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Counting Down the Days

December 14, 2015
By Heidi Maness Hartwiger - Natural Parent, Natural Child , OVParent

Consider for a moment how much of life is spent weighing, measuring and counting. Why do we do that? To successfully coexist in our contemporary, high-tech world, of course, we must!

Look at the sad case of T.S. Eliot's hapless J. Alfred Prufrok, who "measured his life in coffee spoons."

No doubt while in nursery school, your kids sang Frank Loesser's song about the little inchworm measuring the marigolds. The punch line of the song says, "Seems to me you'd stop and see how beautiful things are."

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The really important things - love, family and friendship - cannot be measured. As the holiday countdown begins, the time is right to dust off the annual dance that whirls and twirls us between the practicalities of the season and nurturing our relationships.

From the solitude of their offices in lovely surroundings, magazine editors help us plan our holidays day-by-day. Wouldn't it be nice if they factored in a "life happens" week? Sick kids, car in the shop, and the grocery is out of what you need for the freeze-ahead side dish scheduled for Holiday Countdown Week 2 on the magazine to-do list.

Nearly every home with kids has a calendar with scribbled-in holiday events and activities posted on the refrigerator. Questions arise. "Check the calendar," you say.

The big question, "How many days until Christmas?" is easily answered without the calendar, though. You and the kids can craft a Countdown to Christmas Bell, a personalized variation of the paper chain.

Take a family vote on how long the countdown should be; the full 24 days beginning Dec. 1 or a shorter countdown of 10 or 15 days. The idea is to remove one link from the chain each day until you reach the bell. There are many rhymes about the Christmas countdown. This is the decades-old rhyme written on our family's countdown bells:

"How many days til Christmas comes?

It's mighty tough to tell.

Take off a link every morn

As Sunshine casts its spell,

And Christmas Eve will soon be here

By the time you reach this bell."

Kids will need red and green paper, markers glue stick and scissors. The anchor for the chain could be a bell, a star, a tree or another holiday themed shape. Rewrite the poem to fit another shape.

For 24 days, cut 12 1-inch by 8-inch red paper strips and 12 1-inch by 8-inch green paper strips. While the kids number each strip beginning with "1," you reveal your countdown activities, which will be on the inside of certain strips.

Rather than being too specific, use general words; cookies, birds, cards, song, movie, book, memory, etc.

Try stickers instead of words to surprise them. The idea is for a simple family activity related to the word in the link of the day.

Make loop 1 and link loop 2, etc., until the 24th loop is glued to the bell and the whole chain is hanging down from it. Start with loop 1 on Dec. 1.

Now the "cookie" loop arrives. Eat cookies and milk or make cookies. The following simple recipe doesn't take forever.

You will need:

12 graham crackers, broken into 24 squares

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 cups chocolate chips

Sprinkles or chopped nuts for topping

The kids can place the 24 squares side by side on a foil-lined cookie sheet while you are melting the butter and sugar. When that mix becomes thick, turns a honey color and is bubbling, pour over the graham crackers and bake at 325 degrees for about 5-7 minutes until mix is bubbling. Remove from oven (this is the hot, adult-supervision-needed part). Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers and wait 2-3 minutes. Spread the melted chocolate chips across the crackers. The kids can sprinkle on whatever topping they choose. Chill a few minutes to let the chocolate set. Break into odd shaped pieces. These cookies will not disappoint. They freeze well.

The day "song" appears on the countdown loop, someone picks a Christmas song for everyone to sing. If they sing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in the morning, you could surprise the kids with a "reindeer" snack after school. Remove crusts and spread bread with peanut butter (or soy butter). Now cut into four triangles. With the point down, place a dried cranberry or cherry for the nose and two raisins for eyes. For antlers, break a large pretzel twist into two pieces.

"Question-mark" day gives you wiggle room to improvise. "Movie" is an easy family night. Try a wonderful classic, such as "Charlie Brown Christmas," "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." As a family, read a classic holiday story. "Memory" is a great opportunity to share holiday stories that may have been revised but not forgotten over the years. We have traditional family tales that in the telling and retelling have become generational legends. There was year the turkey exploded in the oven of a beloved relative. Another year, Great Aunt Jeannie disappeared among the boughs when the Christmas tree toppled on her.

Now it's "bird" word day. The kids could decorate a container to hold bird food. Birds feeding on bleak winter days are entertaining. There are never too many feeding stations. Consider crafting pinecone peanut butter feeders. Pinecones don't drop from the sky, so you may need to beg from a neighbor in advance so the supply cones will be dry. Spread out plenty of paper. Everyone gets a paper plate base, pinecones, a table knife and string for hanging. Work the string through the flat part of the cone before spreading peanut butter on the cone and rolling it in a pan of birdseed. Peanut allergy? Substitute canned shortening. Warm some shortening until spreadable. Suet, available in the meat department, is another option.

So, as you begin this year's countdown, curtail some holiday stress with simple family moments. Heed the advice to the inchworm: "Seems to me you'd stop and see how beautiful things are."

Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of six books, including her most recent, a novel titled "Fire in Progress." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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