Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Auld Lang Syne

It's been quite a year.

Heck, it's been quite a week.

This week has been full. Full of travel. Full of family. Full of friends. Full of memories. Full of fun...

So here I sit on New Year's Eve in my parents' house while my dad is out, my kids are sleeping, and my husband is driving home from work in western Kansas. I'm watching HGTV and painting my fingernails a color called "Cinderella" and expecting to turn into a pumpkin before midnight rolls around.

Digging around the pantry I found this unopened bottle of deliciousness:
I introduced my mother to this liqueur during my years in Barcelona, and she loved it even more than I did. Every time I came home, I brought a bottle for her.

When the hubs and I moved back to the States, Mom decided that she would save her last bottle for a special occasion. Years passed, and she never did open up that bottle. She was always waiting for the perfect moment to come. Always thinking that a better time to indulge would be right around the corner.

In the end, that perfect moment never came.

In the end, she missed a chance to savor something she loved.

As I sit here on the eve of a new year drinking my mother's liqueur, I know that this silly bottle of alcohol has a lesson for me.

I am determined to savor.

I am not going to waste a moment waiting for a better time to see someone, to let people know I love and appreciate them, to help others.

It is trite, but in 2015 I plan to seize the day.

I think I have started well, or ended well, I guess. I have taken hours when I could have been hurrying off to do something else to try to keep some of Mom's traditions alive, visit a cousin in the hospital, sip coffee with a college roommate, tour another cousin's house for the first time, reconnect with a high school buddy and meet his amazing wife, and sit down with a friend from the Spain days whom I hadn't seen in 14 years.

I raise a glass to you, my friends. To time well spent. To moments savored.

Sing with me:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Over the Hills and Everywhere

The last 4 days of the Advent season involved a lot of driving in order to visit with both sides of the family. Work schedules and travel itineraries made it impossible for my handsome husband to be going to the same places at the same times as me and the kids, but we made it work and had a good time.

December 22: What is Christmas? Banner

A pack of new markers + a huge roll of paper were laid out in front of the kids. I asked them the question, "What is Christmas?" After they thought about it, I told them to illustrate everything that Christmas means to them.

I was impressed with both their honesty and the depth of their theology. We had everything from a crazy-looking kid reaching for a present while chanting, "Give. Me. My. Toys!" to a picture of a man whose sin was being carried away to the cross and empty tomb.

December 23: Feed the Birds...decorate outdoor Christmas tree

Grandad has  a really lovely pine tree in his yard and we love to decorate it each year. This year we kept it simple, with strings of cranberries and popcorn.

It fit right in with one of the books we have been reading this week. It is such a sweet book.

December 24: Christmas in Missouri!

We got to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve with my in-laws. It was a lovely day full for gingerbread, coffee, gifts, and good conversation.
They trusted me enough to get the kids science kits and learning games instead of the usual toys, and it was a complete success. There were experiments being conducted in the middle of their living room!
Our visit with them was followed by a candlelight service back at my hometown church, then Christmas Eve presents of new jammies for the kiddos (and A Christmas Story for the grown-up kiddos).

Shut up, Ralphie.

December 25: Christmas in Illinois!

Christmas morning, stockings, gifts under the tree, egg nog for breakfast, and...Star Wars.

The boys were more than spoiled by my dad and brother, and the rest of us made out pretty well, too. We had a lazy morning and while the bird was in the oven, we watched Star Wars. The kids have been dying to watch, but they are pretty nervous when it comes to movies. They don't really like scary things. We decided that they were finally big enough to handle the original 3 movies. So far, we've made it through A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back with great success.
Maybe we have a new Christmas tradition.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter

December 15: It's Cookie Day!

One of our most favorite days of the year, although it's a lot of work...made into a lot more work by the fact that my 3 little men are helping. I have to put on the Christmas music and just be prepared for the imperfection that is the sweet perfection of having my guys want to bake with me.

There may have been half a batch of pumpkin bread that had to be thrown out because someone wasn't listening. There may have been dough-covered beaters flying through the air because someone wasn't paying attention. There may have been moments when I lost my temper about it all. But there were apologies and forgiveness all around, and I'm happy to have "helpers."

There may have been cookies flopped haphazardly onto the cookie sheet, resulting in several fusing together during baking. There may also have been snowmen that looked more like the Bride of Frankenstein. It was fun...once I decided to let it be.

There may have been some fingers in the sugar and possibly a squeeze or two of icing straight into the mouth. It was worth it.
There may have been (and may still be) a coating of sprinkles and flour across any and every flat surface...and my jeans. I wouldn't change it.

December 16: Cookie Delivery & Caroling!

It turned out to be just delivery. Even though we practiced a few songs and they said they wanted to sing, they got incredibly shy once they were put on the spot. My hopes of posting a video of the three of them singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to the neighbors were dashed. Oh, well.
We had 8 tins of cookies to deliver. We hit up a few of the neighbors and then moved on to our "heroes." These included a state trooper who lives at the end of the street, the local firefighters, and the local librarians.

December 17: Christmastime in the City

I'm crazy. I really REALLY love big cities at this time of year. Although some folks around here might disagree with me, Wichita is NOT a big city. So we piled into the car to drive to Kansas City. Three hours to get there, 4 hours at Union Station, and 3+ hours to get back (in a blizzard, no less). Totally worth it.
A little train ride and an amazing model train display (with Legos and superheroes, too!) entertained the kiddos. The beautiful tree and lights entertained Mommy. And a sack full of 100 candy canes that we distributed to strangers with a wish of "Merry Christmas" kept the people around us entertained.

December 18: Christmas in Miniature at Exploration Place

More trains! This time at the local children's museum. Their display was set to Christmas music and is a nice little show that takes you from sunrise to sunset and through the night.

There was also a holiday movie we were planning to see at the theater, but they happened to be holding a charity event during the exact show time we were counting on. It's difficult to be angry at the Make a Wish Foundation. So this day wasn't as Christmas-y as I had hoped, but it was still a lot of fun!

December 19: Make a gingerbread treat

I found a cute kit that was an entire gingerbread village. There were a total of 5 buildings, so each of us was able to decorate his own with no competition from anyone else. We made them sit and look at it for a day before they were allowed to rip it to pieces, which is what they really wanted to do.

December 20: Carriage ride & lights display for our "Christmas Eve"

Well, it was supposed to be a carriage ride & lights display, anyway. The line for the carriage rides looked like it was going to last all night, so we drove on past, checking out the beautifully lit tree as we did.

Then we looked up other lights displays in the area. We found a drive through display that was highly rated and headed across town. Some of it left the hubby and I scratching our heads and giggling. While neither of us was blown away by the experience, and were perhaps feeling a bit of disappointment, Thing 1 piped up from the back, "That was the most WONDERFUL thing I've seen this Christmas! I LOVED IT!" The other two boys agreed and drew pictures of their favorite thing they had seen as soon as we got home.

I was reminded that things don't have to be fancy to be wonderful.

I am going to try to look at the world through the eyes of wonder my children still possess...and thank God every day that they haven't lost that vision yet.

December 21: "Christmas" in Kansas!

We have a lot of traveling to do this year, and the hubby has a pretty busy work schedule...the end of the year we celebrated our first of several "Christmases."

The boys woke up early to full stockings and presents calling to them from around the tree. There weren't a lot, but the ones that were there were "big ticket" items that the hubs and I were pretty excited about. Particularly the giving is his favorite love language.

After the last gift was unwrapped, N looked at me and said, "Do you know what I was hoping for? I wish I had gotten an umbrella."

Hurt feelings, tears, apologies, hugs...followed by a discussion about (in)gratitude...followed by another discussion about our sinful hearts never being satisfied so long as we look to people, places, and things to do for us what only God can do: bring us peace and joy.

And finally, a reminder that a gift is a way for someone to say "I love you." Even if we are not thankful for the gift, we can be thankful for the love.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas

For the 2nd week of Advent, I had the brilliant (crazy?) idea to plan each day around a Christmas song. We would practice the song, talk about what it meant (if not self explanatory), and do some sort of activity or craft related to it.

December 8: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold He'll come
Offspring of a virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King 

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king
After reading about the angels proclaiming Jesus' birth to the shepherds, we got busy on our craft. We made these singing angels out of small hand bells, wooden balls, and wired ribbon. We added sparkly pipe cleaner halos, googly eyes, and pipe cleaner which served the dual purpose of holding the wings on and being arms. The boys chose for their angels to hold a snowflake, a heart, and a star. Then we added some glitter to the bell because, well, who doesn't need to sparkle?

December 9: White Christmas

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all 
Your Christmases be white

For the activity to go with the song, we focused on the line "with every Christmas card I write." I pulled out my cards, which all needed to be signed and addressed. The boys got busy with some craft paper, glue, ribbon, stamps, ink, and (of course) sequins and began creating their own beautiful cards to send. Our wish for all of you is that your days be merry and bright.

December 10: Holly Jolly Christmas
This day almost got cancelled. I discovered that morning that the boys had been peeking ahead to see what kinds of activities would be coming up in the next days. I got pretty upset with them and even typed up an alternative song/activity:

Because, clearly, the kids ain't been nuttin but bad. As a result, Mommy and Daddy are mad. In both senses of the word, as a matter of fact.

After taking a few moments to settle down, I decided to take this opportunity to show grace to my boys and to have a serious discussion with them about just what that word means. 

Santa Claus keeps lists of "naughty" and "nice" little boys and girls. He brings presents to the "nice" ones as a reward for their good behavior all year long. He brings lumps of coal to castigate those who have been "naughty." 

Unlike Santa, God encourages each of us to realize that we are, indeed, "naughty." We all do bad things. We all have bad thoughts and attitudes. Every. Single. One of us should be written on that "naughty" list and receive nothing but a lump of coal. But that's not how God operates. God loves us so much that, even though we are naughty, he gave us the BEST gift. He gave us Jesus. Jesus who lived a perfect life and then died to cover our "naughtiness" (a.k.a. sin) with his "niceness" (a.k.a. righteousness).

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Because of God's gift and sacrifice, we are able to have  Holly, Jolly, Christmas.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It's the best time of the year
I don't know if there'll be snow
but have a cup of cheer
Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
And when you walk down the street
Say Hello to friends you know
and everyone you meet

Oh ho
the mistletoe
hung where you can see;
Somebody waits for you;
Kiss her once for me
Have a holly jolly Christmas
and in case you didn't hear
Oh by golly
have a holly
jolly Christmas this year
We had a nice day, with lots of kisses under the mistletoe and our very own "cup of cheer," which was hot cocoa with whipped cream, sprinkles, and candy canes all served up in our favorite holiday mugs. Yum.

December 11: We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we travel afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain 
Following yonder star

O star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding 
Guide us to thy perfect light

Born a king on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a deity nigh
Prayer and praising all men raising
Worship Him, God on high

Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom,
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb

Glorious now, behold Him arise,
King, and God, and Sacrifice
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies

O star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light

We read the story of the three wise men from the Jesus Storybook Bible (if you don't have this book, you need it...seriously, go buy Then we read all the lyrics to the song and we talked about what in the world those gifts were that the wise men brought. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh revealed that Jesus was the King of Kings, He was God with us, and he would die as a Sacrifice for our sins. I love the doctrine in this song.

Then we went out and bought our own "star of wonder" for the top of the boys' tree. They had had a sparkly pokey ball on the top for years. It was unbreakable, and that's why I liked it. They, however, were wanting a "real" tree topper. They picked out a beauty. They like shiny things.

December 12: Joy to the World

Joy to the world
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her king
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world
The Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and streams
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sin
And sorrow grow
Nor thorns infect the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world
With truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders of His love

We talked about what it meant for "every heart" to "prepare Him room." The boys were very thoughtful about this, discussing what kinds of things take up room in our hearts. They noticed that, especially at this time of year, commercials and stores want you to fill up your hearts with all kinds of stuff you don't really need. We took a good look at all of our stuff that is filling up our house and our hearts and decided to prepare a little bit of room for Jesus by finding some things that are still in good or great shape and donating them.

By preparing room in our hearts, we managed to fill up the laundry room! Proud of my little men and their generosity.

December 13: Here Comes Santa Claus

Here comes Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus
Right down Santa Claus Lane
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
Pullin' on the reins

Bells are ringin', children singin'
All is merry and bright
So hang your stockings and say your prayers
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Here comes Santa Claus,
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane
He's got a bag that's filled with toys
For boys and girls again
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle,
Oh, what a beautiful sight
So jump in bed cover your head
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Here comes Santa Claus,
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane,
He'll come around when chimes ring out
It's Christmas time again
Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So let's give thanks to the Lord above
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Here comes Santa Claus,
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane,
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
Pullin' on the reins
Bells are ringin', children singin'
All is merry and bright
So jump in bed and cover your head
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight

Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So let's give thanks to the Lord above
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight
So let's give thanks to the Lord above
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight
The slip of paper behind the door in the advent calendar read, "Here Comes Santa the Aviation Museum!" There was a really cute model train display, a beautiful tree, and a very funny Santa all set up in the historic atrium. Santa bribed the boys with treats like you would puppies. He played a little game of chase with them and then sneaked up behind them while they were looking at the trains...all so I could get a picture.

We also wandered around looking at all the planes and motors and other artifacts around the museum. The afternoon was complete after a good amount of time was spent in the education wing making crafts and playing with the flight simulators, which was by far the kids' favorite part.

December 14: Silent Night

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherd's quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

After singing the song, I started up a conversation about the shepherds from the last stanza. Not only were shepherds on the bottom rung of the social ladder of Jesus' day, it was often the youngest children from a family who would often stay in the fields overnight tending the flocks. These were not the great men to whom we would choose to share our good news. God does not choose like we choose. He values every person without regard to age or social standing. We talked about who the "least" in our society are and how we can care for them, being the hands and feet of God in the world today.
This day was a bit of a hodgepodge, as we also indulged in eating some shepherd hooks (candy canes), and we made a countdown to Christmas craft. The boys are pretty excited that there are only 10 days until Christmas!
Can you believe it?

Are you ready?

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Do you hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too?

The Advent season has hit us full force and we are busy having fun, preparing our hearts for Jesus' birth, and generally getting our Christmas on. In case you are curious, here's the low-down on what we've been doing each day so far.

December 1: Decorate Grandad's House

Christmas was something my mom did with gusto. She loved it so much that she left several of her Santas out year round. I even teased her that she picked out her living room furniture just to match her Christmas decorations. This is only our second Christmas without her. I wanted to make decorating the house something fun for my dad rather than sad. Since we were in town for Thanksgiving, the kids and I decided that we needed a little Christmas right that very minute. So we took it upon ourselves to haul out the holly and hang some tinsel from that evergreen bough.

When my little guys decorate you get garland and ribbons EVERYWHERE. What can I say, they like their holiday bling.You might also find some elves and Santa participating in some sort of extreme sports...either that or attacking one another. I'm not quite sure.

***disclaimer*** This actually took place on November 30th. We were driving across the Midwest on the 1st, and that just isn't a very exciting Advent activity.

December 2: Decorate Our House

By the time we returned home, it was time to deck our own halls with boughs of holly.
The boys have their own little tree with a train running around it. Trimming the tree is always a special time, as we have new ornaments from every year of their lives and we reminisce as we unwrap and hang them. They love talking about what they remember from each year and think the idea of having been babies is hilarious.

December 3: Be Santa for a Senior

We "adopted" a resident at a local senior center this Christmas. We chose Wilma's tag off a tree and went shopping for her, on a quest to find everything on her wish list. We found her some nice body wash and a pretty silk flower arrangement. Rather than just buy her a soft blanket, we decided to make a no-sew fleece blanket. The boys chose a pink and black floral print for the top layer and a coordinating pink for the underside. I hope she is a girly girl, because my guys think every female loves pink!
After I prepared the fabric, each little man picked a side and began tying knots. As we went along, we took the time to pray for Wilma. This was a true labor of love for a woman we will never meet. I hope the boys are learning the blessing of giving.

December 4: Pajama Party Movie Marathon

Sometimes you've just got to get cozy with your favorite jammies, soft blankets and pillows, load up a paper plate with delicious treats, sit under the lights of the Christmas tree, and watch feel-good movies with your family.
If you squint, you can see a veggie tray back there. Despite my best efforts, most of the healthy stuff was left over.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas were the boys' selections. I have to say, I approve. You can't argue with movies that remind us that:
  • Maybe Christmas...doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more.
  • Maybe mistfits have a place, too.
  • For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

December 5: Christmas Lights at the Gardens

It was a perfect mild evening for wandering around the holiday lights display at Botanica.
My favorite things were the lights that were choreographed to music and getting the chance to hear a choir perform a few of my favorite carols. We walked down the path that led to Santa's cottage, but not one of the boys wanted to sit on the lap of a stranger and smile for a picture.

December 6: St. Nicholas Day

The boys don't believe in Santa Claus as a fat man who lives at the North Pole and flies a sleigh delivering presents all over the world on Christmas Eve. They think it's a funny game that some people play, but they are slightly irritated by the fact that penguins are often depicted as hanging with Santa. Puffins, they say, would be more realistic.

We do teach them about St. Nicholas and the origins of gift giving. We like to watch the Veggie Tales St. Nicholas movie each year and be reminded that we love because God first loved us, and we give because He gave.

This year we made these funny little Santas as the first real craft of our craft-filled holiday season.
We also packed a shoebox online for Operation Christmas Child. Each of the boys contributed some money and chose what we should pack. Then W decided he wanted to spend all the rest of the money he had to pack two more boxes. 

I'll balance that mommy brag with the fact that he wants to further display his spirit of generosity by making signs to hold up at Christmas. The signs will read "keep" or "give" so that gifts he doesn't really want can be immediately donated to children in need. I had to talk to him about how his "generosity" might be interpreted as "ingratitude."

December 7: Make Ornaments to Gift to Family

We love giving gifts. We love making gifts. We love Christmas decorations. Combine all those things into one, and you get homemade ornaments to give to people we love. Each year we try to come up with something unique and fun. I try to make sure they are at least somewhat attractive, too.
I spy a candy cane, a Christmas light, and a star. If you are in our family, you might spy a package in your mailbox very soon.

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