Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 13

Get out of school early and go see a movie.

Every now and then it’s fun to pick the boys up about half an hour before school is out on a Friday afternoon and go see a matinee. This time, there was a lot of drama over which movie. Three of us wanted to see The Hobbit (it was opening day), but one child was concerned it would be too intense, and in our house “no” trumps “yes” on things like that. So we went to see Frozen, which was a great choice. It was a fantastic movie and we all four loved it.

I didn’t get a picture at the movie, but here is what “frozen” looks like here lately:

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Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 12

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Bake bread – one loaf to give to the neighbors and one loaf to keep.

A few weeks ago, representatives from King Arthur Flour went to our elementary school and taught the fourth and fifth graders to bake bread as part of their Life Skills Bread Baking Program. They sent the kids home with recipes and ingredients, and gave them an assignment to bake bread to donate to a school bake sale. My kids really enjoyed the assignment, and it was great to work on it with them. I thought it would be fun to do it again, for Advent, to keep their interest up, and also as a fun thing to give to the neighbors. We used the easy Life Skills Bread recipe from the King Arthur website.

I never baked bread until my twenties, and once I learned how, I did it often. But it’s probably been four years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread from scratch. It felt really good to do it again, especially with my kids. I know bread is kind of out-of-fashion these days, but baking it just feels so elemental – I love the physicality and rhythm of it.

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And of course eating a fresh, warm slice with butter and a cup of hot tea is perfection.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 10

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Buy food kids like for the church food drive.

The kids got really into this activity this year, and I had to rein them in a bit on buying lots of holiday goodies (as you can see, I did give in to the Chips Ahoy).

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 9

We’ve reached the point in the season where I am barely holding all the details of the day together, but I do want to remember these Advent Activities (not to mention keeping my December NaBloPoMo streak going), so here we go. This was Day 9:
Bake cookies for students (keep a few to eat).

My church baked cookies to give to students in our neighborhood, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new(ish). I was so intrigued by this article a friend posted on Facebook recently, and I decided try one of the variations that sounded best to me. So the boys and I got to work, using the 1/2 baking soda, 1/2 baking powder option.

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

Monday night was just filled with various frustrations and aggravations, with multiple meltdowns and dramas happening throughout the evening, so that by the time we were ready to bake cookies, I really wasn’t sure we could manage it. But the thing about baking cookies is, eventually, everything gets better.

group selfie by Little Buddha

group selfie by Little Buddha

I mean really, how long can you stay frazzled when you’re dealing with the simple magic of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs? Not long. Because the next thing you know, there is this:

chocolate chip, butterscotch chip cookies

chocolate chip-butterscotch chip cookies

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 7

Day 6 :: Advent, originally uploaded by earthchick.

Eat a piece of candy with breakfast.

This is one we do every year; I pull it out on a day I know there won’t be time for much else. It’s not super-exciting, but hey, who’s going to complain about having candy with breakfast?

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 6

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Get a Christmas tree.

It was unbelievably cold on Friday and the last thing I wanted to do was stand outside picking a Christmas tree, and we usually actually take a ridiculous amount of time to decide, but this was what we did anyway. We always go to a local shop in downtown Ann Arbor called Downtown Home and Garden. I love this store so much, and they have a sweet selection of trees. In the bitter cold, I was determined that we were going to make a fast selection. Lucky for me, the store made it easy. This year, they had a new (to them – and to us) variety, called a Nordman Fir – a beautiful conical tree with excellent needle retention; that’s what we went with, and I love it!

But the real fun of this activity was what the owner of the shop had brought in as a surprise for customers:

baby farm animals!

baby farm animals!

Look at those adorable animals!! I was dying. Goats, sheep, an alpaca, a baby donkey, and something called a zebu – a little water buffalo. They were so, so sweet.

Tiny Dancer with the animals

Tiny Dancer chatting up the alpaca

I had desperate thoughts of absconding with one of the fiber-bearing animals, but I refrained.

Little Buddha charming the alpaca

Little Buddha charming the alpaca

Little Buddha checking out the alpaca's teeth

Little Buddha checking out the alpaca’s teeth

look at that face!!

look at that face!!

Last year, after we got our tree, we went across the street to Sweetwater’s Cafe for a couple of slices of chocolate cake. For Little Buddha, one good experience is always the making of a new tradition, so of course we followed up our tree-buying, store-browsing, animal-petting experience with our new chocolate cake tradition.

It was a great afternoon!

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 5

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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.

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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!