Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 5


Build a fort and sleep in it.

We’ve done this one every year, and the boys always love it. Little Buddha, our builder, has an eye for both engineering and aesthetics, and he had some new ideas he wanted to try out this year. We had several frustrating minutes during which we were all working at cross-purposes with each other, but we finally got it all sorted. This year, in addition to all their comforters and blankets, we added the pup tent I made them for their fifth birthday. They had a great time camping out in their bedroom, and it was another nice reminder for me at it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to make an ordinary day a little bit special.

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 4

There are several reasons I do an Advent Activity Calendar each year. During this very busy season (and the nature of my work makes it even more so), it would be very easy to allow my many obligations to take precedence over spending time with my children and doing fun things as a family. I have found that even doing one little special thing in a day – even for only a few minutes – can make a huge difference in my children feeling greater family connection and having a better sense of this season as a special time that is not all about presents. I do include some special gifts and treats here and there, but I also try to include lots of opportunities for making, imagining, and giving. I feel like it grounds our family as a whole, and I think it gives my kids some things to focus on each day instead of only what they want for Christmas.

The Advent Activity Calendar has been a good thing for our family, and the kids have come to really rely on this tradition. But it’s not without difficulties. Finding time some days to do some of the activities can be a real challenge (and I have to plan really well to make sure I have baking/making activities on days when I actually have that kind of time, and some less-intensive activities on nights when we have lots of other things going on).

But the hardest part of the Advent Activity Calendar is dealing with expectations. The kids get really excited about certain activities, and that can lead to a sense of let-down when the piece of paper in the calendar holds an activity that doesn’t offer something that seems all that exciting. I try to have a few activities that involve focusing on people besides just themselves –  but those are the hardest activities for them to get excited about.

They did pretty well with it in kindergarten:
Day 5 :: Advent
This was Day 5, 2009, and the activity was “Tell each family member something you like about them.” This is Little Buddha telling Tiny Dancer, “I love you so much and you’re the best brother I could have.” Melts a mama’s heart.

But the next year, this happened instead:
Advent Day 8 :: Tell, draw, or write something you like about each person in the family
The boys (play)fighting over who gets which ornaments when I’m dead. Nice! This does not melt a mama’s heart, people!

But I still try every year to help them stretch beyond themselves, to focus on other people some, to think about other’s people’s needs. Sometimes before they open the activity for the day, I have to warn them that they might not be super-excited about it, but I hope they’ll do it anyway.

For Day 4 this year, I created a new activity (i.e., one I haven’t given them in the past four years), I feared they would be disappointed with it – “Write a letter to a relative you haven’t seen in awhile.” – and possibly even resistant. But much to my surprise, they both responded very positively to the idea, and that night, after homework, piano, dinner, and relaxing, they both sat down and wrote their letters.


I am feeling really pleased about this, and that whole heart-melty thing is happening again.

Advent Calendar Activity Day 3 :: Make (and drink) hot cocoa (don’t forget the marshmallows!)

hot cocoa with marshmallows and sprinkles

hot cocoa with marshmallows and sprinkles

This activity makes an appearance every year, and I always include the part about not forgetting the marshmallows because the first year we did this, I didn’t have any marshmallows in the house, and the whole activity was almost a bust because of it.
Day 2 :: Advent
naked hot chocolate – no marshmallows, no whipped cream

Well, thank goodness I photo-documented everything that year, because that was the only reason I remembered to have marshmallows on-hand the second year. And I’m happy to say I haven’t forgotten since!

hot cocoa with marshmallows and sprinkles

hot cocoa with marshmallows and sprinkles

I was bummed that I didn’t have any candy canes around this time – I like to put them in the cocoa as stir sticks. I added some Christmas sprinkles, though, which seemed to make the first cocoa of the season extra-special. In fact, the boys couldn’t quit thanking me and telling me how generous I was. Win!

Advent Calendar Activity Day 2 :: Have a Wii game night


The boys have been begging for me to play video games with them. I really don’t like to play video games – if I’m going to be sitting on the couch in the living room, I’d just as soon be knitting (or spinning). I’m happy to watch them play, I just don’t really want to put my knitting down and play myself. But they really wanted it, and it seemed like a fun way to spend a little time together. They were SO happy to find this activity in their second Smitten.

It turns out that it is really hard for me not to multi-task, and playing video games with kids really does require focusing on just the one thing. It’s sad to me that I find it so hard these days to only do one thing at a time, so this was a good exercise for me, and the boys certainly did enjoy it (we played Wii Party). I had fun, too. (well, except for the fact that I’m the worst gamer ever)

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 1

Day 1 :: Decorate the house

This is part of my slow ramp-up into the season. The boys helped me put up all our living room and kitchen decorations; we’ll get the tree later in the week (another Advent Calendar Activity). It’s actually feeling pretty sparse in here, but I do like seeing the words PEACE and JOY beaming at me each morning, as if they are half invitation, half command.

Advent Activity Calendar

One of my most popular posts, on here, on flickr, and on Pinterest, is my mosaic of our 2009 Advent Activity Calendar.

Advent 2009

I’ve continued the tradition of an Advent Activity Calendar each year (the boys wouldn’t let me stop at this point if I tried!), and I try very hard to document each year, so that I can remember the following year what works and what doesn’t. I haven’t always done a great job with the documentation (2011 I only managed to document the first 10 days or so), and I haven’t always managed to tag or categorize my posts appropriately. But because I know there are people out there who come looking for ideas about this sort of thing, I’ve consolidated what I do have in one place, creating an Advent Activity Calendar page here on the blog. I hope it’s helpful! I will continue to try to tag old posts accurately as well. For now, there are maybe 15 posts categorized under Advent Activity Calendar.

I am so SO glad I went to the trouble last year of knitting a Smitten Advent Calendar! It feels great not to have to make a new one each year, and I was so happy to hang this one up last night.
knitted :: Smitten Advent Garland

Of course, as you know, I did knit another Smitten Garland this year, for my dear friend Deborah.
Smitten :: done #knitting #mittens #smitten #adventcalendar
I had originally planned to knit a little bit on it all year, so that I wouldn’t end up knitting 24 little mittens all in a row. But in the end, that’s what I did, because that’s what I do. I got them in the mail to her on Wednesday, mailed 2-day Priority, confident they would reach her on Saturday so she could hang them in time for Advent. Sadness of sadness, though, the postal worker wouldn’t leave them without a signature when Deborah wasn’t there to receive them (even though I did not select the signature requirement). I am so bummed. But I expect they will get to her safe and sound tomorrow, and now every Advent after this she will be able to hang them on time!

Advent Days 17-24 :: the final week

It never fails that the last several days of Advent end up being a blur of activity for me. It’s one of the busiest work weeks of the year, in addition to having all the other busyness that comes with getting ready for Christmas.

So I didn’t manage to blog my daily Advent activities, but I did somehow manage to actually do them. Yay for that!

So on Monday, Advent Day 17, we made marshmallows. This is always a favorite Advent activity, for all three of us. I use the Smitten Kitchen recipe, and it’s a winner, every time.

On Tuesday, Advent Day 18, our activity was to play a board game or card game. This precipitated a major stand-off between the tow boys, each of whom had a different idea about what we were going to play. Neither would compromise, and I thought we would end up not playing at all. In the end, though, each boy played chess on the computer with one of us. It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t manage to get a picture.

Advent Day 19 :: Sort food for Christmas distribution, walk around town to look at city lights

On Wednesday, Advent Day 19, our activity was to go to church to help sort food from a Christmas food drive our church did (we ended up with a whole vanload of food to take to a local housing project we have a relationship with). After sorting food, the four of us went to dinner downtown and then walked around a bit looking at the city lights.

Advent Day 20 :: Buy a treat at the school bake sale

Thursday, Advent Day 20 – Buy a treat at the school bake sale. Caramels, fudge, and truffles, to be exact.

Advent Day 21 substitution :: Decorate the windows with Christmas gel clings

On Friday, Advent Day 21, our activity was supposed to be to make candy. The first day of winter had other plans, though. Snow, wind, and, ultimately, a power outage that lasted all day. No baking happened. I promised the boys we would do it the next day (along with the Advent activity for that day). Tiny Dancer was fine with that, but Little Buddha burst into tears. He loves ritual, routines, and traditions, and the idea of missing an Advent activity was just more than he could bear. Fortunately, I remembered these Christmas gel clings I had bought as a back-up. Though a tiny activity, it was enough to set things right.

Advent Day 22 :: Open a Christmas present
Advent Day 22 – Open a Christmas present. I like to start letting the boys open a present or two before Christmas, so they have time to enjoy things instead of being overwhelmed on Christmas Day. Little Buddha was super-excited to open this Magic Science kit from his big sister and her family. He spent the whole day wearing this hat, using his magic wand (filled with purple crystals he made), and mixing potions. The present was obviously a big hit!

Advent Day 21 make-up :: Help mom make candy
This was the make-up activity that had been planned for Advent Day 21 :: Help mom make candy. We made Peppermint Bark – easy to make, delicious to eat, fun to give.

Advent Day 23 :: Eat a piece of candy with breakfast
Sunday, Advent Day 23 – Eat a piece of candy with breakfast. My Old Man isn’t convinced of the value of eating chocolate with breakfast, but this activity it always a huge hit. The boys love it, of course, and I appreciate it was a no-stress activity once the season gets crazy.

Our Advent activity for Day 24, Christmas Eve, was to make cookies for Santa. We made them, and Santa loved them, and I got no pictures.

Phew! This season flew even faster than usual, it seemed. I was grateful for the Advent activity calendar as a way of marking the time, giving my kids a little bit of extra special focus each day, no matter how busy the season was. Sometimes it feels like a lot of work, but I know they love it, and that makes it worth it.

Thanks for following along! More knitting content coming soon!

Advent Day 16 :: Family movie night

We watched Elf. First time for the boys!

Advent Day 15 :: Video each other singing or playing Christmas songs…

… and send to Grandy and Granddad.

I thought it was a nice idea – they’ve enjoyed recording each other performing in the past – but the day was packed with shopping, a piano recital, and a birthday party, and the next thing we knew, it was nearly bedtime. I suggested that we simply send Grandy and Granddad the recordings of the Christmas songs they played at their piano recital. Tiny Dancer was satisfied with this, but Little Buddha would have none of it. “We were going to do that anyway!” he declared, and he was right. He felt strongly that an Advent activity should be something new (he feels strongly about a lot of things; he gets that from his mom).

So I suggested that, for our Advent activity, we turn off all the lights, and sit in front of the lit Christmas tree, and say prayers for the people in Newtown, Connecticut. He agreed this was a good idea, and so that’s what we did.

(this is a picture of the boys dressed for their recital)

Little Buddha plays “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

Tiny Dancer plays “Stars” (his own composition):

Advent Day 14 :: Sleep in Mom and Dad’s room

I have found it difficult to write ever since the horrible news from Newtown on Friday. I have felt too sad, and my little crafts and Advent activities seem so trivial. My heart goes out to the families of those little children and their teachers, to all the survivors and their families, and to the whole community there.

I have been hugging my own children especially tightly these last few days, and finding it hard not to cry. I am reminded all over again what a profound blessing it is to have these people in my life, and to get to care for them, teach them, learn from them, and love them every day. Our life together is in fact made up of many trivial moments. I hope that in each of those trivial moments, I honor and treasure my children, and help them see the goodness and beauty of life.

On Friday morning, the activity I put into our Advent calendar was “Sleep in Mom and Dad’s room.” The boys were excited about this, and I was relieved not to have too much work to do for their activity, as we were having friends over for dinner. This way, the boys would camp out upstairs in our bedroom watching movies while we enjoyed time with our friends.

After we said good night to our friends, we came upstairs to find the boys asleep in our bed. It was precious and tender. We moved them to their sleeping bags on the floor, and I was so grateful to have them near me all night, and to wake to their sweet faces the next morning. I did not take these gifts for granted.