Fun holiday tradition: A magic elf

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I wish I had known about this tradition when my children were younger.  In a nutshell, your children write a letter to Santa asking him if he can spare an elf for the holiday season.  Around Thanksgiving you leave the letter, along with some saltine crackers (which crunch like snow) and water (melted snow).

The elf appears, and if you have ordered it from Elf Magic, he comes with a bag, some magic snow to sprinkle on him at night, and a letter of introduction telling you his name.  All very cute.

The fun begins when you put the elf to bed for the night.  They love to get up and play around the house at night and the kids awaken to find them in the morning someplace unexpected.

The tradition does not require that you buy an elf from the company, just find one to use and use your imagination.  The company website has lots of ideas and funny pictures.  I think my favorite was the elf who was found in the morning behind the wheel of the badly parked car with fast food wrappers all over the place.  Apparently he had late night munchies.  Our elf, pictured here, brought along his Webkinz reindeer friend one night and the two of them have gotten into all sorts of mischief.

I’m happy to say I just found a giveaway at Crafty Mama of 4.  Sign up for a chance to win an elf for your house.

To see the daily adventures of our elf, visit me at Lit and Laundry.

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The Best Advice

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I’ve been thinking about the title of our blog.  I feel that I need to pass along wisdom about “how I do it” but lately I’m not sure that I’m doing it very well.

My husband and I got through pregnancies, deliveries, infancy, toddlerhood, tantrums and potty training.  We knew it would all pass (although we were pretty sure he would walk one of the girls down the aisle and tell the groom-to-be that she wasn’t potty trained yet).  But now I find myself at a new challenge in parenting and I feel like a newbie all over again.

You see, apparently aliens came recently and stole my lovely 12 year old daughter and replaced her with this creature who doesn’t listen, obey, pick up, bathe, or. . .you get the picture.  It’s positively scary around here, not knowing how this person who looks a lot like our former daughter will behave.

So I’ve been thinking of plunging into parenting books again, and seeking advice for myself.  I’ve also been thinking of advice I’ve heard from wise women that is resonating again with me.  These two things may help someone else, so I’ll repeat them to you as I repeat them to myself.

Little people, little problems; Bigger people, bigger problems

This came from a mom I worked with many years ago.  Her children were much older than mine.  That simple statement has often helped me get perspective.  When kids are little, tantrums and potty training can seem very stressfull.  Hang on, you will all survive and confront bigger issues.  When you look back in the future, this all wont seem like such a big deal.  I’m sure I’ll survive my current worries to face the stresses of my daughters driving and dating.

Pray, and trust

This came from a mother friend in Church, and I wont begin to try to convert anyone to prayer here, but the sentiment rings true – have some faith that things will work themselves out.  I was picky about some foods when I was a kid, and now I love them.  My sister and I fought, and then grew very close.  Release worries to a higher power and know that some things will change with time.  You can only beat your head against the wall so much, sometimes you have to let go.

That is “how I do it” today.

You can meet my twins and their alien sister at Lit and Laundry.

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The holidays are a time of traditions, and families with young children are in a position to create new and wonderful traditions that they hope their children will long remember.

But while we adults picture the festive holiday meals and the visits to Santa, traditions in a child’s mind can be very different.

I’ll take an example from my own childhood.  My mom once bought a tissue 3-d Santa that fit over a lampshade.  It was cheap and flimsy, but I adored it and insisted on it being displayed every single year until I went to college.  I’m amazed it didn’t “acccidentally” get lost or destroyed.  My mom, as much as she protested and probably hated that thing, knew how much it meant to me.

My own children remember the oddest details.  Wasabi Girl remembers that we “always” watch the Wizard of Oz on Halloween, and stop it at a certain scene to go trick-or-treating.  As I recall, we did that exactly once, but she insists that it’s what we must do every year now.

Christmas Eve, the kids put out a favorite stuffed animal near the tree to wait (and talk to) Santa.  Before they could read their names on packages, this was a good way for Santa to leave their loot in nice sorted piles.  I would think we had outgrown this now, but they remember it and repeat this tradition which we probably began in their infancy.

If I had it to do over again, with very small children, I would plan some more traditions that I’ve read of, like a new set of pajamas on Christmas Eve and doing something charitable every year.  But it’s not the planned traditions that always stick with a child, it’s the magic that happens when adults slow down and pay attention to the wonder of the seasons.

So this Thanksgiving, make time for some small, wonderful moments, and then record them for yourself.  Try them again next year to see what your child remembers.  You might be surprised.  And if you have older children, include them in the planning and ask them about their favorite parts of the holidays.  Everyone has their own definition of traditions, we just have to find which ones mean the most to each person.

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The Candy Tax

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In an effort to keep my readers informed, I am going to spend some time today explaining an important, but often overlooked, law that will affect all of us in the near future.

I’m speaking of the Candy Tax. Not only is this a Federal statute, I think it is worldwide. I believe this law will soon be put before Congress for a vote to amend the Constitution.

Simply put, the parents of any youthful recipients of large amounts of candy are entitled to a percentage of said candy. This percentage is up to and including any and all snickers bars if they constitute 10% or less of the total haul. Candy that has been collected in pillowcases or other outrageously large containers is subject to a 15% Candy Tax. This covers the time and stress of the parent having to manually inspect each piece upon re-entry of the youthful person into the home.

In the case of really awful sour candy being the sole form of candy collected, the candy recipients may petition for a deferment of the candy tax until such time as they receive a form of candy acceptable to the candy assessor. For example, if at Halloween the recipient returns home only with awful sour candy, they owe the parent the ears and feet of the next chocolate Easter bunny they receive.

Additional taxes may be levied in the case of a parent creating a homemade costume. Because said costume was created in an effort to assist the Candy Recipient in accumulating more candy, the parent may collect up to and including all snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Hershey bars in compensation for their time.

The payment of the tax is at the sole discretion of the parent, and may include substituting Reeses for Snickers if they so desire.

Candy eaten on the way home from trick-or-treating still counts towards the total haul, and parents should take into account not only the number of pieces of candy, but the number of wrappers present during candy inventory.

If the candy tax is not promptly paid, the candy may have to go on time out on a high shelf in the kitchen until such time as the parent can properly inspect it and collect the tax.

You can meet my little tax deductions over at Lit and Laundry

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Magic Words

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If I were a teacher at Hogwarts, I’m sure I could get my kids to behave by a wave of a wand and a few choice words. Being mortal, however, I have to rely on carefully chosen words alone.

I’m a firm believer in not negotiating when something absolutely must be done.  There are times when the parent should assert themselves and be the parent. One technique that’s tried and true is counting to three to get the kids moving. There’s a great book that talks about using this method called “1-2-3 Magic.” What the author makes clear is that you cannot dither – no counting “1, 2, 2 1/2, 2 3/4. . .”  The child knows he has a good long time until you get to 3 because you’re giving him that out.  He’ll ignore you almost indefinitely.  You must firmly and steadily count to 3.

But the author also describes a twist on the technique that works fabulously for me.  Count backwards instead.  In my house, all I have to say is “3. . .2” and the kids jump to do whatever I’ve asked them to do.  It’s like a bomb about to go off.

The irony?  They don’t have any idea what might happen when I get to 1, and I’ve never thought of what I might do.  Just counting backwards is ominous enough.  In fact, I usually just say “3” and off they go.

The other magic word that I use very sparingly is “FREEZE!”  The kids know this is the word of imminent danger.  Moms say “stop” and “please don’t” enough that kids easily tune them out.  Freeze is the word to use when a child is about to chase a ball into the street in front of a moving car.   I use it so rarely that the kids know it’s important enough to really stop what they’re doing.

These magic words work for me.  I’d love to hear what works at your house.

You can meet my (usually) well-behaved children at Lit and Laundry.

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Teaching Your Children About Books

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“There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

The last week of September is banned books week, marked by booksellers and libraries across the United States. As I’ve been looking into information on this week, I’ve found a dizzying number of lists of banned books. Harry Potter tops many recent lists, and so does my recent sob novel Bridge to Terebithia. Gone With the Wind, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men – many of the greatest books of the 20th century have been challenged and banned from schools and libraries.

Those books don’t surprise you? How about The Lorax? Challenged for “criminalizing the foresting industry.” Or Where’s Waldo? Removed from a school library for “nudity” (a tiny picture of a woman lying on a beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top). A Light in the Attic, Little House on the Prairie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – all these wonderful books have faced attempts to ban them from libraries and curriculums. [source here]

As parents, we are gatekeepers to our children’s minds and morals. If you don’t want your child to read a book, don’t have it in the house. If it’s on a required curriculum, ask that your child read an alternate title. Just please don’t try to impose your morality on others.

This week is a great time to talk to your children about banned books. A list of local libraries and merchants with displays can be found here. I’ve talked about this with my children as we’ve looked at the banned books displayed at our library. Reading is a freedom. But along with that freedom comes a responsibility to choose wisely and listen to guidance from parents. I don’t want Drama Girl to read the Gossip Girl books right now, but I’m reading Twilight with her, and heaven knows she’s read an enormous number of the books on the lists. My son has read and enjoyed Phillip Pullman’s books, but he knows the difference between what that author espouses and what we teach at home and in our Church.

This week I think we’ll act like outlaws and read James and the Giant Peach together.

“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion…”
— Henry Steel Commager

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You have 100 days to get ready

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Today marks 100 days until Christmas.

I enjoyed Christmas before I had kids, but when I had an army attacking the Christmas tree in the early hours of Christmas morning, I knew the real joy of the holidays.  The key to staying sane through the season is to get organized.  I have a friend who once said “All the holidays are a week apart now – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.”  He was joking, but as my kids have grown, I’ve found it to be frighteningly true.

So as much as you may be sweltering in the heat, or if your porch is still decorated for July 4th, you will be a happier, saner person if you at least start doing a little thinking about the holidays now.

Budget.  Especially with multiples, we can go overboard on the gift and clothing purchases.  Now is the time to put away a little extra or decide to brown-bag lunches.

Set up a calendar.  School concerts, trick-or-treating, parties; there are a lot of events coming up for the family.  Sketch them out now so you can find the time you need.  Want pictures with Santa?  Schedule a good weekend – then think about if you want new outfits for that picture.  Pencil in that shopping trip too.  I find I have to work backwards like this a lot.  There are fewer and fewer “free” weekends for us as the years go on.

Buy costumes early.  Sure, it seems like there are a million of them in the store now, but when you want that Thomas the Tank engine the week of Halloween, there is no guarantee you’ll find it.  I also felt I got my money’s worth if the kids played with their costumes before the big day.  Does your child want something unusual?  Try eBay.  One year my daughter just *had* to be Simba.  The costume wasn’t made by Disney any more, but I found it on eBay for $2.

Create traditions.  I think this is one of the most important things we can do for our children.  They don’t all have to be deep and meaningful, they can be silly as well.  Repeating things the same way during the season gives kids a wonderful sense of anticipation and nostalgia for home.

Set up wish lists for your kids.  I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, although the kids are old enough to do this themselves now.  If you have relatives like mine, some of them shop very early and will ask you what to get for the kids.  Have sizes and preferences ready.  People appreciate some guidance.

The holidays should be relaxed and joyful, without debt despair in January.  You can do it.

We’re getting ready for Fall by testing candy over at Lit and Laundry today.

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Do your twins match?

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Do you dress your twins alike?  I’m a firm believer in giving my twins choices in many things, and clothing has turned out to be another surprising one.

I was given many coordinating outfits when my twins were babies, and I really think there is nothing more adorable than two tiny people in matching footy pajamas.  As you can see from this picture, however, my twins are quite a bit older now.

As soon as my kids could dress themselves, I gave them the freedom to select their own outfits.  My job was to deliver clean clothes to the drawers and pair up the socks.  Their job was to dress appropriately for the weather.

They seldom wore the coordinating outfits on the same day, but when they turned about 7 years old, they started asking for matching shirts.  While big sister was away at sleepover camp, they had “twin camp” at home, and proudly wore their matching shirts while they concocted activities to do together.

Now they have about a dozen matching shirts and sweatshirts that they have picked out together, and they plan ahead the night before they wear them.

I asked Jungle Boy why they dress alike, and he said “Because it’s fun!  And it’s a twin thing.”

Who am I to argue with that?

Do you dress your twins in matching outfits?

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Making Time To Be Creative

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Goddess in Progress recently touched on the subject of making time for yourself.  I’d like to propose something even more radical.  Make time to be creative.

I first started quilting when my twins were four months old and my oldest was not yet two years old.  Sounds like a crazy time to take up a hobby but looking back, I can see how it really saved my sanity.

Intellectual Stimulation

I stopped working outside the home when I had my twins, and I missed the challenge of problem-solving that my work had involved. Learning something so totally new to me was a great mental endeavor.

Sense of Accomplishment

Sometimes quilting is the only thing I do around the house that stays done.   Especially when the kids were very small, life seemed to be an endless round of diapers, laundry, feedings.  And no matter how well I did those things, they had to be done again.  Finishing a quilt is like climbing a mountain.  I get euphoric when I’m done.  Then it’s on to the next one.  In addition, I’ve discovered new skills and a sense of color and composition that I never knew I had.

Positive Reinforcement

Nothing is more fun than giving something handmade to somebody who really appreciates it.  My kids each have a stack of quilts now, some of the smallest ones almost threadbare.  People who visit give compliments that make me feel great.

New Circles of Acquaintance

Endless mommy-talk was easy to find at playgrounds, and anywhere I would go with my twins in their stroller, but through quilt shops and classes, I met new people and got to talk about things other than parenting.

If this all seems impossible, let me reassure you that I had three children under the age of two.  If I could do it, so can you.  If the benefits above are appealing to you, here are some steps that might help you start down the road to creativity.

1.Visualize and Daydream

I spent many months with some “how-to” books before I got up the nerve to begin.  I looked at the pictures of completed quilts and knew I wanted to have quilts in my house someday.

What kind of creative outlet appeals to you?  Do you want to design blogs?  Develop your writing skills with your own blog?  Scrapbook? Knit? Bead?  We’re living through a fabulous rebirth of home crafting and there are books and magazines and materials readily available through stores and the internet.  Spend some time just admiring and thinking about what you would really like to do.

2. Be Willing to Fail

I think this is crucial when trying new things.  I repeated this to myself over and over.  I wasn’t ever going to beat myself up over this, it was an extra thing that I was playing with.  Failure would be fine.  Babies don’t care if quilts are lousy.  I could always use them for dusting.

3. Start Small

Time is precious.  Money is precious.  Supplies to begin a new craft can be overwhelming.  I researched how I could start with the bare minimum of quilting supplies.  Pre-made kits of supplies aren’t always a bargain.

4. Carve Out Time

This goes along with “Start Small.”  My husband took up drawing because he realized that he could sketch in about 10 minutes of free time.  Now he does watercolors and elaborate drawings, but he still sits down to do a quick sketch when he only has a little time in the evening.  When I started quilting, I broke down the steps and worked for about 30 minutes at a time while the kids all napped.  Now I carve out time to do needlepoint while I’m in the car waiting for ballet class to end, I embroider tea towels in the car while my husband drives, and I sew a lot after the kids go to bed.  Lots of little chunks of time can really add up.

5. Forgive yourself

I always wince a little when a mom tells me how guilty she feels for not keeping up with her scrapbooking.  I want to say “forget it!  Scrapbooking isn’t your thing!”  Find something else that you love, and it will get done.  I never got hooked on scrapbooking, but I make photobooks on Shutterfly, which are kind of cute and up to date, but not as gorgeous as handmade scrapbooks.  I love receiving homemade greeting cards, but I’ve only made cheesy rudimentary ones myself.  So I don’t make cards.

I feel so lucky to have found something I love, which recharges me and challenges me and separates me from my role of parent.  As my kids have grown, I’m even more grateful that I have creativity in my life to balance my time.  I think seeing me create is inspiring to my kids, who do all kinds of creative things themselves.

So get out there and get creative!  What are you willing to try?

You can find my blog, with lots of posts about quilts at Lit and Laundry.

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Back to School: Why I Kept My Twins Together

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First day of kindergarten

My boy/girl twins have been in the same classroom every year through fourth grade.  I am lucky to live in a school district where parents can voice their preferences for placing twins in classrooms.   There are at least six sets of twins that I know of at our elementary school and I think only one other set is in the same class.  There are many parents who are surprised at our decision.  I’m surprised at how many do not stay together.

There are already resources on the internet to help you make the school decision, and I wont repeat what others have said better.  I refer you especially to an excellent article at  What I’d like to do in this post instead is give you a personal perspective on how it has worked for our family.

I really didn’t hesitate when I first made this decision.  My twins are now, and have always been, very close.  I asked my twins recently what they thought about staying together in school.   Their reply was enthusiastic.  They love to be together.  Among their reasons; they pick up homework when one is sick, they like doing projects together, they like to eat together, they like to work on homework together, and they like making friends with their twin’s friends.

I have a reason that is more selfish, and let me be straightforward about this:  keeping twins together in a classroom is a lot easier on the mom.  It doesn’t take long to discover that the school years are busy and parent participation is critical to success.  They will bring home books and projects and homework that you must work on with them, and it’s really a lot easier to tackle the same thing at the same time.  I always know what’s going on in the classroom, because I get all sides of the story.  If the curriculum were thrown at me at two different speeds or in two different ways because of two different teachers, I would have a much harder time keeping on top of things.  I think I would be comparing teachers unfairly.  I also think it would be a strain for me to go on multiple field trips.

Every year in the Spring, we talk together about whether they want to be in the same classroom the following year.  Then I talk to their teacher.  I have heard nothing but praise for how wonderfully my twins manage together in the classroom.  I ask lots of questions and I treat every school year as a fresh decision.

Part of me thinks that my twins are close because I kept them together.  By indicating to them that I valued their relationship, I think I helped to foster that relationship.  My twins tell me about their twin friends in separate classrooms who don’t get along at all.  I have no proof that there is cause and effect at work, but it is interesting to note how many twin sets are not getting along during their school years.

Last day of 4th grade, with their teacher

This last picture was taken in June, with their fourth grade teacher.  This Fall they are off to middle school, where they will be changing classes and will not necessarily be in the same classroom.  The one thing they’re looking forward to the most?  “Band!  Because we’ll get to be together!”

You can come visit my twins and their big sister at Lit and Laundry.

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