Sunday, January 4, 2015

December Craftiness and Advent Calendar

Happy New Year! We spent our holidays at home, and family came to us, which was nice. Here's Christmas morning, after the new vehicle frenzy had subsided:

Christmas with Family

And some couch time with Nana and Papa Baer a few weeks earlier:

Grandparent Snuggles

We had a quiet New Year's Eve this year, watching Clue on Netflix on a whim. Our college-aged neighbors had a party, which included setting off fireworks from 11:30pm to 1:00am, so it wasn't the restful night we'd hoped for, but at least the boys slept through it.

The lack of traveling this year left more time for crafting. I've been doing lots of knitting, mostly random hats for donation, to use up my stash. A couple of recent projects: Syncopation Adoration (squishy brioche hat), Insta-hat (a fun, free knit-along by Lee), and Glacier Sweep shawl (I don't actually wear shawls very often, but I wish I did, since they look nice, and they're cozy).

Syncopation Adoration - Preschooler Version
Insta-hat
Glacier Sweep Shawl

Our family ornaments for 2014 were a pair of little striped mittens. I'm glad we only have two kids, because I was getting tired of tiny-needle knitting by mitten #6.

2014 Ornaments - Mini Mittens

I've been meaning to make an advent calendar for a few years, and this year I finally found the time (and motivation) to make one, inspired by this picture.

Advent Calendar

Each card had an activity written on it (which Arlo read, mostly unassisted, each morning--cool!). I got ideas from a few different websites. Here are our advent activities for 2014, for future reference:

  1. Drink hot cocoa with candy canes
  2. Cut out paper snowflakes
  3. Get holiday ice cream at Salt and Straw - Congressman Blumenauer's fruitcake ice cream; pretty good!
  4. Donate toys at fire station #9 - The fire station was closed when we visited; maybe next year we'll be able to look around a little when we drop off our toys.
  5. Donate hats at preschool
  6. Visit a reindeer at Dennis' 7 Dees - Arlo and I biked to this while Felix and Patrick planted trees with Friends of Trees (Felix is finally old enough to join in the fun!). [Biking note: To get to the bike parking at the Powell Blvd. location of Dennis' 7 Dees, you have to go through the parking lot, which was stressful on such a busy day. Next time, I'd wheel the bike through the side gate on 62nd and walk it through the nursery to get to the bike rack] It was very crowded, but we were able to see a few reindeer and eat some mini donuts, and then Arlo pulled a wagon around the part of the nursery that wasn't crowded. It's a good thing he didn't want to stand in line to see Santa--it looked like a long wait.
  7. Put up Christmas lights and hang stockings
  8. Bake and eat panettone
  9. See the Christmas ships at OMSI (a Patrick and Arlo outing, since it was after Felix's bedtime)
  10. Watch a holiday movie - This year's choice was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both boys were afraid of the Abominable Snowman, but we made it through the whole movie.
  11. Go to Pioneer Square to see the Christmas tree and listen to some music - We met up with Patrick, got a picnic lunch from Addy's, and sat on the steps while enjoying some music by the Menlo Park Elementary marimba band.
  12. Eat holiday candy - Peppermint bark!
  13. Go to Playground Gym - This was for a preschool birthday party, so not exactly a holiday activity, but whatever. This was originally going to be "Go see the Holiday Express train," but both boys had already seen it on Thanksgiving weekend, and neither one liked it because it was too loud. Maybe next year.
  14. Decorate our Christmas tree
  15. Make treats for the birds - We used this recipe, with bird seed from Naomi's. I used my silicone mini-Bundt mold (the recipe made six mini-Bundts), refrigerated the treats as specified, and then let them dry on a rack overnight. There wasn't much for the boys to help with, since it involved hot gelatin. We gave a couple to preschool teachers and hung the rest in our trees. The treats held up well in rainy weather, but the squirrels gobbled most of them up before the birds could enjoy them.
  16. Read a holiday book
  17. Drink hot cider
  18. Make gingerbread cookies
  19. Read a holiday book
  20. Eat holiday candy
  21. Make cinnamon-applesauce ornaments - We used the recipe from A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies, which included applesauce (2c), a lot of cinnamon (2.25c), and a little ground ginger (1/4c). We quartered the recipe and still ended up with a good number of ornaments. This was a good activity for kids; very similar to playing with playdough (they have a little set of playdough cutters, which they used to make and decorate most of the ornaments). They took a few days to dry completely.
    Cinnamon-Applesauce Ornaments
  22. Go on a Christmas light bike ride - We rode our cargo bikes, all lit up, in search of nicely decorated houses. We started by circling Ladd's Addition, but there wasn't much to see, so we headed over to Peacock Lane, which was a madhouse, not surprisingly. The street was closed, so we parked our bikes and walked. The lights were pretty, but biking around the neighboring streets was stressful, as there were tons of cars pulling in and out and idling. Next time, I think we'll park our bikes at the Belmont Library and walk over to see the lights. Despite the car stress, this was one of my favorite activities of December. We rarely bike together as a family, and Felix is usually in bed when it's dark out, so this felt like a particularly special outing.
  23. Read a holiday book
  24. Make sugar cookies - This was my first time trying this recipe, and it turned out really well. The cream cheese in the dough and glaze makes the cookies extra yummy. This will be my go-to Christmas sugar cookie recipe next year.
    Sugar Cookies

As you can see, I relied heavily on candy and books as calendar filler, so that we wouldn't be doing elaborate activities/outings every day. I was happy with how it turned out. It didn't feel like a burden; it just felt like fun, and I was happy knowing that we had plenty of holiday activities planned for the month.

And while I'm posting pictures of holiday baked goods, we've got a couple more:

  • Arlo was enjoying looking through the Christmas cookie field guide, so I let him choose a recipe to make, and he chose the date chews. Everybody else in the family likes them, but I'm not convinced. They're like a cross between date-nut bread and meringues.
    Date Chews

  • We had Christmas Eve dinner at Patrick's Aunt Lorraine's house (latkes and brisket, yum!). Our contribution for dessert was a gingerbread Bundt cake. The original recipe was for an 11x7 cake, so I made a 1.5x batch of batter and baked it in a 10-inch Bundt pan for 55 minutes (in retrospect, I think 50 minutes would have been better). We ate it with some lightly sweetened whipped cream. Yum!
    Gingerbread Bundt Cake

  • And for Christmas breakfast, we had my family's traditional meal of coffee cake (Bundt cakes two days in a row!), sausages, eggs, and grapefruit.
    Jewish Sour Cream Coffee Cake