Christmas cousins

Before we run out of January, I should probably share some highlights from the holiday season, right?  For me, one of the best things about this last Christmas was watching all of the Hofen cousins spend time together.  Everybody easily finds someone close to their age and spends hours upon hours playing and adventuring together.  The Alva cousins are: Madison, age 18, who is doing lots of planning and pondering about the next stage of life that will inevitably come after she graduates from high school this spring.  Braden, age 11, who gets taller and more athletic every time I see him.  He’s always up for some kind of competition, whether it’s basketball or nerf guns or anything.  And there’s Brooks, age 10, who has probably never met a stranger in his life and loves to have a good time (and make sure everybody else is having fun, too).

Of course, the first thing we said when we saw these kids in December was, “Wow!  You guys are so tall!”  Which is true!  For some reason, they just don’t stop growing.  But it’s also great to see how they’ve grown in other ways, like manners and maturity, and for us to be able to observe their personalities develop.  I guess there’s nothing like the next generation to remind us that change is always happening.

Another great cousin highlight was talking with the India cousins.  Thank God for Skype!  Cassia is a charming and outgoing little girl.  We loved watching her give us a tour of her bedroom and chatting back and forth.  Then, a while later, we were able to see our newest little cousin, Candace, who was born the day after Christmas.  Again, thank God for Skype!

As we were skyping (not sure if that’s a word) with our India family, I could’t help but think about all of the overseas missionaries that have served over the centuries.  Many of them had only one way to communicate with their extended families back home- regular mail.  Some didn’t even have that option depending on their locations.  I just don’t know how they did it!  And I especially don’t know how their families did it!  I can’t imagine having to endure such lengthy amounts of time (sometimes years) without seeing or even hearing from your loved ones.  Their sacrifice and perseverance amazes me.

We had a very merry Christmas with our Oklahoma (and India) family.  There’s no doubt that it takes a big chunk of time to get down there, but the people are always worth it.  I don’t really want to think about how much all of these beautiful cousins will have changed by the time we get to see them again.

Lauren and Brooks staying busy during Church

Lauren and Brooks staying busy during Church

Cassia is a Skype expert!

Cassia is a Skype expert!

in Church our first Sunday in Oklahoma

in Church our first Sunday in Oklahoma

Christmas candlelight

Christmas candlelight

two peas in a pod

two peas in a pod

the older girls, Madison and Emma

the older girls, Madison and Emma

advent calendar

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We are in the midst of another exciting and busy Christmas season at the Hofen house.  There are “parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow.”  Like so many others, there are so many things to do and people to see and places to go during this “most wonderful time of the year.”  But even in the midst of the busy schedule, we are still trying to maintain some simple and meaningful traditions in our home.  And one of those traditions is to keep an advent calendar.  In the past, I’ve just gone to the store and picked up some of those flat, rectangle-shaped calendars that have the little doors that flip open to reveal a little piece of chocolate every day.  I just love those things!  But for some reason, I’m feeling adventurous this year and decided to switch it up a little bit.  (I blame it all on Pinterest!)

Here is our recipe for this year’s advent calendar:  small cardboard boxes that look like cute little milk cartons when they get assembled, ribbon for decoration, and last but not least, chocolate (or whatever fun treat you want to put inside each box).

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Step 1:  Assemble the boxes.  I used Recollections brand from Michaels that came boxed in a set of 24, which turns out to be the perfect number for our calendar.

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Step 2:  Fill the boxes.  I put four Lindor truffles in each box, one for each kiddo and one extra for Superman.  If I didn’t put one in there for him, he might just steal (ahem, I mean borrow) from the kids, so it’s easier if I just give him one too.  Please tell me I’m not the only mom who has to deal with this issue!

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Step 3:  Add ribbon.  Our house is filled with touches of tartan this year.  (Again, I blame Pinterest!)  So this little ribbon gives a little holiday touch that matches the rest of the house, but it’s still simple and easy.  I probably could have gone for the gusto and made labels with the numbers 1-24 to mark the days, but I was trying to keep it user-friendly.  My oldest, Emma, marked numbers on the bottom of each box, just so we can  keep track of  which box to open each day.  But you wouldn’t have to do that step if you don’t want.  Also, I didn’t want to permanently attach anything to the boxes so I could still use them for other years and other seasons.

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Enjoy!  It’s not complicated, it’s not super fancy, but it’s fun and helps our family keep up a Christmas tradition that my kids look forward to every year.  Hopefully you’re December is off to a great start.  I’m sure that “they’ll be much mistletoeing, and hearts will be glowing as loved ones are near.”  Don’t get too busy.  Take some time to savor “the most wonderful time of the year.”  Now I’m off to go find Superman and start some mistletoeing!

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Youtube highlights

If we’re not careful, we could get lost in the land of Youtube!  It just goes on forever!  So to help us navigate through the endless options, I’m sharing some of my favorites, at least they’re my favorites for now.

The first is a Christmas TV ad.  This is my favorite ad I’ve seen so far this season.  It’s touching and clever, but lacks the excessive cheesiness of jewelry ads, which many of you know I absolutely cannot stand!  The second is a trailer for a movie that is coming this spring.  I love the book on which it’s based, so I really hope they do it justice and preserve the message of the book.  And the last one is a song that my dad showed me the other day.  The soloist does a great job, but the MVP’s are definitely the choir and orchestra.  This type of song is right “in my wheelhouse” and I’m hoping it’s on the program of choral music when we get to heaven.  Enjoy!

getting ready for Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, and our home is abuzz with activity for the holiday.  Here’s a peek into what’s happening this morning at our house.

We're rushing to finish some last minute gifts. Who wouldn't want a nice warm scarf made with lots of love?

The stockings are hung with care. This one is Brent's.

The gingerbread house is ready for display. Brent and the kids put this one together. We used a kit from Trader Joe's. I think they did a great job!

We're ready to set the table for tomorrow's big meal.

Can't forget to practice our music for tonight's Christmas Eve service. Above all else, the point of the holiday is to welcome the Savior.

So there’s a little glimpse into what’s going on around the house.  We’re really busy, but it’s a blessing to be busy when you’re serving the ones you love.  And I know these people will love me back, even if the I burn the turkey tomorrow (which I hope does not happen) or if they realize that their presents don’t cost a lot of money.  I pray that you will experience the greatest of all loves this Christmas, the love of a Savior who came for you.  Merry Christmas!

holiday gatherings

What do chocolate chip zucchini bread, dried apples, spiced cider drink mix, and a bunch of other gifts all have in common?  These are all things that have been packed to give this weekend at a Christmas family gathering.  We haven’t always been able to go to this annual party.  When you live two time zones away, it doesn’t really work out.  But now we’re so much closer (meaning that now we’re only 6 hours away!) and can make the drive.  It’s great to catch up with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I’ll be amazed at how much everyone’s children have grown.  There will be lots of delicious food.  And best of all, I’ll get a great big hug from my beautiful sister.

This isn’t our first Christmas party of the season, and it won’t be the last.  And it might seem like a long way to drive for just one evening together.  Honestly, we really don’t see each other very much during the rest of the year, if at all.  Because of busy schedules and long distances, it can be hard to stay connected all the time.  But for one night, for one meal, we’re all together under one roof.  And we’re all there for one purpose: to be a family.

Advent

During the Christmas season there are many ways to do Advent.  There are a lot of options to choose from when deciding how to count down the days until Christmas.  Instead of picking and choosing how to do Advent at our house, we just decided to do them all!  So here are our Advent activities this year:

1. Adornaments from Family Life.  These were given to us several years ago.  I wish Family Life still made them.  They are ornaments that explain the different names for Jesus. Today’s ornament was a picture of a baby in a manger and gave Bible verses about Immanuel, God with Us.  After Brent read the verses, one of the kiddos placed the ornament on the tree.  I like the simplicity of them and I like how they help us stay focused on the reason for the holidays: Jesus.

2. Chocolate Advent Calendars.  This is a throwback to a tradition from my childhood.  These calendars are really inexpensive and they give a little treat to look forward to every day.  Plus, our 5 year old gets some good counting and number recognition practice.

3. Christmas books.  Doesn’t every household have twenty-four Christmas themed children’s books hanging around?  Some of these books are classics, some are religious, some are just cute and fun.  This kind of Advent calendar is definitely my favorite.

This was today’s book, A Christmas Manger by H.A. Rey.  You might recognize the Rey name from the Curious George books.  This book is one I bought a few years back at an after-Christmas sale.  I just packed it away until the next year.  Then I brought it out when the holidays came around again.

4. Lego Advent Calendar.  This is the one the kids are looking forward to doing the most.  I have seen these online before.  But this is the first year we got one for our house.  And it’s Star Wars, too!  There is absolutely no deep purpose to this one, except to build some memories together.  Adding to the Lego collection is pretty fun, too.

If you think this sounds like a lot of countdown calendars, you’re right.  Surprisingly, the lego calendar is the only thing that’s new for us.  All of the others are traditions that have gradually developed in our family over the years.  It doesn’t feel overwhelming or out of the ordinary for us.  It’s just a part of what we do to make Christmas special.  In spite of all the different Christmas countdowns, the most important thing about Advent is turning our hearts toward Christ and remembering his willingness to come to Earth and be our Savior.  That is, and will always be, the ultimate gift.

O Christmas Trees

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, our house is starting to look a lot like Christmas.  And that means trees.  We have three (so far).  In the back room, there’s a little one that it all red and white.  We call it the Coke tree because it’s the tree where Brent displays his collection of Coca-Cola ornaments.  You’d be surprised how many different ways you can design an ornament with the Coke logo.  They’re all cute and clever, and best of all, they all match.  In the living room, is the tallest tree.  All of the decorations for this one are gold and glittery and again, everything matches.  It has the perfect balance of small, medium, and large ornaments.  It’s right by the front window for all to see.  We call it the Department Store tree, because it looks like we stole it right out of a fancy store, maybe in New York City.  The last tree (until we somehow come up with some more) is in the family room by the kitchen.  We don’t really have a name for this one yet.  All of the ribbons match, but after that nothing matches.  At all.  Nada.  It’s controlled chaos on a Christmas tree.  Some of the ornaments were gifts.  Some were homemade.  Some were cute little things that I’d seen in the stores over the years and I just had to buy.  Can anyone identify with this?  But despite that chaos, this tree is definitely my favorite.  It’s the most personal and represents the most memories.  It’s the only one that actually has any evidence that a family lives in this house.  If I had to get rid of all the other Christmas trees and could only keep one, I would the keep this one, the tree with no name.  When I think about it, thought, it probably already has the perfect name: the Christmas tree.

what I don’t like about the holidays

Okay, I admit it.  I love Christmas.  A lot.  I start listening to holiday music in July.  I can watch a holiday movie any time of year.  And I don’t mind it when the department stores start putting up Christmas decorations in September.  But despite all of that holiday love, there is one thing about this season that absolutely drives me crazy:  cheesy jewelry commercials!  Ugh!

There I am, watching TV, minding my own business, and then all of a sudden I am forced to watch as some lady acts like all her dreams have come true because she opened a little box that happens to have something shiny inside.  Under normal circumstances, I’m usually in control of my words and can keep my sarcasm and complaints under wraps.  But when these commercials come on the television, all of that self control flies out the window.  I have been known to quote Charlie Brown (Good grief!) or sometimes even a valley girl (Gag me with a spoon!).  But most of the time I just groan and moan and try to hold on until the commercial is finally over.

As you may have guessed, Brent never has to worry about  trying to buy me any jewelry for Christmas, or birthday, or anything else.  Lucky guy.  My wedding ring is all I need, thank you very much.  There’s more to that story, but I’ll save it for a future post.

The worst part about cheesy jewelry commercials is that once you survive the holiday season, then the TV starts showing all the commercials for Valentine’s Day!  Make it stop!