posts tagged with 'christmas'

gingerbread houses

An important part of our Christmas that I left out of yesterday's report was the gingerbread baking. Besides the cookies the boys made for Grandma and Grandpa, we also did our annual construction and decoration of gingerbread houses. We invited friends over to make the whole affair as festive and exciting as possible.

busy around the table with candy, frosting, and gingerbread

it's gingerbread chaos!

It was a pretty intense day. The boys and I started first thing in the morning making the dough: two batches, with a total of seven cups of flour. That might not sound like a lot but for scale, it's almost all of a five-pound bag. Or maybe it's not, and the bag was only empty because of how much we spilled. Which was a lot. But the dough got made, and we rolled it into balls and left it to chill.

the boys rolling the dough into big balls

the end of phase 1

A little later our friends arrived. Together we designed a house template, then each of the five kids worked (with an age-appropriate amount of help) to roll out their portion of dough and cut pieces for their walls, roofs, and auxiliary accessories. The adults were also making lunch at this time, so there was a lot going on. The house pieces were big enough that each house took up two baking sheets, and each one needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes. There was some confusion over which parts went to which house, but we got it all sorted out in the end. The frosting to glue the houses together took a pound of sugar, and then we needed another batch—another pound—for the decorating.

Which of course is what the kids were waiting for! (Some of them had such a hard time waiting they started decorating before their roofs were quite attached; it was only a little sad, because everything that fell apart was repairable.) We had a tremendous array of candy available, which was good because they expected to taste more-than-representative portions of each type. Decorating techniques varied: the 9-year-olds were guided largely by aesthetic concerns, whereas 7-year-olds and younger were more concerned with attaching the maximum volume of the types of candy they wanted to eat later. Never mind; all five houses came out beautifully.

five finished gingerbread houses lined up on the table

finished!

That was all a week before Christmas. I was talking a couple days ago with friends whose kids were having trouble letting go of the season—they're fellow 12-day-celebrators, but still hadn't taken down their tree two days past Epiphany. I told them my secret for helping the boys accept the end of Christmas: I didn't let them eat their gingerbread houses until the season was officially over! So there was something to look forward to on January 6th.

Harvey breaking the roof off his gingerbread house

finally!

Harvey and Zion's houses aren't entirely gone yet, but what remains can fit in a tupperware container in the bread drawer. Lijah's is still standing; that's because, as he describes it, "I don't like gingerbread, just candy." I estimate another three days till all the decorations have been stripped off, then maybe we can put the remains out for the squirrels.

If you want to make your own houses, here's our recipe as I have it:

In a large bowl whisk together:

7 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In the stand mixer, cream:

1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 cup sugar

Add and mix until well-blended:

1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet about two cups at a time, mixing until combined each time. If necessary, add:

up to 1/4 cup cold water

Form the dough into three or four balls, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge until you’re ready to make your houses.

At that point, preheat the oven to 325° F and grease a cookie sheet or two. Roll one ball at a time on a oured surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut out your house pieces and bake them on cookie sheets for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces Let the pieces cool completely before assembling the houses.

For the mortar—er, frosting—combine in the stand mixer:

1 package powdered sugar
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter

Whip vigorously with the whisk attachment, adding more powdered sugar or water as necessary to achieve a thick, glue-like consistency.

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Christmas and New Years report

The recent holiday season was not our finest. All of us were sick off and on, with varying degrees of seriousness; for my part, I was pretty much knocked out with illness two separate times over the ten day span. And leading up to Christmas I did a bad job focusing on what Leah wanted, so my presents for her were not what she was hoping for. The boys had plenty to unwrap. Harvey made some sweet gifts for his brothers, including the stuffed blue triangle with eyes and a smiley face that Lijah desperately wanted (plus a house for it to live in!). I made Zion his bow and arrow. And there were lots of legos. We opened some here at home, then headed for my parents' house for the rest, and for the assembly phase.

the boys building new legos in their grandparents' living room

all they need

There was also a fire to sit by and plenty of delicious food, starting with brunch and going continuously from there through supper. We sang some songs to work off the calories.

My brother and his family came up on the 27th, so on Friday we had a second Christmas celebration with them: more of the same, only even more relaxed. Thankfully there weren't too many more presents to open, since Harvey and Zion at least felt by the afternoon of the 25th that they'd gotten more than they ever wanted. It can be a little overwhelming. All they really wanted was to play with their cousin Nisia—and meet their baby cousin Esther! We did those things.

I had thought of having a New Years Day brunch, but then we got an invitation to spend the day with my cousins, who we barely ever see. So I figured we could do a New Years Eve brunch instead. There was plenty of food and plenty of board games.

lots of food on our table

all the food for the year

When everyone got tired of our house we all moved on to the next event, a pot-luck supper at our friends' house. There was more food and more board games, plus Super Smash Bros for the kids. All was perfect except that I was too worried my fever would come back to be able to have a drink. Never mind, that meant I was sharp enough to completely dominate a game of Stone Age. The competition was all-consuming, so I was pretty surprised when we finished up and I noticed it was already 9:30. Yikes! More than late enough for us, so we went home and went to bed.

New Years Day the cousins cancelled on us, after hearing about the plagues we were suffering (Nisia came down with a fever New Years Eve). Since she already had all the food, my mom invited us to come anyways; since I had already made two quiches, I said sure. At least this time we took a walk. The kids had fun, even if they chose not to show it in pictures.

Harvey and Zion sitting on a bench with Nisia and Grandma

the light of the new year

All in all we had a pretty good time, but we're also glad to see the tree come down and the schedule go back up on the chalkboard. All that eating and relaxing is hard work!

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goodbye holiday spirit

This year I never managed to find the timer that I use to automate the Christmas lights on the porch. And here I was at Thanksgiving talking up how much I love my setup, with the lights coming on automatically from 4:30 to 11:00, and then for another half-hour first thing in the morning when we're up and about before sunrise. Never mind: the manual option works well enough. Our house was cheerfully decorated from when I noticed it was getting dark until I went to bed. Or sometimes all night, depending on how I was feeling. Good stuff. But no more. Everyone else in our neighborhood have taken down their decorations already—all down by the twelfth day of Christmas—and I don't want to look like the only one who doesn't know what's going on. It's too bad... it's still pretty dark out of an evening!

Our tree is still up too, but that's by mistake; we just haven't had a moment to take it down. That's a task for tomorrow morning. Christmas is well and truly over, and we're back to our regular unschooling schedule. How do we do that again?

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total kids artwork

Some of the small portion of my life not devoted to being with my own kids is given to directing the Elementary Kids Church program at Reservoir Church in Cambridge. The first year I took on the role I thought it would be fun to put on a Christmas performance. It was fun: so much fun, in fact, that everyone just assumed we'd do it again the next year. So we did! Yesterday was our fifth such production, and it went off beautifully.

a portion of the painted backdrop

a portion of the backdrop, stage right

My idea with the show is to give the kids as much ownership of both the process and the product as I can. Originally I hoped they'd even write the script, or at least collaborate with me on it. That didn't happen, but every year I leave it open for the actors to make any changes that they want. And there have been a few! More importantly, the kids have also been responsible for creating all the props, scenery, and even costumes. Some of them take that responsibility really seriously! The last three years I've especially loved watching the kids who decide that they're going to be in charge of costume creation set up their space and invite the actors in for fittings. Even a first grader deciding that there needed to be a donkey in the show, and that she would be that donkey, didn't faze this year's crew in the least. I just wish I had taken a picture of the donkey suit!

Naturally, there was music in the show too. That's what I worked on, and Harvey and Zion joined me. We started the performance with a candlelight procession, singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" (also traditional by this point), and did three other songs as well. Harvey was one of the two recorder players (the one without the solos..) and we had two kids on trumpet as well. All of the young musicians were super focused and enthusiastic this year, and it was lots of fun working with them.

As I slowly relaxed in the hours after the show, I had a thought about what made it so good. I've often admired kids' artwork, especially abstract pieces made by smaller kids. We have a beautifully spare piece up in our living room, created by Elijah Archibald age two, which is a great example. I've tried to make art like that myself, but I can't do it. The art comes out of the innocence in which it's created; if you're trying to do something like that, you can't. (Unless of course you're a talented artist in the modernist tradition, in which case you've put in years of practice and study.) Our whole play was like that. Considered by professional standards—or even polished elementary school play standards—it wasn't very good. But since the kids created it themselves, with their own mix of beauty and humor and seriousness, it was delightful. Wonderful. Perfect.

At least, I thought so. We'll probably be doing it again next year, if you want to check it out!

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oh, Christmas tree...

We got our Christmas tree today. It's a good thing; I'm still amazed it's December already, so I've done basically nothing at all to get ready for Christmas. Having the tree up will hopefully remind me a little bit. We had a great time picking it out, and feeding the animals on the farm, but we did run into a little bit of trouble when it came to putting it up. See, we couldn't find our tree stand anywhere, not even after multiple searches through what felt like all parts of the house (and yard, and shed...). My mom stopped by to drop something off and told us she had an extra, so we went to pick it up... only to find when we got it home that it was too small and weak to support our beautiful tree. Trying to make it work took a good half hour before we gave up and headed out to the hardware store for a new model. Feels bad, but at least the tree is now up, decorated, and delightful!

our Christmas tree

how lovely are thy branches

Now we'll get to work making some presents.

Christmas report

a present for Leah under the tree

Christmas

We celebrated the 12th Day of Christmas with friends yesterday, and today we observed the end of the season with the ceremonial Taking Down of the Tree and the ceremonial Eating of the Gingerbread Houses For Dessert. Well, the start of the eating, anyway; those houses are big enough they'll satisfy dessert cravings, lunch and dinner, for a couple days at least. With Christmas wrapping up it's time for a quick report so I remember next year what it was like.

the boys opening presents in the semidarkness

opening the opening

We started with our family Christmas pretty late: the darkness from the howling blizzard outside kept the kids in bed longer than we might have expected. Zion was the last up. But by eight everyone was alert and enthusiastic, and we had a delightful time opening gifts. Everyone was excited by something, be it a bow and arrows, a lego dragon, or a new faucet (though Lijah doesn't recognize that the number of his presents is finite, which is a cause of distress to him). This was the first year that Harvey was able to buy presents with his own money—as well as making things—so he was especially interested in seeing how they were received.

It was fine that we got a late start to the morning, because the snow made us pretty uncertain about heading out on the road to my parents' house: we were happy to linger warm and dry. But with a delicious brunch awaiting us we couldn't stay away forever, so at 10:30 we piled into the car for a treacherous 5-mile trip to Lexington. Or maybe a little more than five miles, because on our first try up the big hill at the end of the trip we only made it about 15 feet before slipping backwards, so we had to take an alternate route. Which also involved a lot of slipping and spinning tires... but we made it. And as we came out of the car the snow stopped and the sun came out. So.

The rest of our Christmas day was super relaxed and filled with food and sloth—oh, and some more presents too. More giant lego sets for the bigger boys, and giant stuffed lego figures for Lijah. They were delighted.

Harvey and a donut

what Christmas is all about

It was a little too bad that my brother and his family couldn't be there with us for Christmas day, but not even—because it meant we got to do another Christmas with them a few days later. Lots of food again, and more presents for the kids. But this time we couldn't be entirely relaxed: you can't eat non-stop every other day without getting some exercise! So despite the cold we forced the kids out onto the sledding hill.

Zion and Nisia climbing back up the sledding hill

companionable

As it turns out running up and down the hill kept us plenty warm (OK, only Zion ran down very often... up was enough for the rest of us) and we stayed out all the way til sunset. Then there was hot chocolate and the fire to warm us up... and more food, of course.

Harvey in front of Grandpa's fireplace

Christmas coziness

It was all delightful. Let's do it again next year.

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almost Christmas

another picture of the christmas tree

all is calm

I'm already celebrating with a new camera.

Christmas, Hanukah, and New Years

a present for Leah under the tree

sample present

We're still not back to our regular schedule—snow delayed Nelly and Nisia's flight out for a couple days, so we abandoned school work to go sledding with them. But the holidays are undeniably over, so it's past time to say a few words about how they went. For future reference.

We were a little distracted and scattered around the present preparation this year—most of us, anyways. After we got home from church at 10:00—from cleaning up and locking up, at a service where we also opened the doors and set up—I got to work on presents, as seems to be my tradition. New this year, Harvey joined me! The ship he was making for Zion wasn't done, so he wanted to put in some time to show he really does care.

a present with a big card Harvey made for Zion

present explanation

Never mind how many things were unfinished, Christmas morning saw delight all around.

Zion smiling over a big present

Christmas excitement

Of course, no one could be as delighted as Lijah after he got a gun and a giant candy cane in his stocking.

Lijah smiling with his gun and candy cane

yet more Christmas excitement!

There were also lots of legos, the first batch of which had to be put together before breakfast.

the three boys working on legos at the kitchen table

getting right to work

After we ran out of presents for Lijah to open we packed up what we had left and headed over to Lexington. They had a few more there.

the tree at grandma and grandpa's house

presents for all ten of us

We spent a lovely relaxing day leisurely opening presents—the kids needed to pause and play with each new one extensively—and eating constantly. (We did take a little walk in the middle to keep from dying.) It was nice to get to spend Christmas with the Africa Archibalds for the first time in a few years.

The day after Christmas we celebrated Hanukah with the Bernsteins. It was also charmingly relaxed, as pictured previously. There were more legos, and more weapons for Lijah, so it was a success. Harvey handled the dreidel work with aplomb.

We hadn't planned anything for New Years Eve, but when friends asked us about it we told them they should just come over. Then we said the same thing to more friends, and some relatives. So we ended up with quite a few people and had a very festive evening—one which ended before 10:00, which was great. And some of the guests even helped to clean up, which meant we started the new year well-rested in a clean house. Expect great things from us in 2017!

Clean as it was on 1/1, we (which is to say Leah) put in some more serious cleaning time in advance of 1/2, when we threw a brunch party for relatives who had never visited us before—and one of whom cleans other people's houses as a hobby. There was some tension leading up to the event, but in the event it was fun and easy, and seeing nine Archibald cousins (well, second cousins... and some of them are DiBellas) running around was a great way to spend the bonus federal holiday day.

Then we just had a week of hanging out with Nisia and Nelly, which was super fun. And now it's now!

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extended vacation

the boys and Nisia getting ready to share a gingerbread house

cousins getting ready to share in the destruction

We had thoughts at the beginning of this week of getting back to routine, but it didn't entirely happen. See, Nisia—the boys' only first cousin—was still in town. Her Christmas visit this year marked the first time we saw her in a year and a half, and there's no way we could go about our regular school schedule with her around. And around she was! When someone comes to visit all the way from Africa you need to spend all the time with them you can. She capped off the visit with a sleepover here last night. Tomorrow she's headed back home to Dakar, but we have assurances it won't be quite so long before we see her—and her parents, naturally!—again.

To mark her departure we took down our Christmas tree this afternoon. A day ahead of liturgical schedule, sure, but it seemed appropriate. We also wanted to get it out of the way before we had folks over this evening. Harvey and Zion were ok with it going away, but Lijah found that he missed it when he came downstairs and saw the empty space (and all the needles swept up). Sure, he knew the cleanup was happening—even took down a couple ornaments himself—but the sight of the empty corner still made him a little upset.

To be honest, that wasn't the only thing that made him upset this evening. Maybe he's missing his cousin already. He's certainly missing the sleep and quiet time that he didn't get when he and his brothers were playing with her every day! Good thing it's the weekend—quiet day tomorrow, with no vacation to worry about. Maybe we can even do some school on Monday.

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moments from the week

the kids lookin silly in front of Grandpa's tree

Christmas cousins

A few moments and images from the past week.

Zion working on legos

getting started

Lijah walking in a field

Christmas day walk

Harvey lighting the Hanukah candles

Hanukah simulcast to LA

me on the couch lookin at a book

I get to relax

the four kids working on gingerbread houses

the gingerbread factory

kids eating dinner at the playroom table in front of the Christmas tree

New Years party dinner

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