Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best Laid Christmas Plans...

We've been enjoying a pretty nice Christmas this year.  Luckily, we learned from last year's insanity, and managed to keep the kids' behavior manageable this year: we spoke to the grandparents several times throughout the year about the importance of them giving our kids a *reasonable* (i.e. small) number of Christmas gifts, we prioritized naptimes every day, and we tried to get "real food" into the kids at each meal before we set them loose at the family parties where every relative would inevitably feed them junk.

But still, the week of Christmas, we had four parties, four gift-opening sessions, four overnight guests, plus a visit from the in-laws which included trips to restaurants and museums!  A lot of things keeping us busy (and keeping me away from the computer). 

Sadly, I have very few photos to share of it all.  I've been so disappointed in my camera and the sub-par pictures it always takes, that I haven't bothered to use it much.  Tom's iPhone takes much nicer photos than my "real" camera, which just doesn't seem right!

Anyways, here's a tiny peek at what's been going on around here.

Before the annual cookie exchange party, Tom and I kept talking about how we wished we could have a 1800's-style Dickensian-type party (think festive carols, dancing...Fezziwig).  Anyways, a few hours before the party started, here's what my husband transformed himself into...

Oh my.  No words for this.

We forced some friends to join us for a dance party to these awesome tunes.

Our tree finally got all decked out.  I was overall happy with it, but next year I want to do more lights (which aren't turned on in this photo) and more tinsel.  I really do like somewhat gaudy and over-the-top trees :-)

Also, I'm thinking of sewing a new tree skirt for next year, since ours is just too small.  Does anyone know of a free pattern for this?

Stella wore an adorable Christmas dress, but all the photos of her in it came out blurry, except this one where you can't really see it.  Story of my life...

eating her billionth cookie of the day
 We did take the kids to see Santa on Christmas Eve you can see, they both had an excellent time.

On Christmas morning, Tom and I woke up before the kids (rare!), and realized that the house was freeeeeezing cold.  The furnace had turned off.  And it was 19° outside.  I doubt it got quite that cold indoors, but we could definitely see our breath. 

Tom tried everything he could think of to get it working, but the pilot light just would not light again.  So Christmas morning was kind of a bust.  We had hoped to have a nice relaxing morning opening gifts with the kids before Mass at 11.  But here's what happened instead: We all bundled in several layers, winter coats, hats, etc.  Tom spent most of the morning in the basement fussing with the furnace/on the phone with the landlord or his dad (who is good at handyman stuff).  Stella screamed her head off for two hours straight (we assumed at the time that she must be sick, but in retrospect think maybe she was just really cold) and refused to eat or drink anything.  Sly also showed very little interest in opening gifts or doing anything, and occasionally burst into tears, saying, "I'm cooooooold!".  So.  No gifts were opened, no breakfast was eaten, and my morning was basically spent shivering in the kitchen listening to the kids cry and whine, and waiting for status reports from Tom (Which were all some variation of "still not working").

We almost decided to have Tom and Stella just stay home while I took Sly alone to Christmas Mass.  At the last minute, we decided we should all just go.  At least it would be warm in the church.  This was a good decision, as it did seem to lift our spirits a bit. 

When we got home, we all opened a few gifts and the kids actually ate some lunch.  We put Stella down for a nap wearing her winter coat, a hat, and about five blankets.  Our landlord - who is pretty awesome - dropped by with a few space-heaters, and a bottle of champagne!  And later that evening, while we were at a party with the extended family, his contractor brother stopped over and got the furnace working!  So things ended up being alright.

Our house is mostly back to order after the inevitable Christmas-time disaster that always strikes.  Tom and I have been setting up the three wise men in funny spots around the house each night after the kids are in bed.  Sly seems to enjoy finding them each morning, but he always tells me, "I don't like them here" and then puts them back on the dining room table.

I'm hoping to enjoy these remaining "six days of Christmas" spending more time with the kids while they play with their new gifts (and I secretly weed out some old toys to give away), happily eating up all the Christmas goodies in the pantry, and making some progress on my baby blanket.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


It just hit me last night how close it actually is until Christmas...less than a week! 

Our house is kinda in a shambles at the moment, with boxes of decorations all over the place, but it's slowly coming together.  Gifts are wrapped, and I've been enjoying Pandora's "classical Christmas" station while I work.

 We took the kids to see the seasonal sights Downtown.

And they got to decorate the little tree on their own (not bad for a 3-year old and a 1-year old!)

I'm slowly getting the big tree decked out (no ornaments yet).  And big it is - probably 10 feet this year!

Tom's been working on some super-secret project in the basement after the kids are in bed each night.  He strung up some sheets, and I'm not allowed to go back there...

And our "donation" bin is overflowing, since I've been pre-emptively purging some toys in preparation for the inevitable gift explosion that will descend on our kids next week (from the relatives, not us!)

 Tom and I have picked out our cookie recipes for Saturday's cookie exchange, and shopped for ingredients.  (One of my favorite parts of this exchange is that I get to cajole all the male guests into actually baking something once a year!)

On "Feeling Judged"

This year, so many of the Catholic blogs are talking about the "right way" to celebrate Advent and Christmas.  I've enjoyed the discussions going on because they are questions that I've been really pondering myself.  But in the past week or so, I've come across various comments around the web [do people say "the web" anymore?] that express extreme distaste over all this, and the belief that there's entirely too much "judging" going on. 

Some people also accused me of making them "feel judged" by my post about Christmas cards (and on reflection, I do understand why).  At first I got distressed about having unintentionally hurt people's feelings...but then I got pretty irritated.

"Why can't I express any opinion whatsoever without SOMEONE getting all up in arms and accusing me of making them "feel judged"?  Whatever that means," I vented to my husband.  "What the heck am I supposed to write about on my blog, if I can't share what I think about anything?!"

I've been reflecting on this issue a lot.  I want to say that ideally, when encountering someone's opinions which differ from your own, there would be two options:
1. You decide that their arguments are incorrect, and you still hold to your original opinion.  Since you believe the other party to be wrong, you don't really care whether or not they "judge you."
2. You think they may have some good points, and either change your mind or at least decide to think it over more.

But real life and real people often don't work this way. Especially when the conversation is happening over the lamentably deficient medium of the internet.

My intention when I share an opinion on my blog is not to belittle anyone who may think differently, but just to say "hey, I've been really consumed with this idea lately, and I've been having all these intriguing thoughts...maybe one of them will resonate with you, or you'll have something new to add!"  And my hope is that when I share an idea that someone disagrees with, they will respond, "well, based on this and this, I think your conclusion is incorrect" rather than "wow, you're being really judgmental." 

As far as discerning the proper way to celebrate Advent and Christmas - or any other issue related to the Faith - I fully believe that most of us are sincerely trying to figure out how best to please God.  And different families have different needs, and they may arrive at different conclusions as to what is right for them.  And I think this is great, and it's one reason I have gained so much from reading all the different blogs out there.  There are a lot of ways of living out the Faith, and someone somewhere will eventually share an approach that could be right for me as well.  Even if I don't always agree, I love hearing the thought-process behind different families' traditions and practices.

Still, I detest moral relativism.  The idea that "this is your truth, and this is my truth."  Truth is Truth.  There are some non-negotiables.  Those moral questions where I can firmly say "this is right" or "this is wrong."  But most of the things I touch on in this blog are going to be the lesser things.  The types where the most I can reliably say is "this seems to be a better way, given where I am, given what I know."

When I get interested in a new question, and eventually reach a conclusion, I often tend to carry it out "all the way."   For example, I developed a strong conviction that femininity was something important to embrace, and I began wearing skirts all the time.  I know that's not for everyone, and that's ok!  But it's hard for me to express my strong beliefs that it's a good thing to do without also making it sound as if I also think it's bad or wrong not to.

I'm sorry for anyone I have hurt by my insensitive expressions of thoughts on those "negotiable" issues.  I promise to work harder not to come off as "judging" ("whatever that means!"), and to keep in mind that what is right for me now may not be right for everyone.  And readers, I'd love if you could engage in the conversation when you disagree with me instead of assuming that I look down on you for doing things differently (and know that I am a sinner, and certainly haven't always or don't always live out my beliefs as I should).  I always love to hear different perspectives and to really work at understanding tough issues.

Thanks for reading this :-)
And thanks to the friends who still sent me their (lovely) photo Christmas cards, even if they feared they were going to be judged.
Blessed Advent to you all.

Friday, December 13, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 35)

- 1-

We're bought our tree last night (I am a staunch supporter of live Christmas trees!), and plan to leave it on the front porch in some water for a little while.  We'll take our time setting it up and decorating, with the goal being to finish before my cookie exchange party, a few days before Christmas.  I'm going to challenge myself to hold off on turning on the lights (vintage-style c7s!) until Christmas Eve, with the party being the only exception.  The tree will still be there all decorated in our dining room, along with various other things around the house...but I want to save the full effect until the end.

When my dad was growing up, his parents sealed off a room of the house and each night after the kids were in bed, they decorated a bit of the room.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, the sheets were pulled down, and the grand scene unveiled, to everyone's delight.  I always wanted to achieve a little bit of that wonder and awe of the "final reveal" in my own home, so this is how we'll try to do it this year.


Advent update: We've been remembering to do our Jesse Tree and Advent wreath each night, and Sly really enjoys them both.  Unfortunately, we don't actually have a Jesse "tree" this year - just the ornaments.  I had had a little artificial tabletop tree for years, and was planning to use that.  When I went to get it out, though, I couldn't find it in any of the bins.  Then I had a faint memory of giving it away to Goodwill last year.  Oops.  So for now, I just have Sly stick each day's ornament into the center of the Advent wreath.  It's good enough.  I'll check the after-Christmas sales for something we can use in the future.


My mom got Stella an adorable Christmas nightgown.  I used to wear nightgowns all the time as a kid, and I'd forgotten how warm and snuggly they are.  Seeing Stella in hers makes me wonder if I should get an adult-sized one to wear (my growing belly is getting too big for most of my pajamas anyways, so I could justify the purchase!).

I thought, "Tom might not be crazy about me wearing an old-fashioned nightgown to bed..." then I thought, "but hey, at least it'd be more feminine than the sweatpants and old running t-shirts I usually sleep in..." and then, "but there's probably a difference between 'feminine' and 'old lady'..."  :-)

So I don't know.  Would it be totally ridiculous?


 It took us over a year to get around to finishing, but we finally re-finished a pretty antique chair we had.  A bachelor friend of ours had picked it from someone's trash on one of his many quests for things to burn as firewood.  I spotted it in his house, and loved it.  I insisted that he should fix it up and make it beautiful again.  Instead, he offered it to me, on the promise that I would do that very thing.

It was a major chore to strip all the old finish off.  My mother-in-law and I spent hours in their freezing garage (we needed ventilation) last year at Thanksgiving working on it.

(whose pants am I wearing?)
Tom and I finally re-stained it in a dark mahogany color, and then stapled on some new fabric.  I think the fabric we chose is very attractive...however, we both agree that it doesn't look quite right on the chair.  We probably should have chosen a deeper shade to match the stain better.  Ah, well....maybe we'll change it again sometime.


I enjoyed John Zmirak's (author of some of my favorite books, "The Bad Catholic's Guides") amusing suggestions for how a non-people person should observe Advent:

- When people say, “Happy Holidays,” respond by saying, “Happy Generic Meaningless Winterfest!” Then explain how the war on Christmas is part of a systematic attack by secularists on all of civil society—culminating in the HHS mandate. Nod solemnly as they back away.

- When someone says “Merry Christmas” even five minutes before sunset on Dec. 24, remind them that “Advent is a season of penance, fasting and prayer, to remind us of the hopeless misery of the human condition that Christ came to rectify—for those who accept Him. But the path is straight, and narrow, and few do travel it.” Then smile and say “But hey, Merry Christmas!”


Sly (age 3) has recently developed some pretty incapacitating fears about being alone on another floor of the house by himself.  I'm not sure how it started - if there was a certain incident, or maybe something suggested by a book or in conversation with someone?  He refuses to go upstairs to fetch things anymore, and if I just need to run to another floor (we have three floors plus the basement, so this is basically one hundred times a day) for something, he insists on following.  It's really frustrating.  We've tried talking about it with him calmly and sensitively, the in-laws tried reading him a bunch of books about "not being afraid" (recycled from when Tom's sister had fears of the dark), we've tried being firm with him and commanding him to stay put while we walk away to just use the bathroom...but nothing has helped so far.  Most of the time, he breaks into tears at the mere suggestion that he go somewhere on his own.  When we ask why he doesn't want to be somewhere alone, he doesn't have an answer.  Any ideas how to help him conquer this??

EDIT: This morning, I had us pray to St. George (right now, Sly is very taken with him, and the story of him fighting the dragon) for Sly to have bravery.  We'll see what effect this might have over time...


I try to use more natural fats when cooking, such as butter and olive oil.  I've read enough about vegetable oils/shortening to at least be motivated to *think* about trying to eliminate them from my cooking.  A while back, Tom and I bought a tub of lard to see what we thought of it.  I really liked it as a substitute until I noticed that it was processed with the nasty preservatives BHA and BHT (which, I believe, are banned in pretty much most countries besides the US).  The main reason I wanted to start cooking with lard was because it's better for you than the hydrogenated oils.  But if they're going to add in the preservatives, it's probably pretty much a wash on the health-factor.

It took us a while to track down - we even went to several independent butchers who we'd assumed would have rendered their own lard, but no luck - until we finally found lard you can buy without the preservatives.   It was at an expensive organic market, so probably not something we can fit into the budget long-term.  I'm thinking of trying to track down some un-rendered pork fat somewhere and just making it myself, because it would likely be cheaper.

Anyways, I highly recommend cooking with lard.  I know it sounds gross at first.  But it's really just the same as any other fat you cook or bake with.  The great part is, it is pretty much flavorless and odorless.  So when you fry things in it, the whole house doesn't get that "frying" smell that sticks around for days.  And when you eat the food, it still has that pleasant crispiness without tasting oily and heavy. 

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Sort-of "Babymoon" in Phoenix

Tom and I visited our friends in Phoenix, AZ over the Thanksgiving weekend so we could become the godparents of their new baby.  It was such an honor to be asked, and I'm very happy to have a godson now.

We left our kids with Tom's parents for four whole days.  We've never been away from Sly for more than one night, and have never been away from Stella overnight at all.  I was worried that they might miss us or have a tough time adjusting, but I was totally wrong.  Each day we called to see how they were doing.  Stella was apparently in a better mood than ever, and learning all sorts of new tricks that I've been unable to help her do for all of her 15+ months (such as walking for real, and climbing down stairs).  Sly would be put on the phone to say hi to us, and then quickly say, "I'm done talking to you now" and hand off the phone to the grandparents!  Geez - so much for missing us, kids!

It was nice to get away by ourselves for a bit, though.  Anytime Tom and I find ourselves out without the kids for whatever reason, we joke that we're "on a date," and make sure to do the little things we never get to do anymore, such as holding hands or (in my case) actually having a car door held open for me (since Tom isn't busy loading a kid into a car seat!).  So we called this a four-day-long date, including the boring parts in the airports and everything in between.

On a date.  Tom doesn't like flowers in his hair.

Pheonix was, of course, quite different from my hometown of Pittsburgh...

Positives: It was interesting to see all the new flora and fauna.  I have never been to the southwest before, nor have I ever seen a desert in real life.  My mind kept imagining the early settlers who first came across this land, and what they must have thought about it, and how they would have lived.  There is a lot of cowboy and Native American history there, and it was fun to learn a bit about it.  Also, we ate some delicious meals.  There are a lot of great bars and restaurants to check out.

Pony express statue
Saguaro cactus
Negatives: We could sit outside in short sleeves in December.  Many people might see this as a good thing, but I don't think I could ever stand living somewhere that didn't have seasons.  Yes, I may get sick of the snow and cold come February....but at least I get to experience it each year!  And there's no grass there, except for the few places which are artificially watered like crazy...which seems somewhat ecologically irresponsible to me.  Also, there's hardly anything there that's old.  Almost all the buildings are 1950's or newer, and just not architecturally interesting to me at all.

Can't you just picture a western movie taking place here?
Believe it or not, I'm only 5 or 6 months pregnant, or so....(I lose track all the time).
Mountains!  Palm trees!
Pretty much every plant in Arizona can seriously hurt you, as we found out the hard way (Tom is doing a re-enactment)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Why I Don't Send Photo Christmas Cards

Every year, more and more of the Christmas cards we receive are photo cards. Some of them are really beautiful, too, professional quality shots and an attractive layout and graphics.  It gets more tempting to give in and start making some of our own (for me, anyways.  Tom really could care less about Christmas cards).

There was something about sending out photo cards that never sat well with me, though.  This year, I did some more thinking about it, and decided that it's just not appropriate.  So we're trying to celebrate and honor Christ's birth, and we do it by sending out messages in which we - our family - is featured most prominently?  With perhaps a "seasonal message" (which is more likely to include words like "peace" "joy" or "holidays" than anything specifically Christian) over on the side?  It just seems to detract from the tidings of joy we intend to send over the wonderful event our our Savior's coming.

I know a lot of families use the yearly Christmas card as a way to stay in touch with certain friends or family members whom they rarely see.  This is why some people have traditions like the annual "Christmas letter" detailing the family news, photocopied and tucked into each card they mail out.  I remember when some people used to include a little professional print of their family as well.  But in these days of Facebook and all the other photo- and information-sharing programs on the internet, it seems hardly necessary.  There might still be a handful of people - especially of the older generation - who haven't been able to keep up with you through the internet.  So why not stick a little photo into your regular Christmas card just for those people whom you know it will matter to? (I never understood as a child why some families we barely knew - such as my dad's ex-coworkers or something - sent us their family photo in a card each Christmas.  The brutal truth is, none of us really cared and they just ended up in the trash can.)
I don't want anyone reading this to assume that I think less of them when they send photo cards.  As I said, I think they look great.  And I love to receive any kind of Christmas card from people, because it's nice to know that you were remembered and cared about.  But at least when it comes to myself, I know if I decided to send out photo cards, it would be coming more from a place of vanity - "look at how great my family looks!" - than anything else.  For the past six months, Facebook has inexplicably not allowed me to create any new photo albums ( could be because I have way too many of them, and FB just got sick of me posting things all the time!).  I've found it to be very instructive for me.  It's made me realize how many photos of my cute kids I was taking mostly so that I could post them online and show them to other people, instead of as a way to preserve a few memories for our own family. 

And I always feel a little guilty after Christmas, just chucking people's nice photos into the recycling bin with the rest.  I feel like photos shouldn't be so disposable! 

So I'm going to avoid the photo cards, and continue picking out overtly Christian cards with overtly Christian messages that probably confirm to our card recipients that we are, in fact, "crazy Catholics".  Ah, well.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ideas for Keeping Advent and Christmas Holy

"I’m participating in the KEEP CHRIST in CHRISTMAS Blog Link-Up 2013, hosted by

Please consider following your hosts
in appreciation for the work that they do…
and be sure to visit as many links as possible,
listed at the bottom of this post.

We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus our Advent and Christmas on JESUS!

The Santa Question

Since last Christmas, when my son was finally getting old enough to comprehend was Christmas was all about, I've been struggling with the question of whether or not we should continue to encourage and teach the legend of Santa alongside the story of Christ's birth or not.  I've been thinking and reading about it all year, and here's what I've finally concluded.

I do believe it's possible - even in this culture - to "not do Santa" in your family.  True, Santa brings a wonderful sense of "magic" to Christmas.  But if you celebrate the feast of Christmas well, there is absolutely no lack of magic in the incomprehensible beauty and wonder of the Christmas story (see, for example, this account of how an American family celebrated in the German tradition).

I have spoken with a couple adults who were raised without the Santa myth, and don't feel that they were at all deprived.  However, Santa is a part of my family's celebration of Christmas, and both Tom and I still have some nostalgic attachment to him.  I decided that if we can work him into our otherwise Christ-centered Christmas, we don't have to cut out Santa entirely. 

In many parts of Europe, the little children would write letters during Advent to the baby Jesus (remember that adorable one that Pope Benedict XVI wrote as a child?), and they believed that He was the one who brought the gifts.  Here in America, it's Santa who's solely responsible for this.  I'd like my kids to understand that Santa/mom and dad/relatives/friends are giving gifts at Christmas *in celebration* of the birth of Christ.  And I came across a wonderful little passage that suggests a way to keep Santa, but relegate him to his proper place:

The fairytale of Santa Claus will not be abolished easily, despite the efforts of well-meaning people.  Nor does it seem necessary.  Children do like fairytales, and Santa Claus is one of the most charming of them.  Catholic parents might use it without harm, provided they apply some safeguards to avoid undue overstressing of the Santa Claus figure….Keep the Santa tale in its simple, appealing form and shun the corruptions introduced by commercial managers….Never allow the figure of Santa Claus to dominate the child’s mind.  The Child Jesus must be the main figure in all his Christmas thinking.  Picture to him Santa as merely a servant and deliveryman, delightful but not very important….Do not let your children present their wishes to Santa.  If you want them to write down what they desire, let them write to the Child Jesus according to the old Catholic custom.  Santa does not give the presents, he only delivers what the Lord sends.  The above suggestions will also help to lessen the "shock" when the children find out that "there is no Santa."  As one mother did when her little boy came full of doubts and asked her if there was really a Santa Claus...."Of course not," said mother quietly, "that's only a story for very small children.  You are a big boy now, so you understand how it really is.  Our dear Lord does not need a deliveryman.  He has already given you somebody who loves you very much and who is happy to give you the Christmas presents in His Name.  Do you know who these persons are?"  The child thought for a moment, then he said, "Daddy and mother?"  "Yes, my dear", answered she, "and would you not rather that father and I give you the presents?  We love you more than Santa Claus does."
– Francis W. Weiser, S.J., The Year of the Lord in the Christian Home

I think this is a very good approach to take.  Ultimately, I don't intend to discourage belief in Santa, just to downplay some of his influence over my children's understanding of the meaning and purpose of Christmas. [In case anyone is wondering, I have some issues with considering Santa the same person as St. Nicholas.  I won't go into them here, but we will celebrate St. Nick separately on his proper feast day of December 6th.]

Here are some of the ways we will observe Advent/Christmas this year:

Replacing our Secular "Advent Calendar" with a Jesse Tree

We grew up with a cute advent calendar with velcro "ornaments" that you add to a tree each day of December.  My mom was so excited to pass it on to me as soon as I had kids of my own.  There's nothing wrong with this Advent calendar, but as the other moms and I at the latest discussion group lamented, "there are so many cool Advent practices you can do with your family, but you just can't do them all!"  The symbols in our calendar are mostly items like presents and toys.  And the calendar culminates on December 24th with a Santa face.  Not exactly the message I want to get across to the kids about what Christmas means. 

I think I'm going to keep it in the box this year, and try out a Jesse Tree in its place.  Again, I don't think the calendar is harmful in itself.  But we can only fit in so many "you have to do this once a day" items, and the Jesse Tree is one I've wanted to try for awhile. For those who are unfamiliar, it's a way to walk through the Biblical stories of salvation history, culminating in the birth of Christ.  You have ornaments with symbols that represent each of those events in salvation history, and each day you add one to a little "Jesse" tree.  I participated in Karen's ornament exchange this year, and received a set of very cute and creative ornaments from other bloggers.  Now I just need to figure out which ornament corresponds to which story AND find some sort of (free?) transcript of little-kid-friendly prayers or readings for each day...and I think I'm good to go!

Also, our children's Christmas book collection is about half-and-half religious and secular at this point.  This year, I think I might weed out some of the ones that focus too much on getting presents as the main excitement of Christmas.

 Actually Remembering to Light Our Advent Wreath Each Day

This has been a big problem for Tom and I during Advent.  We always seem to start out with grand plans about saying nightly prayers around our lit wreath, but then manage to only do it one or two nights a week.  This year, the plan is to say our prayers and let Sly add an ornament to the Jesse Tree right after dinner - before anyone gets up from the table.  That way, we won't run the risk of forgetting or running out of time later.

Last year, we tried to sing one verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel each time we gathered around the wreath.  It is a long song with many verses, would still be nice to have some other Advent songs in our repertoire.  Does anyone know of any others that are good for group singing, and written in English??

Using Representations of the Nativity to Tell the Story of Christmas

We have two nativity sets right now.  Our "nice set" is made by Fontanini.  I don't really let the kids play with it, but all the figures are actually made from plastic (my favorite part is that they don't *look* plastic at all), so I don't have to worry if they do.  I like to set out the figures for this set slowly, in the order they would have actually arrived at the scene...some cows and sheep and shepherds hang around the stable during most of Advent; Mary, Joseph and the donkey arrive on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus shortly after, and then the angel, followed by the wise men and their camel on Epiphany.

We also have the Little People set.  It's not my favorite children's Nativity, since the modern-day Little People are so chunky and the animals are non-posable (unlike the Little People animals of my own childhood).  But it's great to not have to mind if they get roughed up a bit by the kids.

One of my favorites - and something I saved up money for a year to purchase! - is my lifesize Christ statue in a manger.  They make them in smaller sizes, but it was important to me to find one that was life-size, because I thought that would help us all the understand that Christ was really once a tiny baby on this earth.  This is VERY breakable, so I have to keep it up on a table.  The wooden manger sits out, empty, during Advent.  Last year, when Sly was only two, I had him add a piece of "straw" (cut up yellow paper) to the manger everytime he did something "good."  He really enjoyed this, and was pleased to help "make a soft bed" out of his sacrifices for the baby Jesus, who we brought out on Christmas morning.

Sorry, but I can't find a link to this right now.  It's a 20" "Florentine" statue with manger.  It took me over two years to finally track down a retailer that had them in stock.  Very difficult to find!  So keep an eye out throughout the year.

A friend of mine also called my attention to what I think would be a really fun tradition to start.  I've been trying to think of good ways to continue the celebration of Christmas day to extend to all "twelve days of Christmas."  One family came up with a great alternative to the silly Elf on the Shelf thing that does just that.  The three wise men travel throughout your house on those twelve days, searching all sorts of silly places, wondering where they can find the newborn king.  If I can get ahold of the Playmobil Three Wise Kings this year - and I've already mentioned it to the grandparents who were looking for gift ideas for our kids - we're definitely going to try it!

Not Starting Christmas Too Early?

Well, except for one thing: I do like to find most of my Christmas gifts as early as possible, ideally before December.  The sooner I do that, the sooner I can stop stressing out about it, and just wrap myself up in the peacefulness and expectation of Advent.

Though it's difficult, I try to resist listening to Christmas music for most of Advent.  I bring out the Christmas decorations slowly, bits at a time.  I wish I had the resolve to not even trim the tree or light the lights until Christmas Eve, but these things usually happen a week or so before.  It's not a great excuse, but I hold an annual cookie exchange at my house shortly before Christmas, and I like to be decorated by then.  Advent is a good time to try out some simple recipes - soups, meatless meals, and similar.  Make these little sacrifices for Christ now, and the joy of Christmas will be all the more.

I think if you try maintain the right attitude about Advent in your home - this exciting time of quiet and waiting - then you can enjoy a very peaceful and holy season.  And hopefully, by the time Christmas actually arrives, you are jubilant rather than feeling sick of it!

Visit these participating blogs for awesome posts about Keeping Christ in Christmas!
Equipping Catholic Families: Keep Christ in Christmas
Simply Homeschool  Living Advent Series 12/1 – 12/25
Fifth of Five     Keeping Christ in Christmas – Blog Link-up 2013
Coffee Moments with Sam     The Light of Hope
Hand-Maid With Love: CHRISTmas Presence: Keep Christ in Christmas 2013 Edition
Open Window Making hay while the Advent wreath shines
Faith Filled Freebies: Keep Christ in Christmas
Written by the Finger of God: Not Christmas as Usual
On the Way Home:  Keep Christ in Christmas
Sue Elvis Writes: Bring Christ to Others
Mommy Bares All       Why Celebrate Christmas Even After #YolandaPH
Canadian Catholic Mom         Keeping The Little Ones Focused: An Advent Link-Up
Mountain of Grace Homeschooling   Keep Christ in Christmas
Em’s Estuary: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Happy Little Homemaker: December Devotion: Immaculate Conception 
Adoro Ergo Sum:  How We Keep Christ in Christmas O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Home to 4 Kiddos        Keep Christ in Christmas
Embedded Faith          Boldly Be the Christ in Christmas
City Girl, Country Home         Emmanuel Is With Us. Are we WITH HIM?
Journey to Wisdom: Trusting in your Awkward Fiats
Joy of Nine9    Waiting in Joyful Expectation Like a Child
Splendor in the Home Ideas For Keeping Advent and Christmas Holy
Training Happy Hearts            10 Ways to Celebrate the New Liturgical Year
A Catholic Life Advent: The Beginning of the Liturgical Year & Source of Rich Meditations
Designs by Birgit: Elf on a Shelf and Santa Claus
Catholic Inspired: Faith-Centered Family Christmas
A Slice of Smith Life: How we keep Christ in Christmas
Catholic All Year: Three Reasons I love Advent
Mary the Defender: Christmas The Battle Begins
Truly Rich Mom: Keep Christ in Christmas
Day By Day in Our World: 40 Days Seeking Him and Keeping Christ in Christmas
Diapers and Drivel: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Raising Soldiers 4 Christ: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Rosary Mom   Keep Christ In Christmas With A Teenager
Tercets:           Keeping Christ in Christmas: Join Church Ministries
Campfires and Cleats How We Keep Christ in Christmas
Life Unabridged: Celebrating the Fullness of the Advent and Christmas Season
Homeschooling With Joy        Keeping Christ in Christmas
Mrs Domestic Bliss     Gingerbread Nativity
The Chic Traveller      Keeping Christ in Christmas
California to Korea     Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique’s Desk       Keeping Christ in Christmas
Our ABC Life: An Advent Update
Journey Living: Anno Domini
The Road to Rome: Advent Prayer and Reflection Resources
Life of Fortunate Chances: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Quidquid Est, Est!: Reblog: Advent Posts