Holding on to the Mystery

Santa Claus with a little girl

Image via Wikipedia

I’m beginning to realize how brief is the period of time in which the kids both understand the magic and believe in it. We spend so much time trying to get kids to grow up–talking responsibility, bigness, and so on–that it’s hard to switch gears and ask them to stay little so that things like Santa Claus and the Advent calendar retain their mystery as long as possible.

At 5 1/2, Alex is in a strange, nebulous place between credulity and canniness. He’s starting to ask questions, he’s starting to put the pieces together, but he hasn’t gotten there yet. Here’s one example (there are many others): My brother-in-law sent us an “elf on a shelf,” along with a book that tells how the elf flies to Santa every night to report on the kids’ behavior. Alex loved the book, but he stopped me before we even reached the end. “But you know, this is just pretend,” he said. “The elf doesn’t go anywhere.”

So Santa has been a small challenge this year. Last year, Alex knew precisely what he wanted, and he told us over and over for three months leading up to Christmas. This year, he didn’t have anything specific in mind until he looked at the Toys R Us catalog and picked out two things that were wildly inappropriate–one piece of (ahem) toy that got terrible reviews for breaking right away, and a Thomas set aimed at three-year-olds, which we knew he wouldn’t play with once he got it. What to do? As parents, we want so badly to give our children exactly what they wish for, as long as it’s not harmful. But then there’s the practical consideration. And yet, if we ignore what he tells Santa Claus, we risk destroying the trust he has in the myth, and that’s a giant leap toward the end of the myth altogether.

So when I got this email from Christian yesterday mid-morning, it warmed my heart:

I talked to Alex about Santa this morning in the truck. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Are you excited about Christmas and Santa coming?
A: Yes.
Me: I hope Santa brings you guys a lot of presents.
A: Well, I only asked for two things.
Me: Yes, well, you know, sometimes Santa doesn’t always bring us what we want because he thinks we’ll like something more. Like one time, instead of what I asked for, Santa brought me a HUGE lego castle, that had horses, and knights, and…….
A: OOOOOOOO! Did it have a king and queen?
Me: Yes, and I think that Grandma and Grandpa Basi might still have it.
……. (more conversation about lego castle)
Me: So, sometimes, Santa brings us things that we might like even more!
A: Yeah, that would be OK too.

God bless Alex, and God bless my husband. I just want to give them both big hugs and kisses. With a little chewing on Alex for good measure. 🙂 But he’s getting too big to be chewed on. He’s told me so.

(Sniff, sniff.)

Nothing Says “Christmas” like a Gingerbread House


It’s one of the critical memories of my childhood. No year went by without gingerbread–it was the single indispensable Christmas cookie. And not very many went by without some sort of gingerbread construction.

Well, last Saturday, our daily Advent activity was…making a gingerbread house with Grandma! Sorry you can’t smell it (or taste it. But the internet has its limits, you know.) Enjoy! 🙂


Linking up with Wordful Wednesday at

 parenting BY dummies 

and You Capture: Holiday Magic at

I Should Be Folding Laundry

Motherhood Moments in Pictures


One thing about Advent activities: it translates to a lot of “moments” with your children. Moments like feeding goats, camels, and a wildebeest (I kid you not):

Moments like watching my son ride a camel:

Or how about getting to share a brand new baby cousin with them?

Then there are the ubiquitous pictures with Santa…

(Incidentally, Alex’s visit to Santa required a massive rethinking of our finished Christmas shopping. Harumph!)

And as the other kids explored the model train and build-a-bear and remote control cars and shooting galleries all around Santa, Julianna (characteristically) just wanted to walk. Right back to Santa, who got half a dozen cute, giggly waves out of her before the night was over.

How about you? Do you have any motherhood (or fatherhood) moments to share today?

Friday Advent Adventures: Chrismon

Chrismon Tree

Image by Scott Schram via Flickr

I thought by the time I’d done enough research to write a book, a dozen or two blog posts, and a research-heavy article, I’d know about everything there is to know about Advent and Christmas. Well, guess what? Thanksgiving weekend, I learned something new, and very cool.

My mother-in-law and I were looking at Christmas stuff at Frameworks, my favorite local store. My eye kept catching on these lovely butterflies clipped to the trees alongside the poinsettias and holly berries. They were so pretty, I thought, waffling as I fingered the beaded gauze. But like birds, nests, and so on, what makes them belong on a Christmas tree? I know there’s some symbolism about a bird and a nest—something about good luck, I think—but sticking a butterfly on a Christmas tree is just taking it too far. “No,” I said, “they’re so pretty, but what does a butterfly have to do with Christmas?”

“It’s a Chrismon,” said a voice on the stairs beside me, and my mother-in-law and I looked up. “There are a bunch of them, they’re symbols of Christ: butterfly, dove, angel, cross…I can’t remember them all. But that’s what they’re called. Chrismon.”

Being an all-things-Advent kind of gal these days, you can imagine that upon returning home I ditched the family and headed straight for the computer. As it turns out, Chrismons are not actually about Christmas, but they are about Christ (thank you, Wiki). Think Christ Monogram. Each one symbolizes a fragment of the mystery that defines us as Christians. A lot like the Jesse Tree symbols, actually, only focused on Christ himself instead of Christ’s genealogy.
(Image from Ft. Worth 1st United Methodist’s terrific page)

A quick internet search yielded the usual deluge of hits: Wiki, patterns for symbols (this one is my favorite of those I’ve seen so far), and a terrific history of the “Chrismon Tree.” The Alpha and Omega (Christ as beginning and end of all things); many forms of the cross (to focus on Crucifixion, on kingship, etc); the 5-point star cross (symbol of the Epiphany to the Gentiles), and so on.

Boy, do I wish I’d found these before I wrote Joy to the World! There’s another whole chapter waiting there. 🙂 It’s too late for us to incorporate these symbols this year—our family’s plans are already set. But I guarantee this will be a craft project for a future year in the Basi Family Advent calendar. And here’s where you come in.

It’s Your Turn!

What do you think, intrepid Advent celebrateurs? How would you (or do you) use these symbols during the season? On the Christmas tree? In a mobile hung from the ceiling? Taped to the windows? What resources should we all have, especially online resources?

Friday Advent Adventures: The Advent calendar


Welcome to Friday Advent Adventures! For the next three Fridays, we’re going to break open a topic and compare notes from our experiences in reclaiming Advent. (The fourth Friday is Christmas Eve, and even I’m not bigheaded enough to think you all want to talk Advent with me on Christmas Eve.)

This week, let’s talk…Advent calendars!

As I’ve been talking with people the last few weeks, I’ve sensed a theme: most everyone agrees without hestitation that using the Jesse Tree and Advent wreath at night, and the manger throughout the day, will help to bring the Advent season into focus. But the calendar? An activity every day? People’s resistance rattles the air between us–and I understand it. I do. How can you possibly add any more to the to-do list in this busy season?

The thing is, the to-do list is going to be stressful no matter how you approach it. Planning out the parts of the list that you want to share as a family (and I use the term to include married couples without children, either before children or empty nesters, or whose children are too small to participate) really does ease the stress. It breaks down an overwhelming list into manageable chunks.

Planning is key. You have to start by putting in the big suckers–the ones that are going to drain you most. For me, that is cookie baking. It all has to be done early, because we have our studio recital for our piano, flute and voice students next weekend, and I provide the treats. So the c0okies have to be ready ahead of that. So when I start planning, I start by figuring out which two days I can set aside for that job. Once the biggies are in place–and spread out appropriately–then I start filling in with littler things. It takes some moving things around to get everything in place, but I’ve found that it’s well worth the effort. Because once the “have to” or “need to” tasks are organized, I’ve found that we have room to do things we wouldn’t commit to without knowing when everything else is going to get done.

Of course, it’s still going to be busy, and a lot to do. December 1st was the day we shopped for gifts for a person in need for our parish Giving Tree, and that day was beyond busy, between a radio interview, four lessons, and choir practice. But one of the gifts had to be ready to turn in on the 2nd, so what’s the alternative? I go shopping by myself and wrap gifts while little ones are napping? How does that teach my children anything? It’s the experience of helping someone in need that tunes my kids in to the suffering in the world, and teaches them that we have a responsibility to address it in some small way.

Here are a few of the many options for Advent calendars:

Wooden Advent calendars

I’ve seen these at Target and Hobby Lobby this season, and the offerings online have exploded since we bought ours three years ago.

Homemade alternatives:

Part Two:

Here’s your chance to share! Tell us about your Week One. What worked this week? What challenges did you face? What activities did your family share? Are the kids excited? Talk to us! Let’s help each other reclaim Advent!

Some scenes from our first week of Advent (coming later this a.m., but I have to get my kids off to school first, and I wanted to get the post up first thing!

Blog Tour!


It’s Blog Tour day for Joy to the World: Advent Activities for Your Family, hosted by FIRST Wild Card Tours. This is a new experience for me, and I hope you’ll check out some of the sites that have posted reviews:

7 Quick Takes

Adventkranz (liturgisch)

Image via Wikipedia

___ 1___

Well, folks, it’s early, but it’s not too early to be making plans. Advent is coming. How are you going to celebrate? Here’s the first book review of my book, Joy to the World: Advent Activities for your family.


Speaking of Advent, I’m planning to host a weekly roundup for anyone who is using the book to help their families find a balance of sacred and secular during the month of December. Stay tuned!


I’m afraid to say this out loud, so consider this whispered: Julianna was dry for basically four days this week. It’s the first time I’ve had the thought that maybe I need to go buy some cute girly underwear. (Happy dance! Are we finally coming close to having only one in diapers…during the day, at least?)


As one who spent several years coordinating volunteers, I often wondered why people were so reticent to make commitments to liturgical ministries. In the last few years, I’ve learned the answer: because when you have kids, it’s SO FREAKING HARD.  At least, music ministry is. This whole fall we’ve been fighting the battle of “where will we rehearse,” because everybody wants the same space. We finally worked out a compromise, and now it’s child care. People often thank us for our ministry, but sometimes I want to get behind a microphone and scream, “People! Are you aware that we PAY for the privilege of volunteering to serve you? Can’t you at least make a minor commitment to sing with us????”

(Note to self: take a deep breath before you step in front of the microphone on Sunday.)


Alex adores kindergarten, and seems to be thriving. But. He is a very slow worker, his teacher tells us. In fact, she put a note on a project that said he had to stay in from recess for a few minutes to finish it. His trouble is not distractedness or laziness. Quite the opposite. He is a meticulous perfectionist. Like his daddy. And this is a good thing…within reason. We can definitely tell the difference between his “I’m trying to get this done fast” work and his “I’m doing a good job” work. Any suggestions for encouraging a slightly-faster-than-a-snail’s-pace pace without sacrificing quality?


Here’s a great quote from Chesterton, which I found via my bloggy friend Sarah: ““[Children] often say, “Do it again”; and the grown up person does it again till he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps, God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes each daisy separately, but never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” 



I don’t feel good, so I’m just going to say: for more Friday tidbits, go visit Jen at Conversion Diary.

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 99)

7 Quick Takes, vol. 83


1. Last night I started a Wilton cake decorating class. It’s very interesting to see how, uh, passionate, people get on the subject. Myself included. There could have been a knock-down, drag-out fight over icing recipes in the aisle of Michael’s last night, but we all managed to control ourselves. 🙂

2. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest mystery of cake decorating is this: How do you make that icing you actually WANT to eat? Turns out, that’s not on the syllabus. Because “we’re not making things people are actually going to eat,” someone said, and my jaw hit the floor. Uh…color me weird, but I do expect people to eat what I make…otherwise what’s the point?

3. But here’s the part I really don’t understand. As I asked questions about icing, the instructor gave me this confused look and said, “No, this isn’t the icing you use to frost the cake. I mean, you can, but no, when you go buy your box mix” (!!!!!) “you just pick up the can of frosting that goes with it.” (!!!!!!!!!)

And fully ¾ of the class nodded their heads.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=cake&iid=122210″ src=”0118/a62cd34c-bc0a-4aac-8b4f-556a255ce262.jpg?adImageId=13094971&imageId=122210″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

4. Call me crazy, but I just don’t get it. You’re buying expensive products like specialty sugar, meringue powder, and concentrated gel colors to make from scratch an icing to make extremely fancy roses, shells, etc. And then you BUY PREMADE ICING to put on a BOX CAKE????? Am I the only one who thinks this is just a little bit, uh, inconsistent?

5. So folks, do any of my esteemed readers know how to make that awesome icing that I could eat all day? They seem to do it at Gerbes and Hy Vee…I keep asking all my cake making friends their recipes, so maybe someday I’ll stumble on one I can’t live without.

6. Okay, I’ll move on with life now. This essay, called “last one picked,” is a telling reflection on that horrifying 80-90% abortion rate for kids with Down’s.

7. And, to end the day on an up note, my book is in the queue. Joy to the World: Advent Activities for your Family is scheduled for release on July 31!

Yes, we’re ahead of the season, but the key to having a restful, rather than stressful, December is planning. It’s not too early to be thinking! JttW is short, and better still, it’s only $6. If you have a young family, I hope you’ll order one and join us in discussion here this December!