Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 23

Today felt like Christmas Eve: it was an all-day baking day, neighbors were delivering cards, the house was getting cleaned up (slowly but surely). Best of all it snowed this morning! The snow is melted now but there is a promise of more to come tomorrow!

A few neighbors gathered for tea this morning -- an hour out of our busy days that few of us could afford but we wanted that rare connection with each other, and we had it! We sipped tea, enjoyed Christmas treats, talked about what we were cooking -- the four of us at the table represented four different countries of origin so that meant quite a few different Christmas traditions and foods.

Back at home the baking loomed like a dangerous mountain I had to climb but didn't want to. Because of our allergies and sensitivities if I didn't bake we wouldn't eat. There is no popping in a shop and taking the easy way out. At times I felt the drudgery of it but there were also moments that were special -- the ones when the kids came in the kitchen for a few minutes to lend a hand.

The Christmas pudding went into the pot before the morning tea, so it boiled away most of the day while I baked the cookies. One child was bribed with computer time to make the mince pies while I was away. There were tea rings and gluten free tea rings and a million meat pies for our traditional hike. I also found myself babysitting a jello salad which I needed to try out before my class begins next week. You would think making jello was easy, but not when you have to wait for layers to partially set and then almost fully set, etc. I'm so done with jello molds -- but I'll have to make it all over again for the class!

I roped two children into wrapping all the stocking stuffers which helped a great deal. I can hardly believe that by 8 p.m. all the baking was done and the table nearly set. Michael suddenly got the idea to have a White Elephant gift exchange on Christmas with all our visitors so he volunteered to go to Walmart to get what we needed (I was very impressed). Andrew was checking on me every five minutes begging for a haircut so we managed to get that done and then James was patiently waiting for me to finish sewing his new stocking which he designed (it includes leather). Maybe we will get to bed at a decent hour tonight!

I think this will be the last of my "advent calendar" posts. Tomorrow we enter that blissful day of no to-do lists. There will be church morning and evening and we've been invited to lunch with friends which will be a huge treat. I think maybe we'll read Becky's Christmas for Laura's tea time and then after evening church we have some goodies set aside for our Christmas Eve family pow-wow. And then it will be Christmas.

A very Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 22, 2017

December 22

Christmas is closing in and the parents are feeling this keenly. Today was the beginning of my baking, a very strange feeling for me as I used to begin even in November! I seem to bake less and less each year. Perhaps that is good, for many reasons. I also made the last, I hope, run to the grocery store.

There was a lovely reprieve over lunch when a friend came by for a visit and we sat with a candle burning and the greyness of the day out the windows and the cheery Christmas colors inside. Another sweet moment was when a neighbor acquaintance rang the doorbell and delivered a beautiful tray of assorted homemade cookies.

Michael volunteered to help with the wrapping tonight and he's been holed up in our closet for hours. As I was mixing up the last batch of cookie dough I found we had no peppermint flavoring left! Just the time to have a child with a driver's license who actually needed to go to the store anyway! Thank you Rachel!

Michael and I are fighting colds, hoping we can make it through the weekend and not get worse! Also feeling thankful these are only colds and not something worse.

It was very warm here today -- low 50's but I see the temperature is going to drop sharply tomorrow and we have the promise of a bit of snow. Very exciting!

I think I better go rescue Michael and see if we can get some rest before the final day of prep tomorrow!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December 21

Today was a Mom-Rachel day. Rachel's about to head out to Spain on January 3rd and today was the only day we had to shop for her trip, get a haircut, find a few clothing items, etc. So off we went for another day on the road. We were fairly successful in the five and a half ours we were out. Rachel began to fade half way through and I had to convince her that she needed a Starbucks (??!!) to keep going. Sure enough, it helped.

In Zionsville we crashed a mystery lunch at the local tearoom on a mission to get a packet of tea and probably ended up in everyone's home videos as they took turns singing Christmas carols. We also now know where to find local, Indiana-themed gifts, and where not to find them.

We limped into the driveway with a few minutes to devote to my J. R. R. Tolkien lesson plan and a few minutes to throw taco meat on the stove before Michael and I drove away to see Murder on the Orient Express with some friends and the kids went their separate ways for the evening.

And now we come to the weekend of Christmas! It's here! I'm a little overwhelmed by the mountain of food prep yet to be climbed, namely the baking. But there are a few treats of visits with people along the way to help me along. And, I hope, only one more shopping trip to make.

Sleep well!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 20

Today was an especially delightful day. I got to spend the morning with two dear friends in the beautifully decorated and festive home of one of them, enjoying conversation, good food, tea, and just the kind of fellowship that a soul needs at Christmas. Our hearts were brimming as we left.

Checking my texts as I got in the car I found news of the birth of a dear friend's baby boy. Another reason for great joy. It's made me happy all day just thinking about that precious child.

The fun over, it was time to hit the shops: Costco, Payless Shoes, Trader Joe's, Joann Fabrics, Thrifty Threads, Salvation Army, Half Price Books and JC Penney. I did feel very grateful to be able to do the shopping on my own with no children in tow! On the way home I picked up a friend to spend the night with my boys and we stopped for one last errand at the library.

A cup of tea and a sit-down was in order and I pulled out a book that had nothing to do with my class or Christmas and thought I'd steal 30 minutes of rest before getting dinner. But sitting in the living room drew Rachel out of the office for a chat (which is rarer than having a rest) and then Michael even came and sat down (also rare) so I had my tea and had a few chats and was very grateful for a rice cooker and some leftover soup.

It was C. S. Lewis tonight for class prep and now I think maybe I should try again for that rest......

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December 19

I only took one picture today (this one) but I should have taken a picture of the bags and bags of groceries sprawled helter-skelter on my kitchen floor. That would have summed up the day much better.

I started the shopping at the local international grocery store where the smells combined with Bing Crosby singing transported me right back to Christmas in Uganda. I filled my cart with gluten free flours, a few bags of tea for my class, and two packages of sugar-coated fennel (also for said class). Aldi, Meijer, and Kroger followed.

The kids unloaded the car while I popped some meat in the crockpot and got the turkey carcass into a pot to bubble away all afternoon. The Dollar Store was next on my agenda. Last year I promised myself I would take care of the stocking stuffers in one fell swoop at the dollar store. So that is what I did. A few more errands and it was time to pick up Rachel and Andrew from their volunteer work at school.

I took a few minutes to squeak out a little illustration of a Victoria sponge cake since I need to be in practice for my class which begins two weeks from today. Back in the kitchen I finished up meal prep and popped some food in the car to take to a family with a new baby. It's always fun to visit new babies and hold them! After a nice visit I headed home to finish up some baking and get back into the life of L. M. Montgomery so I could finish her lesson plan. And now to bed!

Monday, December 18, 2017

December 18

A week until Christmas! Hard to believe, although part of me will be glad to have the Christmas deadline over with and get back to regular life.

This was our first weekday of the school holidays! Yay! The big kids slept in, of course, while I got up as soon as I could manage and got a batch of cookies going and a few other every morning routines like yoga and my quiet time. By the time the kids were up, fed, and "family worshipped" it was 10:30 -- not my idea of an early start on the morning.

Our plan was to sew together the History of Christmas quilts we've been making in school the last three weeks. We got David's top put together and Laura's started. Then some friends arrived and I paused the quilts to stitch a bunch of Boy Scout badges onto a shirt for a friend.

After lunch I headed to the post office where everyone else in town had also congregated. Fortunately the line for the automated machine was only 5 deep rather than 15. Back at home I hit the books again, working on my L. M. Montgomery lesson plan.

I cooked a turkey yesterday so we could have leftovers for a few days and it was "heat up your own dinner" night since James and I took off to get a few things at Joann Fabrics before rendezvousing with the entire family to see the new Star Wars film. Everyone else is much more into it than I am but it is fun to go as a family and I enjoyed hearing a group of men in their 40's audibly respond to the movie as it went along. Hilarious!

Time to get some rest and maybe a few minutes to read.....

(For those interested, here is the key to the Christmas quilt: 1) Jesus' birth; 2) Rome's Saturnalia celebrations which occurred around the winter solstice; 3) Boniface, Apostle to Germany and the legend of the oak of Thor; 4) Christmas in medieval England with yule logs, mince pies, and holly; 5) St. Francis introduces live nativities; 6) Martin Luther relishes Christmas, preaches many Christmas sermons and writes Christmas carols; 7) the puritans react to the drunken revelry and ban Christmas in the UK and other countries; 8) Christmas in colonial America; 9) Christmas in Victorian England; 10) Christmas in America in the 1800's; 11) the history and legends of Santa Claus; 12) Christmas today in our family)

December 17

It was nice to have a break from the checklist taskmaster today. We had friends for lunch so I did get up to prep a few things before heading to church. Michael was back in the pulpit after being gone last week. He's preaching through Acts in the morning and Deuteronomy in the evening. We started a new  adult Sunday school class on basic doctrines which looks like it will be good.

My mom stuck a turkey in the oven when she arrived and by the time we got home from church it was nicely cooked as well as the mashed potatoes, roasted squash, carrots and green beans. (Thanks mom!!!) Every occasion feels more festive with the lights of the dining room tree twinkling, the red candles glowing on the table and lots of red and green around.

For dessert I made this roasted fruit recipe except that I used a small amount of maple syrup instead of the sugar and I added cloves, allspice, and ginger. I served this with ice-cream and pieces of shortbread. Oh the fruit tasted scrumptious, just like spiced cider.

After our friends left I helped Laura finish some of her embroidered squares for our school quilt project and then it was time for Laura's Sunday tea party and some reading aloud with the kids.

Back to church in the evening and afterward there is always a lot of visiting with people and catching up on each other's lives.

I put out cheeses and crackers for the evening family pow-wow and we all sat around chatting and badgering one member to get off their phone before we called it a night and headed to bed.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 16

I fooled myself into getting up at 7 by promising myself that meant I could go to bed early tonight and read (not sure I'll be managing to keep that promise.... but at least I got up on time).

We had our annual Christmas piano recital today. I think David and Laura are actually the only "piano" students -- all the other students are violin or viola students. The Christmas recital means there are some Christmas songs thrown into the mix of the repertoire and with all the church decorations and tasty treats afterward it has a very festive feel.

But before the recital at one there were cookies to bake (for said recital), the week ahead to plan, more amazon orders to make, and next year's nature journaling classes to advertise.

After the recital I did a bit of errand-running and then headed back to my desk to punch out a lesson plan on Laura Ingalls Wilder for my upcoming class. Michael went out the door to do something fun with Andrew only to find the area of town they were headed overtaken by a bunch of crazy people in Santa suits. Ha ha! I made some soup with greens and beef and rice noodles in it for dinner and then started in on tidying up what the children hadn't already done. I need to catch up on the finances and do a little prep for tomorrow's Sunday lunch and then maybe I'll get that book time in!

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” 
has shone in our hearts 
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God 
in the face of Jesus Christ."
 II Corinthians 4:6

This is the Scripture text from the funeral Michael and I attended this afternoon for the dear two year old son of friends of ours. As I watched this family say goodbye to their beloved son and walk together one last time down the aisle of the church, the five siblings crowded around their parents, I couldn't help but think of Tiny Tim. Perhaps my thoughts have been too full of Dickens, and A Christmas Carol, and The Man Who Invented Christmas. My heart, and every heart there, protested: Tiny Tim is not supposed to die. That's not how the story goes. But the fact of the matter is sometimes the Tiny Tims do die. And it takes an Author with infinitely more skill than Dickens to write a story in which Tiny Tim dying can actually, in eternity, be a better story than if he did not. 

My thoughts also turned to another mother in history who had to watch the death of her son: Mary and the prophecy spoken over her at the presentation of Christ in the temple in Jerusalem. Simeon foretold that a "sword would pierce through her own soul as well." That sword pierced her soul when she had to live through the unnatural experience of watching her child die. 

We might think this all very depressing at Christmas-time but you know, it forces us to think about what the coming of Christ really means and the hope that it truly provides. The whole reason Christ came and dwelled among us was to provide reconciliation with God Almighty so that physical death might not be the end for us but only the beginning of life eternal. This eternal hope has been so evident in the lives of baby Jonathan's parents over the last several years and their witness of devotion to an ailing child, of trust in Christ, of faith in God's all-powerful and at the same time all-loving care. Truly the light of Christ is shining in this situation.

It seems trite to speak of the other things we did today but outside of the holy interlude of the time set aside to honor Jonathan it was a full day. The kids and I finished our History of Christmas studies by talking about Christmas in 2017 and making a list of all the things that are a part of our family Christmas traditions. We turned this list into a poster and also read Lucy and Tom's Christmas. Andrew had a dentist appointment downtown so I left mid-morning to collect him and drive downtown where I spent an hour happily reading while Andrew had his teeth tugged on. We dashed to Wildwood for a quick lunch with Grandma and Cousin Olivia as well as a sweep through Mission 27 thrift store looking for Christmas presents and props for my upcoming class. We headed home in time to get to the funeral and once back from that heated up leftover soup for dinner. I met my mom and sisters at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for a little sister birthday celebration and a tour of the Winter Lights. We all enjoyed the beautiful artistry, especially the painstakingly outlined large trees with 50,000 lights each. And now it's time for a little reading and gearing up for the weekend.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

December 14

It was a very cold day. Cold not just because the outside temps were in the 20's but cold because our furnace decided to stop heating the house.

We did have a lovely, uninterrupted morning of school aided by hot tea. Today we studied the history of Santa Claus over the last 1700 years. It's quite an interesting development filled with lots of legends, true stories, and cultural adaptations. We read The Story of Santa Claus which was just the right length and depth for our study. I had hoped to read The Autobiography of Santa Claus but I think we'll save that for another year. And we also read Silent Night by Will Moses which was a lovely Christmas story set in historic Vermont. Chocolate chip cookies and carrots seemed to be the authentic treat to serve.

After school we met up with some friends at the local theatre to see The Man Who Invented Christmas -- the story of how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. The movie fit so perfectly with our Christmas school theme this month that I had to take the three younger kids. We all enjoyed it and the first thing I noticed was how warm the theatre was after our cold house! I nearly fell asleep.

I took some time to get organized for Christmas when we returned home -- lists, lists, and more lists. But I do feel a lot better now, knowing what needs to be done, bought, cooked, and given.

By the time supper rolled around my hands were nearly stiff and I was pretty much done surviving the cold. I turned supper plans into soup and the heating man showed up at the door. Within the hour the heat was back on and we were beginning to thaw. Very thankful for this.

Andrew went off to his high school Bible study Christmas party with a gag gift and Rachel settled in to study for finals. The kids and I watched Miracle on 34th Street while I finished up the Christmas cards and did some sewing. And now it's time for bed!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13

It was an unfortunate but necessary requirement that I sleep in this morning after my adventures yesterday. The gain in positive health benefits may have been lost in the stress caused by not really catching up with my day.

We did manage to sit down for school and learn about Christmas in 19th century America -- both in pioneer settings and in New York City. Oranges, peppermint sticks, and little candies played a large part in 19th century children's Christmases.

We left at noon for the library and made our way afterward to Writing Class and the biannual Author's Tea -- each student took a turn reading one of their pieces of writing while the rest of us ate snacks and drank tea. The Tea always ends with a hilarious mad libs rendition.

I left James for his science class and the younger kids and I went to drop something off at a friend's house and stayed long enough for a cup of tea and a good "catch-up." Braving the windy cold, we drove straight to Aldi followed by Meijer to get the week's groceries. We pulled in the driveway close to 5 p.m. and the kids started the job of unloading the car. The most tedious part of food shopping is putting all the food away at home when you thought you'd finished all the work. Groceries away, dessert made, dinner on the table and then we were out the door to the dessert get-together for our Small Group Bible Study.

And now it's time to sit down and figure out just what to get the kids for Christmas. It's a little late (both on the clock and on the calendar) but we better get this settled soon so we'll have something here in time for Christmas!

December 12

Today was a day for a Christmas adventure of a very special sort: I flew to New York City for a visit with my friend, Christy, and dinner with my cousin, Anna.

Going to New York is a bit like entering Narnia -- it's a world away from home full of all kinds of sights, noises, tastes, and inspiration that I don't get at home. It's a magical place for me. And, I've always wanted to go there during December. A cheap ticket and a window in the calendar made it feasible.

A bit of an early start found me on Christy's Washington Height's doorstep by 10am! That gave us six hours to catch up, see her little boy Nathan, walk to the heather gardens, have lunch in the garden cafe, have our own tea party back at her apartment (essential of course), and talk about her baby who is due in just two weeks!

At 4 pm I headed back down to Penn Station to meet my dear cousin Anna for dinner! Anna is an artist with lots of talents and is about to move to Berlin so I was glad we could meet up one more time before she heads back over to Europe. Anna made sure I saw as much of NYC Christmas as I could -- we went around the corner to see Macy's fancy Christmas windows, which I've read and dreamed about. They were so lovely and festive and I wanted to meet the people who get to mastermind them. Then we whisked ourselves down to the Rockefeller Center to see the big Christmas tree, finding ourselves in the Garment District (read: all kinds of shops selling fabric) on our way. I had to resist the strong pull to go inside those shops and start browsing which would have led to wanting to start buying. We pushed our way through the crowds in Times Square and rounded the corner down to the Rockefeller Center. There was the tree in all its glory with such a large trunk I couldn't imagine how they moved it or set it up. And there was the ice skating rink (which I must go on next time) and lights on the buildings. Just lovely. I forgot to say my phone's battery died so I couldn't take any pictures of our evening adventure. Anna obliged my every "take a photo of that and send it to me."

It was nearly 7 when Anna found us a subway station and sent me hurtling back to Penn Station where I ran to the right track and jumped on a train bound for the airport. And that was it for my New York City Christmas adventure.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11

Today felt like one of those trips around Costco where you zoom from one tester-taster to the other, enjoying just a bite of life at each stop before it's on to the next one.

We finally sat down to start school around 9:15 only to receive a text from Rachel 30 minutes later asking if I might somehow manage to make it downtown to see her "We The People" competition which would begin at 10:45. Neither parent had, as yet, been able to watch any of the competition and with the change in time for her it seemed a possibility.

Laura and I abandoned the boys to do school on their own, jumped in the car, raced to Kroger to pick up some flowers, and then drove downtown to the Crowne Plaza Hotel with 3 minutes to spare. I'd already resolved in my mind I would have to fork out the $20 valet parking in order to get to the competition on time. I flew out of the running car toward the valet man only to find out the charge would be $30. Nope. I wasn't going to do that. Blessedly, the man showed me that an $8 car park was just north of the hotel and within four minutes we were in the hotel and walking to the competition, arriving in the room just as Rachel and her teammates were introducing themselves.

It was a joy to listen to Rachel and her friends present and I was duly impressed and proud. It's actually an answer to prayer that Rachel is so interested in politics, the history of our nation, and how government works. She and her school managed to win 3 of the 6 awards given today.

Laura and I popped back in the van, paid our $8 which by then felt like a real bargain, and drove north to meet Emily and Olivia for a quick lunch to celebrate Em's birthday. Laura entertained Olivia and we all enjoyed good food. When Olivia started to fuss we packed up and headed home.

There was time to change over the laundry and grab a cup of tea before a Skype appointment with a far distant friend. Fortunately that provided time to sit, relax, connect, and unwind after the busy morning. Mid-call Michael arrived back from his long drive home from Kansas.

Then it was off to the post office and back to the desk to take care of phone calls to insurance and that sort of tedious desk work. I threw some ground beef and onions in a pan and started on spaghetti, hoping to have dinner cooked before I headed off to a school meeting. Eventually I had to delegate the cooking to a child and take to the road again in order not to be too late.

Meeting done and home for the evening. Phew. I think the boys are calling for a little read aloud time to make up for our ditched school time this morning. That will help provide another moment of relaxation and connection.

December 10

We were off to church in the morning and enjoyed having a guest preacher since Michael was out of town. My mom had roasted chicken with rice and carrots ready for us when we arrived home. I'd made some gluten free and refined sugar free gingerbread which we had for dessert. I was disappointed in its dryness and made a mental note to find a new recipe.

Mid-afternoon we went to visit an old family friend (and my former boss), Dr. Blackwood. We toured his new apartment and the facility where he lives and then David and Laura played a few Christmas songs on the big, shiny, black piano in the foyer. The kids practice each day on the piano that belonged to Dr. Blackwood's wife. I want to make sure he gets to enjoy the fruits of that gift. Oh course Dr. Blackwood did love it and the other residents who were around gushed in amazement at how wonderful the kids were (even though they were only simple songs). It stood out to me how such tiny little things could bring light and joy to an older person's life -- a bit like the small things that make a child happy. I think that's a good thing.

Back home there was just enough time for Laura's teatime before we headed back to church and another sermon by our guest preacher. We must have talked a long time afterward because we weren't home until 8:20pm at which time we had our weekly "pow-wow" with nachos for the kids. I tucked myself into bed with Handel's Messiah playing and wrote some Christmas cards until it was time to sleep.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 9

Today was a very ordinary sort of day: housework, desk work, an errand.

We finally had a touch of the snow everyone else seems to be getting -- but just a mere dusting. My aunt and uncle in NC are hibernating under a foot of the stuff! And though the snow is strangely scarce here we still bore the effects of the storm: Michael's flight to Kansas was cancelled so he had to rent a car and spend the day driving there! This did solve the problem of no one to pick Michael up from the airport on Monday afternoon!

I managed to put in a few hours on my class and we had a tasty dinner. My diet is very limited and it is easy to be very bored. It's always nice when I think of some way to make chicken, ground beef, pork loin, or Italian sausages taste different. Tonight I took the sausages out of their cases and made them into patties which I fried with onions and made a gravy. We had this with roasted butternut squash and mashed cauliflower (which I nearly ruined by trying to steam in a pot with no water).

Three hours of ironing have ended the day. Phew. I trust that means there are enough shirts and trousers to get us through the holidays!

I hope you all have a lovely Lord's Day tomorrow!

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8

It was a much earlier morning than I expected. The plus side to not being able to sleep any longer is getting up early and getting a head start on the day's work! By the time school started I was dragging but we jumped into Christmas in the Victorian Era which is really where most of the fun starts! The kids sipped eggnog while we continued reading through the handful of chapter books we've started with this Christmas course.

The afternoon found me cleaning the house and making dinner in anticipation of my dad and his wife, Janet, joining us for dinner. We had roasted chicken with a leek sauce. Once I find a new recipe I like I tend to serve it to company over and over again. Ha ha! We also had an apple pie for dessert.

Then we piled into vehicles and headed out to the high school Christmas concert where we watched Rachel perform in the orchestra and choir. A lovely and festive night of music!

I came across this quote from Bonhoeffer today in the emails I received:

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words, ‘We’re beggars; it’s true.’”
(A letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer, sent from prison December 1, 1943.)

It added to my thoughts about Christmas and the great balance between those that are rejoicing and those that are mourning. I think we all can relate to this -- we are either in a place of joy, or one of hardship, and most likely both at the same time. If we are in a place of joy, it seems becoming that we receive it as a gift and enjoy it. If we are in a place of hardship or grief, we can trust that Christ will meet us there. And we can trust that Christ will meet others in that place too as we pray for them in their need. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7

There was a light dusting of snow on the housetops when I twisted open the blinds this morning. It made me smile because since I was a young child it was always my wish for snow on my birthday. Today, being my 40th birthday, it was an extra special smile from Heaven.

I nearly hijacked my own birthday by falling into a grumpy attitude when I walked downstairs and saw some things not in the estate I expected them to be in to begin our day. My ideals of 40 being an age of maturity had a humorous reality check. I am thankful to say the bad attitude was eventually conquered and the rest of the day was delightful.

I made pancakes for breakfast and opened the pot of Jinja mango jam a friend had brought me earlier this year -- a nod to the years I spent in Uganda. I also indulged in a cup of real, completely real, black tea.

Perhaps one of the nicest things of the day was not having to go anywhere but being able to stay home and focus the entire morning on our homeschool lessons. Today we landed in colonial America for Christmas in the 1600-1700's. We read about colonial Williamsburg and made spiced hot chocolate with oranges and gingerbread for our foodie treat. The kids keep busy embroidering quilt pieces to make a "story of Christmas" quilt when we finish.

Yesterday we talked about the Puritans and their banning of Christmas. We started a funny book called A Little Puritan's First Christmas. It's quite good at describing many aspects of life in the mid-1600's in Boston. You can read a copy online for free. I learned a new word today: "bacchanalian" which means "given to drunken revelry." The Puritans considered Christmas to be bacchanalian and wanted nothing to do with it.

There were lots of lovely texts and Facebook greetings throughout the day. A plate of cookies from a neighbor, and two friends who stopped by with gifts. The doorbell also rang with the delivery of flowers! Such a surprise! I still remember when I was sent flowers by my uncle when I was about 6 -- I just couldn't have imagined something more grown up or important as to receive flowers!

There was an hour and a half set aside for reading in a chair in my bedroom. Such bliss! Especially since the library just "happened" to have delivered four amazing books yesterday so I saved them for a treat today.
Pattern -- by Emma Bridgewater
View from a Sketchbook: Nature through the eyes of Marjolein Bastin
Simple Gatherings -- Melissa Michaels
Everyday Watercolor -- Jenna Rainey
Seeing Beautiful -- Timothy Chambers (this came to the door this afternoon)

Laura and I sat and painted at the table while we waited for the big kids to come home from school. We also started reading Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, an annual favorite.

There was another small cup of real tea and some Dundee cake when the kids arrived and it seemed amazing we could all be around the tea table in the afternoon at once!

Michael and I decided that what would be meaningful for this "big" birthday would be to take the whole family out to dinner! Since we never do this it was a treat for everyone, especially me. I love eating out, and I love enjoying a meal out with people I love. We had such a lovely time. We had to wait a long time for a table so we walked around the downtown mall and picked out what we wanted to eat from the menu on the outside of the restaurant. It was PF Chang's we had decided on. The kids loved it! I loved watching them love it! It was definitely the right gift!!!

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December 6

Today was very much a working day but thinking of it being St. Nicholas' day and the cute Santa Claus in the advent calendar, as well as the birthday of a friend, meant there was still something festive in the air.

School, a doctor appointment, a trip to the library, the kids to their co-op classes, shopping at Trader Joe's, Costco, Aldi, and Meijer and then picking all five kids up to go home and then put away all that shopping did mean it was a non-stop day and I was worn out before dinner. But there were a few fun moments along the way -- running into an old friend at Trader Joe's and then again at Costco, spying fruitcakes at Costco that looked just like the ones we would receive in the mail each year from our great uncle (perhaps the most exotic part of our childhood Christmas), browsing my beloved UK Country Living December magazine for a few moments, and, of course, getting new books at the library.

I've tidied up my desk and room and have organized things for the next few days so I think it's time to get to bed and see if I can't make up for all that running around today!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5

I had a delightful treat today that was unexpected. Taking Rachel through the Starbucks drive-thru after a doctor appointment I decided to order a decaf Holiday Spice White Flat (almond milk) despite the fact that any sort of coffee gives me a headache. It was so delicious I couldn't believe it! I refused to let my mind dwell on the cost of the thing and instead focused on the gift it was. It made me think of the spiced hot chocolate at Williamsburg and it lasted the whole way home. (Even better: I never got the headache!)

Back in our Christmas school we buckled down and moved on to Martin Luther and the age of the Reformation. Luther was a big fan of Christmas. He preached many Christmas sermons and wrote several Christmas carols. We read part of one sermon aloud today and will continue with more this week. I found these in Martin Luther's Christmas Book. We also sang his carol "From Highest Heaven I Come to Tell." Incidentally, we sang a lovely 12th century carol yesterday which is a new favorite: "The Friendly Beasts." I will go back and add it to yesterday's post. Here is a quote from Martin Luther:

"Oh, we poor people that we should be so cold and indifferent to this great joy that has been given to us. For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for 'Glory to God in the highest' is the very heart of worship."

After lunch I jumped from the 16th century to the 19th and immersed myself in the world of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte for a few hours -- prepping for my class. I stayed in the same time period this evening as a friend and I went to see "The Man Who Invented Christmas." It was terrific! Just the thing to go along with our Christmas studies (must take the kids!) and it was funny how the world of Dickens overlapped with that of Charlotte Bronte by means of William Thackeray (Thackeray is an annoying critic in the movie and was the same for Bronte in real life.) Can't help geeking out about history just a bit. Anyone who likes to write, or wants to be a writer, will enjoy this movie and the way Dickens went about creating A Christmas Carol.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

December 4

Family worship found us reading part of the creation account in Genesis 1 this morning before we climbed the stairs laden with tea and Italian Panettone to begin our Christmas study of St. Francis of Assisi and his invention of live nativity scenes.

St. Francis has inspired me since I first saw a film about his life when I was a young child. His determination to serve God and his willingness to give up his family's wealth and live a life of devotion beckoned me to imitation. Today I attempted to help the kids grasp a picture of his life as we read various children's books based on the life of St. Francis and talked about his love and care for animals, seeing them as creatures created by God and worthy of our attention and care. I left the kids watching a movie about St. Francis and went off to meet a friend for lunch and antiquing.

It was fun to browse the stalls of the antique shops and admire all the Christmas decorations and dishes. I was on the hunt for a "mustache tea cup" for my upcoming class and do you know what? We found one within the first 15 minutes! Even better, it was only $4! But that was the last thing we found all afternoon so we mostly window shopped. :)

Afterward we stopped for tea and a chance to discuss 8 Women of Faith. I especially enjoyed exploring the faith of Jane Austen (another part of my upcoming class).

Pulling in the driveway just at dusk I noticed a small crowd a few houses down, mostly from my family. A child came running to tell me there was a hawk on the ground. As it turns out, a juvenile Cooper's Hawk had hit a neighbor's basketball hoop and been stunned. By the time I made it he had recovered enough to hop to the grass. What a special treat to get to view this bird up close!

Michael took the initiative to make a bunch of phonecalls until he found someone who would help. When I came down to make dinner the hawk was safely in the grasp of an older gentleman with a soft London accent. His voice emanated with care and deep delight in being able to be a part of helping another bird make a full recovery. He carefully tucked the young bird into a pet carrier in the back of his car and said he hoped maybe his dinner would be ready by the time he drove the 45 minutes back to his home where he and his wife take in birds like this every week. What could this be but a modern day St. Francis?! I hope the children will remember this day and the time their father took out of his day to care for a simple, fallen bird, and for the devoted care of this man who drove from far away to bring life-giving assistance to one of God's creatures.

We sang a beautiful 12th century carol today:

The Friendly Beasts

Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
"I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town.
I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

"I," said the cow all white and red
"I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head."
"I," said the cow all white and red.

"I," said the sheep with curly horn,
"I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn."
"I," said the sheep with curly horn.

"I," said the dove from the rafters high,
"I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I."
"I," said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

"I," was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

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December 3

Sunday is a day that looks quite different from the other days of the week at our house. It has the feeling of entering a secret garden that is only opened on the first day of the week and we arrange our schedules so that we can always be present in the garden during that time.

Church opens and closes the day for us. Michael leaves at 9 am with the two youngest children and the rest of us leave at 9:15. We are thankful that church is only about 7 minutes' drive from our house.

Usually we have a fairy who cooks lunch for us each week, namely my mom. Her church service gets out much earlier than ours so she heads to our house and starts the food. This is a great gift, and I don't take it lightly. Yesterday she cooked pork tenderloin with apples and onions and sautéed mushrooms along with roasted potatoes and acorn squash and steamed carrots.

Rachel and Andrew had raced off to a Spanish church service to fulfill one of their requirements for Spanish class so the table seemed extra quiet with only the three youngest children there. For dessert we had tarts leftover from the church ladies' dinner which we enjoyed with tea, sitting in the living room and catching up on our Jesse Tree readings.

Grandma played a few games with the children, I wrote a few Christmas cards, and then it was time to cook food to bring to church for our once-a-month evening potluck. I made my favorite rice salad, a spinach apple salad, and a gluten-free and refined-sugar-free angel food cake -- this was all to use up leftovers from the before mentioned dinner.

While the cake was cooking I had time to make "Laura's tea" which she has come to expect each week. We share a pot of tea and I keep a box of special goodies just for her tea times out of which we choose a few treats. We sit and talk and read books aloud. It's a chance for me to give her one-on-one time during a season in life that is otherwise very busy and often leaves her doing things on her own.

On the first Sunday of the month we have a psalm sing during the evening worship service time. It gives us an opportunity to practice various psalms and to sing for an hour. Afterward we enjoyed all the shared food and conversation until it was time to clean up and go home.

Michael is always extremely tired Sunday evenings and I am tired enough to go to sleep at least an hour earlier than I normally do. And so the gates shut on another Sabbath and a new week begins!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

December 2

The first weekend of December! Mine started off with a festive bang -- meeting my mom for breakfast at a place neither of us had been before. We squeezed in a quick sketch of our mugs of tea before our plates of sautéed mushrooms and onions, homemade chicken sausage, and porridge arrived!

A quick dash into the Goodwill sales yielded a brown teapot needed for my upcoming class and a microwave that looked promising. I stopped by Lowes to grab a Christmas tree and headed home where we tried out the microwave only to find it was way too loud. Back in the van it went to await a return.

Laura and I went down to Fountain Square to a wreath-making open house my sister Emily was holding at a local shop. I didn't realize how festive it would feel to create something beautiful, especially with Laura by my side making her own small wreath. We both loved it!!

The evening found us all in the living room for the traditional "snacky dinner" that accompanies the tree decorating. Michael put on the lights and two of the children decorated while everyone else gave directions, snarky comments, or encouragement from the edges.

As part of our Christmas Class we are reading Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol (this version which I love because of all the illustrations) so tonight I let the kids watch the Christmas Carol movie. And now off to rest for the Lord's Day tomorrow!

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Friday, December 1, 2017

December 1

It's the first of December! New beginnings are always special, and this being such a festive month, the day seems all that more exciting. The new calendar pages with all the red and white and green put a smile on my face, as does scrolling through Instagram and seeing all the Christmas stories everyone is reading!

I suppose I've had that happy sigh of delight feeling today because I had all the ladies from church over for dinner last night and the house was filled with the sound of many dear voices, lots of candles flickering and flowers glowing, and the taste of delicious food. That means my house is already decorated for December (since I had to do it for the dinner) and so December began in a low-stress, lovely way. (Perhaps this is why so many people do their decorating in November....I usually vow not until December!)

There were some little tasty treats leftover from the dinner to nudge me along in my afternoon's work which was spending a few hours working on my j-term class "Paint Your Cake and Eat it Too." I can't wait for the class, but it is a little inconvenient to have to develop class plans in December! :)

We put the first ornament on our Jesse tree, hopefully we will stay on schedule for one a day and not get too far behind. I still need to go and hang the rest of the advent calendars.

The "history of Christmas" is the topic of our 3-week holiday school term (end of Nov to Christmas break). It's been fun to research and break down the origins of the holiday into about 12 days' worth of learning, reading, eating, and creating. This week we began with Jesus' birth then went back in time to talk about the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Then we jumped forward to St. Augustine and one of his Christmas sermons and then moved on to St. Boniface the Apostle of Germany and the legend of his using a fir tree to teach the Gospel (incidentally, we enjoyed the children's biography of St. Boniface: Bring Me An Axe by Brother Roberto). I've been steeped in this research for two months or so and it's got me thinking about what a gift having a winter festival to celebrate is and how much it helps to brighten up the dark, cold months.

Time to put in another hour on the classwork and then see what books are waiting for me on the bed stand. It'll probably be The Autobiography of Santa Claus, The Hobbit, and Queen Victoria's Sketchbook.

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