Why yes, I did make my kids this self-designed minifig Lego chess set to be their Santa gift by ordering random bits and pieces from Bricklink sellers and raiding black and white pieces from their giant bin. I’m all proud of myself.
I know some people really enjoy the “Black Friday” shopping, but I’m not one of them. In fact, this year, my mother and I made a pledge to go mostly homemade for Christmas. I don’t know that we’ll achieve our goal, but we’re making an effort. I thought I’d share with you a link that’s been on my bookmarks for awhile: Handmade Homeschool’s awesome list of tutorials for homemade gifts. It’s a few years old now, but they’re all still good ideas. Shh… don’t tell anyone, but I think Mushroom and BalletBoy are going to make this easy idea, which I got off that list, for some of the relatives.
Speaking of Mushroom and BalletBoy, I’ve gotten started on the making in earnest for them. I began by trying to make little peg dolls for them. I was inspired by sets like this, which I saw on Etsy, but I gave it a twist as Mushroom and BalletBoy are really into Avatar: the Last Airbender.
My set isn’t quite as awesome as some of the ones I saw on Etsy, but I’m feeling decent about it, especially since the pegs were so cheap and that set on Etsy was over a hundred dollars. You can totally tell that’s Aang, right? I may do them a Phineas and Ferb set or possibly an Astroboy set next.
Other seven year-old boy making plans include little artist kits, with pencils and pads, sort of like in this tutorial but with more subdued colors. Mushroom saw something like that in a store and has specifically requested it, so that’s a win. Also, I’m hoping to make them catapults like in this tutorial and, if I get really ambitious, a tabletop skee-ball like in this tutorial, though I might use a combination of wood and nice cardboard for it.
Does this mean I’ve become one of those homeschoolers? My kids weren’t in colonial clothes when we went to Williamsburg so the Husband said he didn’t think we were really homeschoolers. Maybe this will put us over the edge?
Some images of the season for you. First, our favorite DC Christmas tradition is the trains and miniature building sculptures at the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The sculptures are made entirely from natural materials like bark and leaves. This year, for the first time, they featured landmarks of the world. I couldn’t seem to capture BalletBoy because he wouldn’t stay still. This is him running after Thomas the Train as it passed by the Taj Mahal.
This is two nervous angels in the choir right before their opening performance at the first service at church. The pageant at our church is a Las Posadas pageant, which draws from a Latin American tradition. All the music was in Spanish so Mushroom and BalletBoy had no clue what they were singing.
Finally, here’s Mushroom making his graham cracker gingerbread house with a ice cream cone roof. We got together with our Destination Imagination team so you can see the whole table is covered in various confections and a giant sugary mess.
And now we’re leaving DC for Christmas in North Carolina, as per our usual tradition. Gifts wrapped up and we’re on our way!
This year we’ve had piles and piles of Christmas books out from the library. All year the Christmas books stay hidden in the basement and they’re always the first thing to come out. This list probably reflects more about our favorites in the moment than all time, but that’s okay. In no particular order, a few of our Christmas favorites:
The Twenty Four Days Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle
I wrote about this book before. In some ways, I think it is the most perfect Advent story for children ever written. Depending on the edition you get, it’s either an extremely long picture book or a very short chapter book.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillio
Kate DiCamillio is one of the most magical writers to emerge in the last decade. This longish picture book captures something about the spirit of charity at Christmas in such a gentle, touching way. The illustrations are also enchanting. They’re traditional, but manage not to seem old fashioned.
Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin
We somehow weren’t able to get Cranberry Thanksgiving during its rightful season, but I did snag this one from the library and we’ve read it several times over. It’s a completely secular tale, for anyone looking for such a book, but still manages to get the spirit of giving and family. I love how the Cranberryport books have humor and story both captured perfectly.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This classic hardly needs a description. We’re not a Santa family, which is to say that while we all love to play the game of Santa, the kids know it’s just a fun pretend exercise. Therefore, this book’s message about faith and belief in regards to Santa always makes me a little uncomfortable. However, Van Allsburg’s illustrations and the general beauty and imagination of the story help make up for any misgivings I might have.
Christmas Tree on the Mountain by Carol Fenner
This mostly unknown book from the 1960’s is written in melodic blank verse and was published in a tall, narrow format, which highlights that it’s a poetic little story. Three children climb a mountain by their house to find the perfect Christmas tree and encounter a few adventures along the way. The pen and ink illustrations are nothing special, but the language, with many repeated phrases and beautiful turns of phrase is worth the time. I was glad to discover it.
Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
I love this short picture book that shows the bunny cousins of the more famous Max and Ruby. Morris has a disappointing Christmas until he manages to reimagine his gift. As a side note, Rosemary Wells really gets what it’s like to be the ignored child, doesn’t she? If BalletBoy makes the husband read him this one again I think he’s likely to lose it. I told BalletBoy he could read it himself easily now, but apparently it’s not the same.
When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke
I read this one last year to the kids and I think we did it a little too soon because they didn’t appreciate how awesome it is. It’s a funny little chapter book tale that imagines a world full of Santas as just another piece in the fantasy landscape. Cornelia Funke, as always, uses great imaginative language.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
We read this one to the kids for the first time this year. The Herdmans are such terrible children that I think Mushroom and BalletBoy could hardly conceive of them. However, that final chapter, where the Herdmans bring a sense of realness to the Christmas story is one of the most touching and hilarious things in children’s literature.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Yep. It’s on my list of favorites too.
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
Like many of Carle’s simple stories, my kids sort of outgrew this one this year so I wasn’t terribly upset when I couldn’t find it at the library this year, but I still mark it as one of my favorites, especially for younger kids. The illustrations are Carle’s style at his best.
One of my favorite Christmas books, by far, is Madeleine L’Engle’s The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas. It’s part picture book, part chapter book, with old-fashioned illustrations and the sort of feel that a book issued by a lesser publisher often inevitably has. I understand there’s a newer edition with new illustrations, but I admit that I’ve never seen it. As a kid, I lived within walking distance of an independent bookstore that ordered any book I asked for. Bless them. Seriously. They let me grow up as if I had Amazon before there was Amazon, back when they had to lug out big catalogs to discover if the book I was asking for could be supplied by their distributors. When I got on a Madeline L’Engle kick in middle school, I ordered her entire back list, up to and including all her adult nonfiction writings about religion and philosophy. I got this one and I can remember my joy that I could share it with my brother, who was probably about Mushroom and BalletBoy’s age then.
The story follows the Austin family, a family just a little too perfect and yet L’Engle always made them vividly real. Anticipation, the right sort of theme for Advent, recurs throughout the story. As with many of her books, L’Engle weaves in the religious themes subtly, but they’re unmistakably present. First, there is the excited anticipation that Vicky and her brother John feel for Christmas, played out by how the family does something special to prepare and decorate every day. There is also a feeling of anticipation for a real winter snow that might come with Christmas. There is the nervous anticipation Vicky feels for her role as an angel in the church Christmas pageant. Finally, there is the anticipation the family has for the new baby who is due soon after the holidays. You can probably guess at least part of the outcome from that mix of events, but L’Engle’s writing is so elegant and poetic that it elevates what otherwise might be a predictable ending.
Since Black Friday unofficially kicks off the Christmas season, I thought I would begin by sharing this little gem that the kids and I made last year. It’s a tradition in our family to do a performance on Christmas Eve. Last year, this was Mushroom and BalletBoy’s offering. They built most of the Legos (some were from plans they followed). They also took most of the pictures and did most of the movement. Then, using Windows Movie Maker, I helped them put the movie together. They even picked the music for it.