Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Get This Game: Quelf



I love board games, and I'm usually fairly aware of what's floating around, but my parents surprised us this year with one we hadn't heard of, Quelf. The kids said they'd seen it on TV (shocking), but it was totally new to me.

This game is absolutely hilarious! Somewhat like Cranium on steroids, the game calls for players to perform, make, or answer questions depending on the category. For example, my mother had to make a mask using things she could find in the house before her next turn and then wear the mask until she landed on a green space.

It took her a long, long time to land on a green space. In the meantime, she had to stand up and dance the Can-can during another challenge. Categories include Roolz (my brother, for example, had to pretend to play the piano every time someone rolled a 1), Scatterbrainz (everyone has to name something in a particular topic, like US Presidents, until someone goofs), Stuntz (like a staring contest), Quizzle (trivia-type questions), and Showbiz (like the Can-can).

We had eight players from 12 to 84. I think my nine-year-old could play this OK, but it would be challenging for him. The game promises to take about an hour, but we were nowhere near the finish line when we called it quits after 2 hours. We all laughed soooo hard during this two hours; I'm not sure we could have lasted much longer! I see great possibilities with this game for mom/daughter game nights and other board game nights. In fact, I'm already trying to figure out when I can have a few goofy, board-game-loving friends over…

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Imagining a Life at the Walker Sisters' Cabin



Imagine a life spent in this house…


Resting every morning and evening on this front porch …

watching the shadows shift and the seasons change as you look out at this view, familiar as your face in the mirror…


And back in your kitchen, you open the window…

And think how bare and beautiful the woods are in winter…



And you stand for just a minute as the sun comes down…


Thinking you'd better shut the door before the evening chill sets in…


And you go back to your front porch for just a few more minutes, listening to the reassuring sound of this…


(For more pictures and details of this 4.2 mile hike from Metcalf Bottoms to the Walker Sisters' cabin in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, visit my husband's new blog, 900 Miles.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

We Wish You a Merry Christmas


May you all "experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand and that His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tradition with Motive

(Click to enlarge)

We always bake and decorate sugar cookies a few days before Christmas. This is not a tradition that carried over from my childhood. In fact, I don't remember ever decorating cookies as a child. I think my mom just sprinkled sugar on top. But we started this years ago, and it is definitely one of our favorite Christmas traditions.

I don't think my mom usually decorates with us, although I imagine she has in the past. But this year it seemed like the perfect way to get her out of her house for a couple of hours. She was excited to come over and decorate with us, and afterward she had a rousing game of Legos with Duncan. Just when Duncan was getting really wild and she was ready to go, my Dad pulled in the driveway to pick her up.

And take her back home, where he had her Christmas present waiting for her.

When my parents moved here for good a few months ago, they had to leave the old upright piano behind. This was an old player piano with the "player" mechanism removed. It had been out of tune my entire life and the keys were broken and somewhat sticky, but it was beautiful and my mother enjoyed playing it anyway. She was brokenhearted to leave it behind, but she knew it was too heavy and not worth moving.

And so, for Christmas, my father bought her a piano. For the first time in probably all of her 82 years, my mother has a piano that is perfectly tuned with all the keys intact. When she sits down to play, her fingers find the notes with a grace and clarity that comes from a lifetime of loving the feel of fingers on keys and the sound of music.

Needless to say, my father, who for 61 years has faced the yearly "what should I get for your Mother?" dilemma, found the perfect Christmas gift this year. Plus, he got some cookies.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dangerous Boys

I had a baby on Christmas Day, which was awesome and very special. Except that, on top of all the regular holiday activities, we also have a birthday party for Duncan each year a week or so before Christmas. We've had suggestions of celebrating his birthday on July 25 or in November, but really, it just doesn't seem right.

So I had a great idea for Duncan's birthday party this year. I thought we'd do an "Amazing Race" theme. I was picturing 2-3 parents driving vans loaded with kids, driving from place to place in our city while they searched for clues and completed all kinds of feats. I assumed Duncan would be thrilled to hear what I had planned.

But when I told him, he said, "Don't you remember? I want to have a Dangerous Book for Boys party."

Oops! Totally forgot his plan for The Dangerous Book for Boys party. So everyone knows that book, right? We don't actually own the book, but we had it checked out from the library for awhile, and it obviously had an impact on him.

At least one mom was really scared by the word "dangerous" in the invitation. But not to fear. We ended up not doing the only really dangerous activity—Cincinnati fire kites— because everything was too soggy outside. But for your viewing pleasure, here are Jesse and Everett doing the kites a couple of years ago:



This was a great and easy party theme if you have a boy in the 8-11 age range. Here's what we did (click to make really big):


* Each boy took 5 shots at the target with the BB gun (carefully monitored by Randy)
* Each boy got a 2-liter of diet Coke and a tube of Mentos for their own eruptions.
* Each boy made both a sling-shot and a marshmallow gun made out of PVC pipe (Randy had the pieces ready beforehand and then glued the slingshots while they finished the party)
These activities took most of the time; after cake (chocolate dirt cake with sour gummy worms liberally sprinkled on top) and gifts, they had a blast running through the backyard shooting each other with marshmallows.

I'm glad Duncan insisted on the Dangerous Boys party. Amazing Race? Maybe next year.

Wordless Wednesday: The Perfect Place To Be

I hope to be in this spot a lot in the next two weeks: reading by the Christmas tree. If only those presents would wrap themselves…

For more "Wordless" Wednesday posts, visit Wordless Wednesday, Momspective, and Five Minutes for Mom.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Memory: First Christmases

We're going into a new stage in our life as parents. Only our youngest, who will be 9 on Christmas Day, is getting any toys for Christmas. In just a few more years, we'll be a toyless home. That sounds terribly sad. I miss buying American Girl outfits already, just a year after I lamented the outrageous cost of them.

But this post is about first Christmases, when sheer delight reigned supreme on all sides.

Jesse was 9 months old at his first Christmas. We lived in Oxford, Ohio. Randy was finishing his master's degree at Miami University, and I was working as an editor for the headquarters of an international business association. This was taken at Randy's parents' house in Indiana, about an hour from where we lived.

Laurel was four months old for her first Christmas, and Jesse is about 4 1/2. We lived in Ames, Iowa, where Randy was working on his PhD at Iowa State University. At this particular time I was taking a break from working on my master's degree and just being a stay-at-home mama. I did end up finishing the next year.

This is really Duncan's second Christmas since he was born on Christmas Day, but being born and whisked off to the NICU isn't nearly as much fun as eating your first cake. This is my precious Christmas gift on his first birthday. We've been in this house in Tennessee since I was about 3 months pregnant with Duncan, so he has always been here, in this house, with his Daddy as a professor at UT and his mama at home.

It's a good place to be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Miscellany

* I love the utter sense of coziness that comes at Christmas—a coziness that is, in fact, closely kin to laziness. I had a nap already this afternoon, having fallen asleep while reading Audrey Niffenegger's newest book, Her Fearful Symmetry. (Falling asleep, by the way, is no reflection on the book. I love it.)

* On today's baking agenda: snickerdoodles. And Randy's Sunday Night Fried Rice for supper. Made by Randy, of course.

* And, as if a nap, snickerdoodles and fried rice aren't exciting enough, tonight is the season finale of Survivor!

* My house is delightfully clean. Yesterday was Duncan's birthday party, so I made sure the house was perfectly cleaned and decorated. As Randy pointed out, it's really important to a bunch of 8 to 10-year-old boys that all my decorations were up and the bathroom mirrors were shiny. This year's theme: Dangerous Things for Boys. Pictures coming up later.

* We had a packed class in Sunday School today. Our discussion these past few weeks has been terribly interesting. We've been discussing the Sabbath, Lord's Day, and what to do if your neighbor asks you not to mow your lawn on Sunday afternoons. I love my Sunday School class.

* I'm not done Christmas shopping yet. In fact, I'm really not even close. But I'm so comfortable and cozy here in my clean house, and there are still four whole days left until Christmas…

Hope you're having a cozy day!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Memory: Christmas Cards

One of my projects for today is to start sending out Christmas cards. For many years now I've done the photo cards along with a short Christmas letter. I always include my blog address, because, really, our lives are an open book. If people are really interested in what is happening in SmallWorld, they can read my blog, visit me on Facebook, send me an email, pick up the phone, or even visit.

How can a year be summed up in one measly letter? There's always too much between the lines that's left out and makes one's life seem like event upon event, rather than a carpet of joys and disappointments, daily thankfulness and occasional apathy. Big struggles. Little victories. Why do we sum a year up in awards won and trips taken?

I am guilty. My Christmas cards this year are short and to the point: a photo of each person with 4 bullet points summing up a whole person in 10 words or less. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, American Heritage Girls. Hiking Philmont, climbing trees, dancing. I designed the cards in about 15 minutes on Shutterfly.

Still, though, in spite of the superficiality of Christmas cards, I am happy to send them, and happy to receive them. I think about each person as I address the envelope, remembering them from different parts of my life. Childhood friends, college friends, Ohio and Iowa friends, distant family, Tennessee friends. I love getting picture cards in the mail, marveling over how the children have grown over the course of a year. As have mine. Pondering the passage of time and frightened a bit at the rapidity with which this season of life progresses.

The card above is from Christmast of 2000, probably the only year I've ever sent cards after Christmas. I was waiting for Duncan to be born, so that I could send out Christmas cards and a birth announcement in one fell swoop. I never imagined he would actually be born on Christmas Day and then spend almost a week in the NICU. How do you say, in a Christmas card, that you just went through one of the most terrifying experiences in your life? Instead, you write the birth date, his weight (10 lbs--wow!), and that he is the best Christmas present ever.

Someday, perhaps, I'll be like my 88-year-old Uncle Max. I received an email from him last week saying, "Hello Everyone: A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL. I'm doing emails rather than cards so hope this reaches all of you. Love you Max."

Until then, I'll be addressing envelopes and running to the post office for more stamps. At least this year, anyway.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekly Wrap-Up



This week:

Milestone: oldest son gets first car. Milestone: oldest son gets big scholarship from university he doesn't really want to attend. Still, it's nice to get such a scholarship—and to know it's there just in case.


More decorating. The Christmas decorations come out in dribs and drabs. Only 2 small boxes left now, plus outdoor lights. If we should get to them…


Milestone: daughter and friend play flute/violin duet at two events this week. My once shy little girl, playing her flute in front of 150 people!


Sixth annual Mother/Daughter Grandmother Christmas Tea, American Heritage Girls. As always, a beautiful event. I made cranberry/orange scones.


Lots of Christmas books read. (My favorites are here.) Some baking going on. (Favorite cookies here.) And yes, we did history, writing, math, spelling, grammar, and all that good stuff, too.


And enjoyed this, a lot.

How was your week? Wrap it up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Favorite Christmas Cookies


Chocolate Truffle Cookies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 TB. butter
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (divided)
1/2 cup flour
2 TB unsweetened cocoa power
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
about 4 dozen peppermint or mint Hershey's kisses

Melt unsweetened chocolate, butter, and 1 cup of chocolate chips in microwave or on stove top. Cool. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Beat sugar and eggs for 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Stir in chocolate mixture, then flour mixture, and finally the last cup of chocolate chips. Cover and chill until firm, at least 1 hour. This will look like pudding when you first refrigerate it. Heat over to 350. Shape into 1" balls and bake about 10 minutes. While you wait, unwrap the kisses. Immediately upon taking these out of the oven, stick a kiss in the middle and push down slightly. Finish cooling on a rack.

***************
Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Ingredients:
2 16-oz. bags semi sweet chocolate chips
1 16-oz bag white chocolate chips
6-8 candy canes

Unwrap 6-8 candy canes and put in a ziploc bag. Wrap a towel around the bag and crush candy canes with a meat tenderizer or whatever works for you. This shouldn't be powdery; some small bits are good.

Melt two 16-ounce bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I do it in the microwave for one minute and then stir, and then at 30-second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds until melted.

In a separate bowl, as soon as the chocolate chips are done melt, one 16 oz. bag of white chocolate chips in the same way.

When the chocolate chips are completely melted (and while you are in the process of melting the white chips), add the peppermint to the chocolate. Mix well and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. When the white chocolate is completely melted, drop by spoonfuls onto the chocolate and swirl with a knife to marbelize.

Put in fridge until hard. When it's completely hard, you can take a knife and break it up into fudge-sized pieces. That's it!

**********
Jam Diagonals

1 stick butter, softened (don't even think about using margarine)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. raspberry jam
3/4 c. confectioners sugar
3-4 tsp. lemon juice

Mix butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt until fluffy. Gradually stir in flour until blended. Divide dough into thirds. On lightly floured surface, with hands, roll each into a 9-inch rope. Place 3-inches apart onto lightly greased cookie sheet, or, better yet, a baking stone. With finger, make 1/2-inch depression down center of each rope. (Ropes will flatten to about 1-inch-wide strips.) Fill depressions with jam. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until golden but certainly not crispy. Cool. Blend confectioners sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle in zig-zags over jam. When icing is set, cut diagonally into 1-inch cookies.

***********
Never Fail Sugar Cookies

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter (don't even think about using margarine)
3/4 c. Crisco
3 T. milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix dry ingredients as in for pie crust and cut in shortening. Add remaining ingredients. Chill for at least an hour. Roll out about 1/4 inch on a floured board and cut into shapes. Bake at 375 for about 8 minutes. Don't overbake. Cool and frost.

**********
Many, many more cookie recipes are available at Kelly's Korner, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, and at The Mom Creative .

Friday Miscellany

* And suddenly, everything is done. I awoke early this morning with a sense of glee: We're done! After yesterday's annual American Heritage Girls Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Tea, all of our major events for the season are now finished. Dr. H. gave his finals this week, and although Jesse still has his biology final next week, all of his classes and papers are finished. Duncan still has to be in a play at church this weekend, but I don't have anything to do with that other than to enjoy watching. Sweet relief.

* For our last class of the semester, my World Lit/Geography class is going to P.F. Chang's for lunch today. We are in the midst of studying Asia and reading Pearl Buck's The Good Earth, so it seemed appropriate to close out the semester with some good Chinese food.

* Dr. H. is going camping in the mountains with the Boy Scouts tonight. It's supposed to be a low of 24 here tonight, which means about 14 in the mountains. He is so excited! Boys are weird.

* I need to get serious about Christmas shopping. We've reached a milestone this year: for the first time ever, Laurel doesn't have any toys on her list. Not one single American Girl or Barbie doll. No baby doll clothes, no doll accessories. Sigh. It's amazing how much one's enthusiasm for Christmas shopping is dampened without dolls. Somehow CDs don't have the same appeal.

* Every year at our Christmas tea, the American Heritage Girls shower my co-coordinator Caroline and me with gifts, from See's and Godiva chocolates to a new scarf/hat/glove set to Bath and Body Works goodies to gift cards. We are blessed with a group of sweet, sweet families. One of the packages was adorned with the most beautifully iced molasses cookie in the shape of a snowflake. Duncan looked at it so wistfully, and looked up at me so wistfully, that I broke down and opened the package and split the cookie with him. Afterwards he said, "You know, that cookie wasn't nearly as good as it looked."

* If only we could always remember that before we eat that slice of pie. Or box of chocolates. Or big fat cinnamon roll…

* Speaking of rolls, I made scones for the tea yesterday, and I received lots of compliments on them. I made this exact recipe except that I added about 1/2 cup more flour, changed to 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup orange juice, and drizzled them with a confectioners sugar/orange juice glaze. I think these would make a perfect Christmas morning breakfast.

* And one last thing: my mother gave us her old waffle iron, only it turned out to be a pizzelle maker. I remember going through a period when I was in middle school or younger when we'd make pizzelles about every day. Guess what we're going to be doing today? I hope it still works! And I hope the pizzelles taste as good as I remember them tasting.

But, as Duncan might say, "Things don't taste the way you remember them tasting."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: View


I never get tired of the view of the Smoky Mountains from my front porch, but I love it even more when the leaves drop and I can see the ever-changing mountains even more clearly. What's the view from your front window?

For more "Wordless" Wednesday posts, visit Wordless Wednesday, Momspective, and Five Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tackle It Tuesday: That Laundry Basket

So, yes, I am one of those lazy people who sweeps up everything off the kitchen counter into a laundry basket when I have to clean quickly. Or because I will sort through that important stuff that needs to be on the counter right away, as soon as the company is gone.


So here is the laundry basket a few weeks after our party on October 30th. Actually, this is after I cleared out half of the papers and then got distracted. I finally got back to the basket because 1) I got tired of tripping over it; 2) I had a nagging feeling that something important might be in there; and 3) I really needed my laundry basket back.

Ta-da! Isn't it beautiful? There was even a quarter at the bottom of it. And a hibiscus seed pod. If you live with a botanist whose nickname is Dr. Hibiscus (Dr. H.), you might expect such a thing.

Go forth and tackle something! It feels so good. And you might find a quarter. More Tackles at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

O Tannenbaum

We were planning to get our Christmas tree sometime this coming week, but we had the most wonderful surprise yesterday: snow! In the nine years we've lived here, we've never had snow this early in the season—which means our kids have never actually hunted for a Christmas tree in the snow. And as I always tell my kids, each year when we get our tree, "When I was a girl, we had to tromp through a few feet of snow to get our tree each year…" (Tromping through snow most certainly builds character.)

So we headed to our favorite Christmas tree farm. Dr. H. said it would be packed because everyone would be wanting to get a tree on a snowy Saturday; I countered that we live in Tennessee, where people hear the word "snow" and, after buying the requisite milk and bread at Walmart, stay put in their homes.

(I was right. I'm just saying.)


What a beautiful sight—the Christmas tree farm covered in snow! Now the fun part comes: which tree? But first, snow ball fights are mandatory…






Okay, enough frivolity; it's time to get down to business before the snow all melts. Is this the right tree?
It doesn't take us long to agree on one. Dr. H. signals the tree-cutting guy, who efficiently saws down the tree with his chainsaw, loads it on his wagon, and ties it to our van. A few more snowballs later and we are home, unloading and positioning the tree in just the right spot.

We waited until after church today to decorate.

First, there was a fight about who gets to wear the Santa hat. I believe Laurel gave in to Duncan.

But when he got tired of decorating—which means he put up all the ornaments that mean something to him, like the Energizer Bunny one—Laurel got the hat. It all looks so peaceful, doesn't it? But of course I had to come behind and more evenly distribute some of the ornaments so that the tree didn't topple over from the weight of all the ones on front. And then they all had to make fun of one of my favorite ornaments, lovingly known as the Pomegranate.

Just for that, I hung it from the chandelier over the dining room table. I love it. But I do have other ornaments that are much more my favorites.

There are all the "first Christmas" ornaments and the ones that signify something special about that year (like the year we got our dog or the one when Jesse started playing guitar). And there are all the ornaments that the kids made. of course, like these above. I especially love the one of Duncan with Great-Grandpa, who died two years ago. They had a special bond with their blue eyes and big hands. We miss him.



I am pretty sure I love all the picture ornaments the best. I love that one of Jesse and Laurel when she was first born, with her big pink pacifier. So sweet.

And I can't fail to mention all the wonderful Santa ornaments that the kids have gotten for Dr. H. over the years. U.T. Santa is just about the King of all Santas.

I love the whole Christmas tree process, from finding the perfect one, to exclaiming over each ornament as we decorate, to sitting back after it is all over. And then the tree takes up residence in the living room, becoming a part of our home for the next few weeks. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Is your tree up yet? Check out Kelly's Korner , Thrifty Decor Chick and A Baby Changes Everything for trees of all shapes and sizes!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Weekly Wrap-Up

I sure do love this time of year. Most of our regular activities break for the season; Randy's classes are over at the university; Jesse's classes at the community college are nearly done; and our co-op classes are over until mid-January. There is an absolute plethora of Christmas events that go on nearly every day/night in our area; we choose a few each year and ignore the rest.

We get a lot of at-home time during the holidays. This week we did a bunch of math and grammar, tons of reading/history, and even creative writing. Now that we're caught up on my own creative writing lessons, it's time for another WordSmithery lesson; look for one next week sometime! We've also been enjoying our advent activities and have even baked our first batch of Christmas cookies.

While a break from our regular activities allows more "book work" to get done at home, I also love to take time at Christmas for more craft-making and cooking together. Laurel and I had fun making these two items together, and we're going to start baking up a storm next week. Now I just have to buckle down and get Duncan more involved in crafts. His main goals in life at this point are to build with Legos and climb trees. Those are good goals, I know, but perhaps he needs to branch out and decorate some ornaments.

We finished our first semester of World Lit/World Geography class that I teach for our high-school co-op. We are studying Asia and are having a fantastic discussion of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth as well as reading Pakistani, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian poetry. I hate to break in the middle of Asia, but we are all ready for vacation. I had fun and next week we'll skip regular class and meet for lunch at PF Changs.

Coming up next week: Laurel has two dance performances on Monday, our co-op's Christmas program is Tuesday evening (Laurel is dancing and playing her flute), and our American Heritage Girls annual Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Tea is Thursday afternoon. Besides that, we will be enjoying a week at home!

For more Weekly Wrap-Ups or to wrap-up your own week, visit Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Dancing

(Photo by Lynn Freeny)

I really love our friends, the Freenys, because they are great people; but I have to say it is also a treat to have a fantastic photographer as a friend. And he is so nice to send me photos specifically for my blog. This one if from a dance and drama production that our daughters were in this past weekend. Here, my daughter is Mary in "What Child Is This?"
For more "Wordless" Wednesday posts, visit Wordless Wednesday, Momspective, and Five Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Appetizer: Bruschetta

This is, really, the best bruschetta I've ever had. If you really hate olives, you can leave them out, but even Dr. H, an olive-hater, loves this bruschetta, olives and all.

Bruschetta

3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced
salt to taste
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
3 TBS chopped pitted black and/or green olives
3 TBS finely slivered fresh basil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pepper to taste
one baguette or other bread, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1. In colander, season tomatoes with salt, stir, and let drain for about 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine oil, olives, basil, and garlic until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Add to tomatoes to mixture and stir to combine.
3. Broil or grill slices of bread. Put tomato mixture on bread slices and serve.

That's all! It is truly amazing!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Traditions

Since the time of Jesse's first Christmas, we've had some kind of advent tradition in our home. We've had store-bought versions of calendars with chocolates and toys and candles to light, but the two that have stuck with us for several years now are homemade.

This wall hanging I made when Laurel was a baby. The verse is from the e.e. cummings poem "Little Tree":
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"
Those gold dots are bells that I sewed on, and each day in December the kids hang one tiny ornament on a bell. Here's a close-up of the ornaments:

I bought them years ago when those mini-Christmas trees were all the rage, but I imagine some miniature ornaments like these are still available. I hope so; several of ours have disappeared over the years.

The next homemade advent tradition is our stocking/mitten garland. I got these at Walgreens for about a quarter each, but I think it would be even cuter to find mismatched socks and mittens or knit them if you are skilled like that. I was in a hurry that year and was happy to find these.

There are 25 total, and each contains three pieces of candy (one for each kids) and a slip of paper with an Advent scripture printed out. (I printed the whole passage, so we didn't have to look them up each night. Lazy.) You can do a google search for "Advent readings/scripture" and get lots of ideas. I included plenty of short verses for young readers. We do this one at dinner each evening. You can either remove the stocking/mitten as a sort of countdown, or put it back up in an orderly fashion. The problem with removing it is that the garland looks quite bare by the second week! (And a couple of words of advice if you think this is an amazing tradition that you must start: when the stocking or mitten has been emptied, be sure to put the slip of paper back in for next year or you'll have to find new ones! Also, chocolate does not work so well in these, as it tends to melt as the heat rises. Trust me. Go with hard candies.)

And this year we are adding in a Jesse Tree. I've been reading about these for years and, having a Jesse, have been especially inclined to add this to our traditions. I printed out the ornaments and readings here and just made a tree out of construction paper and stapled it to a bulletin board.

I was so proud of myself for getting all these out before December 1st, and then I realized that the Jesse Tree should have started on Saturday, Nov. 28. We had to do three days' worth before Dec. 1…

I did tape the paper print-outs onto cardstock and "laminate" them (in my world, that means I covered them with clear contact paper) so they can be used again in years to come.

What sorts of Advent traditions do you have in your homes? There are loads of fantastic ideas for traditions at Kelly's Korner if you are looking for some new ones, and lots of great ideas over at Amy's Finer Things, too!