Book of Joy, Day 23, Bonus Post

We have a new Christmas tradition at our house of making Christmas crackers. Not the kind you eat, but the English kind you pull apart that snaps.

I don’t know what prompted me to start making them but let me tell you, they are so much fun that we made it a point to make them every Christmas. You wouldn’t think a popping tube of paper could be such fun, but I assure you, it is.

Here’s a few histories of the cracker, which can give you some ideas as to how to stuff them, also.

Of course if you’re not the crafty type, or your kids are too small, by all means, just buy them! They’re in many US stores these days. If you’re particularly organized, you might want to pick them up after Christmas this year when they go on sale for half price and just tuck them away upstairs in your attic for next year (this is how I purchase most of my Christmas decorations and crafts).

But if you have the time and inclination (or are thrifty cheap, like I am) try making them yourself?

First of all, buy the snappers. I had to order mine from the UK, and they took some weeks to get here, so plan accordingly. And, if you get somewhat addicted to making them for holidays and birthdays, you may want to have a few around.

Then start saving your toilet paper cardboard tubes, or paper towel tubes, though those will need to be cut in half.


Get some wrapping paper, and some ribbon for the ties, but those you might have on hand at Christmas, anyway.

For the stuffers tradition dictates that there are jokes tucked inside the tube, and the more groan inducing the joke, the better it is. Don’t mess with tradition on this one, and try to fix what ain’t broke. We have a few old joke books in the house, and the kids normally find the worst to write on the papers slips that get tucked in the tubes. Books like 101 Elephant Jokes. You could go with themes for the jokes, or pick ones for specific people (and put a name tag on the cracker!). But for the most part, the girls just pick the worst jokes they can find, write them down, and cut them out.

Another part of the tradition is that there are paper crowns that you wear while you eat your Christmas dinner. You just can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re wearing a paper crown and that’s pretty fun all in itself. We cut them out of crepe paper rolls. Just make them long enough (measure the crepe paper around your head to make a pattern), and then cut triangles out of one side of the strip, making the points of a crown.Give it a dab of glue, or a piece of tape to hold the two sides together, and fold it up so you can tuck it in the tube.

I also put some Christmas chocolates, candies, and small toys in them. Bouncy balls, noisemakers, balloons, those banger balloons with the handles on them, water guns, bubble gum balls, matchbox cars, dice, lip gloss, eyes shadows, jacks, erasers, guitar picks, whatever you can tuck in there–use your imagination! Whatever you do, don’t put confetti in them if you’re pulling them at the table unless you want confetti in your food. Ahem.


So now that you have all of the parts to assemble, putting them together is so easy. I’m not one for the precisely cut ends, I like a home made look, so we just twist ours and tie them with ribbon or baker’s twine. But if you do prefer a precise twist and cut, there are templates for you to follow. Of course you’d need a craft knife and cutting board if you went that route.

How you put them together from this point is simple. Just some cutting of paper, glueing the snap, and tying them up.

There are as many ways to decorate or not decorate the outside as there are ways to make crackers, but what I did this year was to cut out some old world Santa pictures from Christmas cards I had bought on clearance. (when I see a picture on a card I like, I tend to do such things with plans to use them later for ornaments, or whatnot). After Christmas, also the Christmas stamps, papers, and stickers go on sale, also, and you can pick them up for up to 70% off. Tuck them away for next year!



Book of Joy, Day 23

Dutch Fishing Boats in a Storm by William Turner

Take some time to read a poem today and say a prayer for those who are far from their families at Christmas.

Christmas at Sea

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 – 1894

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.


Book of Joy, Day 19, by Briana Elizabeth

“Always winter but never Christmas.” C.S.Lewis

I read a blog post today that really stuck me with its truth. It made me realize why I’ve had some ‘off’ Christmas and why others have been such joyous feasts.

“Advent and Christmas without traditions is like Narnia under the White Witch.” Brandy, Afterthoughts blog

I don’t know about your house, but at my house the excitement is pretty thick. Add in birthdays in the days before Christmas, and the littlest is about beside herself.

It’s magical. Don’t you remember being this excited, just barely being able to sleep because of anticipation? The lights, the smells, the people, everywhere you look it being a wonderland?

You can’t have a feast without a fast, which is what Advent is about. Anticipation. Quiet preparation. It makes Christmas all the more brilliant, to have sacrificed in some ways during Advent so that the joy of the holiday can truly be celebrated through to Epiphany. But we don’t want to be so sparse of heart and mind that we act as if Christmas is just another day.

A proper party is in order to make a holiday a holiday. Make a cake, bake the cookies, do your family traditions. The ones that make your family, yours. Adopt some new ones if you want – just don’t throw yourself into a tizzy making it happen! Last year we finally got around to making Christmas Crackers, and they are now a Must Have. My kids write the jokes, I find little stuffers, and we make the crowns. Or maybe just putting the kids in their PJs and giving them hot cocoa as you all watch a favorite Christmas movie is more your style.

Whatever you do, make it special. Make it Christmas, not just winter.

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.


Book of Joy, Day 18: Advent Cookie Baking, by Jen N.

A tutorial in the art of the refrigerated cookie dough and pretzel cookies

As a card-carrying homeschooler, I probably should not admit to buying such processed cheater food. After all, I am home all day. There really is no reason why I don’t have time to mix up the dough, refrigerate it, and then make these cookies. /sarcasm

On a good day, that would be completely doable. But we haven’t had many good days around here this Advent season and I like cookies. I knew there had to be a compromise. Every year is different, and I hope you have time to make 12 kinds of cookies from scratch. I would if I could. If you are having a crazy year (like I am), consider this your dispensation. Do what you can and no more. You may even want to just buy cookies. That works too.

We have a few must-make recipes, and these are literally the easiest two I could think of. I couldn’t spend the time making dough, so I bought pre-made dough at the grocery store. (my original recipe is below for the purists.) If you didn’t see this part you’d never know we were cookie cheaters:


Here are the insider tips I promised you:

Keep the dough cold. Squeeze out a bit at a time and then put it in the freezer while you scoop onto the cookie sheet. It works much better. Also, you can squeeze the tube at first, but eventually  you’ll have to cut the tube lengthwise to get the rest of it out.  I think you’ll agree from the picture of our cookies that no one would know if we made the dough or not.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookie Recipe


  • ½ cup Peanut Butter
  • ½ cup Butter
  • ½ cup Sugar
  • ½ cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 1 Egg
  • 1⅓ cup Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 24 Hershey Kisses (unwrapped)



  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cream together peanut butter, butter, sugar and brown sugar until smooth.
  3. Add egg and vanilla and beat together.
  4. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, beating until incorporated.
  6. Roll into 24 1″ balls and place on cookie sheet several inches apart.
  7. Gently make an indentation in the center of each cookie.
  8. Bake 12-14 minutes.

Place a Hershey Kiss in the center of each cookie.


I can promise you this post is not sponsored by Hershey. It’s just what I grew up with. Although I have tasted better chocolate, I haven’t seen Cadbury or the like in kiss form.

Even easier are pretzel M&M Kiss Cookies. Mostly because they aren’t really a cookie.

  • 1 bag Pretzel Twists, Squares, Or Circles (9 Ounce Bag)
  • 1 bag Hershey’s Kisses (12 Ounce Bag)
  • 1 bag (12 Oz. Size) M&Ms

1. Spread your pretzels out on a cookie sheet, and place one Hershey’s Kiss on top of each.
2. Place sheet in the oven at 275 degrees for 3 minutes–just long enough for the Kisses to get soft.
3. Remove from oven, and immediately press a single M&M on each.
4. Refrigerate until eating to make sure they are deliciously solid!

These also turned out great. So much so that I have no picture of them.






Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog: www.recreationalscholar.wordpress.com


A Book of Joy, Day 17, by Briana Elizabeth

“If you find that not many of the things you asked for have come, and not perhaps quite so many as sometimes, remember that this Christmas all over the world there are a terrible number of poor and starving people.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas

Give something away today.

Do a chore for someone without telling them.

Put a bag of cookies on your Mailbox for your Mail Carrier.

But a cup of coffee for the person behind you.

Clean out your closet and bring it to good will.

Donate some food to the food pantry nearest you.

Sign up to work the soup kitchen this Christmas.

Bring some old baby clothes to a crisis pregnancy center.

Remember the aged around you, and make them a Christmas card.

Buy some socks for the homeless shelters.

Shovel someone else’s car out, or their walk way.

Donate blood.

Sign up for Toys for Tots, or a local donation center for toys.

Say a prayer for someone in need of help. It seems like nothing at all, but if you have nothing to offer, it’s the greatest of sacrifices.

If you know of another way to do a good deed for someone, or a non-profit that does good work at this time of year, please leave it in the comments.


A Book of Joy, Day 16: Receiving Can Be Joyful Too, by Lynne

I’m generally of the opinion that giving is better than receiving. I have certainly found that to be true in my life.  I enjoy surprising people with little gifts or small kindnesses. It makes me happy to see other people smile.

However, receiving a really thoughtful gift can be one of the nicest experiences ever.  I still remember a gift I received in seventh grade from a classmate.  I had commented to her that I liked a notepad she had, and she bought one for me for Christmas.  I was touched that she’d remembered my comment.  Of course, I’ve received many very thoughtful gifts over the years, but for some reason, her remembering my comment has always remained with me.

I’ve also had another revelation about receiving. Receiving a gift can be inspirational.  We just visited my sister’s family in another state, and celebrated Christmas with them a little early.  My nephew had made little train engines out of candy for my boys.  My boys thought these were the greatest things since sliced bread. They were so excited that their cousin had thought of them, and that he had found this idea online, and that he executed them so well.


They kept talking about these candy trains in the car on the way home.  They want to try to make some themselves.  Then they were talking about other things that they could make out of candy.  My older son said, “Hey, Mom! What if I make a bust of Albert Einstein’s head out of candy?”  I told him that was a super idea.  It was so nice to hear them conversing with each other about something fun and creative, instead of the usual arguing a long car ride provokes.  A little bit of candy and a little bit of love went a long way in stimulating ideas and camaraderie.

I hope that you enjoy giving gifts and making people happy this season.  And I also hope that you receive a thoughtful gift or two, and maybe even one that will inspire you to do something great. Happy Holidays!

Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past 4.5 years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.


Advent Bucket List, by Jen N.

Every Advent I have great intentions of completing a long list of activities. Luckily the Christmas season is twelve days long, and our school break is even longer. Some years we have written each item on a slip of paper and the kids pulled them out of a jar. Some years I simply made a list on the fridge and we crossed items off. Here’s our list:

  1. Make s’mores over the stove top
  2. Decorate the Tree
  3. Go to a Festival of Trees as a family (We have one at a museum.)
  4. Shop for gifts for Toys for Tots
  5. Unwrap a new holiday book to read
  6. Have hot cocoa and cookies one afternoon
  7.  Make a craft with Mom
  8. Write a letter to Santa
  9. Go to the Christmas play
  10. Go sledding
  11.  Have a family Christmas Movie Night with treats
  12. Have lunch at a special restaurant with your family
  13. Wear new jammies to bed
  14. Decorate cookies and/or a gingerbread house
  15. Donate food to your local food pantry
  16. Make paper snowflakes
  17. Write a card to an armed serviceman
  18. Make wrapping paper
  19. Drive around and look at lights
  20. Wrap Gifts
  21. Game Night
  22. Take a Winter Nature Walk
  23. Make Reindeer Food
  24. Make cookies for Santa
  25. Make cinnamon rolls for Christmas Morning

Here it is as a PDF- Advent Bucket List






Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog: www.recreationalscholar.wordpress.com


Free Things for Christmas, by Briana Elizabeth

Editor’s Note: Briana Elizabeth shared this last year, and we think it’s worth repeating.

My house is in a quiet hush.

Only certain decorations have made their appearances, and even though we’ve watched Elf a few times, the tone of the house is quiet expectation. We’re all working on our own projects, and I’ve made one room the Santa Room that’s been blocked off with curtains and a standing rule that if the curtains are closed? No one is allowed to enter — and that goes for all of us, me included.

School has been pared down to the three basics: Latin, math and reading. We’ll idle there for about a month, and fully take off for about two weeks. This is why we homeschool, after all. This is our family culture. These are weeks of lots of art making, of singing, of special books and movies, of planning, and cleaning. We’re having some very special guests this Christmas, also, and we’re adding in what will hopefully become new traditions.

All year long, I collect links to Christmas crafts that I know will challenge the kids a bit, and become heirlooms. Those are my qualifications. We don’t make anything that is going to be thrown away when the decorations are packed away. Today I am going to share a bunch of them with you! Hopefully there’s something for everyone.

For a quick sewing present, Oliver+S published a great little tutu skirt with a matching doll skirt! These are great for your students learning to sew because this company’s patterns are like professional sewing lessons, they’re so detailed.

If you want to make some ornaments that the kids should be able to make by themselves, or use in decoupage, there are some adorable bird print outs that are available. For a table setting, I’m having my kids cut out paper angels that I’m going to put a tea light in as luminaries. Hopefully I won’t set the whole table on fire, but I think it should be pretty.

Every year at my house we make a lot of Christmas stars. I grab free, old encyclopedias when I can so that I have a constant supply of vintage looking paper. Of course you could use any paper you want, so use your imagination! I’ve even used old Christmas wrapping paper for these. You can decorate them, too. When I was in high school I went to visit a friend’s house, and his mother was making Moravian stars for their tree. She taught me how, and every year we add some more to our own trees. We use them as package decorations, for buntings, you name it. Finnish stars are also so beautiful to hang, and though a little more complicated, still fairly easy. There’s a great youtube video on how to make them, and they can be made with different papers and in all different sizes, too. If you get really good at them, there are some more complicated patterns. Here are some simple ones that are folded and glued. From Sweden come some amazing star lanterns that are very traditional and beautiful. OK, only one more star to make, and I think these are the simplest of all. I’ve also used decorative scissors to make the cuts and used all different kinds of papers. (In the summer I make really large ones and hang them on my porch with twinkle lights.) These are not stars, but Danish hearts go from utterly simple to very detailed so that everyone can join in the crafting.

It would be a wonderful afternoon to have a star making party with lots of cocoa and marshmallows, Christmas music, and a table full of papers to make stars with. If you were to do that, I would make sure I had a good understanding of how to make the stars myself so that teaching guests would be easier. You could put up a map and throw some geography in there by asking the children to find the countries where these stars are traditional. Always the homeschooler, right?

Another oldie but goody is macaroni snowflakes. I know, I know, they can be cheesy, but I think these are adorable and very accessible for little hands. On the same website is an old-fashioned recipe for cinnamon ornaments, which smell amazing and can be kept from year to year until the scent wears out.

Now this is more for a teen with a very small, sharp pair of scissors, but a circus carousel would make a lovely little mantle decoration or gift. Christmas it up with traditional colors and some glitter.

If you happen to have some tissue paper hanging around, you can make some beautiful transparencies. And for a toddler, I think this nativity printable is adorable. If you really want to get crazy, you can print out this house template, let the kids color them, and make table settings with them, decorate a mantle, or even use them for a mobile like the crafter did! Elsewhere on her website is an adorable garland that could be made for the Christmas tree, also.

If some of you are crocheters, there’s a beautiful snowflake garland pattern. If the thought of a garland is overwhelming, just make one at a time and hang them singly on the tree.

Last but not least are the most detailed ornaments. I live in an old Victorian house that was built in 1880, and when we bought the house, of course we became interested in its history and all things Victorian. Exciting for us to learn was that people of the Victorian era pretty much made Christmas as we know it today, and their ornaments were just as fantastic and over the top as they were. These are amazing reproductions thanks to jet printers! Don’t limit yourself to the suggested pictures! Make circus performers, or ice skaters, huntsmen, fairy tale characters, aliens!…it’s paper, you can throw away what you don’t like! But the ones you keep are treasures because of paper’s delicate nature. Make sure you wrap them carefully at the end of the season and put them in a box that won’t be crushed.

The trick to this stuff is to not go crazy. Don’t try and do all of them. You’re making memories of the experiences, not trying to recreate the pictures. Choose one or two that you really like, and then set aside an afternoon or two to make them together. Put your dinner in the crockpot and relax. Get glue everywhere, and laugh a lot. Eat lots of marshmallows. Have fun.

Merry Christmas, everyone.



Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.