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Thank you to my family and friends who made this 32nd birthday of mine so wonderful and memorable. There were so many unexpected delights today—from seeing a former student who has just graduated from college and is now working at my bank, to a nice chat with a complete stranger, to Katie making scores of drawings and cards for my birthday and decorating my cake (made by my mom) with her princesses, to birthday wishes from friends, and to very sentimental gifts.

The day started quietly at home, and I treated myself to real whipping cream in my coffee. Heavenly. We ate blueberries and raspberries and yogurt for breakfast. After dressing I went to the bank to take care of some business I have needed to do for a little while. One item of business was to open Eric his first savings account and to deposit further money into Katie’s savings account. It is never too early to start saving for their college tuition, and it is symbolic of the fact that we expect them to attend and are planning for it. I meant to start Eric’s account closer to his first birthday, so it felt good to get it done finally.

After the bank and a quick trip to the drug store for a couple of items, by the time I returned home (Bill had been watching the kiddos) it was time for lunch and Eric’s nap. While Eric rested, Katie and I read further in The Clue of the Velvet Mask, our third Nancy Drew book. We then tidied up, talked with Nana, and played.

In the afternoon my parents came over, and my mom cooked one of my favorite meals: spaghetti carbonara, bread, and Caesar salad with a chocolate cake and seven-minute frosting my Nana used to make. YUM! It is so special to me that my mom still makes all of my birthday meals.

I am so thankful for my presents—my mom has great taste in clothing and my husband has great taste in technology—but there were two gifts that really were symbolic and especially meaningful to me:

Nana gave me one of her mother’s plates. Ina Berve was my great-grandmother, and thus the kiddos’ great-great grandmother. Family heirlooms are my favorite gifts.

A better picture of the plate. I think about her holding and using it…

My mom gave me a bell pull that she made herself, with wool yarn that she drove an hour to La Jolla to procure, a backing that she ordered online, hours of needlepoint, and metal hardware that was originally from Grandma and Grandpa Yoder’s bell pull at their Newport Beach house. How thoughtful and awesome is this gift? I absolutely LOVE it, and I have already put it up. I grew up with a bell pull at my parents’ house, and it is one of those childhood talismans for me I suppose. Her stitches are gorgeous, and one day, Katie or Eric will have it. Gifts that become part of the family narrative are the most significant to me.

Bill gave me a military grade iPad case, which will come in handy with the kiddos. (Sorry, Jony Ive—I promise only to use this bulky thing when I intend to travel with it or let the kiddos use it for awhile). I am excited to have it. He also gave me, among other things, a beautiful peridot necklace in honor of our son: peridot is the August birthstone. This, too, will be something to give to Eric one day, just as Katie will have my opal ring that her dad gave me to honor her October birth.

I am so thankful for gifts that celebrated my connection to my family members, past and present. I am thankful, also, for parents and a grandmother and a husband who realize how much those kinds of gifts really mean to me, how they speak to my essence and make me glow.

Tonight I plan to curl up with some herbal tea and my Joan Didion book. She is one of my favorite authors, her nonfiction in particular.

We observed Boxing Day for the first time ever at the McGaugh House today…and boxed up all of our Christmas decorations. I even got the tree out to the curb. Usually I let Christmas linger for a few days, even past my birthday, but this year it felt good to move forward toward the new year. I will be especially happy next year, because I managed in the process to consolidate two boxes worth of decor—not so much a testament to my organization skills this year, but an admission to chaotic boxes for the past few years.

The kiddos and I also found plenty of time to play with new toys today, too!

We made many beautiful memories over the past two days. We celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my mom’s side of our family. Christmas Eve was a balance of joy and remembrance and, for me, some tears as we went into Grandpa Yoder’s house for the first time since he passed last year. I might dedicate another blog entry to my thought life on Christmas Eve as I wandered through parts of his house, but I do not think I am quite up to that tonight. For me, it was the empty space in the family room where his bed used to be, the wheelchair marks on the cabinets in the bathroom, and the paper clips where he used to sort through his mail downstairs… Yet it was not just him I missed. There are four we are missing from our Christmas Eve celebration, and I wish they could all still be here.

Happy thoughts now:

We began Christmas Eve with our tradition of panettone, scrambled eggs, sausage, red pears, and hot chocolate. The kiddos pulled English crackers, and they also received their annual ornaments.

Katie’s ornament was a classic red tricycle identical to hers. She received this to commemorate her mastery of her trike this year. She zooms all over the place and has put in many hours of practice.

I looked for a pair of booties for Eric to commemorate his mastery of walking, but I could not find what I had in mind. So Eric opened a reindeer, as a reminder of one special night we shared this month. He was restless and not going to sleep, so I took him downstairs for a little snack. We have two lighted reindeer in the backyard, and it was this night that I taught him how to “blow a kiss.” He blew a kiss at the reindeer in our yard, and then has done it again since.

Then we got all dressed up and headed to Newport Beach for dinner at The Ritz. But first, we made sure to scatter our reindeer food:

These are some of the only pictures of Eric and Katie together on Christmas Eve night, since I sat in the middle of them at the restaurant and since they were both busy bees at Grandpa Yoder’s house. I loved Eric’s suspenders, which were made of the same silk as the collar and sash of Katie’s dress. I wanted to put Eric in suspenders for Christmas Eve because I have many memories of my Uncle Eric wearing suspenders on Christmas Eve, and it was a way to honor little Eric’s namesake. It turned out that my Eric really liked his suspenders—I worried he would try to pull them off—but as soon as I dressed him, he took a look at himself in the mirror and it was clear that he was the Man of the Playroom after that. He was giggling and striding about looking very pleased.

More reindeer food

Well, we tried to take a picture… 😉

The kiddos with their daddy

Eric and I at The Ritz—I am certain that is mushroom soup with morel foam on his shirt. He loved it! And, what is more, I discovered (a bit to my surprise) that both of the kiddos love goose! Who knew? I absolutely LOVE goose and red cabbage with apples. Between the two of them, I had only a few bites of it myself—and they had other food of their own!

Kermit, the hand puppet, is GREAT for keeping babies happy at the table. Going into the night, I had really had no idea how we would fare. Katie is always excellent at restaurants, but teaching Eric restaurant etiquette has been a work in progress. He is Mr. Social and has a tendency to want to be out of his chair and visiting people…or exploring…which doesn’t work very well at The Ritz. So I have been trying to make sure he knows that, if he wants to eat, he must be in a high chair. And crossing my fingers. And fretting. And talking to him about it beforehand. And hoping. I made sure he was reasonably hungry before we went, and I also brought a bag of tricks (Kermit, blank paper and crayons, a quart bag of duplo legos, etc). Thankfully, he also really loved the Christmas carolers who were singing around the restaurant. I was so, so, so relieved that he managed the whole meal. A Christmas miracle? That’s how it felt! In fact, a lady who was leaving after her meal stopped by and told me, “Your two children are so well behaved.” Wow! That made my night, truly. What a nice compliment, especially in a venue where expectations of children are so (rightfully) high. I wonder if she could see the beads of sweat on my temples? 😉

After the meal, we went to Great-Grandpa Yoder’s house. Boppa and Eric relaxed for a few moments, er, seconds. Then Eric was off!

Katie enjoyed playing with Matt and Lark, my youngest cousins. The three of them put on a ballet show for us.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas morning, the kiddos discovered that Santa had brought a little play cottage for them! In the short time they have had it, the two of them have spent HOURS in it—which helped enormously during Boxing Day today. I know Santa debated and debated this gift prior to committing…thank goodness the elves made it after all! I was going to put it in the yard, but I am finding that it is extremely helpful to have in the house!

My mom at Christmas breakfast. I chose this picture for my blog (out of the millions for the entire two days) because my mom always works so hard to put on a beautiful breakfast, and I love it and her. We’ve been eating the yeast bread Christmas wreath for over 20-something years every Christmas. My mom also makes the best omelets I’ve ever had. Seriously. Not a speck of brown anywhere (even when her attention is divided!!!), fluffy, and filled with different combinations of cheese. We also have sausage and hot chocolate. I love this breakfast, and she manages to make it—perfectly—on the most happily hectic morning of the year.

Christmas was at Nana’s this year! It felt so good to be back at Nana’s house. We haven’t had a Christmas Day there in awhile, and it brought back such beautiful feelings and memories. We ate ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, yams, rolls, and sweet pickles and olives, and jello salad with the cranberry tart, the chocolate tort, and holiday rice krispie treats and candies and fudge for dessert.

Putting away the Christmas decorations is always a thoughtful time for me. I remember, for example, putting away the tree in Eric’s room last year and thinking, “The next time I see these ornaments he will be over a year old and walking.” Last year, he had just learned how to roll over and was four months old. It struck me especially then, because I knew he would change so drastically, that my baby would be a toddler. I put everything away today knowing that, when I see it all again, all of us will be different somehow, things will have changed, we will have continued to grow, we will have experienced all the more of life’s ups and downs. Putting away is a promise that we will take it back out, yet it is a reminder that another precious year will have gone.  Precious with my husband. Precious with my children. Precious with my larger family. I am always reminded of Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

But…no more Christmas jammies for us! We got mother-daughter jammies for Christmas!

My sweet babies

My mom came over this afternoon with a recipe for making elf biscuits. We’ve made cookies for Santa and food for his reindeer, but we’d forgotten his hard-working elves!

Elf biscuits are simple to make and start with a graham cracker crust.

Yup, Eric was down with that. Graham crackers are his favorite.

Next there is a glorious melting of butter and sugar on the stove. Pecans are pounded and throw in. They get candied.

Then the mixture is spread onto the graham crackers and then everything gets baked.

Once out of the oven, the graham crackers reach new heights of yumminess.

So fun!

Katie and I also worked on our Christmas desserts while Eric napped. We are making a chocolate torte and a cranberry almond tart for our family dinner this year. The chocolate torte we’ll have to make tomorrow before the celebrations get going, but I am excited to make it even though tomorrow is very busy. I’ve made it for a wedding shower and for the McGaugh Christmas party in years past. It is a special dessert to me, because it was one of Uncle Eric’s favorite Christmas desserts that my mom used to make for our big family parties when I was little. The cranberry almond tart is many steps long, yet the beautiful scarlet cranberries on top look so festive and Christmassy! Katie and I finished making all of its components today: shortbread crust, almond pastry cream, and cranberry topping.

Picking a lemon from our little tree for the almond cream…

Whole cranberries and almond paste…

Sampling some of the almond paste, Katie declared, “Almond paste, I love you so much I think I will marry you!”

Yep, that’s pretty much how I feel about almond paste, too! Isn’t it delicious?

Tomorrow morning we make our special and traditional Christmas Eve breakfast: panettone, eggs, sausage and fruit. In years past, I have made French toast out of the panettone using an egg nog custard, but I think I might just serve it toasted tomorrow—which is also a treat. This year we’ve been reading Tomie de Paola’s (LOVE him, a great children’s author, we own several of his) “Tony’s Bread”— a fanciful take on the origins of panettone. The panettone is now definitely more interesting in Katie’s eyes as a result!

We also remember that this Christmas Eve will be especially bittersweet, as it marks exactly one year since we lost Great Grandpa Yoder. In so many respects, last Christmas Eve is still so vivid for me, and the emotions so palpable, that I cannot believe we’re back to it already. Every night this season, the kiddos and I have added “Silent Night” to our lullabies, as it is the song that most reminds me of spending time with him every Christmas Eve and also of his passing into a sleep of heavenly peace last year. There will be much on our hearts tomorrow, I know. My greatest hope is to have the wisdom to see the balance between moments of poignant melancholy and moments of joyful sweetness.

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We’re having a relaxing day at home today, reading, watching Elf, filling up our backyard bird feeders, putting away laundry, building blocks… and making our annual batch of reindeer food!

Our tradition is to sprinkle the food around the yard on Christmas Eve. Santa’s reindeer get hungry from all that flying!

This is the first year that Eric has been able to help. Usually we use oats and glitter, but we decided to make ours with all edible ingredients this year and to add a few more yummies. We combined oats, dried cranberries, rainbow sprinkles, and coconut. The kiddos scooped all the ingredients into a canister and then helped to mix it. I think both of them most liked shaking the rainbow sprinkles!

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Happy Winter Solstice! The longest night of the year seemed the perfect opportunity for our annual McGaugh Christmas Light Drive! Every year the four of us pack up hot chocolate, get into our cozy Christmas pajamas (well, three of us do that), tuck ourselves into the car with blankets and Christmas carols, and head out to search Temecula for pretty Christmas lights. I love the family memories we are making. Katie kept saying, “This is magical!” In our house, calling anything “magical” is known to be high praise indeed.

The kiddos are in their matching pajamas, bundled up with blankets and ready for lights. Eric had warm chocolate through a straw. This will be the first Light Drive he remembers—last year, he was still an infant. This year he kept pointing and looking all around.

Hot chocolate is dripping from the lips of my elf-girl! Bill took us to an awesome street that had twelve houses with lights all synchronized to a Christmas radio station. Katie was in awe that the lights were “dancing to the music!”

I have to say, this was one of our best Light Drives yet. Going just a few days before Christmas, I think, yielded more houses with lights. Also, we did not focus so much on using the official Christmas light map this year—Bill took us to some of the usual places, yet we weren’t as concerned with trying to check all the houses off our list. Instead, we just savored the houses we happened to find, interspersed with some of the well-known Temecula houses that do something fabulous every year. Mellow and merry!

This morning, I had a bit of time on my own to finish collecting stocking stuffers for my three loves. It is truly not often that I happen to find myself out and about on errands without one or both (usually both, of course) of the children, and my my, the feeling of easy movement was quite a treat. I love going out with my children, yet I found it deliciously restful to be able to put the cheering, coaching, negotiating, lifting in and out of the car seats, watching, and advising on hold and have a little thought-time to myself. I treated myself to a gingerbread latte and even spent a few moments filing my nails (needed it for days!) in the car listening to Christmas music. Having a breather for the little things means so much.

And when I ran into my neighbor in a store, I could give her all of my attention without darting my eyes to supervise the kiddos. A simple but much appreciated moment, for sure.

I enjoyed the festive mood in the air today. The last days before Christmas are delightful. Several of us in line at a store got into a merry conversation about last minute errands and a yummy recipe for egg nog and ice cream punch. One reason why I love this time of year so much is that there is a feeling of collective celebration, even with complete strangers—a reminder that we’re in this together, you know? It is the same reason that Christmas lights make me so happy: not only are they sparkly and beautiful, but also there is a sense of shared joy, of some great happiness toward which we are working for a season.

My mom added to the joy this afternoon by surprising Katie and me (Eric was napping) with THREE Christmas ornament crafts. Fun! Katie, my artful crafter, lighted up when we started an afternoon of crafting.

Amie teaches Katie how to make a beaded Christmas tree ornament.

Next up: glitter snowflakes! Amie brought over Martha Stewart glitter—I now know that, yes, there is for certain a qualitative difference between Martha’s glitter and regular glitter. Amazing glitter!

We then took a break, and I let Katie do something wild. I let her sprinkle the fine Martha Stewart glitter all over the house: floors, tree, sideboard, couch, carpet, chairs, anywhere. Yes, she asked permission. No, I am not insane. She was pretending to be the glitter fairy. I started it all by putting it in her hair. The glitter is so fine that it looks as if sparkle just naturally emanates from the surfaces. I actually love it. My whole kitchen floor looks like magic in the light. Hey, why not? You are only a kiddo once. Everything can be cleaned up—not that I want to clean this, because I like how pretty it looks. Yes, for real. Sometimes we have to honor whimsy. Some few parts of life are to be viewed seriously, for sure; most of it, however, is really not (in my view) to be taken seriously at all. I hope to teach my children to know the difference, because it will give them great freedom to follow their authentic selves and to find happiness in the silliness.

Then we made our third ornament: a marshmallow-reindeer-bell. This might need a picture. Oh well.

I wish December could last forever!

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After finishing our first Nancy Drew book and starting another during Eric’s nap yesterday, Katie and I were casting about for something to do. We decided to take a five minute break to think to ourselves…

Then the strangest thing happened! I said, “Okay, I’ve got an idea…”

And then Katie piped up, “Let’s make paper dolls!”

Which was EXACTLY what I’d been thinking! We’ve never made paper dolls before, so how did we both think of this???

Katie then suggested, “Let’s make Nancy!” So a paper doll of Nancy it was.

I have never made a paper doll before, though I had a few from sets when I was a girl. Making them by hand turned out to be easy, and this is now going in our go-to rainy afternoon (or any afternoon) craft file.

First we drew out a figure on white card stock. I cut out two of them and glued them together for extra sturdiness. I am no visual artist, but since the doll looked reasonably like a human girl, we were satisfied. My instinct was to leave the face plain, but Katie really wanted us to draw some of it in.

Next, we traced the doll and made patterns for clothes: shirt, trousers, skirt.

We would trace the basic pattern on pretty paper, then alter the design (short or long skirt, plunging neckline, flared or straight dress, short or long sleeves). Then I would cut them out, being sure to add tabs to the perimeter, so we could attach the clothes to the doll.

The white pieces are our basic patterns.

Nancy and her new clothes (all of them do have multiple tabs, much like the green dress, but some of them are folded down from play and can’t be seen in this picture). Katie embellished many of the clothes with ribbons and other scrapbooking scraps.

This was our rather quick effort yesterday afternoon, and I sure wish I’d thought of this a few months ago. What a neat, inexpensive, and old-fashioned Christmas gift a homemade paper doll set would have been, no? It would be easy to cut a whole wardrobe for a pair of dolls after the kiddos go to bed, over several nights. A person could make era-themed dolls and clothes. Another idea would be to make some plain white clothes and have the child color/design the prints themselves.

Even though part of me wishes I could have surprised Katie with a beautiful, crafted-with-greater-time-and-care paper doll set as a Christmas gift, making this Nancy doll and clothes together was a gift to her little heart, too. Katie has already said she hopes we make more clothes, as well as Bess, George, and Ned dolls.

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Oh my, it has been a busy week! Festive, productive, and just a touch of crazy here and there. Eric coincidentally chose this week to start climbing EVERYTHING—and yes, I mean everything in the least hyperbolic way. The kitchen chairs, couches, teetery things that could result in dire injury…and he can navigate his way from Katie’s hassock, to her cozy chair, to the foot of her bed and onto the bed.  Landings he can’t quite reach with his knees? He solved that by Tuesday: get a pillow or some other toy/box, throw it next to his desired climbing object, and use it as a stepping tool. There’s no outwitting these children. Sheesh.

So cooking a party feast and prepping our house took several days. Thankfully, my mom, my dad, and Bill all took shifts at crucial moments with the children, mainly with Eric. Katie helped me much of the time, cooking, setting the table properly, and reporting on her brother’s activities (“Mama, he’s climbing the kitchen chair!”).

Still, we had plenty of time for fun this week, too, and of course, we all enjoyed our party immensely last night. Today (Sunday) has been a day to laze about in comfy clothes, watch movies, eat leftovers, catch up on e-mail, read, and generally just rest with no particular objective. Ah. Every once in awhile, we need a day like that.

Our week, in pictures:

One morning this week, Katie dressed up as a “Christmas angel.” This outfit is her creation; I only helped to tie some of the bows.

We spent another day completing “Christmas Cookies, Day 2” at my mom’s house. Actually, looking back, I am not sure the kiddos or I made any substantial contributions to the creation of these particular cookies—except tasting. But it was festive and we felt like it was a baking day. I mostly ran around after the kiddos. Katie helped a bit on the counter. My mom is the Christmas Cookie Powerhouse in our family. These cookies are: almond clouds, fruitcake brownies, oatmeal-white-chocolate-cranberry-hazelnut, chocolate thumbprints with Nutella filling, anise biscotti drizzled with chocolate, and the humorously named “raspberry strippers” with my mom’s homemade raspberry jam.

Somewhere around mid-week, we took a night out to attend the annual Valley Winds Christmas concert at the Temeku Clubhouse. Our former TVHS band director Tom Hrbacek is the conductor of this band, one in which my brother, sister-in-law, and my brother’s father-in-law and other family members have all played in at one point or currently. We drank hot chocolate, sang carols, and felt Christmassy.

Katie and my mom… I have one somewhere of Boppa and Eric, but it is not uploaded at the moment.

Then the kiddos helped to make the green bean casserole for our McGaugh Christmas party menu. I set out the ingredients and told Katie what to do, and she did it all herself!

Eric helped with the fried onions.

Grinding pepper… it was important to involve them in the prep as much as possible. I can get away with getting quite a bit done when I involve my children in whatever it is and use it as a teaching time. That is one of my biggest tricks, actually. And they learn at the same time, so it is a win-win situation.

One night we visited Pennypickle’s Workshop in Old Town for their annual Winter Wonderland event. The kiddos got to play in some real snow, and they visited the Snow Princess. I was able to help out earlier in the week with a small aspect of the Snow Princess station: she gave out affirmations on little paper doily snowflakes, and I had fun helping to write those earlier this week. They said things like, “You are helpful” and “You bring delight to your family and friends.” It was a small contribution to an event that had many, many hours of other volunteer and staff labor, yet it was fun to be involved again in the community and to use my words for the good.

Then it was party day! We love spending time with our family! Uncle Chet had a bird count in Yucaipa this year, so we had a late afternoon/evening party this year. I loved how cozy it felt with all of our outdoor lights on and all eating dinner together. We served turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, creamed corn, rolls, cookies, apple crumb pie, and ice cream—a traditional feast. What a fun way to kick off the last week before Christmas with our McGaugh kin!

Aunt Sharon (married to Bill’s brother Seth) brought their three grand-daughters, Bernicie, Sharon, and Marcella. Katie always gets along so well with these sweet girls. In fact, Katie had so much fun last night—all four girls played the whole time together, and extremely nicely, too. They are just little darlings. Aunt Sharon was great, too, about letting her presence be known, and the girls would all help each other clean up one set of toys before going on to the next. The four of them colored, built with blocks, played Candy Land, and cooked in the little kitchenette.

The teacher in me is a big believer in ice-breaker activities for children when a party starts—something children can do together to get the playing off to a good start and to remember who each other are. A few days ago, I suggested to Katie that we print out several Christmas-themed coloring pages and put them out on the table with some crayons. Katie, instead, came up with the idea we eventually enacted: huge pieces of butcher paper taped to the table with crayons for free drawing. That turned out to be a big success, and Katie felt ownership of the idea and therefore confident in her hosting/socializing. She can be shy with new people/people she doesn’t see all the time, but when the girls arrived, I told her to show them the drawing station, and it gave Katie a definite role in our house. If one of the girls went off to play by herself, Katie asked, “Do you want to come back and play with us?” This was a big step for Katie, and I told her over and over again last night how proud I was of her being such a nice hostess.  I saw her grow last night, and that was cool.

Playing in the kitchen

More drawing before dessert. I still have the paper up today. There are Christmas trees, poinsettias, angels… And many of the drawings had an element of collaboration to them. I might have to keep this for awhile as a sweet memory of a great night.

At dinner with Uncle Chet

When we were setting the tables earlier this week, Katie was clear that she wanted to sit next to the adored Uncle Chet. So sweet.

Aunt Sharon, Uncle Patrick, and Uncle Seth

Uncle Seth

What a beautiful memory with Bill’s side of our family!

After everyone left, it was bathtime and clean-up time, and then story time! Katie and I have started reading some of my Nancy Drew books. We started out of order and chose to read The Hidden Window Mystery. We love it. I love my memory of reading it as a child. I have the original 56 stories, and four of those (including the The Hidden Window Mystery) were actually my mom’s volumes when she was a child. She gave them to me as a present when I was young. So, how truly awesome it is to be reading to Katie out of a book that once belonged to my mom when she was little! We are reading with the fervor of reading Harry Potter, and Katie keeps wanting me to assure her that we’ll start another as soon as we’re finished with this one. I have to say, reading Nancy Drew again is so cozy!

Merry Christmas week, everyone!

This is Christmas Cookie Week at the Matics and McGaugh households! With my two little ones, my mom and I spread our cookie baking out over several days in recent years.

Today we made three types of cookies:

* Neopolitans: a cookie made of three different doughs—chocolate, almond, and a sugar cookie dough dyed red. The three doughs are pressed together in a loaf pan, chilled, and then sliced. Katie specifically requested these cookies this year.

* Ginger crinkles: a yummy ginger cookie

* Pfeffernusse: one of my favorites, this is a Norwegian cookie recipe that celebrates our Norwegian heritage along my Nana’s bloodline. It is spicy, with pepper and a hint of citrus. Other spices include cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. I love this one with tea.

I am already excited for Day 2 at Mom’s house, and I think we’re planning peppermint bark, a chocolate bark, an oat cookie with white chocolate and cherries, and if we’re ambitious, perhaps another type as well.

Katie with the red dye for the neopolitans

Amie and Katie

Rolling pfeffernusse

Eric loves cookie baking, too! This little man has a real sweet tooth!

The kiddos helping their Amie… Even Eric did his best to roll a piece or two, and he plopped it on the pan.

My mom and the kiddos watch The Grinch.

What a rainy, cozy, festive day!


The paper is yellowed and delicate, the ribbons show years of use, the patterns are etched in my mind from childhood. The snowflakes my mom cut out for my first Christmas are as old as I am. I am turning 32 this month.

For many years, these snowflakes floated over my bed every Christmas season. Even in college when I came home for Christmas break, they would be there in my room waiting for me. My mom made my brother his own set. I remember many nights of falling asleep looking at them above me, their shadows cast by the little tree on my nightstand. Sometimes I would stare at them thinking about how much I never wanted the Christmas season ever to end—a feeling I still have every year. As I got older, I thought about how young my mom was when she cut them out: 26-years-old. Turns out, twenty-six is not that old. It seems an impossible age to a child, and now here I am already six years past my 26th year. I wonder what she was thinking about when she cut out my snowflakes by hand. Her cuts are very detailed, creating a beautiful lace.

Even though I moved out of my parents’ house in 2004, I didn’t feel ready to take my snowflakes with me. They were so tied into my childhood and feeling a part of my mom and dad’s house that I wondered if something would break with sadness in me if I took them. I still had my mom hang them in what used to be our rooms, kind of symbolically, even though she asked me if I wanted them. A couple of years ago I had her start hanging them in her kitchen so I could see them when I came to visit during the season. They felt like a part of me that still belonged there with my parents.

This year I finally felt ready to ask for my snowflakes; in fact, while I was putting up Katie and Eric’s decorations, not having my snowflakes suddenly felt weird. For the first time, I had a strong feeling that my snowflakes belonged here, with me, with all four of us. My snowflakes are part of childhood magic, and my children and I are making that everyday together. I know there is no real going back to my own childhood, no matter how much I sometimes wish to. All of that magic is here and alive in my own house, and I can experience parts of it again by helping my own children to know that happy feeling.

So I hung up my snowflakes above my computer desk in the playroom. They feel right in the playroom. I am more often in the kitchen than anything else, and I wanted them there initially—but, between you and me, I am too short of a person and the ceiling is too high and it seemed like a lot of production to enlist a ladder. In the playroom makes sense, because now my snowflakes are a part of an area where my children and I play.

When Katie was born, I wanted to continue the tradition of snowflakes that my mom started.

Katie’s snowflakes in her Azalea House room…Katie was only a little over a month old in this picture. Now her snowflakes hang above her big girl bed in her room in the house she has lived in for most of her life.

Eric has snowflakes, too. I have been putting his above the changing table, primarily because with age has come the paranoia that one of the tacks might fall down into the night into his crib and that he might try to eat it. When he gets a little older, I will hang them above his bed, too.

I love being under my own snowflakes again, and I enjoy them with a happy nostalgia. This is their first year away from the two homes of my childhood, but it is right that they are here with us.

Making and keeping a scrapbook was a popular hobby for women and children during the Victorian era. While scrapbooks nowadays mostly consist of our personal pictures, Victorian scrapbooking was the art of clipping newspaper, magazine, and card pictures and arranging them beautifully on the page. It was a perfect rainy day project, or a way to let children craft.

I am an avid scrapbooker of our family photos, but is has been awhile since I’ve put anything else into a scrapbook. When I was in late high school and early college, I often clipped out pictures I liked and kept them in binders, sometimes glued onto paper. It was a few years after this that I learned how prevalent that pastime was in the 19th century.

Since we’ve been delighting ourselves with old-timey crafts and activities this season, I figured that it was a perfect time to introduce Katie to Victorian scrapbooking. She has helped me with the family photos, but this type of scrapbooking is a different form of art and of relaxation. Looking through old magazines and catalogues is calming and restorative. She gets to practice her work with scissors in a fun way; she has liberty to arrange her clippings however she likes. We talked only briefly about creating pages with themes, and she decided almost instantly that she wanted to create pages of angels, snowflakes, and birds today. So that is what we did.

Katie ponders her pages, which she designed herself. I wasn’t sure if she’d take to this right away, so I decided we’d make our scrapbook with blank paper and keep it together in a binder. At some point, I will buy her an actual scrapbook if she continues to enjoy this. For now, I wanted to see what she thought of this potential new hobby. It turns out, she LOVED it, especially since it spoke to the collector and the artist in her.

Also, notice Bing in the background on the TV. We watched White Christmas as we crafted. We love that movie, one of our favorites.

Even though my children enjoy many modern resources, I want to share these classic and old-fashioned types of pastimes with them. There is something beautifully simple and peaceful about sitting together and cutting out beautiful pictures, talking about what we like and why, just enjoying the time with one another. I want to teach her ways to slow down and quiet her mind; scrapbooking is almost like a form of meditation, an art into which to delve. Victorian scrapbooking is also a fairly inexpensive child’s hobby. We already have magazines and catalogues on hand most of the time. Paste and paper, even a scrapbook itself, are relatively inexpensive. Simple and humble pleasures, I believe, stay with a child forever.

And a couple of pictures from this morning:

The kiddos enjoy their train as we read The Polar Express. I blew our train whistle and called, “All Aboard!” After our reading session, we turned on all the train-themed songs from our Music Together class (it turns out there are quite a few) and danced around the living room. (We ended up not attaching the boxcars with the paper chain, only because it became clear that the kiddos love to move their train around so much).

And finally, a sweet shot of Eric’s new favorite game. He loves to take hold of Sister’s hand and lead her around and around…and around…the house. He does the leading, and she is so patient and sweet about it. She actually adores that he seeks out her hand to hold it. The bond between these two babies is really something, a true gift. I love to watch them as their mommy, knowing they have these special moments that are really just between the two of them. They certainly have their little tiffs (over toys mainly) once in awhile, but for the most part they are completely attached and loyal to each other. I think being so close in age helps that bond, for sure. It is beautiful to see.