Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

 It was the best Christmas ever.

Baby Ben arrived shortly after Thanksgiving - what a gift. And we were so blessed to celebrate Christmas in our home with both sides of our family -- Ning, Poppa, Sandie, Tom, Nicki and her boyfriend, Mike, were all here.
On Christmas Eve, Charlie and John wore matching ties and sweater vests, and Madeline made a rare appearance in a sparkly tulle-skirted dress. She looked breathtaking. Sandie and Nicki kept the Christmas dinner preparations going and stayed with John, who had the flu, while the rest of us went to church for the early service. Everyone in the packed congregation had a costume (camel hats, wise men, sheep, angels....) and helped act out the Christmas story in a touching and truly funny kids service.
We came home to a feast....and letters Santa left the kids with reindeer food (thanks, Poppa)! 
Towards the end of the convivial meal, there was a knock on the door. When we went to investigate, we discovered that our elf, Tinsel, had come back from the North Pole to drop off Christmas pajamas for everyone (thanks, Ning)!  We promptly changed into them and the dance party began!!! The children each got to open one present before they went to bed. Then the grown ups exchanged ours that night.
And the next morning, we were off to the races! Stockings and presents galore! What JOY!
Up early and ready to see what Santa has delivered!
John received a sleeping bag to match the big kids!
The apron Aunt Andi made her!
The aftermath
Madeline's learning to sew on her first machine!
I made the kids a Fort in a Bag with lanterns, flashlights, clips and sheets

Friday, December 13, 2013

Saint Lucia Day!

This year, we started a new tradition! December 13th is St. Lucia Day -- I have vivid memories of singing the St. Lucia song and parading around my school in a white gown and red sash when my family lived in Sweden. Every year, I pull out our Swedish Christmas ornaments, Dala horses and straw Jule goats -- some belonged to my family and have made their way into my Christmas bins; others I've bought during IKEA visits or from specialty catalogs over the years. Nevertheless, having lived in Sweden has a child, and with my grandma Madeline being 100% Swedish (she served us homemade Lutefisk one Christmas, which is a gelatinous aged fish dish that those Scandinavians love), I have always felt close to that part of my heritage. In fact, Rob's grandpa was part Swedish, and Geneva, where he grew up, has a Swedish festival every year. Last year, I actually wrote "incorporate Swedish traditions" on my To Do list.

This year, we did! A new friend here in Whitefish Bay inspired me. The day before St. Lucy's day, Madeline, Charlie, John and I made homemade Pepparkakor (Swedish gingersnaps) and St. Lucia buns. After the kids went to bed, Rob helped me roll the dough into the traditional bun shapes that we found online (but only after he made a couple of hand grenades and candy canes for fun).

That night, I laid out the kids outfits -- Madeline wore an angel costume out of our dress up bin, with a bright red sash and a crown of candles. Charlie and John were Starboys, wearing cone-shaped hats decorated with golden stars and carrying a star wand. I'd never heard of Starboys growing up....I read it's a newer tradition so boys can be involved too.
At 2am, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. Madeline was dressed in her full St. Lucia outfit, ready to go. I put her back to bed, but 45 minutes later, she came back in wondering if it was finally time now? She was so excited!
At 5:59am, she came in once again; I told her it was finally time. Then, if you can believe it, I fell back asleep (since I'd had trouble sleeping after the earlier wake up calls). About 20 minutes later, the most magical thing happened. Quiet as mice, Madeline, with her crown lit up in the dark, followed by Charlie, feeling so important in his Star boy costume, came into our bedroom carrying two coffees and St. Lucia buns in a tray with handles. I never imagined they would do it all by themselves! They ran back downstairs, grabbed a couple of buns for themselves, and we all ate our breakfast sitting in bed by the light from Madeline's candles. When Maple jumped up too, Rob said, "Hey Star dog!"
Tonight, my dad and Ning are coming over for a repeat performance -- Madeline wants to deliver pepparkakor to the adults in the living room. This time, we'll play the song too. Then we'll have a festive dinner of Swedish meatballs -- Ning's bringing the glogg (spiced wine)!
It's so fun adding new traditions -- I've picked up a few others this year, which I'll write about in the coming weeks. I'd also love to introduce the kids to other parts of their ancestry -- Irish, Czech and Italian too!

Friday, November 1, 2013

'Tis the Season...

I was so excited for Christmas this year, I started planning in early October. Here are some of the holiday highlights:

Tree lighting at Bayshore
We got all bundled up and watched the lighting of Bayshore Town Center's 50-foot Christmas tree! Santa was there and so were the Nutcracker characters, including toy soldiers on stilts. We had a fun family dinner at the brand new Sprecher restaurant while we waited for the countdown.

Richards Elementary School's Festival of Lights
The kids' holiday program was absolutely magical! Madeline and all the first graders sang songs from the Nutcracker Suite, and Charlie's K4 class was so adorable, singing classics like, "O Tannenbaum." They practiced in school for months. During the performance (at the back of the Great Hall where we were able to find seats), John got into a chicken fight with a little boy his age that had everyone around us in hysterics -- each 2-year-old took turns saying, "No, I'm a big boy!"

St. Nick
Neither Rob or I grew up with visits from St. Nick, but everyone here in Milwaukee has, so when in Rome, do as the Romans do! I absolutely love picking up new fun traditions. On the night of December 5, St. Nick dropped off some chocolate coins and a tiny gift for each of the kids in the shoes they had excitedly lined up by the front door the night before.

Breakfast with Santa at Hotel Metro
For the second year in a row, we invited Poppa and Ning to have  Breakfast with Santa in a fancy downtown hotel (only this year they pulled a fast one and treated us, as they love to do). Santa surprised the kids at our table -- they suddenly got so shy that they would hardly even look at him. At the end of the meal, when the kids didn't think it could get any better, they got to fill goody bags from a candy bar, then we all jumped into a picture with Santa (including me, Rob, Poppa and Ning) in his big North Pole chair.

Decorating a Family Gingerbread House at Church 
Our church, Fox Point Lutheran, has this all figured out. There must have been 100 families decorating homemade gingerbread houses with beautiful supplies. Which was great because the house we made at home earlier in the week wouldn't even stand (but the kids had fun eating it!).

Caroling with the Daisy Troop
My co-leader, Lucy, and I organized Cocoa and Caroling for our 29 Daisy Scouts! We sipped Lucy's homemade hot cocoa while everyone met at the school, and then walked door to door, with our little group of enthusiastic singers. The first stop was to deliver cookies we decorated to a military family  whose children attend Richards Elementary, and our troop sent a care package to the father, Dr. David Milia, who was serving in Afghanistan over the holidays.

The Nutcracker and the "Dinosaur" Museum
This was the first year Madeline attended the Nutcracker and she absolutely loved it! About ten minutes into the ballet, she asked why they weren't talking. I showed Charlie a five minute five video of the Nutcracker on YouTube before I bought tickets, and he opted instead to go to what he calls "the dinosaur museum," or the Milwaukee Public Museum, with Rob. They had pancakes and milkshakes afterwards.

Making chocolate-covered pretzels for all the neighbors
What a fun afternoon, melting chocolate, dipping pretzels, decorating them with candy and eating all the mess ups! Then I pulled John in the wagon and we all delivered them to neighbors and friends around the neighborhood.

Shopping for our Christmas tree and carrying it all the way home!
There's a charming Christmas tree lot around the corner from our house. The kids loved choosing our tree! Rob thought it would be a memorable experience if we walked the tree home instead of driving it. And it was! We rested the trunk on the double stroller's handle bars and the kids helped steer. Something about working together as a family to bring home our tree really put us in the holiday spirit!

Holiday Cards
Hand writing Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions. This year, we put on our Christmas-y clothes in September, and my dear friend, Lucy, took our picture in her backyard during a dinner party! I had the cards ordered and delivered by October, and worked through the months of November and December to send out hundreds to all the people we love.