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Christmas Countdown

By Karen Hendricks

The mantra I keep hearing and repeating from all of my friends who are moms this holiday season is… “Let it go.” With Thanksgiving falling so late on the calendar this year, there just wasn’t as much time as usual to prepare for Christmas! Whether it’s holiday decorating, cookie baking, gift wrapping, or tree trimming, many of these holiday traditions are falling by the wayside this year. We are all in the same boat–flying by the seat of our pants this holiday season!

About a week ago, I decided to give in to the fact that I can’t and won’t be able to do it all this year… and I gave myself a gift: the gift of forgiveness and grace. After all, what is the true meaning of Christmas? The most important factors in the holiday season are family, friends and togetherness… not so much the number of decorations throughout my house or the number of cookies in my cookie jars (practically zero–and not because we ate them all!).

So for the first two weeks of December, the extent of my decorating included a wreath on the front door (thanks to my husband for hanging it up–although it was upside down for a few days at first, LOL), my beloved Santa painting over the mantle (shown in last December’s post Holiday Heart and Soul), candles in the windows (also thanks to my wonderful husband), and lights outside thanks to the dynamic light-hanging duo of my son & husband. And two additional time-honored traditions, the Advent calendar (check out my blog post Christmas Nostalgia here) and our December countdown calendar.

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I purchased the fabric for this wall-hanging nearly 20 years ago, back in the mid 1990s, when my oldest daughter was a baby. I remember what a chore it was, to carve out some time with the sewing machine and actually stitch it up one November or December, so that we could begin using it. Back then, it was hard enough to find five minutes to take a semi-shower! But from the time it was stitched and hung in our kitchen, it was a hit. It’s always hung close to our kitchen table, so that every December morning at breakfast time, someone had the honor of moving the red fabric frame, attaching it via velcro, on its march toward December 25. The first few years, daughter #1 was in charge. As daughter #2 and then our son entered the fray, there were often competitions over who could wake up the earliest, beating everyone else to the breakfast table, and therefore have the honor of moving the marker. Really. I think there were even tears shed over this honor.

Fast forward to December of 2014. The oldest sister was away at college until a few days ago. My son, now 14, as the youngest in our household, has had the complete honor of counting down this special month. His sisters have relinquished this highest of holiday honors to him, whether it’s because they are mature, or more likely because they don’t care to compete with his early-as-a-rooster habits. They are “letting it go.”

I can see a time coming when they are all away at college, and at least for the first half of December, it’ll be me moving the red fabric frame as it outlines those early, lazy days in December when Christmas still feels so far away. By mid-December, when they all arrive home from college and the pace of December increases to a frenzy, I’m sure they’ll all enjoy taking a turn, slipping back into their childhood tradition and moving the red frame once again. As we countdown to Christmas this year, I feel another countdown creeping into our lives… the countdown towards the close of their childhood.

Cherish all the joys of the 2014 holiday season with your families, cherish your children at whatever ages and stages they are in, and if  you are feeling stressed remember to “let it go.” Merry Christmas!

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How to Create a Terrarium

By Karen Hendricks

A touch of spring greenery... inside a terrarium!

A touch of spring greenery… inside a terrarium!

TGIM… Thank Goodness It’s March! Hopefully we’ve witnessed the last snowstorm until next winter, and from here on out, there’s “green” in the forecast, straight through St. Patty’s Day and beyond. Until the sweet green grass of springtime starts appearing outside, here’s one way to bring a little green into your life: By creating a terrarium.

My daughter Kelly & I were inspired to create a terrarium a few years ago, after seeing them at the Philadelphia Flower Show (which is taking place this week–wish we could go again!). What an incredible event! If you ever have the chance to go… do it. It’s a complete immersion into springtime, with inspiration, beauty, advice and entertainment aplenty.

Here’s just a small sampling of some of the terrariums we admired:

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Even if you don’t think you have a green thumb, this is the easiest form of gardening there is, and I’m sure “you can do it.” A terrarium basically takes care of itself. This little ecosystem under glass retains its moisture, and as long as you have a little heat from the sun every day, it produces the humidity needed to keep your plants happy. Our original terrarium was so happy, the plants outgrew the container and we had to transplant them. Now it’s time to create a new terrarium!

We found this beautifully-shaped glass container at TJ Maxx for about $10.

We found this beautifully-shaped glass container at TJ Maxx for about $10.

Supplies Needed:

  • A glass container (We found ours at TJ Maxx for about $10)
  • Rocks or gravel
  • Potting soil
  • Plants: We’ve had great luck with African violets. Some of the terrariums pictured above also include ferns and ivy. Aim for plants of the same type, needing the same general amounts of light and moisture.
  • Moss for atop the soil
  • Decorative rocks, twigs, figurines, etc

Just follow the sequence of photos below, for step-by-step instructions.

These river rocks, found in the aquarium supplies section of Wal-Mart, work wonderfully in the bottom of a terrarium.

These river rocks, found in the aquarium supply section of Wal-Mart, work wonderfully in the bottom of a terrarium.

Spread a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom of your container.

Spread a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom of your container.

Set aside a few colorful rocks that catch your eye. Save them for decorative touches later.

Set aside a few colorful rocks that catch your eye. Save them for decorative touches later.

Next, spread a layer of potting soil and lightly sprinkle with a watering can.

Next, spread a layer of potting soil and lightly sprinkle with a watering can.

Place your plant(s) inside the terrarium and add potting soil around and in between them.

Place your plant(s) inside the terrarium and add potting soil around and in between them.

Add patch(es) of moss atop your soil. To be honest with you, in between winter snowfalls, I used an old table knife to carefully remove some from my yard.

Add patch(es) of moss atop your soil. To be honest with you, in between winter snowfalls, I used an old table knife to carefully remove some from my yard.

Add moss and decorative touches to the terrarium. Be creative!

Add moss and decorative touches to the terrarium. Be creative!

Little figurines such as these turtles add a touch of whimsy.

Little figurines such as these turtles add a touch of whimsy.

Our completed terrarium!  Water lightly and place in a warm, partly sunny location.

Our completed terrarium! Water lightly and place in a warm, partly sunny location.

Additional tips: Don’t place in direct sunlight or your plants will burn. Remove any dead or decaying leaves so the terrarium doesn’t become diseased. Do not over water. As long as you see moisture and “clouds” inside your terrarium, you might not need to water it again for weeks or months. When you no longer see moisture, lightly water or spray mist inside the terrarium. Enjoy!

Have you grown a terrarium? What tips can you add? Is there a wonderful garden show in your area that you can recommend to the Off the Merry-Go-Round community?

Preserving Old Scrapbooks: Taking your grandmother’s baby pictures into their next century

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By Chris Little

My great-grandmother Ethel was an intermittently devoted scrapbooker—in high school she clipped and saved newspaper articles detailing school activities and local events she’d attended. In the early years of her marriage she created beautiful scrapbooks of her honeymoon trip to Europe and her children’s infancies and childhoods.

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Today these scrapbooks are more than a century old! They’re in pretty good shape, but they won’t always be. I have been at a loss as to how to preserve them—what’s the best way to store them? And what about acids in the paper pages—were they slowly destroying the photographs? Meanwhile, I’d like to make good digital copies of the old photographs to preserve them—but the scrapbook pages are bigger than my scanner bed. Should I disassemble the scrapbooks, scan the images, and then reassemble them in archival-quality albums? That sounds like a risky proposition, and I’d lose all of Ethel’s charming inscriptions.

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Enter my new Flip-Pal mobile scanner! Battery-operated and completely portable, the scanner is set up so that I can just place it over the scrapbook page (or the old family Bible record page, or any document I can’t drop onto my full-size scanner bed), press a button, and scan the image to an SD memory card for upload to my hard drive later.

The scanner’s software even digitally “stitches together” multiple images of a large scrapbook page into one image. Below are six scans I quickly took of one page as an example:

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And here’s the final digitally “stitched” version of a scrapbook page my great-grandmother made celebrating the birth of her daughter, my grandmother:

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Yes, that top left corner is a little tight. When I do this for real I’ll loosen the string binding so I can get a better scan of each corner. Still, pretty awesome! So the Flip-Pal will take care of digitally preserving Ethel’s scrapbooks. But what about preserving the scrapbook itself?

Old scrapbooks are tricky because they typically contain so many different types of materials—everything from newspaper clippings to hair ribbons to pressed-flower corsages. These materials each have their own storage requirements, and some of them, like newspaper, are highly acidic and therefore can damage other materials in the scrapbook. And then there’s the glue, tape, and other adhesives that also can be hard on the items they affix to the scrapbook. Even worse, the paper pages of the scrapbook itself can be destructively acidic.

Storage. The key to stewarding old scrapbooks into their second century is keeping them cool, dark, and dry—no more than 65 degrees and 40 percent humidity. Temperature and humidity fluctuations cause scrapbook contents to absorb moisture and expand, then dry out and contract—increasing damage to bindings, adhesives, and the materials themselves. For this reason, beware of keeping your old scrapbooks in damp basements or attics with poor insulation. I just moved all of my great-grandmother’s scrapbooks to the guest room closet—it’s dark, cooler than the other rooms in the house, but pretty much stays the same temperature all year. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve got.

Rehabilitation? I’m pretty sure my great-grandmother’s scrapbooks are constructed of paper boiling with acid that’s slowly eating away at her photographs. My first impulse on discovering them was to deconstruct them and rearrange their contents into nice new bindings, on archival paper, with inscriptions copied in acid-free ink. The National Archives, however, cautions against doing that in most cases—and never before making good-quality photocopies or scans of each page. It turns out that the old black-paper scrapbook albums aren’t all that bad, and even disassembling those old self-stick albums we used to use can be tricky. The key here is to proceed with caution, and only after researching the alternatives. Sometimes the best way to preserve an old scrapbook is just to store it safely.

Want to learn more? Happily, there are many, many resources out there. For instance, the National Archives provides excellent guidance on preserving all kinds of family artifacts. The Library of Congress offers information on caring for and storing old photographs. And the Smithsonian Institute even provides a list of purveyors of archiving supplies! So do some reading and equip yourself to preserve your valuable family artifacts for your children and grandchildren. Then tell us about them!

Girls’ Getaway: Scrapbooking

This scrapbook page by my friend Paula is a slam dunk!

This scrapbook page by my friend Paula is a slam dunk!

By Karen Hendricks

Photos have a wonderful way of reconnecting us to treasured moments, past events and important people in our lives. But as a busy mom, I am guilty—like most of you too, I imagine—of leaving those precious photos on my digital camera cards, or on my iPhone way too long. I try to stay up-to-date with downloading them, organizing them, saving them to CDs and backing them up in the cloud. But printing them? That happens pretty infrequently, I’m sad to say.

So it was a joy to work with hundreds of photos this past weekend, and chip away at an on-going project: scrapbooks for all three of my children. My friend and fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round writer Ruth organized a scrapbooking girls’ getaway weekend at an area hotel. About 25 of us filled our vehicles with bins and crates bursting with albums, photos, scrapbooking supplies—and much smaller in comparison, our overnight bags. We gathered in the hotel conference room and “scrapped” to our hearts’ content from Friday afternoon straight through til Sunday around noon.

If you have never participated in an event like this, I highly recommend it! My fellow blogger Jen wrote previously about the benefits of girls’ getaways (click here). So not only does an event like this provide plenty of time to nurture friendships—both old and new—it also provides time to preserve some of your family’s history. My friend and fellow writer Chris has been writing about her incredible journey researching and preserving her family history (click here for her latest post). While scrapbooking was a popular hobby for the past few years, it is sadly trending downward in popularity. Perhaps the biggest reason is that it’s time-consuming. I am sticking with it, because I feel as though the results are worth the effort—scrapbooking is a modern way of preserving our family’s history. And it provides a fun, creative outlet!

Over the course of the weekend, there were women scrapbooking memories of Disney vacations, baby days, family weddings, 4th of July fireworks, lots of sporting events including basketball games and Super Bowls, even marathons they ran, and the list goes on and on… what a treasure trove of incredible moments in our lives. It was an inspirational weekend that provided a real sense of accomplishment for all of us. Even though my oldest daughter is in college, her scrapbook was stuck in the 5th grade. At the end of the weekend, at least I brought her into the middle school years! Enjoy these photos, chronicling our fun—and creative—weekend:

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Setting the scene… scrapbooking madness is underway!

Diane even has a supply of ribbons, organized by color, to embellish her pages... wow!

Diane even has a supply of ribbons, organized by color, to embellish her pages… wow!

Memories of a Christmas cookie marathon... mmmm

Mmmmm… Memories of a Christmas cookie marathon, by Bev.

Beautiful fall memories... by Gretchen

Beautiful fall memories… by Gretchen

Scrapbooking takes a lot of energy... good thing we have Gary's Famous Chicken Corn Soup (made and delivered by Ruth's husband). Delish!

Scrapbooking takes a lot of energy… good thing we have Gary’s Famous Chicken Corn Soup (made and delivered by Ruth’s husband). Delish!

Scrapbooking smiles... Ruth and I

Scrapbooking smiles… Ruth and I

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My scrapbooking buddy Susan created an awesome Steelers page… that is quite a compliment coming from an Eagles fan 🙂

Heather's creativity sparked a spectacular fireworks page!

Heather’s creativity sparked a spectacular fireworks page!

The room as a ghost town by 1:30 am... Gretchen and I were the "last men standing."

The room was a ghost town by 1:30 am Friday night/Saturday morning… Gretchen and I were the “last men standing.”

What a creative Easter-themed page... love the photos trimmed into egg shapes.

What a creative Easter-themed page… love the photos trimmed into egg shapes.

Even a scrapbook page featuring photos from a whale watch!

Even a scrapbook page featuring photos from a whale watch!

Saturday night's dessert... Butterfinger Angel Food Delight

Saturday night’s dessert… Butterfinger Angel Food Delight

And this is what a scrapbooker's car looks like... all packed up and ready to head home. Great memories!

And this is what a scrapbooker’s car looks like… all packed up and ready to head home. Great memories!

Do you maintain family photo albums or scrapbooks? What are your tips for printing photos, journaling or scrapbooking? And have you taken the time for a “girls’ weekend?” We’d love to hear your stories…

50 Ways to Spend a Snow Day

By Karen Hendricks

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Sledding in our backyard is always a hit!

From working parents’ perspectives, snow days throw a big wrench into our schedules. Meantime, stay-at-home parents often rejoice at the chance to spend snow days with their children. Snow days are like “found treasure.”

I’ve experienced both extremes, and now that I’m a “work-from-home” parent, I think we’re in another category altogether! I’d like to enjoy this unexpected gift of time with my children, but snow days or not, my freelance work piles up on my desk and the emails continue to gather in my in-box. It’s hard to strike a balance, but I feel as though my family takes priority and I can work extra-hard, nose to the grindstone, to make up for it tomorrow (assuming school reopens)!

What to do?

It’s usually at the END of the snow day, that I think of a great project or fun activity that we SHOULD have done, to make our snow day extra special. So that I’m prepared for the next snow day (and  you are too), I’ve compiled a list of activities to jump-start the next snow day:

  1. Let the kids sleep in!
  2. Make a special breakfast or brunch together–pancakes, waffles, etc. Add chocolate chips!
  3. Stay in your pajamas all day. Sneak a few pictures if you have the chance! (If you decide on this option, then #4 is out, LOL.)
  4. Have fun outside–build a snowman, go sledding, have an epic snowball battle, etc. If your creative juices are really flowing, create a snow sculpture.
  5. Bring the snow in: Cut paper snowflakes and decorate the house.
  6. If the roads are cleared, visit a ski resort for a day of fun on the mountain. Click here for our blogger Mary Ann’s tips.
  7. Make the official beverage of snow days: hot chocolate with marshmallows. If you chopped and froze your Halloween candy, sprinkle some atop the mugs! Click here for our previous post on this.
  8. Or, make a big pot of tea. Add honey and lemon… or add milk. But not lemon AND milk. Gack.
  9. Snuggle up and watch a favorite movie together. Add popcorn!
  10. Read a pile of books together (if you have elementary school aged children), or camp out in the family room, for separate but “together” reading time. Add blankets and a cozy fire in the fireplace.
  11. Be active… indoors! Rediscover your ping pong table, foozeball, or Wii sports games.
  12. Catch up on homework, school projects, music practice, etc. Enjoy “study time” together.
  13. Look at family photo albums together.
  14. Enlist the kids’ help to organize family photos on the computer, even putting together a movie featuring favorite photos using Windows Movie Maker.
  15. Look through last summer’s beach vacation photos and create scrapbook pages together–either by hand or online. Click here for a previous post, with lots of inspiration for beach scrapbooks.
  16. Summer dreaming: Brainstorm and identify potential summer vacation plans. Do some online research together to find fun summer travel ideas, beach rental houses, etc. Click here for our previous post on family vacation tips.
  17. Plan an indoor scavenger hunt.
  18. Baking! Whether you create cookies or cupcakes together, baking warms up the house as well as your tummies. Click here for our easy PB Chocolate Chippers recipe–only 5 ingredients!
  19. Make an extra batch of goodies to deliver to neighbors and/or package and freeze them to add a homemade touch to school lunch boxes.
  20. Have fun discovering entertaining YouTube clips together.
  21. Organize! Tackle a home organization project together–clean out one of the kids’ drawers, closet shelves or bookshelves. Bag up outgrown clothes, toys or books to donate to another family.
  22. Do some birthday party planning for the next family member’s birthday.  Create invitations, by hand or online. Consider planning a “pie party” and make a list of all the delicious pies you’d like to make, tracking down all the recipes. Click here for our blogger Ruth’s tips on hosting a pie party.
  23. Play a marathon game of Monopoly!
  24. Pull out a variety of board games and play the afternoon away. Pledge to unplug and stash all devices away for the afternoon.
  25. Be artistic. Have fun creating with paints, origami paper, beads, or other art supplies.
  26. Sharpen your pencils and write poems about the snow. Post them on your refrigerator or bind them together for a keepsake.
  27. Make an ice “sun catcher.” Click here to see our post, with directions.
  28. Tackle a huge puzzle together! Put fun music on while you piece it together.
  29. Invite neighborhood friends over for a fun play day.
  30. Plan your summer garden with the kids’ input. Go online and order all the seeds.
  31. Make a big pot of soup together. Click here for a delicious homemade version of Tomato Rice Soup–especially yummy if you have canned or frozen tomatoes on hand from your summer garden.
  32. Pamper your pet. Work together to brush/comb your dog or cat. Wash their bedding/blankets, and scrub their pet food dishes. Whip up a batch of homemade dog biscuits in the oven. Take pictures of your pets. Take turns taking the dog out to do his business in the snow, LOL.
  33. Family talent show! Put on your favorite music, and dance… or sing your hearts out.
  34. Still have Christmas cards laying around? Click here for one of our most popular posts ever–a fun art project that “recycles” Christmas cards.
  35. Once the snow stops, head outside to shovel or use the snow blower to clear all walkways and driveways together. Lend a hand to your neighbors (and tap into your kids’ energy) by shoveling their walks too.
  36. If you’ve been outside playing or shoveling, chances are you’ll all be ready for an early bedtime. Pull out your bubble bath soaps and let a few family members indulge in warm, sudsy bubble baths before bedtime.
  37. Spa day! If your household contains girls, treat each other to manicures and/or pedicures at home.
  38. Heartfelt activities: If Valentine’s Day is approaching, get a jump start on your children’s valentines for school exchanges. If your children are older, create home-made valentines for grandparents, friends or other special people in their lives.
  39. If you have high school aged kids, it’s the perfect day to begin researching college decisions: potential majors and potential college choices. Bookmark  favorite college and career websites on your computer.
  40. Have apples on hand? Slice them up for a healthy snack and whip up our recipe for Peanut Butter Dip–click here for the recipe.
  41. This idea may not win you “Mother-of-the-Year,” but enlist everyone’s help to catch up on laundry. Have everyone sort their laundry and let the sudsy marathon begin! Plan a family treat to celebrate, once the last piece of clothing is clean.
  42. Assuming you’re wearing snow boots if you’re going outside, no one will need to wear their sneakers today. Gather all stinky sneakers and clean them, running a few pair through the washing machine at a time. Sit them by the fireplace or by a heater vent to dry. Whew!
  43. Get crafty with magazines. Rescue a stack of magazines from the recycle bin and create some artwork together. Younger children can create montages of favorite photos they find, while tweens and teens can create posters filled with inspirational words cut from the pages.
  44. Pick up the phone and call a relative or family friend who lives far away. Put the phone on “speaker” mode so the whole family can enjoy the conversation. Or, use Skype!
  45. Retell your favorite family stories. Roll a video camera to capture the juicy details!
  46. Ask each family member to plan an upcoming family dinner menu. Whether using tried and true family recipes or brand-new recipes, have each person make a list of groceries needed. Your next trip to the grocery store is planned! Click here for our blogger Jen’s awesome recipe for Chicken A L’Orange.
  47. Play vacuum cleaner tag. Have each family member vacuum one room of the house, then “tagging” the next person with the vacuum cleaner to clean another room. By the end of the game, the floors are clean. Mops work too! Have a treat in mind for everyone to enjoy when the last room is completed. It could be the family movie idea (#9) or reading time (#10)… not necessarily an edible treat.
  48. Look through your school yearbooks together–yes, your yearbooks as well as your kids’ yearbooks. Thank me later for all the laughs you’ll have.
  49. Create a playlist of your family’s favorite songs on Spotify. Or, have each family member create their own “top 10” list of favorite tunes.
  50. Hug often. Today is a gift.

And now that I’ve made this list… we probably won’t have another snow day all winter. Oh well, I’ll be ahead of the game for next winter!

What are your favorite ways to spend snow days? Add your ideas by commenting below!

Holiday Heart and Soul

Happy Holidays from “Off the Merry-Go-Round!”

As we countdown to Christmas, our writers took time to share their photos and reflections of their most treasured holiday keepsakes, decorations and more. We invite you into our homes this holiday season, to share our memories, tips and inspiration!

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This has always been my favorite ornament. It was my mother’s, and it was always the last ornament to be put on our tree when I was growing up. I was so happy when she gave it to me. And now I continue the tradition… it’s always the last ornament I place on my tree as well. -Jen Ashenfelter

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I feel very blessed to have a large collection of antique glass ornaments from my grandmother and mother-in-law. Since our living room is painted light blue, I struggle with holiday decorating. Traditional reds and greens look out of place. But placing a mixture of green and blue balls into several big, old brandy snifters brings holiday sparkle to the room. I especially enjoy the nostalgic 1950’s era aqua tones! -Karen Hendricks

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My oldest daughter, a dance major, is coming home from college this week! To welcome her home and add fun holiday decor to her room, my younger daughter and I made ballerina snowflakes and strung them on a garland atop her window. We used oragami paper for the snowflake skirts. -Karen Hendricks

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These are some of my favorite decorations–carved wood angels and trees. Simple! -Chris Little

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My mom, who passed away on December 6, 2006, started my collection of Possible Dream Santas many years ago. She would search for just the right Santa that might reflect “our” interests. We continue to cherish these Santas year after year. Interestingly enough, she even purchased one for me the year she passed away. -Mary Ann Filler

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This is the Santa that my mom chose for my Christmas gift, the year she passed away. It takes center stage on my mantle. It’s still emotional for me to think about how she picked this out despite how sick she was. -Mary Ann Filler

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Our family’s Christmas tradition focuses on three main concepts: One – Preparation for Jesus’ birth, marking the Advent season using an Advent Wreath and an Advent Calendar–which this year is in the form of a beautiful wooden house. Behind every window or door being a treat or small toy…

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Two – Anticipation of news of His coming, having the 3 Wise Men “travel” through our house, a little distance each day (my son loves to move them!), until they reach the Crèche (Nativity scene)…

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Three – Celebration of Jesus’ birth! Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in the manger until Christmas. In our home, Christmas tradition also revolves around the story of the life of Saint Nicholas. We are very deliberate in our teaching and celebration with our son. On the first Sunday in Advent our priest responded to the commercialism and secularism that has taken over Christmas by saying, “You never want your children to think that they don’t need God (because they received so many presents Christmas Day).” -Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

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The stockings were hung by the chimney with care… My grandmother started the tradition of knitting personalized stockings for everyone in our family, complete with our name at the top and birth year towards the middle. My mom continued this tradition by knitting my husband and children their own personalized stockings too. Atop our fireplace is a special painting–artist Dean Morrissey’s whimsical Santa, “Preparing for the Journey.” I splurged on this painting after working with the artist during several festivals. I admired it for several years before treating myself, including a gorgeous framing job by a local gallery & a special inscription and signature from the artist. (My cat Jingles even posed for this photo!) -Karen Hendricks

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Dean Morrissey – Preparing for the Journey

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New fireplace decor for 2013! I adore our two-sided fireplace, situated between our living and dining rooms but it’s not very efficient so we rarely use it. So this year, I stacked white birch logs saved from our beloved tree struck by an ice storm several years back, along with evergreen boughs trimmed from the bottom of our tree, and a string of Christmas lights. It gives the illusion of warmth and fire once again! (Jingles is looking quite annoyed at all these changes occurring in “his” house. HA!) -Karen Hendricks

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Does everyone have one of these handprint wall hangings left over from preschool? This one is from 1997. I saw one from 2010 in a friend’s house (with much younger kids of course) last week. Treasure! -Chris Little

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For our family, this crèche is a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. -Mary Ann Filler

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While this ornament is also a reflection of the true meaning of Christmas, it has caused some strife in our household. For reasons I don’t totally understand as a mom, every year my 3 sons fight over who gets to place this ornament on the tree. Last year, we wised up and wrote down a schedule of who will get to put this ornament on the tree from now until the year 2020! Problem solved! -Mary Ann Filler

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This is a new Christmas treasure! A print of chalkboard art from local artist Valerie McKeehan. -Chris Little

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Our angel tree topper has witnessed all of our Christmases as a married couple, as it was purchased during our first year of marriage over 21 years ago! -Mary Ann Filler

Holiday Links:

To learn more about the chalkboard art of Valerie McKeehan, click here for her Lily&Val website.

To see more examples of Dean Morrissey’s gorgeous Santa paintings and other works, click here for his artist page on Greenwich Workshop.

To make snowflake ballerinas, click here for the pattern and instructions (also pinned to our Off the Merry-Go-Round Pinterest board, “Holidays.”)

Do our photos and stories stir up your memories as well? We welcome your holiday ideas, memories and thoughts!

Texts and Technology are Great, but it’s the Hand-Written Word that Matters

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By Karen Hendricks

I miss my college freshman daughter every day, but our daily texts or comments on social media help to fill in the gaps. FaceTime has become an anticipated weekly tradition as well… except that the five of us still try to talk all at once and we have to learn how to pace ourselves and take turns with conversation!

As wonderful as technology is at helping us keep in touch despite the miles between us, I cherish the written word so much more. A few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a care package FROM my daughter. It was a belated birthday gift–a college sweatshirt that I wear with great pride! But even more valuable: A hand-written letter that my daughter took the time to write. Written in her sweet handwriting, almost a page long, the letter expresses not only birthday wishes but thankfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

I just want to let you know how much I love you and how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. I cannot explain how much your support… and our family means to me. I am so lucky and blessed by God to have you, Mom! 

Do tangible things like letters hold more meaning simply because you CAN hold them? Although I enjoy her daily texts, this letter was much more meaningful and touching.

I sent her a college care package recently and included something written as well. First, I have to say that I have an obsession with paint chip samples. Ok, so, with paint chips on the brain, I came up with the idea to put together a little flip book using the paint chips as pages, and writing inspirational sayings, mom-isms and memories on the pages. She likes to put calendars with inspirational sayings on her desk, so I could imagine her getting a “daily dose of mom” via my flip book.

Hopefully it gave her a tangible reminder of how much her mom loves her too!

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To make your own flip book, you simply need:

  • paint chip samples of the same size
  • a Sharpie for writing
  • a hole punch
  • a ribbon or a binder ring to hold the pages together

How do you keep in touch with your college-aged family members? Do you agree that the written word is more meaningful?

Click here for fellow blogger Chris Little’s series on “The Emptying Nest”