Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 17

December 17 - Make or buy an ornament for each family member related to a significant experience from the past year.
This is a new tradition that I can't understand why I didn't think of it before. What a lovely way to grow a meaningful collection of ornaments! Our neighbor friend does this, which is where I took my inspiration. For Aleks, I knew exactly what to buy - a bone to signify his bone graft - though in retrospect I'm not sure how much he'd like to remember the year this way. I guess it's all about me. We found an ornament in the shape of a bone a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that I knew this activity was coming, so we should get a head-start on our browsing. It's supposed to be a dog bone, I suppose, but it works nevertheless.
Jon came home one day last week with his all picked out. I had spent a lot of time in stores trying to think of what could represent his finishing his PhD. He figured it out while buying a soda at the school book shop.

We had trouble deciding what might represent something that Bastian did or enjoyed or learned this year. His warming up to the homeschool co-ops didn't seem wholly positive. He hasn't quite learned to read, though he's getting the hang of letters (and numbers for that matter) like a boss. He didn't start riding on two wheels. He liked to play a lot of video games though. A lot. I just couldn't stomach that though. And then it hit me - the other thing he really did genuinely enjoy this year that was all him was board games. He loves board games. Finding a ready-made board game ornament was tough though. Wheel of Fortune didn't count to me. So I had to make one. One of his favorite games is Othello. So I got some wooden tags and painting a teeny tiny Othello board.
We glittered up the edges and back to make it properly fancy.
I still had no idea what to get for me. Everything I've been doing is pretty much the same stuff I've been doing. Except maybe teaching Stop Animation, but still. I thought about finding a vegetable ornament to represent my ascension to full manager of City Fresh, but I couldn't find one and it didn't feel quite right. We saw a yarn ball ornament, but it was way overpriced when I knew I could make one easily. I'm not sure I did quite enough knitting this year to really warrant it, either (though I did finish my first lace pattern). Then, a friend showed me this tutorial for a golden snitch ornament, and I knew we had a winner. Yes, the most significant event of my year was the last Harry Potter movie. Go ahead, scoff.

The ornament ended up being quite a pain in the butt. Shaping wire is not my forte, for one. Secondly, no matter what the tutorial says, Fabri-tac is not necessarily a guarantee for making those wings stay on. One of my wings keeps falling and I'm thinking the only solution may be glass glue. Which I will get to...later. After all the other Christmas stuff I have yet to do.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 14

December 14 - Make Lego snowmen (and maybe other types of snowmen as well).
I got this stupid snowman kit at the craft store because it was cheap and easy. All you do is glue the pieces together, so it's not really creative, but at least this way they were able to do more than one type of snowman. Especially considering how long it took Aleks to put the Lego Snowman head together. We don't own quite enough white Lego bricks, as luck would have it.
I still think it looks great.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 13

December 13 - Make gummies.
Aleks has wanted to learn more about candy making for awhile. I'm no candy-maker, and I'm not certain what his exact aim in all of it is, but I agreed to put making gummies on the countdown list, thinking we'd maybe give some away as gifts. I found a tutorial on Instructables (actually, there were several, but this seemed the simplest and most to bring about the desired consistency). It was certainly a rare event for me to be headed to the grocery to buy Jello, but I got a large box of cherry, which we used about half of in combination with non-flavored gelatin.

First, you mix the two with water in a Pyrex measuring cup. Let sit for ten minutes to allow the gelatin to absorb all the water. Then place the cup in a saucepan of water to double boil the mix and allow it to melt into a pourable consistency. This takes awhile. Aleks did the stirring and almost had a disaster when he fell off his chair. Luckily, it all worked out and no one was injured, though we were all startled.
We poured this into a bred pan (which I lined with plastic wrap, just to make it easier to get out, though I'm not sure that I needed to. Putting it in the freezer as the tutorial recommended did help quite a bit in speeding up the hardening process.
They look like Jello, but they are quite a bit harder, I swear. The boys ate them all before noon the next day. So alas, no one will receive any. They weren't that great and I'm sure there are better ways of doing it. Using Jello as the flavoring might have been just too much gelatin, though the other recipes I read which called for fruit juice didn't seem to have the consistency we desired. Clear juices I think help with clarity of the end result. The other thing is that this recipe didn't make that many. I'm not real anxious, however, to make a big batch any time soon.

Holiday Countdown Day 11

December 11 - Build a gingerbread house (or rice crispy tree house, as the case may be).
We got out our rice crispy treat house kit and set to work. First we had to make the crispy rice mix, melting the marshmallows.
We pressed the treat mix into molds and hoped it would all work out. It was both easier and more difficult than I'd imagined. It was also sticky. I helped the boys get the structure going and they decorated the house. Aleks made a Skyrim dovakiin figure out of the remaining crispy rice treat mix. This was instead of the recommended reindeer, penguin, or snowman. It turned out pretty well, actually.
Once finished, the house immediately began to collapse. Marshmallow may not be the most reliable structural element, it turns out. The boys ate bits of it throughout the next day and Jon composted the rest of it in the evening. So that was short lived. Fun and sugary sweet, however.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 10

December 10 - Have a fancy dinner with china, silver, candlelight, and guests.

We invited our friend Heather over for our fancy dinner. It was very fancy. The kids and I cleaned in preparation while Jon went to a department holiday party. I taught Aleks how to dust while Bastian vacuumed. Aleks had determined the menu. He wanted raw oysters and salmon steaks with buttered broccoli. I bought sparkling lemonade and champagne, nice cheeses, assorted olives (including Aleks' favorite, garlic stuffed), and a pre-maid key lime tart. Jon pan-seared the salmon individually and we placed them on a bed of rice pilaf. We steamed broccoli and slathered it with some of our homemade butter.

The table was set with crystal candelabras, my newly-inherited China made in 1940s occupied Japan, real silverware (also newly-inherited), and stained cloth napkins, which was unnoticeable in the dark. Classical music was piped out of the computer.

Aleks wore a sports jacket, Bastian a sweater, and I a hand-me-down studded halter dress which Aleks asked about being made of mithril. We toasted sparkling beverages and were all so full that dessert was postponed until long after dishes.

Aleks ate most of the oysters, FYI.

I didn't get any photos, but our javelina, decked out for the holidays, watched over us while we ate.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 9

Due to scheduling conflicts, we had to switch Days 9 and 10. Thus, Day 9...
December 9 - Have a Mad Hatter tea party with friends.
We invited the neighbor girls over to join us. We had the latest version of Alice in Wonderland playing in the living room. We had four or five different tea sets on the table. Bastian and I made a chocolate beet cake for snacking.

Then, as we were getting ready, Aleks decided he wanted to be the White Rabbit. I had said we would dress up, but I figured we'd just wear whatever, not necessarily dress as characters from the books/movies. Besides, I didn't have Alice in Wonderland costumes. Then I went digging and came up with some. We made Aleks' ears out of quilt batting. Bastian's knight tunic fit nicely as a playing card.I knew that the neighbors' parents had been the Mad Hatter and Alice for Halloween last year, so I called her up and told her to pull out the costumes. Melody was the Mad Hatter.
Kallie was Alice.
I think I'm going to get Aleks into some of the theatre courses in our co-ops. He's really naturally inclined toward imitation.
Kallie and Bastian went digging for one of the cats' mice toys to put in a tea pot on the table, but couldn't find any. We have a mouse-themed matroska set though.

The Queen of Hearts is quite lonely when she's had everyone's head chopped off.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 7

December 7 - Make paper garlands.
We've made paper garlands before. But not like this. I've actually been planning this project for about three years, which is when I saw garlands like these in an Anthropology. So I ripped it off, but it's still super cool and whatever artist created these is amazing and deserves credit. I bought books to destroy just for this project at a garage sale at about that time as well. They were super overpriced for being something no one would read, if I remember correctly. One is some lame self-help book.

I guess the kids didn't really much participate in this activity, come to think of it. Bastian sat with me and plugged the hot glue in and watched and played on his iPod. Aleks was sleeping. Whatever, they're cool. Aleks is currently writing his letter to Santa for yesterday's activity and Bastian is whining about being hungry.

Once we'd started these, I had to take a break to get a chicken to roast in the oven. Before I could do that, I had an idea that I'd like to rub the breast down with some butter and that I'd like to make butter from scratch using the Snowville whipping cream I bought a half gallon of having only needed a cup or so for pumpkin soup earlier in the week. So I poured some cream in a jar, screwed on the lid and handed it to Bastian.

It took us a bit longer than the standard ten minutes to create butter, but we did do it. Then I rubbed it with thyme from our garden on one of the pastured chickens my friend Lynn raised and slaughtered. I put more butter and bay leaves under the skin and crushed several cloves of garlic that we planted last December, a pear I'd sliced that no one was eating, and more butter inside the carcass. Then I chopped some of the wilting vegetables left from our holiday share of City Fresh with more butter and some drizzled olive oil in the bottom of our doufeu and placed the bird on top. It's now roasting on its bed of turnips, carrots, daikon radishes, and Princess Buttercup squash. I feel very fancy having said all that. Now I'm running downtown to deliver roasted root vegetables to Occupy Cleveland.

Quite the productive day given my intense puttering earlier today.

Holiday Countdown Day 6

December 6 - Write letters to Santa.

Aleks took a long nap in the middle of the evening and opted out of doing the activity for December 6. Bastian and I discussed what he wanted to tell Santa, but we haven't yet made a letter.

Aleks wrote his letter on the 7th instead. I put it in one of the map envelopes I made for our holiday cards.

Holiday Countdown Day 5

December 5 - Make presents for friends and family.

Aleks and I discussed options for making presents for friends and family. We considered what we had, what I could get inexpensively, and what he was interested in actually making. He decided on two different projects. This is one of them. I don't want to say too much, lest a family member read this, though I don't think they will.

Bastian ignored all discussion.

Monday, December 5, 2011


My sister had that great idea to make bats for her walls at Halloween, so we followed suit. When it came time to take Halloween decorations down, however, I liked the bats too much to part with them. So they stayed. Then Christmas Time rolled around. I still didn't want to take them down. Mostly because I'm lazy and I didn't want to stand on a ladder merely to UNdecorate. So we found the most logical solution: make 47 tiny Santa hats with real cotton trim to transform them to Christmas bats. Duh.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holiday Countdown Day 4

December 4 - Start borax snowflakes.
Instead of making more borax snowflakes since we still have ones from two years ago, we started rock candy. We used a heavily saturated solution. So much so that the strings in two of the jars refuse to sink. We'll see how it turns out. Last time we tried sugar, it didn't work at all.

Jack joined us for our activity once again. 'Twas a sticky endeavor.

Holiday Countdown Day 3

December 3 - String popcorn and listen to Christmas music.
Papa helped us string all our popcorn. We borrowed an air popper from our neighbor and bought special jumbo popcorn for stringing since what we had for eating produces tiny un-stringable kernels. Everybody pitched in and the process went much faster than usual. Then the boys watched Despicable Me for bedtime.

Holiday Countdown Day 2

December 2 - Decorate the Tree.
Done. Woot. Our friends Becca and Jack helped. Mice had eaten some of our salt dough ornaments and I was afraid to open the box when I saw it had been chewed. Knowing that we'd trapped several grown-up mice last winter, I didn't want to find any abandoned nests with fetal corpses amongst my Christmas things. Sweet baby Jesus, no I did not.

Holiday Countdown Day 1

December 1 - Family Movie Night: Watch A Christmas Story with root beer floats.
Well, no root beer floats, as it turned out. We just had tea and popcorn. I'm pretty sure root beer floats will happen at a later date. We're into it. We also love watching movies together this time of year.

The movie was funny as ever. Maybe funnier this year to me for some reason. I worked on holiday cards and laughed my head off. We made jokes about how Bastian is just like Randy. We looked at Aleks as though he had "lobsters crawling out of his ears."

Most importantly, I realized something significant: Scut Farkus is the original hipster*.

*At least until I decide someone else was the original hipster.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Countdown, 2011

For the holiday season each year, we do a countdown to Christmas. Instead of chocolate in a cardboard advent calendar, however, we do a little activity each day. The kids love it. I feel like a good mom. Everyone wins.

In years past, I made individual envelopes for each day. In 2009, I got really ambitious and made 30-some-odd paper cranes, each holding a little scroll with the day's activity. Last year, I'm not even sure we did the holiday countdown. I don't really remember what happened last year. It's all one big blur and a lot of not blogging about it, whatever it was.

This year, I again sort of have my stuff together. Emphasis on "sort of." While out shopping for holiday card-making items at the craft store, I happened upon the sweetest wooden Gingerbread house-looking advent calendar marked 50% off (because it was overpriced to begin with). I have a "teacher's" discount, however, which got me another 10% off and that seemed worth it. So now I never have to make another countdown envelope again.Except that when I started filling up all the little doors and windows today with two Hershey kisses and a little slip of paper with the designated activity on it, I discovered the conspicuous absence of Day 19. I stuck Day 19 in Day 20 and figured I need to buy more Hershey kisses anyway. Oh well.

Our activities for this year:
December 1 - Family Movie Night: Watch A Christmas Story with root beer floats.
December 2 - Decorate the tree.
December 3 - String popcorn and listen to Christmas music.
December 4 - Start borax snowflakes.
December 5 - Make presents for friends and family.
December 6 - Write letters to Santa.
December 7 - Make paper garlands.
December 8 - Go on a walk in the woods, gather bits for the nature tray.
December 9 - Have a fancy dinner with china, silver, candlelight, and guests.
December 10 - Have a Mad Hatter tea party with friends. Read aloud from Alice in Wonderland.
December 11 - Build a gingerbread house (or rice crispy tree house, as the case may be).
December 12 - Go to the Botanical Gardens to see the gingerbread houses.
December 13 - Make gummies (Aleks' idea).
December 14 - Make Lego snowmen (and maybe other types of snowmen as well). (Also Aleks' idea).
December 15 - Buy a gift for someone in need. We usually buy something from Heifer International.
December 16 - Family Game Night.
December 17 - Make or buy an ornament for each family member related to a significant experience from the past year.
December 18 - Drive around to look at Christmas lights.
December 19 - Go visit Santa Claus.
December 20 - Read Polar Express while drinking hot cocoa.
December 21 - Decorate winter table.
December 22 - Bake cookies. Leave some out for the Solstice fairies.
December 23 - Take a food-colored, candlelit bubble bath.
December 24 - It's Christmas Eve! Open one gift (of mom's choosing because she's mean).
December 25 - It's Christmas Day! Enjoy the company of friends and family. Be grateful for all we have.