Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve and Morning

After attending Mass on Christmas eve, we came home for dinner. Caroline immediately wanted to place our baby Jesus in the nativity scene, just like our church's nativity scene.

Trying to get small children to pose in their Christmas clothes by the tree... a feat that few can accomplish with nice smiles!

Here's a Christmas eve tradition from my family - after attending Mass on Christmas eve, we would always come home to treats and eggnog while we opened one gift each. We have not yet started the opening a gift tradition but might do that in a year or so.

Caroline's manger which she filled with straw for good deeds throughout Advent is now filled with a soft bed on which the baby Jesus can rest. I put him out after Caroline was in bed, and she awoke to him in her manger in the morning.

Then it was on to gifts... here Caroline helps Cecilia open her book I made for her with photos of each member of the family. I made one for Caroline when she was a baby, but since then, we have added a cousin and an aunt. I also like to have the photos show Cecilia with each family member like Caroline's book showed her as a baby with each family member.

Reading her new book...

Caroline tore into her first gift. We got her three gifts this year, a tradition I hope to keep, as Jesus was given three gifts from the wise men. Plus, we know she will get more gifts from extended family, so this helps us keep to a saner number of presents!

Cecilia with her new toy - a doll with attached wooden teething ring. So far she has yet to teeth on it, although she has put various other less attractive items into her mouth.

Here are Caroline's fairies... she saw them in a catalog a few months ago and mentioned wanting the pink one, so I bought her a set of four. They have taken up residence in her dollhouse.

Cecilia didn't really get into the unwrapping of presents... maybe next year.

Caroline got these baby kitten toys. She doesn't realize she will be getting the parent and older brother and sister cats in the family as a gift from extended family. For now, one of her stuffed cats is their mommy.

Cecilia loved hugging this stuffed bear from Great Grandaddy and Henny!

And Caroline was thrilled to get an umbrella from them!! She had been wanting a little umbrella for months, and I hadn't even told anyone - but Henny somehow knew that Caroline would love it! Now she can't wait until it rains so she can try it out with the matching raincoat!

Now we are in Atlanta for extended family celebrations. Unfortunately, Caroline has a throwing up illness of some type. She threw up once on Christmas morning before we left, but then she was keeping down water and crackers, so we decided to go ahead and come. But she has gotten worse and is just so pitiful. We are hoping to get her better son, but so far, no good :( Poor baby, having to be so weak and sick at Christmas! She's really being a trooper, and Daddy is being a real saint and sitting with her. She was throwing up every 20 minutes at one point!

Hope everyone is enjoying your Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Final Week or so of Advent...

The third week of Advent is when we light the pink candle in our Advent wreath. The pink stands for joy - we are joyful that Jesus's birth is getting near! This week, Caroline moved Mary and Joseph into the stable of our nativity.

Our preparations for Christmas kicked into a higher gear. We began wrapping gifts for family members. caroline really was a huge help to me! She enjoyed being able to participate in the giving by helping me wrap the gifts. She stuck pieces of tape on as I folded the wrapping paper.

We made gift baskets full of baked treats to share with family members. Caroline helped stuff the bottoms of the baskets with this raffia-type stuff - what a mess it was! But it sure looks pretty in the baskets!

And to fill the baskets, we prepared several things. Caroline had lots of fun shaking sprinkles onto our Christm,as bark before we put it in the fridge to harden.

And we made these sugar cookies from an organic mix I found on sale at Kroger. We put sprinkles on some and baked others plain so we could frost them.

The Saturday before the final Sunday in Advent, Chris and Caroline went out in the rain to buy our tree! They got one of the last ones at Lowe's (a place where we knew the trees would be somewhat covered form the rain in the garden center). It was wet from the days of recent rain, but Chris put it out in one of our storage sheds and pointed a box fan at it, and it dried out fairly quickly. We decorated it on Sunday after Mass.

Cecilia was pretty interested in the lights! Thankfully, other than pulling a few low ornaments off the tree, she hasn't really made a mess of the tree. She pulled some bows off the presents once we put them out, but that wasn't until the 23rd, so she didn't have long to mess with them anyway!Back to the kitchen... the day after the cookie dough was made, it was baking time, and then the next day was decorating time! I gave Caroline her own tray of cookies to frost and decorate as she wished. She had been saying she wanted to make some gingerbread men with "currants for eyes and raisins for buttons," something she had heard in a gingerbread man story. I didn't have any currants, but she was happy with lots of raisins! We made royal icing, which hardens when it dries, best for gingerbread that is going to be packaged up to give away!

While Caroline was busy with her own creations (which ended up quite heavy with frosting!), I was busy myself, decorating the dozens of gingerbread men and sugar cookies...
...and I do mean dozens! They literally took over the kitchen counters and stove!! I like to make the initial of each person who will get the cookies... You can see several gingerbread men with letters on them! I got really into it (since Caroline was so occupied with her own cookies and Cecilia was sleeping on my back!) and made some to look like dogs for my brothers who own dogs, and I made a few to look like my parents' cats.

We even made some to look like priests, thinking we'd give them to my brother Tim, who is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. As I was icing some priest cookies, Caroline said she wanted to also give some to the seminarian who is currently at our parish, and she also wanted to make some for our parish priest and the priest who frequently visits our church to say Mass. Caroline really was excited about giving the cookies to people - she went on and on about taking the cookies to our seminarian in particular.

This gingerbread recipe I make is a special one because it is the same recipe we would make in my Girl Scout troop. My troop leader had this recipe, and we would use it every year to bake gingerbread and make houses to sell at our church Christmas bazaar. She promised to give it to each of us girls when we got married. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), I was the first to get married in the troop. It is a Swedish recipe that make thin, crisp gingerbread.

Here is Caroline with her finished products! We won't be giving these away - I doubt any adults would want any so covered in frosting and sprinkles!! I am pretty anti-artificial food dyes (my ten month old became a spaz when I gave her a quarter teaspoon of red medicine recently, as an example!), but for decorating purposes, we went ahead and used them. I have been wanting some natural food colorings but haven't coughed up the dough for them yet. So I'm just being careful to limit the color intake in Caroline!

I finally finished making stockings for the girls! I plan to post sometime soon about how I made them. I took lots of pictures of the process so that if I need to make more down the road, I will remember how I did these!

Here's Caroline hanging her stocking. She hung Ceilia's as well - next year, Cecilia will be able to hang her own with a little help!

One of our last Christmas preparations was to make a birthday cake for Jesus. I decided to go the non-traditional route for a birthday cake by making a cheesecake. I have a yummy candy cane cheesecake recipe that we made. Caroline was great at smashing up the candy canes with her hammer from her tool box!

Other than that, we got out decorations and did more baking and cooking, prepped a breakfast cassarole for Christmas morning, and got out Christmas dishes - that was the bulk of our final preparations!

I hope everyone has finished up their Advent observances in a peaceful and joyful way!

Signs that a Baby Recently was Here

...either that, or a cat.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nick Jr. discriminates against Christians, George Bush

What an odd title for a blog post, huh? On Nick Jr.'s website, there is a game called "Free Draw" in which you can type words. It blocks words that are deemed inappropriate for children, such as cuss words. But... it also blocks Christ, Christmas, Christian, Pope, God, Jew... and George Bush and Dick Cheney! And it gets worse... it allows the words Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Ramadan, Mohammed... and Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore. It even blocks the word "bush" (lowercase), yet it will not block the word "shrub."

I find it disturbing that some programmer at Nick Jr. wants to stick his personal bias in a game for kids. I could maybe believe that some of the religious words were accidental, but when proper names of some politicians are allowed while others are blocked... that shows a clear intent. How disturbing that somebody is doing this on a kids' game... uggh.

As a Catholic, I find it pretty offensive that Pope and Mass are blocked. I can understand Virgin Mary being blocked, as some would find the word "virgin" inappropriate for children. But Pope? Why?

If you want to complain or ask for an explanation, go to If you want to try the game out on your own and see what other words it will block, you can find it on Nick Jr.'s website.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Second Week of Advent

It is the beginning of the third week in Advent, which means we will begin getting our Christmas decorations this week. I cleared off a few surfaces today and will hopefully dust them and then begin setting out some of our Christmas decorations. We'll get our tree this weekend, most likely.

Our preparations during the second week were numerous. Above is a (out of focus, sorry) photo of Caroline holding a gift by our church's Angel Tree. We selected a three year old girl from the tree, and Caroline helped pick out some clothes for her, as well as a baby doll - a really cute one we found at Tuesday Morning. We dropped it off when we went to Mass on Monday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Here's a very simple Advent activity... Caroline likes when we make biscuits into fun shapes using cookie cutters. So we used a wreath cookie cutter and then used the holes from the dough wreaths to use as candles - short, stubby candles. Caroline thought it was neat, anyway, and wanted to eat the "candles" off her biscuit at dinner.

The Knights of Columbus at our church usually have a family Christmas potluck sometime before Christmas each year. This year, they announced that families could make centerpieces with the theme "Keep Christ in Christmas" and bring them to the dinner for a contest. So Caroline and I made this nativity from craft supplies we had on hand (and some sticks from our yard). Caroline did the "grass" and the "hay" all by herself. She asked me if I had a smaller head for baby Jesus... nope, I just had a package of wooden heads that were all the same size. Oh well.Here's a view from the front.

You'll have to excuse the poor quality of this picture. In our rush to get to the potluck in time, I forgot to take a picture of the eggnog cake I had made, so my husband took this picture using his cell phone once we got to the church. The recipe suggests making some holly leaves and berries on top using colored frosting, but I decided to make an Advent wreath on it using green frosting and then sticking candles in it. Not having any purple candles, I just made some out of construction paper and then stuck yellow tissue paper on the tops for flames. I went ahead and "lit" the pink candle since it was Saturday evening, and the next day would be the third Sunday in Advent.

Caroline's nativity centerpiece won a prize! Only three people made centerpieces, and the Knights had three prizes, so we each won by default - but don't tell Caroline that! ;) She is holding the prize, a pretty hand-painted ornament picturing a nativity scene. The baby Jesus is not in this picture - he fell off in the car on the way home, oops!! I rescued him and he's now back with his parents!

Also this week, Caroline and I chose some of her old toys to donate so other children can enjoy them as Christmas gifts while we make room for some new things that she will recieve for Christmas. I put them all in a bag - I was realy surprised at how generous she was as she selected things, although now she's having some second thoughts... so we'll wait a few days before taking the bag to Salvation Army so she can think about it and be sure of what she wants to donate.

This week's goals: finish wrapping presents, mail out Christmas cards, clean the house somewhat and begin decorating, and begin baking on the weekend!

Celebrating the Feast of St. Lucy!

St. Lucy's feast day was this past Saturday. There is a Swedish custom of the oldest girl in the family wearing a wreath of candles on her head as she serves the family a breakfast of sweet rolls. Legend has it that St. Lucy wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way while carrying supplies to Christians hiding in the catacombs. This recipe is from Family Fun, and we made it for lunch, as I didn't want to get up at 4am to give it time to rise! I suppose I could've done it the night before... maybe that is something to keep in mind for next year. It was really yummy, and it would make a great breakfast bread.

Here is Caroline's St. Lucy wreath that we made the day prior to St. Lucy's feast day. Caroline helped a little with the tracing, but mostly she glued the leaves and berries to the band while I did the cutting. We found the idea for this wreath in this post.

Caroline was being an uncooperative three year old and wouldn't look at the camera, so here's a side view. There is a better shot of her wearing it in my Advent week 2 post above. She wore it to the potluck at church, where the CYO leader immediately recognized it as a St. Lucy's crown.

This was a fun feast day to celebrate and will definitely become a tradition in our home!!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Cecilia Potporri

What an amazing time of developmental strides for Cecilia! I posted a couple weeks ago about some new milestones she'd reached, but the list keeps growing. She is exploding with personality and new tricks in the last few weeks - what a delight she is!

She started playing peek-a-boo with us recently. She will hold a blanket in front of her face when we say "hide," and then when she pulls it back down and we shout, "Peek-a-boo!" she has the biggest grin! The funniest thing is when she tries to hide behind something small, like a washcloth, and ends up holding it up so high that her eyes are not actually hidden!

I really do think she is saying her first words - "baba" for baby and "mama" for Mommy. She may also be saying "dada" for Daddy, but it's hard to tell. We went into the Sears portrait studio to pick up our photos the other day, and she saw a picture of baby on the wall and got very excited, swinging her legs and squealing, and sying, "bababababa!" She says it about the baby pictures on our fridge, too.

She has little temper tantrums now, too... much earlier than I remember Caroline having them! If we go inside after being outside, she will cry and cry. The worst is when we go out, and then I realize we need warmer coats, or I need to get something like the key to unlock the storage room... when I go back in with her after such a short time out, she cries as if I have seriously hurt her feelings. And if she can't have Caroline's cup - major meltdown! I am trying to help Caroline learn not to tease her - not to give her the cup one minute but then not let her have it the next minute.

Cecilia's 7th tooth can now be felt with a finger. I could see it there, visible just at the surface of the gum, but now it is really coming through. Hard to believe that at this same age, I had a kid with no teeth at all! Speaking of Caroline's teeth, she had her first trip to the dentist at the beginning of this month, which went great! It was just a check and a bit of tartar removal, bot an actual cleaning yet.

Cecilia is also getting more daring about letting go - she will let go of the furniture and just rest against it, or stand for a split second before she sits down. I have to keep Caroline's cups off her little table, because Cecilia will let go to hold the cup with both hands, and then she will try to tilt it back and drink while standing - which will cause her to fall after a couple seconds!

And she's now crawling oddly... she is using her right leg normally, but often she uses her left foot instead of the knee to push off while crawling. It looks like she's limping (if one could limp while crawling, that is), but she doesn't appear to be having a problem... guess she's just experimenting.

I just realized recently that there are things we need for Cecilia that I hadn't even thought of... I added them to her wish list, which is something I hadn't even thought of doing. She's the second girl, so I always think, "Oh, she doesn't need anything." She's really pushing it on staying in these diapers much longer... and she can't just use Caroline's old diapers, because they have been literally worn to rags! Poor, forgotten second child!

I am sure we're going to encounter some big fun once we put the tree up... I am trying to decide if we'll need to gate it off or what. Obviously I will put soft ornaments on the lower branches. We put up our lights outside today, so the tree will come next. I am sure Cecilia won't know what to think!

Cecilia, I am going to have to stop calling you Bit-Bit soon, because you are not itty-bitty anymore! I noticed this last night as you fell asleep in my arms - you are so long and heavy now!!

ETA: I forgot to mention that she can find her tongue on command - when I ask, "Cecilia, where's your tongue?" she will stick it out and try to grab it. It's very cute. She also has been trying to give kisses... she just opens her mouth and puts it against my face sometimes after I kiss her, or when I say, "Can you give a kiss?" It's amazing how she suddenly seems to be understanding words - she definitely knows the meaning of the words Mommy, Daddy, Caroline (or sister), eat, nurse, bath, tongue... so neat to see how her little brain is picking up on things!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Definitions by Caroline

Tonight we went to Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. We don't usually go into the church when it is dark outside. Partway through Mass, Caroline turned to Chris and whispered, "Look, Daddy, the stained glass windows are turned off!"

Our church's stained glass windows really do look magnificent with the sunlight shining through them...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Celebrating St. Nicholas Day!

Yesterday, December 6, was the feast of Saint Nicholas. There is an old tradition of putting out a shoe the evening before, and in the morning there will be treats left inside. We used to leave our shoes in the hall in my Catholic school, and St. Nicholas would come by and leave a candy cane, which is a symbol of his bishop's crozier.

So, we are continuing this fun tradition in our home. Caroline left her shoe out on the hearth - her favorite pink shoe - for St. Nicholas to fill. He did, as you can see - he left chocolate coins, a chocolate angel, and four holy cards - St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, St. Juan Diego/Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Stephen (all have feast days this month). The reason for the chocolate coins is this: it is said that St. Nicholas left money for a poor family whose daughters had no dowry. Different legends say that he left the money at the doorstep/in the girls' shoes/in stockings hung to dry by the fire/dropped it down the chimney/threw it through a window.

Look! St. Nicholas also made cookie dough and left it to chill overnight in our refrigerator!

And he put out some festive placemats and flowers! Gosh, he sure was busy!

Caroline colored these St. Nicholas pictures that I printed from St. Nicholas Center. She then wanted to put them up as decorations, so we did. I helped her color a little bit, but she did most of it on her own. She is really begin to get better fine motor control... and a longer attention span, which is also helpful! ;)

Here she is with her loot after waking up in the morning.

Later in the morning, we baked our St. Nicholas cookies using the dough that had appeared in the fridge overnight. Here's Caroline in her apron after helping me roll and cut dough. Surprisingly, she was more interested in doing this last year. Go figure.

The cookie dough recipe is a traditional German recipe for St. Nicholas Day. I use all butter instead of shortening, and this time I used Sucanat instead of brown sugar. They are basically a type of gingerbread or spice cookie. Once again, I freehanded a shape to trace rather than getting one of the nifty St. Nicholas cookie cutters. Maybe next year he'll bring me one!

I decorated them using royal icing once they were cool. Notice the one on the left and how it's funny looking? Well, when I (ahem, I mean St. Nicholas) made the dough, the sugar was initially left out. So it was kneaded in by hand at the end. And Sucanat doesn't mix in too well to begin with, so... Anyway, the more I rolled out the dough, the better incorporated the Sucanat became, and the cookies started to look a little more uniform and less splotchy!

For dinner, we had a stuffed pork roast. I don't know how to stuff a pork roast, so I just made it up. I cut some big slits in it and put the filling in (raisins, prunes, apple, and cranberries) and then tied it up. The filling burned a bit on the exposed parts, but what was inside turned out just fine. The idea for having this on St. Nicholas Day is that the fruits are hidden (well, maybe if you know how to properly stuff a roast!), just like how St. Nicholas did his good deeds in secret. We added a prayer to St. Nicholas to our nightly Advent wreath lighting and prayer.

I am trying to figure out how we'll handle the whole Santa thing. Obviously, St. Nicholas is a different being from Santa, as he was a real man who walked the earth and is now a saint in heaven, and Santa is a made up character with some basis coming from St. Nicholas. I don't want the focus of Christmas to be Santa (has anyone else noticed at this time of year how many strangers will ask your kids, "So, what are you asking Santa to bring you?" or "Have you seen Santa yet this year?"). I am thinking that reading the secular Santa stories is fine, and then my girls can pretend about Santa if they so choose. For me, the best part about Santa was that some presents appeared after we were in bed, and so they were total surprises to us in the morning. We can still put out gifts after the girls are asleep... especially this year, with a baby who loves paper - there may not be any gifts out until nighttime on the 24th this year! But I would love to hear how other families handle this, so leave a comment if you so choose.

Big Girl!

I was tucking Caroline in for a nap on Friday (some days she still naps, and she insisted this day that she needed one - and she slept for two and a half hours!!). When I came back out of her room, this is what sight greeted me.

That is Caroline's cup. We tried to make a switch from a sippy-type cup with a straw (as seen in these photos) t a regular water bottle, but she really hasn't been drinking the same amount of water since we switched. We decided to try the "straw cups" again, and lo and behold, she's suddenly drinking much more water each day.

Cecilia just looked like she was concentrating so hard on drinking from Big Sister's cup. She was quite successful at it, too! Not that she needs to drink from a cup yet... but now we know that she does know how. We had given her the sippy cup with a spout occasionally at dinner (more to keep her entertained than anything else), but a baby has to tilt it back and suck to get the water, which she couldn't figure out. I am hesitant to give her the straw cups frequently though, because the straw is a silicone type material that she will probably gnaw holes in and bite chunks from (which is one reason why we stopped giving them to Caroline... at age three, she was *still* chewing on the staws and ruining them!).

Such concentration... and one foot is stuck in the leg of her outfit while the other leg is pushed way up, showing off her Babylegs that I bought her for Christmas but have been putting on her anyway since she won't know the difference... and can you believe that outfit is labeled as a size 3-6 months? Ha ha... it fits like size 12 months!