this year, it means something more.

For a solid year, Lu has been terrified of Santa.

On Vashon, Santa Claus comes around different neighborhoods every night, on a lit-up fire truck blaring Christmas music, accompanied by firemen elves who toss candy canes to any kids waiting on the street. It’s pretty hokey magical, really. Even before I was married or Lu came along, I loved the night when Santa came to our part of the island.

However, last year, we forgot to prepare our kid. So when we were sitting in the living room reading books before bed in the semi-darkened room, the knock on the door came as a shock to her. It was friends letting us know that the fire truck was approaching. Danny and I tried to take Lu outside on the porch, to let her see the light approaching, hear the tinny singing from the speakers, and see Santa for the first time in her life. She wanted nothing to do with it. It was as though the front door was a force field and we could not pass over it. She sat scrunched into us on the couch, wanting nothing more than for it all to go away.

It makes sense, really. That’s a lot of stimulation. Also, the mere idea of Santa is kind of intimidating. He’s knows everything about you, including where you live and what you want for presents. And somehow, miraculously, he makes it to all the houses in the world, all the presents loaded into one not-that-big sleigh, never making a mistake. Seriously? It doesn’t really add up, does it?

We didn’t tell any of that to Lucy last year. For her, the lights, the noises, the jolly man laughing too deeply? It all just freaked her out. Whenever she has had a nightmare in the last year, she has screamed out for me. When I hold her and make her feel better, then ask her about her bad dream, she has always said one word: SANTA.

This year, however, she’s older and less fearful about the unexpected. She’s excited beyond words. It’s Christmas time.

On Saturday evening, Vashon shut down the streets in town for the big Christmas parade and lighting of the tree. Lu and I walked downtown holding hands, talking about the time to come. She ran down the sidewalk when she saw her friend Zea. “My best friend Zea is here!” They hugged, then held hands as they walked toward the little wooden booth downtown where Santa was. Without hesitation, she climbed on Santa’s lap for her picture with Zea. And when he asked what she wanted for Christmas, she said, “A candy cane?” That tiny sliver of candy wrapped in plastic made her perfectly content.

After dinner with Zea and her parents, and Abigail and Hazel and their parents (all dear friends of mine), we walked to the corner where Danny’s restaurant is. (Sadly, he had to work, but we stopped in several times for hugs before the dinner rush began.) Lu asked to sit on my shoulders, once she saw that her friend Hazel was on her dad’s shoulders. We waited in the wrong place for the parade, then rushed to the corner with the rest of the town to see the high school marching band play Christmas music, then watch Santa go by on a lit-up sleigh pulled by a John Deere tractor. My brother, who is the music teacher for the elementary school here, led the third graders in a round of Oh Christmas Tree. (Sadly, the mics didn’t work. But Lu sang with them anyway.) And then we all oohed and aahed as the tree in town lit up with 10,000 lights.

I’ve never seen Lu so happy as she was that evening. I felt the same  happiness.

This year, for the first time, our little one is excited about the coming season. She understands just enough to know that special things happen now. We’re pretty light on the Santa story, not really religious so not talking about the manger, and determined to not make it about the presents. Instead, we have been talking about lights in the darkness, giving to the people we love, making paper snowflakes and presents for the birds, giving toys to the kids who cannot afford any, and making memories with small moments of loveliness.

I’m the least crafty person on the planet, but this year I have been learning how to make construction paper chains for the tree, contemplating making a gingerbread house, and thinking about dozens of baked and sweet treats to give away as presents. Lu has loved every moment.

It makes sense the  holidays happen this time of year (at least in this hemisphere). It’s dark by 4:30 now, a little cold, a little dreary. The twinkling lights on the tree truly do give me a lift each evening. And now, with a three-year-old giggling with glee when we gave her a Santa hat, or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the first time, I’m excited about this holiday for the first time in decades. I want to share it all with her.

This year, we’re making everything we can by hand or find through thrifting. There will be drawings and photographs for grandparents, a trunk full of dress-up clothes for Lu (we’re going to our favorite thrift stores soon), and copies of well-loved books we have checked out from the library a dozen times for her very own. Even though I might kick myself later, I’ve made up the list of people we love to whom we want to give presents, and I’m baking and making treats every day for the next few weeks. It will take a lot of time, but I’d rather spend my hours baking and wrapping then shopping at any store. Except the bookstore. We’re buying books — newly discovered cookbooks, transporting fiction, and non-fiction stories that have grabbed us this year.

So, for the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing what we’re making, what we’re gifting, and and what we’re creating. We thought you might like to hear some of our ideas and share some of yours too.

I thought I’d start today with some of the art supplies Lu has been loving lately.

Creative Beast. That’s her. This kid walks through our door and starts asking for paints right away. She’s coloring in coloring books (“Look Mama! I drew a girl!”), asking for paper and grabbing crayons out of the bin of crayons, markers, and pencils we keep out all the time, and begging to spend some time fingerpainting with us. We say yes.

If I’m going to buy anything new for her, it’s art supplies.

Here she’s painting with Clementine paints. I really love these. They are free of any chemicals or additives, using mineral earth pigments. That’s what I really love about them — the colors. They’re rich, nuanced beyond the typical little-kid colors. And the texture is wonderful — soft and durable and much more like adult paints than the ones you buy for kids in the grocery store. Lu loves them.

Lately we have been making letters and spiders, Santas and little men with Mama K’s Aromatic Play Clay. It’s a gluten-free play dough. For awhile, we tried using the typical PlayDough in our house, because it seems that Lu is okay with gluten. But I found that if I played with her, as we both love, then I ended up with it on my hands. Unless I became a little obsessive about washing my hands every five minutes, it was too easy to transfer the playdough on my hands to my mouth somehow. I wanted to play with her without worrying about growing sick.

Mama K’s is the best play clay we’ve found. It’s not just that it’s gluten-free but it’s much better than the traditional stuff. Soft and pliable, this makes great play over and over again. I love that the colors are more unusual than the typical green, blue, red, and yellow. Primary colors are fine, but the moss-green, lavender, and soft orange make for imaginative play around here. Best of all — for the mamas and papas — these are made with essential oils that smell mighty fine. I love the bergamot, cardamom, and sweet orange the best. After playing with these for an hour, as happens often around here, my hands smell good. And there’s no gluten clinging to them.

It’s probably no surprise that Lu loves to play with her food.

She had her own little wooden play kitchen for the first two years of her life and she loved it. (There’s a photograph of her in our cookbook, stirring a pot with a pen at that kitchen.) It came from her friend Iris, so it came with good kitchen karma. She outgrew it last year and we gave it to a friend for his kitchen explorations. I love that the giving and cooking has continued through friends. Luckily, her grandparents bought her a a little pink retro kitchen. When she isn’t sitting on the countertop, stirring and sifting with me, then she’s standing at her little pink kitchen, making us stews and soups, baking cookies. It’s amazing how little it takes to create a sacred space for a kid.

She loves the wooden food set made by Melissa and Doug. We do too. It’s basic and simple: pieces of wood painted to look like waffles or butter or cartons of milk. The Playspace here on Vashon, an open space for parents and kids to play together, has a similar set. Lu is always laying out pots and pans, arranging food, and asking her friends to join her for a feast.

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.


These are some of the art supplies we have been loving, ones we have been using to make paintings of Christmas trees or handmade cards. There are plenty more, of course. What are some of the art supplies for kids you love? 

40 comments on “this year, it means something more.

  1. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    Ach, Shauna! I’m not particularly sentimental — hard-assed empiricism is more my line. But your spirit is just so damned large that even curmudgeons like me get drawn in. I love your world, where any cynicism is overriden by generosity and kindness.

    I also love that Lu paints without pants.

  2. Marie

    Lovely post about the wonderful sharing of Christmas time. Blessings to you, your family and friends.

  3. Holli

    Love this post, truly!

    We attended the Urban Craft Uprising fair here in Seattle at the Seattle Center, and my 3y/o found Mama K’s spot – complete with a little table, cookie cutters and retro chair to keep busy! I was impressed.

    One idea I wanted to share: Use poster sized creations as gift-wrapping – poster paints don’t do as well as marker pictures since it tends to flake off. My daughter and son love drawing big, and everyone loves the custom wrapping they create. You can also use paper grocery bags, cut and turned inside out as wrapping, give the kid(s) some markers/crayons and have “green” looking wrapping paper!

  4. MikeVFMK

    This got me. Right in the heart. I’m so happy to hear Lu was excited to see Santa this year and I’m so happy to see how happy that makes you. The spirit of your family shines all the way here.

    Here’s hoping the holidays brings you everything you want, although I have a feeling you already have that. And more.

  5. Kate @ Savour Fare

    Children make Christmas magical all over again. The Nuni is getting the dolls she asked for from Santa, but from us it’s all books and art supplies (and new rain boots). I bought a bunch of blank board books from and I think (hope) she’ll love making her own books.

  6. Kim

    Your post makes me excited for the rituals to begin. We celebrate the night we trim our tree by having cheese and chocolate fondue…nothing says Christmas like five kids with sharp forks and access to fire. Also, we each decorate a simple paper circle on a ribbon with scribbles, wishes for the coming year or takes for something in the past year.

  7. Melissa Nunes

    Darn! I should have had more kids! It sure sounds like Vashon is the happiest place on earth. Who needs Disney?

  8. gluten free gift

    Shauna think it’s awesome that Lu’s first sense of Christmas will not involve a Walmart store. We’re big on handmade and “found” objects in our household too. Since opting to go this route the holidays are so much more creative … and we all feel much more connected to the act of giving because it didn’t come off some consumerist list of “wants”. I too only stray from this with books. Books – or we sew it, stew it, print it, record it… looking forward to seeing what you come up with over the next couple of weeks!! Claudine

  9. Ina Gawne

    What a lovely post Shauna! It makes me miss my kids when they were wee little ones like yours. Dang…the years of growing up just go too damned darned fast! A brave little girl indeed…a huge feet to overcome a serious fear, let alone to then climb up onto it’s lap! Add to that, she has the loving creativity her parents have gifted her with. Courageous and Creative – does not get any better than that! 🙂

  10. Mary

    I love this post! It makes me wish my children were little again. I miss the magic of Santa and a Charlie Brown Christmas (although my 15 year old and I still enjoy it).

    We are also concentrating on a “homade Christmas”. We will be making lots of gluten-free cookies and treats. We live on an organic vegetable and grain farm(gluten-free, naturally since that is what we need to eat) so we have been canning special gifts from the farm all season. My son is making candies and other treats. And my daughter and I are sewing. It really does make it a special time of year.

  11. Juliag

    Do you have a recommendation for food coloring that is natural, yet vibrant? I always host a cookie decorating party (the Cherrybook Kitchen gluten-free sugar cookies have made this a cinch in recent years). I have always used the fully loaded food coloring with the horrible dyes, but wish there was a better and gluten-free idea. Thoughts? Thanks!

  12. lauren

    I loved reading this. I was afraid of Santa for years (there are so many photos of me and santa where I’m crying or my mom is sitting with me so that I’m not so freaked out!) Your little one is so cute — it makes me happy to see her creative and free like this. And that shirt is awesome — creative beast indeed!

  13. Marlen

    What a wonderful gift you are giving Lu and Lu’s children by capturing her first Christmas joy with these photos and the blog…she’ll cherish it for years to come!

  14. Pam J.

    What a little angel!! I absolutely love her mini set of pots and pans!! Adorable future chef in the making for sure!! Thanks for sharing, you are blessed to see that little cherub face every day. Glad she is no longer afraid of Santa. It must be a protective instinct because a lot of kids seem to have the same fear at a young age.

    I would love to hear how you became aware that you aren’t allergic to eggs after all. If you would be so kind to share that information with us, it would be much appreciated.

    After a year and a half of being gluten-free I found out I’m also allergic to dairy. I had no clue, and never figured it out until I was put on the BRAT diet, and my doctor put me on a probiotic that made my symptoms MUCH worse. I finally figured out the probiotic has milk protein in it. I had lived all summer on yogurt and broth I made myself. I was so sick and never even realized I was killing myself with dairy. It’s been a challenge, learning at age 57 I had celiac, three months later being diagnosed as diabetic (more and more common with gluten intolerance according to my nutritionist), and a year later being diagnosed as dairy intolerant. Thanks to people like you who share their discoveries and wealth of knowledge, I’ve been able to cope. I fixed an entire gluten-free, dairy-free Thanksgiving dinner that was delicious!! Kudos!!

  15. Anette

    Pipe Cleaners
    The crafts little fingers can make with these are endless and you can get a huge bag of them for a dollar.

  16. Brie

    I have to second the idea of pipe cleaners. They’re so much fun, compact (store in your purse!), and great for places where you want her to have fun but quietly. Even if you drop something made of 100 pipe cleaners, it barely makes a rustle.

    Chocolate Playdough. I wouldn’t make this every day, but if you can tolerate nuts, it’s gluten-free. And you can eat it as you go! Warning, it is a bit greasy. We use to limit it to my marble slab so it was easy to clean up.
    1 c. peanut butter, ½ c. honey, 1 ½ c. powdered sugar, and ½ c. cocoa. Mix and play!
    I’ve even given this as gifts to friends with little kids that I know can have peanuts. 🙂

    Ooblick. Ever done this? Mix cornstarch and water a little at a time until it’s neither a liquid or a solid, but with properties of each. Slap it and it’s firm. Try to pick it up and it drizzles between your fingers. Squeeze it between your fingers and you’re sure there’s something there, but then it’s gone. It’s great fun, and after you wipe up any messy drips, all you have is a bit of dry cornstarch powder. No big deal.

    Have a great December!

  17. Connie

    This year my children and 5 little grandsons come to our cabin for Christmas. I decided to cut back on the gifts and spend my time decorating the trees and baking cookies and freezing soups. You inspire me to stop and find what really makes us all happy.

    Lu is so full of life, I adore the photos of her! Happy holidays to you and your family.

  18. cin

    Awesome sounds so happy, wholesome and kind. Just what I loved doing with my kids. Funny when you are older you always wish you had done something diff. I did the stuff you are doing with Lu and so loved it. and will hope to do with my grandkids age almost 2 and 1 month! And books omg I love love books, Thomas is just now starting to like to be read to, I was so wishing it was earlier but he had no interest in it.
    Have a great Christmas and enjoy Lu as time goes so fast. My babies are nearly 34 and 31!! HUGS love your blogs!

  19. LSL

    I realized today that my favorite Christmas music is the soundtrack from Charlie Brown’s Christmas. And I am some what religious but I do love that show.

  20. Kate

    Hi there, your blog is fantastic. I’ve just started up a gluten free blog myself and was wondering if we could advertise eachother’s blogs on eachother’s pages?
    Any reply would be much appreciated, thankyou so much.

  21. Jacqui

    I just found your blog, and what a perfect post to start with! My little one just turned 3 as well, and I love that she now “gets” Christmas for the most part. It’s awesome to see it through the eyes of a child once again. We still have a fear of Santa here though. She was willing to take a candy cane from him.. but no way she was sitting on his lap! She also asked for a candy cane for Christmas.. LOL.

    Ok.. LOVE the idea of going to the thrift store for a trunk of dress up clothes! Why didn’t I think of that?? We don’t focus on the gifts here either . V is getting lots of books, one new doll (because she wants a fairy doll), and more art supplies as well. (Sounds like our little ones are very similar!) I have asked the family to not get her toys so much, as she has plenty. I may have to put the Melissa and Doug food set on her want list for the family! And I think I’ll be making a trip to the thrift store for dress up clothes to get her as well!

    I look forward to checking out the rest of your blog. I’m gluten free. My little one is not, though we are going to be starting a 2 week elimination of gluten to see if it makes a difference in some of her symptoms (she has food allergies, peanut and egg) of skin issues and GI issues. So I am definitely going to check out the recipe section!

  22. Nicola @41feasts

    How wonderful that Lu is embracing the holiday season with so much enthusiasm! Its the same here – Jessica (now two and a half) screamed every time she saw Santa last year, but this year, thanks to a Christmas-mad childminder, she is excited about everything – lights, Santa, trees, sparkly things. Its great not having to avoid Christmas!

    Said childminder has coeliac disease, along with her daughter and granddaughter – they love the gifts I make them from your amazing recipes – thank you Shauna!

  23. Amanda

    Oh, Lu is gorgeous. And sounds like she’s turning into a sweet little human being, just like her parents. You should be so proud.

  24. farmerpam

    This all took me back to when my kids were little. It’s everything we did. You might enjoy playing with colored wax, available through Waldorf suppliers. We would cut out little shapes (with cookie cutters) and stick them to the window. And we would (still do it) cut out snowflakes and hang lots and lots of them from the ceiling and on the windows. It’s fun to have a basket of the pre cut triangles and a bunch of scissors around for all to cut when the mood strikes. And have you tried cinnamon and applesauce cut outs? I still have some that we made into tree ornaments. Sigh. My little ones are now teens and tweens, enjoy it all, as it goes by so fast.

  25. Captainmomma

    Pipe cleaner, add bells and twist together for a bracelet. Kids go crazy for them 🙂

    Or string a bu ch of bells on a pipe cleaner and make into a wreath or door handle wreath for beautiful jingles each time it opens.

    We are doing advent envelopes each day with a scripture reading on the outside and then something fun on the inside. Bubble baths, making cookies, watch a Christmas movie, paint dollar store decorations, coloring “stained glass” pictures (vellum paper?), making paper snowflakes, bird treats, melting crayons in silicone tree molds to make Christmas crayons for friends. So much too do and the time seems to be flying past 🙂

    Have fun!

  26. Bodi

    Your little girl is so beautiful- I simply adore her smile 🙂

    I, too, love how excited the kids get about Christmas- and now that our youngest is a little older, there’s a big fuss that needs to be made over decorating, etc.

    It really is more fun now! I get now why my parents got so into it when we were small …

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