advent starts tomorrow!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Some folks say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I would say it’s actually Advent, the season of anticipation leading up to Christmas, that’s the most wonderful time of the year. I grew up Presbyterian (PCUSA) and always loved observing Advent– lighting candles on our wreath, doing devotionals from our church, and especially the big church Advent Celebration where we’d have a fellowship meal and then go around making different Christmas crafts and games. We always drew the name of one other attendee to make a gift for during the evening, giving it to elves to be delivered to the recipient. Our favorite was always the room where white chocolate pretzels were made.

Last year, I posted about finally (two years after I had intended to) finishing our felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar and offered ideas about creating your own. I love that the Jesse Tree Advent Calendar corresponds to Bible stories about Jesus’ family tree, and each night as a family, we hang up an ornament and read a Bible story from our Jesus Storybook Bible. As last year was our first year using the calendar, and I finished it just under the wire, I didn’t have time to make sure there was a corresponding story for each ornament in the JSB. As we went through, I discovered that some of the ornaments didn’t have a story in the JSB, and I also learned that attempting to read out of a regular Bible to small children is difficult and boring for the. This year I thought ahead and pulled out the calendar early. I discovered that Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Jacob’s Ladder, Mary Visiting Elizabeth, and Gideon were all missing from the JSB. In some cases, like Ruth and Naomi and Gideon, I wrote paraphrase stories to read to my kids, printing them off and tucking them into the JSB. In other cases, I swapped out the ornament to better reflect the story that is in the JSB, like getting rid of Jacob’s ladder and making an ornament of 3 wedding rings, since the ladder story isn’t in the JSB, but Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel is. I also ordered a kids’ storybook about Esther to tell her story.
I also got curious about options for Jesse Tree Advent Calendars on Etsy and scoped a few out for you if you’d like to start using this tradition with your family. Most completed felt calendars are still quite pricey. I found a nice one for $180. I also discovered that if you want to go the full DIY route, the pattern is still available to make one like I did. However, I think the best option I found was to buy this pre-made tree calendar for $13, and then buy this semi-DIY kit where all you have to do is cut out machine embroidered ornaments and add hanging string to them. The ornaments even come with a book. You’ll end up with an heirloom for $73, and not have to do nearly as much work as I did. (I have embedded pins of these items in this post– if you’re reading this in a RSS feed, you may not see them below.)

Advertisements

one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

IMG_2980

Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

IMG_2979

Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

IMG_2989

 

The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

IMG_2988

IMG_3017

We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

IMG_3020

I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

IMG_3018

I’m already obsessing about Advent

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.comI’m the first to gripe about “Christmas Creep” and how people keep trying to make Christmas happen before its time, which, in my opinion, should absolutely never be before the day after Thanksgiving. (Mostly because Thanksgiving is one of my favorites.) However, I spent the last week obsessively working on finishing the Advent calendar I started making for the girls in 2013. It was a bit more than I could achieve when the girls were one, but now that they’re three, not only do I have more time to craft, I really think they’ll enjoy incorporating this tradition and get something out of it. And I’m writing about it now because if you start soon, you’ve got time to make one before Advent starts, too. But not if you have two one-year-olds — take it from me and take it easy on yourself.

Celebrating Advent has always been part of my family and faith tradition, a way to focus on the “reason for the season” as my dad loves to say. Growing up we had an Advent wreath and candles, and I remember doing family devotionals sent home by our church. Through friends, I heard about the Jesse Tree tradition, which uses the whole “out of the stump of Jesse” prophecy from Isaiah to tell the story of Jesus’s family tree through ornaments and a tree. Each ornament corresponds to a Bible Story about one of the members of Jesus’ family tree, so each day leading up to Christmas, you take out an ornament and read the corresponding scripture. One friend even hosted a Jesse Tree ornament party a few years back, where everybody was assigned one ornament and made enough for everyone, so each guest left with a complete set but only had to make one type of ornament — fun and efficient!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Lots of people put the ornaments on their actual Christmas tree or on a smaller table-top tree that they use just for the Jesse Tree. I had seen many beautiful felt and fabric Advent calendars, so that’s what I had in mind. I love the idea of making a normal Advent calendar slightly more scriptural, so I started looking for Jesse Tree Advent calendars. I wanted to make something that my family could use for years to come and remember fondly, so I bought a kit from an Etsy seller that included patterns, instructions, and all the supplies. My kit was $60, but it looks like my seller is no longer selling the kits, just fully handmade calendars for $390. While I love my kit, I can’t imagine having paid nearly 400 bucks for a completed calendar, though I know that it’s worth that with all the painstaking work that goes into it. So painstaking, in fact, that I modified my calendar– I used puffy paint on the felt to make the ornaments instead of hand-sewing tiny layers and appliques, and I machine-sewed the body of the calendar. I have come to accept that I am just not a fan of embroidering. It’s beautiful, but tedious and frustrating.

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

 

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Still, I didn’t want to write about finishing this beautiful thing for my family and then be like, sorry, folks, good luck to ya. I found a few felt Advent calendar patterns that I think you could fairly easily adapt into Jesse Trees by swapping out the ornaments, either by making these felt ornaments, by trying one of these other kits, or by buying a set of alreadymade Jesse Tree ornaments. There are also lots of free tutorials for making felt Jesse Tree ornaments online.

Is a Jesse tree part of your holiday tradition? Do you celebrate Advent in other ways?

simply having a wonderful Christmas time

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a9d/7545081/files/2014/12/img_2531.jpg

I know I’ve been singing the praises of toddlers a lot lately, but I gotta say, this was our best Christmas with our girls, yet. It’s the first one where they sort of knew something special was going on, and their joy and wonder have been a joy to behold. I think their favorite part of the whole season has been “kiss-mas wights,” and they love driving around, pointing out light displays according to whose side of the car they’re on– “ETTA SIDE! BEAR BEAR SIDE!” They also love turning on our Christmas tree and, though I worried they would constantly be messing with the ornaments, they actually play with them very sweetly and usually put them back– the lower 1/4 of our tree has seen a lot of rearranging.

Continue reading

Santa, his reindeer…and a lion

16073174315_368e0d28a1_z

16046999416_a855afd5f6_z

Can I admit to you all that I’ve got some ambivalence about the whole Santa thing? I grew up believing in Santa, so I have fond and happy memories of that tradition and don’t feel scarred in any way. But the way Santa is so wrapped up in want and consumerism and making Christmas all about Things, the way his story is centered not in Bethlehem, the locus of the Christmas story, but the North Pole, which has nothing to do with anything– it all seems to indicate to me that we’ve gotten a little off track about the whole Santa story.

So, I admit, I’ve kind of been deferring the decision of how Santa would figure in our family’s Christmas traditions. Last year, my kids basically had no idea it was Christmas, though they did enjoy opening presents, and the year before they were infant blobs. I haven’t had to really decide until now. Even this year felt kind of like another year in which I could wait to see how I felt about the whole thing. I figured we’d decorate the tree, make cookies, listen to Christmas music, go look at Christmas lights, play with our little Nativity, read Christmas stories, do our Advent calendar, and just generally live in a Santa-free bubble for one more year. And we’ve been doing all those things (minus the Advent calendar, which I still haven’t finished making).

15705417266_6a34b77ac5_z

15543776849_0a4af96474_z

But it turns out, I can’t live in a Santa-free bubble anymore.. Continue reading

the bufflogals’ holiday gift guide

Thanksgiving is upon us and the holiday season is officially underway. I thought I’d share what Etta and Claire are getting/wishing for/into this holiday season to help out any of you who might be shopping for toddlers/preschoolers this time of year. Last year their toys mostly focused on kitchen and food play, baby dolls, and bath toys, and you can check out that gift guide if you’re shopping for younger toddlers in the one to two year old range. Much of it is stuff they still love, and would make excellent gifts for any toddlers in your life. This guide is probably most suitable for ages 2 and up.

One category of play they are really starting to be into is dress-up and pretend play. We have bought and stashed some clearance Halloween costumes, and they have received some wings and hand me down hats, and capes and tutus remain very popular. Their big gift this year will likely be a small wardrobe to hold all the dress up items for easy kid access.

Dress Up Play

 

Etta remains really into wooden puzzles and blocks, and both girls seem to enjoy tool benches when we go to the Wonder Place or homes that have them. I’m considering a tool bench as another big gift option. Toys that encourage fine motor skills, like lacing, latching, zipping, and buckling are all really fun for this age group, as are color matching and shape sorting. These gifts fit that bill:

Learning Toys

 

We go to a weekly music and movement class that basically consists of playing kids’ CDs while introducing various props. It’s an experience that’s pretty easy to recreate at home, and our girls love to play with their various musical instruments. I’m thinking of attempting to DIY some ribbon sticks or wristbands, as they are always a favorite part of the class, and I think some juggling silks would also be pretty fun:

Music and Movement toys

 

Other categories of toys to consider when shopping for toddlers: books, bath toys, and art/craft supplies. A pack of washable crayons and a jumbo coloring book will definitely appear in both girls’ Christmas stockings, and I’m thinking maybe some bath tub paints or something will be fun too and solve my problem of hating to paint with them because it’s such a giant mess.

Note: this post is not sponsored and these are not affiliate links. Everything in this post is something I either have bought or am considering buying for my kids.

merry crazy magical christmas

This week, the Christmas and the Crazy have taken over. We’re about to leave for a week with family in Colorado. I’m super looking forward to it, because I’m excited for everyone to see how much the girls have grown, and to watch them get loved on, and to see them finally able to play with their 2 year old cousin, and to spend time with people we don’t see often enough. But I’m also dreading a bit all the prep it takes to get us out the door and onto planes and through the plane ride, and sleep disruptions that come with traveling. Last year’s visit was amazing and also awful because the girls were both sick the whole time and did not sleep at all. This year, they’ve picked this week to cut their canines AND some molars, Etta’s started coughing in the last 24 hours, and Claire’s nose is running like a faucet.

Meanwhile, I realized yesterday, when Claire’s preschool teacher gave me a list of all the kids’ names, that I was meant to bring some sort of Christmas Thing for all the kids. I’d planned and prepared to gift her three teachers and three therapists, but the kids threw a wrench into my plans. A quick jaunt to the store (well, as quick as any jaunt can be with a toddler who wants everything she sees) and I had clearance jumbo crayons and holiday coloring books for all the preschoolers. I also dipped my toe into the Crazy Pinterest Mom deep end by using my phone to edit a pic of Claire in her Christmas jammies, send it to Walgreens through their app, and pick my prints up an hour later, ready to turn them into custom gift tags. I must say, it made all the gifts look super cute for less than $5.

photo 1

At the same time, yesterday was just a truly hellish day on the toddler front. Etta was teething and cranky and on a nap-strike all day, and then Claire came home ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I seriously fantasized about just running out the door and down the block and on and on and on.

But then, the magic started to happen. We went to our Happy Place, a local Mexican restaurant where they know and love us and give us our usual table. We drank margaritas and the girls ate cheese dip. We got them to bed. I got to attend a Christmas party with some of my dearest friends. The girls woke up happy, and we had a little mini-Christmas so we could do it just the four of us, before we head off on our trip. We all opened our stockings and sipped egg nog and just enjoyed a morning together. Etta napped (glory hallelujah)! Claire came home happy from preschool! Sesame Street-as-babysitter allowed me to finish sewing my last three gifts! I got Claire snuggled and to sleep, and then got a rare 20 minutes of holding my sweet Etta baby (who is usually go go go), just smelling her hair. By the time I had both babies in bed tonight, my world had turned a complete 360 from yesterday’s insanity.

photo 2 photo 3

I’m starting to realize, early enough to have it matter, I hope (because, ha, seriously, I have it easy with toddlers, there’s no school programs or class parties or dance recitals or required outings yet), that Christmas is not about making the magic for my kids, even as I have to make magic happen in the form of last-minute gifts for bunches of preschoolers. Because my kids are the most magical thing I’ve ever seen, when I stop to see it. Christmas, really, is about a magic, miraculous, mundane thing: babies are born every day, but the Son of God is only born once. God picked the most normal thing in the world and used it to transform everything. And in the process, even the mundane becomes magical and miraculous. Christianity talks a lot about God giving us a new heart, a new life. But I think lately what I need the most is new eyes to see what’s already around me all the time.

Things like: the day before yesterday, I stopped at a light next to a man begging. The light turned green, and I drove away. But a verse popped right into my mind: Give to anyone who asks of you (Luke 6:30). Later, somehow, that same guy approached me in a parking lot a mile away. With my new eyes, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the verse that had popped into my mind and heart, and I gave him some money. I don’t know if I should have, I don’t want to debate giving money to strangers, and I don’t want to brag or let my left hand know what my right is doing. All I know is, in that moment, I truly felt I was being given another opportunity to do the right thing.

Later, irked in traffic, head and sinuses pounding, I looked up and saw a bumper sticker on the van in front of me: “Good Happens.” Message received. It does.

I want to be the good that happens. I want to see it. I want to hold it and smell its hair. And I can, all because of a baby that was born. Because of a new heart. Because of new eyes. That’s what this Christmas seems to be all about, for me. It’s my first to be acutely aware of the Crazy and the Busy. But it’s also my first with two magical little people who are old enough to be starting to see the magic. I want to see it too.