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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Family Christmas Traditions

I love the holidays and Christmas is one of my favorites.  Truly, I think I say that about every holiday but since it’s December and Christmas is here….it’s my favorite.  Growing up my mother used to make yarn ornaments and hang on the tree.  I loved spending hours just watching the lights blink on and off in different colors.  I know a lot of people like just white lights but I’m a color girl.  Blue, green, red, yellow; that is what a Christmas tree should be to me.

I have two favorite memories growing up as a child.  One was the night Santa came to our house while we were away.  We come back late at night to find our house all lite up with Christmas lights and gifts left under the tree.  Santa left a dollhouse for me along with chocolate covered cherries we got every year.  But my favorite memory of all time is staying up late at night with my older brother watching Planet of the Apes.  Not the remake but the old classic from 1968 with Charlton Heston.  I never looked at another Ape the same after watching that movie.  That was followed by another classic from 1984, Gremlins.  Who didn’t want a mogwai after watching that show?  Nothing beats the classics. 

Every family has their different holiday traditions and I am no different.  If you do not have any yet, then it’s never too late to start creating them for your family.  I’m going to share some of my favorites and I’m sure you have heard about a few of them. 

The start of the holiday season doesn’t kick off until our ride on the Polar Express to see Santa Clause.  You have not experienced a true Polar Express ride until you have taken your seat on the train out of Elkins, WV.  We have been going every year since we moved here and I will continue to go for as long as I can make my kiddo will go with me.  See my blog on the Polar Express for more information on this ride.

After that we look forward to watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.  This is, by far, the all time, MOST watch, show each Christmas in my home.  It has been playing since it first made its debute in 1965.  That makes this movie 48 years old this year and it’s still going strong for a thirty minute movie.  I love that my child gets just as excited to see it as I do.  Matter of fact, we sat cuddled under a blanket last night and watched it together.  This show will never get old no matter how old I get.

A new tradition that started last year was our Elf on the Shelf.   He magically appeared after Thanksgiving last year.  Since he cannot talk, Santa’s orders ;-), he brought along his story book to explain that he will be there every day until Christmas to watch over your child and reports back to Santa each night if your child has been good or bad.  The book tells the child every morning you will find him in a different spot in the house doing something good or bad.  Elf’s only get to leave the North Pole one month out of the year so they sometimes can get into mischief while they are at your house.  After reading the book, your child gets to name your elf.  Ours is Mario, yes, for Mario and Luigi.  It’s amazing to see your child get so excited to wake up and see what the elf did last night.  For example, Mario had fun last night and cut up paper with my child’s art supplies.  Some more ideas would be:
  •  Holding his Elf on the Shelf book to read the first night
  • Reading a book to other toys
  • Decorated the Christmas tree with underwear
  • Painted red nose on child why asleep with a note to look in mirror once they wake
  • Drinking pop and eating candy
  • Drawing a picture
  • Making a “snow” angle out of flour or rice
  • Taking a bubble bath in mini marshmallows
  • Fishing in the toilet with fishy crackers

Another tradition I have is an advent calendar.  My child has had one ever year since he was born.  I normally buy the Lego Advent Calendars but find them a little pricy for what you get in the box.  They also make chocolate ones but my child doesn’t care for the chocolate so those are not as fun either.  This year I decided to do something a little different and create my own. 

I knew I wanted to decorate my stairs with something different so the idea formed to make an advent calendar out of my stairs.  I started with a trip to my local dollar store and grab some ribbon, bow stickers and paper lunch bags.  While there, I also picked up art supplies and small little toys my child would love.  I was able to find a lot of books on sale for 25 cents at my local book fair and then grabbed a few candy bars for the grocery store to round off my creation.  I cut up the bags to make wrap each gift, thinking of the Christmas gifts on Little House on the Prairie being wrapped in paper.  I liked that better than the cartoon paper they sale nowadays.  Plus it was $1.00 for 100 bags…enough said.  After I wrapped each one I added the ribbon and bow and attached an ornament hook to the back of the package so I could let it hang off my garland.  It works great as long as your garland is tight on the rail.   Also be safe and do not put the hooks on your string of lights.  Not sure why, but the warning on the lights said not to. I need to work on my numbers but was running out of time and just used a sharpie to draw on them.  Next year, I will come up with something different, maybe glitter? 

I made the rule that my child can only open the gift after he has done his chores and homework for the night.  THIS is working great.  He loves searching through the gifts to find the number for the day.  The best part is, I was able to buy everything cheaper than what would have cost me to buy the boxed LEGO Advent Calendar.  Now that I know this is such a hit with my child, I will have all year to buy things to fill the bags.  I plan to dedicate a tote just for this that I will leave out in my closet, filled with lunch bags so I can just add a toy to the bags all year long.  It might even be fun to tape the bags up and be as surprised as your child opens them.

What would Christmas be without homemade ornaments?  My tree is filled with them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I think it makes a tree feel more part of the family then the Martha Stewart trees that always looks perfect.  So each year we add something new to the tree.
While putting the tree up this year, I let my child do must of the decorating.   He loves this part so I just sat back and watching mostly.  I even brought in a step stool so he could reach the top of the tree.  I keep thinking to myself that he is growing up so fast that I will not have much more of these moments before he is off making memories of his own.  As he brought out each ornament, he would ask a question about it or tell me something he remembered from years past.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed just something so small that still warms my heart to think about days later.

My sister always has an amazing tree and is a little crafty herself.  One year she had these tiny presents wrapped and used as ornaments.  I was shocked to find out she had wrapped empty cigarette boxes to make the ornaments.  The results were amazing and very pretty.  

A lot of people forget what Christmas is really about and focus mostly on monetary things.  I try not to let the season do this to me nor do I want my child to turn out this way.  It sucks sometimes when your child asks for a pricy toy that would break the budget and you have to make the choice between this one LARGE gift or more smaller items he asked for.  I’m lucky that I’ve taught my child that having the latest or best toy really isn’t what is important.  We talked about it and he was ok with not getting the latest gaming system and was equally excited about another toy 6x less then the gaming system.  I couldn’t have asked for a greater kid. 

My child is to young right now but another favorite tradition for me is volunteering.  I try to volunteer for our local food banks each year to help serve food to the homeless.  It’s always a humbling experience and I leave each time thanking God for the blessings he has given me and the opportunity to pay it forward in such a small way.  You don’t need to have lots of money to help others.  What most organizations need is just your time.

This year I was also asked to volunteer with the Classic Beauties and attend a gathering at the local Veteran’s Home.   Being a veteran myself, I jumped at the chance to attend this event and meet some of the guys that helped defend our country and make it safe and possible to have a Christmas this year.  These guys were amazing and I enjoyed hearing their stories and seeing pictures of their families.  I plan to add this to my volunteer services each year for as long as I’m able. 

Thanks for taking the time to peek into some of my traditions and I hope my ideas will inspire you to make your own and to live each Christmas as if it’s your last. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Polar Express In Real Life

File:Polar express.jpgWhen you think about trains the one that comes to my mind is the Polar Express.  In 2004 the children's movie was brought to the big screen putting every child's imagination to life.  The movie is based on a young boy who has his doubts if Santa is real.  One year on Christmas Eve, a magical train arrives and takes him on an adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa.  Although I'm really not a BIG fan of computer animated cartoons (I prefer the original), the movie weaved a wonderful tail of new friends and Santa magic along the way.

After the movie, cities started having their own "Polar Express" rides for the children.  I've been lucky enough to have taken my child on four Polar Express rides in his lifetime and I plan on doing them as long as I can squeeze it in before he gets to big to do it anymore.

Our first Polar Express trip was with the Cuyahoga Valley Railroad.  These tickets are so popular that they have to hold a lottery each year.  You must fill out your form of preferred days and send your money well in advance.  As the day gets closer the tickets will be mailed to you.  The night of the Polar Express ride, the children arrive in their PJ's and ride the train to the "North Pole."  Santa gets on and talks to each child on the ride back.  I thought this was a wonderful ride and planned on doing it every year but my plans changed and we moved out of state.

Our first Christmas in WV I spent searching for a Polar Express ride close to where we lived.  Jackpot!  I found one on the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in Elkins, WV.  I ordered our tickets and went shopping for new PJ's.  It was a good drive from my house but there is a Holiday Inn next to the railroad so I booked us a room for the night and didn't feel like I needed to rush.  

We arrived at the station early and waited to board.  While we waited the Railroad had several people dressed as Elves and Candy Canes that entertained the children.  They also had a miniature train set and gift shop to look in while waiting for the conductor to call your car.  Ten minutes before boarding, I was surprised to see close to 20 Chefs, dressing in all white (even hats) marching toward the train and singing Christmas songs.  They looked so much like the Chef's in the book that the children LOVED this. 

Our seats were called and we boarded the train.  The conductor gave each of us a golden ticket and told us to hold on to them for later.  The train was old but a classic.  Instead of train chairs attached to the floor, this train had tables with four chairs lining each side of the walls.  Awaiting us on the table were cookies and a glass mug we got to take home as souvenirs.  They were even nice enough to have a throw-away cup tucked inside the mugs so we didn't have to carry dirty mugs home.  So very smart. 

As the train started moving we got to watch the houses pass by.  And since this is WV, we also got to see plenty of deer eating in fields and the children thought it was real reindeers.  Not long into the ride, the Chef's all piled into our car.  Music started and they began to sing and dance to Hot Hot Hot Chocolate.  This was an amazing surprise and I had a ball watching them.  After the finished they filled our cups with hot chocolate and moved on to the next car.  A few of the Chef's stayed behind and while we ate and drank, they read the Polar Express book to the children.  During the rest of the ride, we were entertained by the Conductor "stamping" our tickets and the hobo hiding from the Conductor.  

Out of nowhere, lights lite up the woods.  They had created the North Pole in the middle of the woods with buildings and thousands of lights.  Santa sat on his sled waving at the children.  There were lots of people dressed as elves standing beside him, waving at all the children on the train.  Santa boards the train and makes is way to each car and visits with each child.  He sits at the table and really talks to the kids, not in any rush to move on to the next one.  He then gifts each child with a bell from his sled.  This is the first gift of Christmas in the movie. 

After Santa moves on to the next car, the Chef's, hobo and conductor are at it again, keeping the children entertained on the ride home.  One year we made fake snow and the children got to have a snowball fight on the train.  They also pass a stocking around and lets you pull something out which tells if you have been naught or nice.  The children and mom's all got nice but the dad's seemed to all get naughty.  The Chef's also had jokes to tell and puppets to play with.  

The last two years, I've noticed a spike in ticket sales.  I've had to buy my tickets earlier and earlier each year.  I bought mine in June for November and they were almost sold out.  I guess the word has gotten out about what a great ride it is for the children and now everyone wants to do it.  I may have to start getting my tickets in January :-)