, they don’t sound so good. I’m a fairly capable sight reader at the piano, but it still takes me a bit of practice before a song sounds just right.

So this year, I broke with my own tradition and took out those books back in October. Opening them up was like greeting old friends: King Wenceslas, Jeannette Isabella, the three ships that are ever sailing. The “Nuns in Frigid Cells” were there, too. And I made some new acquaintances, too: “Masters in This Hall” (an Old French tune with lyrics by William Morris), “A Day of Joy and Feasting,” “Whence Comes This Rush of Wings,” “Shout the Glad Tidings,” “Noel, Nouvelet!” (late-15th-century French).

It felt a little weird to be playing Christmas tunes on deliciously warm, Indian summer days. At the same time, it was kind of nice to get an early, totally noncommercial glimpse of the upcoming holiday. And now (especially after the piano tuner finishes his work this morning) I feel prepared for Christmas on at least one front!


Eliding from one month to another

It’s been a busy weekend. October ended with a Halloween double-whammy: Sylvia’s first holiday celebration at school (complete with a parade of costumed kids, followed by a concert of songs sung by the kids for their parents—and their camcorders, of course), and trick-or-treating. Sylvia chose to be a “flower fairy” this year (completely her own idea), so we put together an outfit made up of stuff she already had in her closet: tutu, fairy wings, polka-dotted tights, purple shirt, cardigan handknitted by me, black shoes. Jan and I made her a flower wreath (out of pipe cleaners, florist tape, artificial flowers, and ribbons) and a wand (out of a dowel, plus everything that was in the wreath except for the pipe cleaners). She loved it. We spent about five bucks, and she got a costume that was totally unique. Awesome.

pb014464poopsign.jpgYesterday we headed to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey. Tickets for the three of us were priced at $53. Thanks to one of Jan’s coworkers—who is a long-time volunteer there (he scuba dives into the shark tank to clean it)—we had free passes for the day. WOOT! When we told Sylvia where we were going, she wasn’t really into the idea…until we described the aquarium as “like a zoo for fish.” Then she couldn’t wait to get there.

We had a great time there. The giant tanks are just amazing. They’re well lit, located in dark rooms and (of course) covered with glass, so most of my attempts at photography didn’t turn out too well. One of the best pictures I took was this one, in the area two hippopotamuses (the singular of which is not, as Allan Sherman sang, “one hippopotami”) and an African porcupine share with lots and lots of bird.

pb024547trees.jpgThis morning we went to church (where the minister talked about the Unitarian and Universalist legacies of working toward justice and urged everyone to vote on Tuesday*), then headed to Winterthur, one of the DuPont estates in northern Delaware. We met up with some friends who live in the D.C. area, and our three kids had a ball running around together. (How is it that two-, three-, and four-year-olds can play outside in not much more than long-sleeve shirts and pants while their parents—bundled up in coats, hats, and gloves—and freezing? Seriously—I wonder if there’s been any scientific research on age-related temperature tolerance.) The fall colors were at their peak. In another couple of weeks, I suspect most of the trees there will be bare.


*She used an interesting device: an imagined conversation among the ghosts of Joseph Priestly, Dorothea Dix, Robert Gould Shaw, and other prominent, dead Unitarians and Universalists. I wish the wrap-up section had been more…well, more exhortation and less purple prose. I can appreciate the UU unwillingness to tell anyone what to do, but in this case I would love to hear someone stand up and say, “Hey! If you’re here because you believe in justice and human rights and the inherent value of all people and beliefs and want to save the planet, then you need to vote for the candidates and proposals that support your beliefs!” Obviously, a minister can’t tell you to vote for a particular candidate or party, but he or she can certainly prod you more engagingly—more energetically and strenuously—to vote for your beliefs. I went away from the service feeling not particularly inspired (even though I’m certain my minister and I are on the same page politically)—in agreement, but not fired up.


My Halloween knitting

totorosmall.jpgJan attended a costume-required Halloween party last weekend. Once he decided on his costume earlier in the week, I knit this hat for him in two evenings.

Can any of you guess what it is?

(By the way, Gina and Katie aren’t allowed to answer this question, because they both saw me knitting the hat and we discussed it at length.)

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