Proper Little Ladies

This past Saturday Eleanor and I went to Santa’s Tea Party at the Grand America, along with all her female cousins, various aunts, and both grandmas.  (From left to right in the above picture: Abby (age 1 1/2), June (age 2), Eleanor (age 5), and Sarah (age 3 1/2).  It was overwhelmingly girly fun; and the food was EXCELLENT.  Praise be to the inventor of the scone.  Especially the scone that includes clotted cream and lemon curd.  I drank a delightful plum spice herbal tea (eh, they should have just called it “wassail” because that’s what it tasted like) which was also quite the yummy thing.  Each person at the table had her own little mini teapot, which enchanted the girls.

Eleanor and her cousin Sarah sat side by side on this big couch for the party.  You can really see the likeness between them!  Eleanor chose to have mint hot chocolate and Sarah chose plain hot chocolate.  They were very interested in the sugar bowl, and insisted on putting “lumps” in their cocoa with the tongs.  (This, of course, lead to many lumps of sugar being dropped on the floor.)  Sarah insisted on drinking her cocoa with a spoon, which I thought adorably funny.

Despite the excitement of the event, both girls were remarkably well behaved, taking pains to show off their “fancy manners.”

There was still some twirling and bouncing around, but they were well within the parameters of expected three- and five-year-old behavior.  A grand piano was in the center of the room, with a woman playing and endless list of carols; pretty much every little girl in the room (including mine) took the opportunity to go and dance.

During the party, Santa and Mrs. Claus paid us a visit.  This has to be one of the best Santas I’ve ever seen; he was incredibly kind and patient with the kids.  Eleanor, as you can see, was thrilled to talk to him.  Everyone enjoyed the outing and we’re already planning to go again next year!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . Well, You Know

Over the past week we’ve been slowly dragging out our Christmas decorations and setting them up.  Usually we try to get it all done in one day, but between painting our kitchen (more on that later) and my perpetual pregnancy-induced exhaustion, it’s been more of a little-bit-here, little-bit-there, situation.

This, of course, frustrates the kids to no end, who want everything up NOW.

On the first evening, we just set up our tree.  No decorations or anything.  When Brian and I finished this and left to do dishes, the kids decided to Take Matters Into Their Own Hands.  Grabbing up a box of outdoor lights, they went to work on their toy castle:

TA-DAH!  How festive is that?  There are golden fake poinsettia flowers all over it, too.  And in the center of it all, our much loved, much abused nutcracker in the shape of the Mouse King.  (I don’t think it’s visible in the photo.)

The next day, we put most of the ornaments on the tree, excepting a bunch of handmade straw ornaments from Germany and the silver star topper.  Once again, I was doing dishes, and Eleanor and William decided to Take Matters Into . . . well, you figure it out:

It’s an Ella tree!  See the ornaments hanging off her fingers and toes?  She’s using one hand to hold the silver star on top of her head.

This past Tuesday for Family Home Evening, we upheld one of our family traditions and picked out a new nativity set from Ten Thousand Villages.  For those of you not familiar with this store (which is part of a national chain), it is a non-profit organization sells fair-trade gifts from all over the world, and is run mostly by volunteers. I love seeing all the different cultural interpretations of the Christmas story.  So far we have creches from Taiwan, Peru, Indonesia, Kenya, Bangladesh, and a weinachtspyramid from Germany (which I found at a thrift store.  Everything else is from Ten Thousand Villages).

Upon arrival at the store, Jeffrey marched in, scanned the wall of nativities, then cornered a clerk and began asking where all the Roman nativity sets were.  Rome is one of his current obsessions.  “Where are the Roman ones?  Where are the Roman ones?”  I had to gently take Jeff aside and explain that Rome really wasn’t a country anymore.

“What happened to Rome?” he asked, puzzled.

I explained briefly — not wanting to be dragged into a discussion of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — that it was Italy now.

Ten minutes later, he was at the store clerk again: “Where are the Italy ones?  Where are the Italy ones?”

Thank heavens for patient volunteer store clerks!

Brian and I can be notorious for being wishy-washy over decisions like this.  Should we get the little crocheted set from Vietnam?  Or the punched-metal display from Haiti?  However, it was Jeffrey who spotted the nativity that we all fell in love with.  I don’t have time to take a picture of it, but this is what it kind of looks like:

It’s from Uganda.  Our set is just like this, only we have two shepherds, and the stable is made of stamped leather and triangle-shaped.  I think it’s just lovely.  The sheep made of twisted bark are adorable!


Twinkle, Twinkle

“Mommy, look!  It looks like a candy house!”

“Look at the sparkles, Mommy!”

My neighborhood is resplendent with Christmas lights, wreaths and garlands.  Even the lamposts are decorated with red ribbons, lights, and a sprig of plastic pine.  It’s a nice change from our neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where few of our neighbors put up any lights — a habit I presume is formed not from a lack of Yuletide spirit (although, granted, there were some Jewish families on the block) but simply because our 1930s cottages simply lacked good outdoor access to electricity.

Now we live in Twinkletown.  However, given that we are on the East Bench, it’s an austere, tasteful Twinkletown.  There are no blow-up nylon balloon Santas, animatronic reindeer, or hard plastic snowmen.  There’s one — just one — house on the block with a row of electric candy canes, but it’s very small.  Nothing blinks.

Therefore, I didn’t feel bad at all about investing in only three little strings of white lights to run along the roof of our porch.  No muss, no fuss.  The hooks were already there, we just had to hang the lights on them.  In my theory, Christmas light displays shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to set up.  But I was concerned that my kids wouldn’t feel the same way.

I grew up on Army posts, where there were rules about how many lights could be put on residential quarters.  No lawn ornaments, and only a few strings of lights.  There’s no room for the Electric Light Parade in the Army.  But as a little kid, I always kind of longed for something more — something rainbowy to drape over our trees and bushes, to transform our practical-yet-mundane quarters into a fairyland. 

So I was worried that my kids would be disappointed with our tiny amount of twink.  But I needn’t have worried.

“Mommm!  Come see the lights that Daddy put up!”  Eleanor cheered and twirled as Jeffrey proudly displayed Brian’s work.  William clapped his little hands.  And I remembered that any amount of twinkle is special, no matter how small.  It’s our house; it’s special to our kids.

Last night I drove Jeffrey home from a Christmas party, and I pointed out lights from the windows.  We passed the candy cane house.

“Jeffrey, look!  Does that house look like it’s made out of candy?”

“Yeah, Mom!  It looks yummy!”

Then we turned the corner to our home, and I noticed that a third of the lights had somehow gone out.  I winced as I pulled into the driveway.

“Mommy, do you know what our house looks like?”

“No, Jeffrey.  What?”

“I think it looks like the way it did on Christmas night.”

I puzzled over this for a moment.  Does he realize that our house didn’t exist in ancient Bethlehem?

“Jeffrey, do you mean that our house looks like a stable?”

“No Mom,” he whispered.  “I think it looks like the sky full of stars on Christmas night.”

He fluttered his fingers in the air to demonstrate, and I think my heart fluttered, too.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

And I expect it will continue to do so for the next three weeks, or until we drop dead from exhaustion, whichever comes first.

Was Thanksgiving weekend just a week ago?  It seems much farther away, I suppose mainly becauJse we took down our few Thanksgiving decorations and put up the Christmas stuff so quickly.  My theory is: get the tree done as soon as possible, or it doesn’t happen at all.

Jeffrey was most interested in our creches — for the past several years, we have gone down to Ten Thousand Villages and picked out a nativity set from a different country.  So far, we have creches from Peru, Indonesia, Maylasia, and Germany (uh . . . we found that at a thrift store).  This year, we picked out a lovely one made of Kishi stone from Kenya.

All of this extra color and diversity must have inspired Jeffrey, because he immediately went to his room for a while before reemerging with a creche made of Legos.  Joseph is a little Lego person inside, but he couldn’t find any more Lego people for Mary and Joseph, so they are represented by a flower topped with a yellow brick.

A flower — I am especially fond of this detail, since one of my favorite Christmas carols is “Lo, How A Rose is Blooming.”

Speaking of which, Eleanor is delighting in dancing around to the various carols and yuletide melodies I plunk out at the piano after dinner most evenings.  When she isn’t dancing, she likes to sit on my lap and watch.  

Funny thing is, no matter what I play — from the Nutcracker Suite to “Go Tell It on the Mountain” — she points at the music and says, “When I was a little girl, I learned how to sing this song in Spanish at my preschool!”

Oh, when she was a little girl, indeed!