Advent and Christmas at Home

Autumn is the time in our family’s year when our thoughts turn towards the coming winter and all the festivities and visitors we will have – the time when the family does more that is “out of the ordinary” than at any other time of year.My beautiful picture

Canned Applesauce

Every August we meet with my In-Laws to pick chokecherries, peaches, grapes and apples on the roadsides and in friends’ yards. Then we make applesauce and pie fillings, chokecherry and grape juice and jelly, and peach pie fillings. Whatever we preserve by canning, we use throughout the coming year and send as Christmas gifts to faraway relatives.
Every September I vow to have one more stocking finished for the kids, although I do not always finish in time. I have been making these felt-applique Christmas stockings since my first child was born 14 years ago. I have 5 finished, and am working on number 6. For years now I have wondered if I will ever catch up and have one for each of my 10 children, but, since I am about to turn 44, I think I might catch up one day. Nature being what it is, and God having made me the way He chose, I will eventually leave the child-bearing years.
Every October we get together with my In-Laws to make our traditional Christmas tamales. We work all day to make as many as we can, put them in bags by the dozen, and eat some with refried beans, Spanish rice, and other goodies for dinner. Then we take our bags home and put them in the freezer to be enjoyed on Christmas Eve and throughout the coming year.
During November, my children and their local cousins spend time with my Mother-In-Law (their “Nana”), making Christmas cookies, especially her traditional biscochitos (Mexican Christmas cookies), which will be available for snacking starting on December 24 until they are gone!
Advent here starts with St. Andrew’s day, November 30. This is our wedding anniversary, and before we were even married, Ian and I vowed to name our first son Andrew after this Apostle and martyr. We set up our Nativity set, which was a gift from my family to us on our wedding day. We only put Mary and Joseph in it, with maybe a few sheep and shepherds close-by. Our Three Kings figures are set up somewhere else in the house, and they travel to the manger throughout Advent and Christmas, to arrive on Epiphany.
Advent Wreath
We also set up our Advent wreath on the dining table, with its rose and violet candles. A friend of mine makes beautiful ones made of pure beeswax, so I always use hers if I order them in time.
St Nicholas Day
Next comes St. Nicholas day, December 6. The night before, the children place their Christmas stockings on the dining room table. In the morning there are always mandarins, nuts in their shells, and spice cookies with an image of St. Nicholas himself on them! Sometimes he brings socks or other small but needed items. This day is also our first son’s birthday – I bet you can guess his name: Andrew Nicholas!
St LucySt. Lucy table
Then St. Lucy’s day comes and we make every effort to bring home-made goodies to my In-Laws. Our eldest daughter, Lucy, of course, dresses in white and serves us all by candlelight. Usually I have made something with honey (a honey cake made with strong coffee has been a favorite), but this year the girls want to make some authentic Swedish St. Lucy Cats. 
Advent Tree
After St. Lucy, Advent really starts going fast. We make gingerbread cookies in the shape of nativity figures, and some years we even have time to “paint” them with food-coloring-and-egg-yolk “watercolors.” Depending on how early we get a tree, it might hold pink and purple Advent lights as well as Jesse Tree ornaments.
Christmas Tree
If we wait until the end of Advent, it gets white and/or colored lights (depending on which strands work when I plug them in), and we have a tree-decorating day usually Gaudete Sunday or the last Sunday of Advent. We have ornaments from Ian’s childhood, and I have added an ornament of some significance to the children almost every year of their lives. For example, when the older girls were doing Irish Dance, I gave them each a shamrock ornament. The year we all climbed Pikes Peak, I gave each child a key chain with the mountain depicted on it. They will each have a box of their own ornaments to take with them when they eventually set up their own homes. We turn on the Christmas tree lights every night during Christmas for our Night Prayers, and if we have any activities in the living room in the evenings.
My beautiful pictureMom & Uncle James
Each year sometime during Advent, when all of my husband’s siblings can gather, we have a Family Talent Show. Everyone works on some sort of presentation, from singing to Irish Dance, from a short skit to poetry recitation or instrumental music.
Christmas Table Setting
On Christmas Eve, we all gather at my In-Laws’ house and eat our traditional Mexican dinner (remember the tamales we made in October?)! Each family brings something for the meal: some of their tamales, refried beans, calabasitas (squash sauteed with chiles, corn, spices, and topped with cheese), Mexican or Spanish rice, Ensalada de Noche Buena (a traditional Mexican salad for Christmas Eve) and home-made biscochitos for dessert.
Twas the Night Before Christmas...Christmas Stockings All Lined Up
After dinner, the patriarch of the family reads “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to the children. During the recitation of the poem, St. Nicholas lands on the roof with his reindeer (we have heard footsteps and bells up there), and sometimes we even see St. Nick himself running by a window outside. The saint fills everyone’s stockings while we listen to the story, and afterwards we all open them up and enjoy the goodies (oranges, nuts, candy canes, chocolates, and the kids get a little toy or useful item like a hair brush or pocketknife). Sometimes the adults get useful things, too, like gift cards to the grocery store or a nearby restaurant. If we have extended family with us for the day, we will exchange gifts with them on this night. Sometime during the evening, the Baby Jesus mysteriously appears in the Nativity scene between Mary & Joseph. Sometimes Angels appear also!
Christmas Spice Bread
Some years we have gone to (and even sung in the choir for) Midnight Mass, but with young ones still very young, we have mostly gone to the Christmas Morning Sung Mass at our parish. We take homemade breads and cookies to distribute to our priests and friends there, and bring home goodies from them as well.
After Mass, we have a wonderful brunch at home. Last year we made a sausage-and-egg casserole and French toast, which we served with coffee, orange juice and milk. The Advent wreath that has graced our table gets moved to the door and becomes a Christmas wreath. The candles get put away until next year it they still have plenty of wax on them.
Eggnog Shootout
That evening we have all the family over for a turkey dinner. Typically, we have a home-made egg nog contest between my husband and his brother Mike. Ian makes his child-friendly so all of our kids can have some. Mike puts in a lot of rum (and other spirits), so he usually wins, even though the kids all vote for Daddy’s. I serve a turkey and everyone brings a side dish or dessert. Uncle James always brings the drinks (because when I send out an email asking everyone to sign up for a dish, he waits until the end so there is only one thing no one signed up for), and a can of cranberry jelly( because he likes to slice it very thin, even though no one eats it). If we have gifts from friends and relatives who are not with us, we will open them on this day so that thank you notes can be sent promptly.
Christmas at our house comes to a close on Epiphany. During the night, the Three Kings have come, and left a family gift on the dining table (a game we can all play or a movie we can all watch together). Then we have everyone over again (usually at our house, but sometimes at my In-Laws’) for a Kings Cake or some traditional Epiphany treat from a European country. (I am thinking of making a French Galette des Rois this time) If we have not opened all of our presents either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we save the ones from each other for this special day. 
Shortly after Epiphany we take down the tree and Christmas wreath. If we have friends with goats, they get these delicacies as a Christmas treat. The decorations get put away little by little, until the only significant relics of Christmas consist of the way we treat each other and those around us. 

Paula and Tree

Merry Christmas!

Tea For Today 3/04/09

Today: Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Outside My Window: sunny, windy
Today’s Goal: Exercise and drink more water
Today’s Plan: School; install the new side view mirror on the van; take the kids for a play date and dinner at Debbie’s house.
Today’s Tea: Cinnamon Delight Rooibos. This is so good hot or iced! It’s one of my favorites for hot summer days.
Today’s Tidbits: The Master bedroom is starting to look nice again – I moved my writing desk against a different wall and Ian hung a fabric wall pocket I made on the wall above it so I can keep clutter off the desk. I can now reach the curtains to open and close them.

Room Transformations III: Girls' Bedroom

Our next Project is cleaning up the former Master Bedroom to make it into the new Girls’ Room!

This is what it looks like right now because we put everything from the former “Back Room” into it to paint the other rooms. Once we empty this room, we’ll paint it “Olive Grove” on the bottom and “Budding Green” on top, with a “White Light” chair rail between.

This is where the girls live now. You can see that it’s a little tight for four of them, and soon Maria will be joining them, so they need a bit more space.
This room will become the new “Back Room,” but it won’t have a bed in it. It’ll be a play room for the kids. We plan on removing the carpet and installing Pergo or some type of hard floor so they can build things with Lego or blocks, and have a place to roll their trucks besides the kitchen when I am making dinner. We hope to line the walls with book cases and cabinets so everything can be put away out of sight and still be found when needed. I’ll post pictures in the years to come as we accomplish these things.

Forget the Poinsettias this Christmas!

I recently came across this post over at O Night Divine. It seems that 70% of the nation’s poinsettias, those beautiful red plants used to decorate our homes and churches throughout December, are provided by the Ecke family in California. Sounds great – support a family business and decorate to celebrate the birth of our Savior!

BUT this family, unfortunately, uses the money they get from the sales of these poinsettias to renovate abortion mills and support Planned Parenthood’s agenda of more abortions!

So, can anyone think of a better alternative to buying poinsettias this year? Get the word out to your pastors about this!

Musings from A Catholic Bookstore has more on this.

Please post any church and home decorating ideas!

Home Decorating: Guest/Play Room

This room is white, but I’d like to paint it green or tan. I wish that it could be strictly a guest bedroom, but we don’t have any other room for sewing supplies, toys with small parts that would be dangerous for the little kids to find, or boxes of things I need to go through and get rid of or find a home for. Eventually, if we don’t sell our house, this will have to become a bedroom, probably for girls. Right now, it would be best to make it a play room/sewing/seasonal storage room. So, I need to go through those boxes of things that didn’t sell on eBay and give them away. Next, go through the shelves holding school things and see what can be thrown or given away. Put the kids’ toys on the shelves in bins so they can find what they want without everything falling off the shelves. Move the coffee table in here so they have a place to build their creations. Take the things stuffed into the closet out and go through them. Acquire some cabinets with doors so I can bring in the boxes of fabric & patterns that we took out to the garage “because we won’t need them before we move in a month or so” almost two years ago. Maybe I can move the folding table from my bedroom in here so I can sew. Guests can sleep on the floor on an air mattress. Maybe we can make room for their clothes in the closet.

Home Decorating: Hall Bath

This room is between the girls’ & boys’ rooms, and the space between the three doors is fondly referred to as “the hall” (it measures about 4 X5 feet). The walls of the bathroom are currently white, but I would like to paint them a shade of tan to go with the various other tan rooms. I would like to put a frame around the mirror which is glued to the wall (so we can’t replace it easily). There are 5 bright “vanity globe lights” above the mirror. There is a toilet, and tub with a green/ burgundy/ gold plaid curtain around it. I might like to replace it with something like this. The counter which holds the sink has 3 cabinet doors under it, and lots of storage room. There’s also an attached linen cabinet between the door and the sink. I would like to put a framed picture over the towel rack across from the toilet. The one that’s there is a hand-painted water color of the cathedral in Florence. Ian & I bought it from a street vendor on our honeymoon. It may stay there. I like it. Maybe add a nice bath set.