Tag Archives: holidays

Ward Family Christmas Traditions: Week One

15 Dec

By Rosanna Ward

Three of our favorite family Christmas traditions happened this past weekend. Saturday afternoon we went to the local tree farm to pick out a tree and visit Santa. That evening we also attended the Tulsa Christmas Parade as a family. And our annual family baking day took place on Monday.

Saturday morning I got up early, and my sons Joel, Leif and I picked up their Aunt Elizabeth and cousins Faith and Cadence to participate in the Lowe’s Build and Grow. Over a three-week period, they have been building a Christmas Train. Saturday was the coal car. Because the weather has gotten colder, Lowe’s is holding the class in the employee break room. The past two Saturdays, it has also been increasingly crowded. This weekend, we were lucky we got there early and got our kits before they ran out. Faith and Joel are getting to be old pros at putting their kits together by now and needed very little help.

By the time we dropped the cousins off and picked up my daughter Virginia from work, we had time for only a very short rest before it was time to go to the tree farm. Pleasant Valley Farms is a local farm where we not only get our Christmas trees, but we also pick our pumpkins during the fall. The family that owns it is very nice.

After arriving at the tree farm, the first thing we did was go see Santa. The boys sat on Santa’s lap, where Joel told Santa he wanted race cars for Christmas and Leif made a grab for the candy cane Santa was offering. After that we caught a ride on a horse-drawn wagon and took a tour of the farm — the driver let Joel sit up front and even drive the horses for a minute.  This was followed by some free hot chocolate.

Then it was time to grab a saw and set out to find the “perfect” tree.  In short order, we found just the one and my husband made quick work of cutting it down. The workers carried it to the entrance, “shook the squirrels out of it” and loaded it into our truck. We got home with time to set it up in its stand and give it some water before the evening parade.

We all loaded back up in the truck, making sure to pack pillows and blankets, to head out to the Tulsa Christmas Parade. My eldest daughter Hannah had gotten there early and saved us a parking spot right by the parade route.

This year the Tulsa Christmas Parade was held at the new Tulsa Hills Shopping Center. In the past it has always been held downtown, but at some point city officials decided to rename it a “Holiday Parade,” and attendance and sponsors steadily dropped. This year private sponsors established the first annual Christmas Parade at Tulsa Hills. The night was beautiful, the parade was crowded, and a great time was had by one and all.

Sunday evening we attended a Christmas musical drama called “Believe” put on by Victory Christian Church. It was very well done: Live animals — including camels — were used. Our favorite parts were when the prophets were prophesying while interspersed throughout the audience, and when the shepherds were cracking jokes with each other.

My favorite family Christmas tradition was held on Monday this year: We pretty much baked all day. Jason started off the day at about 8:30am baking his famous chocolate chip, oatmeal, and nut cookies. While he was doing that, the rest of us (minus Hannah) worked on decorating the tree. When he was done, I started my Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. While the dough was in the fridge chilling, I made two batches of fudge. Then Virginia started her peppermint bark and toffee. After she was done, I baked off the Crinkles and made two more batches of fudge.

That evening when Hannah got home, she made the sugar cookies. By this time we were all pretty worn out, so we decided to save the cookie decorating until Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, everything was done and divvied up into containers for various lucky recipients — and the kitchen was starting to get back to normal. Once again, we ended up with way too many sweet treats, of course!

I love this time of year, mostly because of the family memories that we make. It is a time when we can remember the greatest gift we could ever receive, our Savior, and to give gifts to each other. The greatest gift I can give to and get from my family is time. I cherish every minute we can spend together.

Can you believe we’re already half-way through December? How is your family enjoying the time leading up to Christmas? What Christmas traditions have meant the most to you this year?

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter is a homeschool graduate, and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

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A Homeschooling Christmas: Week One

7 Dec

By Renée Gotcher

Last week in My Tango with Traditions, I shared my struggle with establishing and maintaining family Christmas traditions over the years since becoming a mom — and my resolve to change that this year. As a family, we decided which previous traditions were keepers, and what we wanted to do differently this year. Here’s a recap of our first week, where we kicked off a new “Homeschooling Christmas” schedule and took part in some great traditions, both old and new.

Cutting Down the Christmas Tree – a Keeper!

Living in Durango for a few years was a special experience for my outdoors-loving family. One tradition that we were introduced to while living there was hiking into the forest to find and chop down the family Christmas tree. Our state abounds with areas where it’s not only easy to find a beautiful and unique Christmas tree, it’s beneficial to remove them. Plus the experience of hiking into the woods together, discovering that “perfect” tree, watching Dad cut it down and haul it back to the truck, then get it home, shape it to our living room, and decorate it — all in one day — is such a wonderful family project.

Last year, having moved back to “the city,” we discovered it would be quite a bit more challenging to maintain this tradition. Permits are limited and sell out fast in prime areas, the designated areas are many more miles away, and many areas are picked over so heavily, it’s harder to find that perfect tree.

We made a compromise by trying a local Christmas tree farm instead, and after a disappointing two hours trying to locate a decent-looking tree among a barren field of misfits (for $40 or more, mind you), we ended up buying a “fresh cut Colorado” tree at a local nursery — and paying more than we’d ever paid! At least it was beautiful, but at the end of the day, the girls were disappointed and we parents were frustrated with the whole experience.

This year we planned ahead and got the scoop on what it would take to cut down our own tree again. It still wasn’t going to be easy: We had to drive more than 12o miles round trip to the closest location, and we still weren’t sure what we’d find there. But after helping our good friends find their perfect tree while visiting them in Durango for Thanksgiving, it was a must-do.

Because of an impending snow storm, we woke up early last Wednesday morning and headed south to the Woodland Park designated area after picking up our $10 permit at the forest ranger’s station in Colorado Springs. We were happy to learn there was a newly opened cutting area available and decided immediately to check it out first. Turns out lots of others had the same idea, and we found the little dirt parking lot filled with other cars and families.

However, after a little bit of hiking farther into the woods, and passing up a few potentials, we found our tree. And with a few swings of the ax (no chainsaws allowed), the tree was cleanly cut and ready to haul back to the truck. The girls couldn’t wait to take it home and start decorating.

For just $10, a few hours of drive time, a short hike and an adventurous spirit, the Christmas Tree cutting tradition was revived: Mission accomplished!

The Jesse Tree – New!

Besides decorating the freshly cut Christmas Tree once we got home, we prepared for a new tradition: A Jesse Tree devotional time and ornament-making project. To prepare, we took branches clipped out from our Christmas tree as we were shaping it to fit in our living room and assembled a new “tree” with them.

Although I’m familiar with different ways families celebrate Advent, the Jesse Tree is something I had never heard of before, and I’m not sure why — it seems to be pretty popular! If you also haven’t heard of a Jesse Tree, it is meant to represent the family tree, or genealogy, of Jesus Christ, and tells the story of God’s salvation plan, beginning with creation and continuing through the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah. A quick scan of some of my favorite homeschooling blogs made it easy to learn about and find a variety of tips on how to do one, as well as a few other Christmas tradition ideas I wanted to try.

The Jesse Tree devotional I selected to go with our tree-making project was a free eBook, “A Jesse Tree Journey,” from Ann Voskamp and Nancy Rodden. Although this devotional started on November 29, we started with Day One on December 1 and I’ll catch us up at some point. So far, we’ve started each day with the devotional reading, a little discussion and prayer, followed by the ornament-making project.

To keep things simple for our first year, the girls are coloring in pictures I printed out from another eBook. Each girl has selected her own background shape & paper color/print for the ornament that each day’s colored drawings will be glued on to. That way all the ornaments are different even though the drawings are the same.

So far this has been a really fun and educational tradition. We’re having some great discussions about the subjects of each day’s devotion, and the Jesse Tree itself is shaping up to be a beautiful addition to our Christmas decor. It was also a resourceful use of Christmas tree clippings (we used the rest for our Christmas wreath, see below). The girls are enjoying it so much, they even asked to do it immediately upon returning home from a sleepover on Sunday afternoon. And now that I’ve discovered there are so many ways we can vary this project from year to year — using different devotionals and making new ornaments — I’m excited to keep this one going!

The Christmas Wreath – a Keeper!

Although I aspire to be a creative homemaker, I’m no Martha Stewart — and anyone who’s known me for a long time would agree! But some years back when I became a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) mom for the first time, I learned how to make a fresh Christmas wreath with local trimmings as one of the MOPS craft projects. We were living in Portland, Oregon at the time, and I was so proud of that first wreath, made with my own two hands (and lots of guidance from my Martha-esque MOPS pal Shelby), that I took this picture of it before taking it down in January so that I wouldn’t forget “how” I did it (ha ha). This was definitely something I wanted to do again!

However, after a few years of being able to make them with ease through MOPS, I found that it would take a little more planning, supply purchasing, and organization if I wanted to keep this tradition up on my own. Thankfully, the girls were getting older too, and it wasn’t long before I was able to include them in this creative and resourceful Christmas tradition.

Cutting down our own Christmas tree helps with supplies — there are always vibrant green branches left over during that process. And living in Colorado, where pine cones are abundantly available in our own backyard, also helps! This year, the girls were skilled enough to clip left-over branches into usable trimmings and assemble most of the wreath base on their own. So while it’s a little more rustic and a little less Martha than years past, this year’s fresh wreath is one we are all especially proud of and really enjoyed making together!

A Family Fun Christmas Countdown – New!

Until this year, the countdown to Christmas has been as simple as a snowman on the mantle with interchangeable blocks that are updated daily to keep us “on track” for Christmas Day. The Jesse Tree is a countdown of its own that is new this year and helps us stay focused on celebrating Jesus’ birth. But another Christmas countdown idea that I really liked comes from Life as MOM blogger Jessica Fisher: It’s a daily countdown that includes a “surprise” family activity for each day.

What I loved about this idea was that it incorporated two things my girls love — opening “gifts” and surprises — with memorable Christmas fun. The activity for each day is tucked away in a numbered envelope, to be opened and enjoyed on that day only. Each activity is also something the entire family can participate in.

Although I was all set to use the predesigned printable cards provided on Jessica’s blog to save myself time and effort (and maintain the spirit of “simple” this year), the editor in me couldn’t help but want to edit these options and customize the entire countdown to my family’s favorite Christmas activities, as well as new ones I discovered that were happening around town. So I did!

So far, the countdown has been extremely exciting for the girls and it’s also kept me from “skipping out” on a little bit of Christmas fun on busy days. I tried to orchestrate the order of activities to take into account our existing schedule (in other words, no complicated crafts on a day we have Awana or another homeschool group activity), and that has made it a lot easier to keep up with. One thing I didn’t account for was snow days: This past Saturday, we had to skip the Santa pancake breakfast in town (which was on that day’s card) because it had snowed more than six inches overnight and was still blizzard-like as we looked out the window that morning. So we improvised and had a pancake (which turned into waffles) breakfast of our own.

Week One Summary

Our first week on a “Homeschooling Christmas” schedule included a few traditions, old and new, along with some core schoolwork each day (such as math, reading and spelling). What I’ve observed so far is that we’re actually getting a lot more done preparing for Christmas than we have in past years while still having “school” each day — even our Christmas cards are out earlier this year! The best part is the girls feel like they are already on Christmas vacation — a little more PJ time and a lot of Christmas fun intertwined with lessons and learning. And that’s what homeschooling is all about!

Here’s a look at our first week in pictures:

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How have the first seven days of December been for you and your family? What traditions are you maintaining, and are you trying anything new? Are you working Christmas into your daily school activities or keeping a traditional school schedule until your Christmas “break” arrives? Let us know, we’d love to hear what you are up to!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

My Tango With Traditions

2 Dec

By Renée Gotcher

I love the idea of traditions just as much as the next person, and the warm and fuzzy feelings that word evokes in my heart. However I’ll admit that try as I might to establish and keep traditions, I’ve really struggled over the years with consistency. Which is a problem when you consider the fact that a tradition is all about consistency — right? If you aren’t consistent about it, can you really call it a tradition?

When I reflect on my own childhood, I realize my mother had the same challenges maintaining traditions in our family. I don’t imagine that it was easy in a family of eight children, with extended family living nearby who maintained traditions of their own that my parents often felt compelled to participate in.

When it comes to Christmas, we had several traditions that endured for a while but then faded as children got older. For example, most years we spent Christmas Eve with my step-dad’s family, and “Santa” (my uncle) showed up with a bag of gifts for us and our cousins, then we’d open family gifts from every uncle and aunt — one by one — until well past midnight. It was certainly all about the gifts, and in years when my parents were struggling financially, it was extremely stressful and burdensome.

All grown up: My family and my sister Cristina’s family (at right) with my Mom and sister Bethany during one of our post-Christmas gatherings.

As we got older, my mom desired for us to focus more on the “reason for the season” and less on the gifts, but her attempts were met with a lot of resistance. Not just from the younger kids, which was to be expected, but my step-dad as well — seeing as the gift-centric traditions came from his family. We tried different approaches over the years, such as skipping Christmas Eve gift time with his family altogether and attending a church service instead, baking Christmas treats for family members instead of buying token gifts, and once we even sang Christmas carols at a nursing home while handing out wrapped bibles to the residents. But nothing ever stuck.

Looking back now, I can completely relate to where my mom was coming from — and I’m disappointed in myself as the eldest child in the family not to have been more understanding and supportive of her efforts. Today, my struggles with Christmas traditions in my own family are very similar.

Being the only sibling in my family born from my mom’s first marriage, I have the added challenge of having another family competing for our attention around the holidays: My birth dad’s family. And that family is also divided between his father and mother, who have been divorced since he was just a toddler and aren’t on speaking terms. That makes at least three different family celebrations to attend in a span of 24 hours around Christmas Day. Oh, and did I mention they are all in California — and we live in Colorado?

Spending Christmas Eve with my dad, his dad and my half-sister Marel.

Needless to say, Christmases have been hectic and completely non-traditional over the years that we’ve attempted to pack up all our children — and a load of gifts — and spend it in California with my family. We’ve had Christmas dinners in hotel banquet rooms and restaurants. We’ve opened gifts around a mini Christmas tree in hotel suites and had to pack large toys into extra luggage purchased specifically to get it home on an airplane. We’ve driven from San Diego (where my Grandma lived) all the way up to the central coast (where my mom lives) in the same day to eat two different Christmas dinners — it’s a 5 1/2 hour drive. You get the picture.

We also take a huge financial hit: Each of these trips, whether we drive or fly, costs us in the thousands. When you add up travel expenses, gift expenses, meals out, trips to local attractions like Disneyland (which we’ve done a couple of times while there), it’s a significant investment. Christmas is not only mostly about gifts, but about cramming as much California fun as we can into one week. Talk about holiday stress! As much as I love my family and spending time with them — and I know how disappointed they are when we don’t travel out — we’ve determined that it’s a tradition we can’t always keep up with, especially if all signs point to staying home.

Opening gifts with my husband’s family on Christmas Day 2002: Audrey’s playing the drums while her cousins chime in.

One year we decided to spend Christmas with my husband’s family in Oklahoma, and although they don’t often gather as an extended family for the holidays, this year our visit brought everyone together. Our family, the families of my husband’s two sisters, and his parents all under one roof. It was delightfully stress free and fun, and we enjoyed participating in my sister-in-law Rosanna’s Christmas traditions, but one thing was still missing. We still didn’t have our own family traditions to share.

Which brings me to my mission this year: Establish Christmas traditions that are meaningful to our family and mostly repeatable no matter where we actually end up on Christmas Day. When it comes to traditions we’ve attempted over the years or picked up from others, we’ll keep the ones that are meaningful to our family and let go of the rest.

One request from the girls this year is to make a new nativity scene.

I also realized that homeschooling gives us the freedom to incorporate Christmas fun into our everyday learning. I have my sister-in-law Rosanna to thank for that idea (see her post about Rethinking the Holiday Session). Rather than continuing our traditional school days right up until our designated “Christmas break,” which is what I did last year, we will be incorporating Christmas celebration and themes into our daily school activities. And while I want to have lots of fun with the girls and enjoy more family bonding time, I also want to take the focus off the commercialism and put it back where it belongs — celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.

So that’s the plan: Whether we accomplish it or not, only time will tell. But it’s my prayer that as I turn this project over to the Lord and ask Him to guide our family during this time, traditions will be born that not only stand the test of time, but bless others as much as they bless us. May our family’s actions bring more glory to Him and reflect His light in a time when most people completely miss the point.

Have you ever struggled with establishing or maintaining your own family traditions at Christmas? What traditions have stuck with you? Have any of your traditions changed or been influenced by homeschooling?

Stay tuned: This month I will chronicle some of our new traditions as they unfold throughout our Christmas celebrations. And in case you’re wondering, we are not attempting a California Christmas this year!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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