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 it...now). 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 Claus...to 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.



Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Zombie Apocolypse (or homeschool challenge #347)

When I imagined all the challenges that homeschooling my 3 little men would bring me, I did not anticipate one very real situation that we currently have on our hands.

Zombies.
They are real, folks. 

Three of them roll out of bed and stumble their way out of my boys' bedroom every morning between 8.30 and 9 o'clock. They sit at the kitchen table clumsily trying to feed themselves for what seems like an eternity every morning. They wander around moaning and (I think?) trying to get dressed and make beds and brush their teeth for another exhaustive amount of time. 

They are incapable of forming coherent thought until nearly lunch time, when I start to catch glimpses of real human kids behind those blank and lifeless eyes. And learning? Ha! They move in slow motion and their brains are not turned on until some time after lunch.

By evening they are full of pep and could probably go until midnight if I let them.

Despite my best efforts to convert them, their body clocks run on the exact opposite time table as mine (I blame their father).

I am a morning person.

I love to watch the sun come up while I sip a steaming mug of coffee. I do all my planning, cleaning, shopping, thinking in the hours before the rest of the house is stirring.

By the time I finish lunch, my brain is starting to slow down. Perhaps it's even melting bit by bit. Sometimes I think I can feel all of my intelligence and motivation leaking out. Dinner rolls around, and I am the one stumbling about grunting incoherent sounds. I am not long for the land of the living.

Just when the boys are ready to sit down and tackle phonics and math for a few hours, I find I have become one of the walking dead myself.

We are faced with a choice: zombie students or zombie teacher? 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Confession: I am not ready

One year ago this week I was trying to celebrate the 6th birthday of the twins.

One year ago this week I was helping my kids enjoy Halloween with parades, candy, costumes, and trick-or-treating.

One year ago this week I was holding my breath, waiting for my mom to die.

In some ways I feel like I am still holding my breath, that I haven't truly been able to breathe these past 12 months. There is a tension in her absence. Something is missing, and we are still desperately trying to keep our lives balanced. To keep everything from toppling over and crashing into a thousand pieces on the floor.

I miss her every day.

Every day.

It's the little things that make me think of her most of the time. The other day it was when I reached into the spice cabinet and pulled out this:
Mom took the name "Season All" quite literally. She used it to season everything. It was her go-to spice. I pulled it out to use in a recipe, and I actually broke down crying as I prepared dinner. 

It's stupid. But it's awesome.

I love that my memory of her is so intense that it can hit me like that out of the blue.

And then I get all weepy knowing that my boys will never know her in that way. I can tell them stories. We can look at pictures. And we do. We do. But the wispy, fluid memories of young children don't hold the same power. Their "memories" of past events change with every retelling, becoming less and less like the true event each time.

And I fear. 

I fear that their memories of my mother will grow hazy and fade. I am not ready for them to lose her. I am not ready to lose her again in their losing of her.

I am not ready for her place in their lives and in their memories to be occupied by another woman. I am not ready for there to be another name associated with "Grandad" other than "Yaya." I am not ready for her face and her figure standing next to my dad to be intertwined with someone else's.

I am not ready to give up her presence that exists somehow still in her absence. That empty chair at the table. The stocking not hung by the chimney with care. The vacancy in our lives that is a constant reminder of my mom. My mom who was there and now is not. 

I am not ready for that emptiness to be filled by anyone else.

Maybe I'm selfish. Maybe I'm childish. But I am not ready.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Difficult

I have 3 messy, active, amazing boys. They are each wonderful and unique and I adore the differences between the three of them. They keep me guessing and keep me on my toes. It is a privilege to parent them, and they make me into a better person just for knowing them.
Lately certain people in his life have been using the words active, stubborn, difficult, strong willed, immature, and challenging (among others) to describe the youngest.

While most these words do ring true in his personality, I have to say that I don't think they have been used lovingly. In fact, they have been used to indicate that there may be something about his nature (or perhaps my parenting) that needs to change.
I'd like to take a moment and say a few words in defense of the "difficult" child, mine and the others I know are out there. I believe there are so many things to love about a strong-willed child. Things that we need to celebrate. Things that do not necessarily need to be broken.
My strong-willed child feels life with intensity. He delights in the smallest of pleasures, his smile and his laugh are contagious. He helps me to see the joy in life, too. I love sharing his happiness with him.
However, he also feels his negative emotions with equal intensity. This means that he cries. A lot. He screams. He pouts. A lot. He has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. And he takes the whole room with him wherever he goes.
 My "challenging" little boy has a strong sense of his identity and what he wants out of life. He doesn't like to conform to anyone else's ideas of what he should be doing. This is a fantastic characteristic that will serve him so well when he is faced with peer pressure as a teenager. I am so excited for what the future holds for this little man.
However, his strong opinions make it hard for him to transition when he needs to transition. They make it hard for him to sit still when he doesn't want to. They make it hard for him to obey. And remember how strongly he feels? Yeah, when he is disappointed that he has to conform, he feels it with intensity.
When he sets his mind to something, he will get it done no matter the consequences. He is resolute in his decisions. Again, I do not believe this is a bad personality trait. It does get a bit complicated, however, when what he has decided on is precisely the opposite of what an authority figure would like to see. And those emotions? He feels them.
My "difficult" kid is wiggly and creative. He prefers to see the world upside down, literally and figuratively, spending most of his time either standing on his head or creating works of art.

Those things which make him a challenge for people to deal with are the same characteristics that could very well shape culture as he grows up.
Let's stop condemning these children and labeling them "challenging" or "difficult." Instead, let's choose to look at their spirit, tenacity, creativity, determination, individuality, and spunk as positive character traits.

All children need to feel loved. They all want to be accepted for who they are. Even the difficult ones.
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