Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent 2015

I have consciously made an effort to slow down this holiday season, savor the moments, and not get caught up in the holiday hoopla.  I did not want this one to pass by in the blink of an eye.  

As far as schoolwork goes, Grace chose an easier chapter on ecology for science and our primary focus was on math.  She is on target to begin Geometry in January!  Lilah worked along in her math program and tied up some loose ends in her science.  

  • We incorporated a great deal of Advent and Bible studies into our December days.  
  • We watched Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas and Kevin Sorbo’s God’s Not Dead.  
  • We listened to The Gospel of Matthew on my Bible app, YouVersion.  
  • We visited the Knights of Columbus Museum.  
  • We watched sermons from Black Rock Church online.  
  • We discovered a praise channel on XM that we love.  
  • Lilah narrated the closing of our annual Christmas Pageant at church and Grace provided all the music for the performance. 
  • We began a 12 part Catholic study on Mary through the online service Formed. 
  • We took Joel Osteen’s sermon on making deposits to heart and did some spontaneous gifting. 
  •  We listened to The Gifts of the Magi by O. Henry, The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, The Little Match Girl (which always, always makes me cry), and A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum which we discovered pretty quickly was a precursor to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

I feel ready to celebrate the birth of Christ.  I hope my family does too.  This has been my favorite Advent season ever.  Slow.  Intentional.  Thoughtful and at times, peaceful.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Raising Great Kids

I was selected to be part of the launch team for Kristen Welch’s new book: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World.  The conversations taking place on Facebook between launch team members point to the obvious, that holidays have been consumerized and we live in a selfish culture.  However, I don’t feel that entitlement equals spoiled.  Entitlement means expectations without gratitude.  One way I have tried to show my children gratitude is to help them understand that they are not the focus of everything, despite what their adolescent nature tells them.  

Christmas is about gifts and giving.  It is about decorating and preparing and expecting and hoping and waiting.  It is about family and friends and church and tradition.  It is all this and more.  If we lose sight of the simple fact that CHRISTmas is not about us, it is about Jesus Christ, and if we choose to celebrate ourselves over HIM, then the meaning of the day is lost, and entitlement creeps in.

Like the Wise Men who came bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, we give and receive gifts.  Entitlement is not the cost of the gift, or the hope for a certain gift, it is the expectation of a gift that is received with little or no gratitude.  

This week we took time to visit The Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven to view the creches of Europe.  We were fortunate to arrive just as a tour began and we were invited to participate.  These creches are works of art, made from skilled hands, with reverence.  The all depict the meaning of Christmas; the birth of the Christ child.  As we walked through picking our favorites, Christmas came into focus.  To be honest, as we drove to the museum there was some bickering among the three of us.  When we left the museum, we had joy in our heart, the bickering was replaced by the realization that we are not the center of this day.  

We cannot do it all.  We cannot always give the perfect gift, or control the reaction of the gift recipient.  We cannot always find the perfect tree or the perfect dress for a holiday party.  We cannot always make our children behave perfectly or have a perfect picture for our Christmas card.  We can’t always cook a perfect holiday meal or set a perfect table, but what we can do is stop, take a step back, slow down, and realize that we are not what this season of Advent is about.  We are to prepare ourselves, our homes, and our families to celebrate the event that changed the world, but we are so tiny in comparison to Christmas.  When we do this, we expose ourselves to the feelings of joy, empathy, compassion, awe, reverence, and wonder.   When we allow ourselves to step back and put God first, we experience gratitude on the most basic level, for our lives, our salvation, and our eternity are all tied up in this birth.  As for me and my family, we will follow The Lord, and in doing so, hopefully raise kids who are not entitled but instead grateful and inspired to do great things with the gifts, talents and treasures that have been bestowed upon them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

New York at Christmastime

This was one of those moments that for a split second you wished you said no.  Weeks ago, before the trip to Alabama and Tennessee, before Greg’s two business trips and before the fatigue of travel and sleep deprivation set in it seemed like a great idea.  My niece’s college in upstate New York had a bus trip to Manhattan and she and her boyfriend along with her sister and mother took advantage of the cheap tickets.  

It was hard waking up and getting out but once we were on the train headed south, we were glad we said yes.  Recently it hit me that Grace is fifteen.  Fifteen.  I am so lucky that she loves family, loves being with family, loves the holidays and wants to be home.  Even if she does not go away to college, things will change around here in the next few years as the girls mature and this year it hit me to hold on hard to  tradition and to make the most of all holiday opportunities.


What we did not expect were the crowds, crowds like I have never seen in New York.  Throngs of people making their way down 5th Ave and moving in masses in Times Square.  My girls are very sensory sensitive and the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open food cart and people bumping into them and strollers running over their toes and the heat in one store and the cold outside and the glaring lights and blaring music, the dancing Salvation Army volunteers and the beeping horns were all just too much.  We found peace where we could, in the restroom lounge at Greg’s store, tucked in a corner table at 5 Guys, or huddled on a side street making plans away from people.  

We strolled through Bryant Park, watched the same street performers we saw years ago in Central Park perform on the steps of the library, visited Greg’s store and office, lunched, admired the tree, sat on a bench in Times Square and told the creepy characters to stay far away from us, oohed and aahed at the windows of Saks, and took some great photographs.

While my girls are almost jaded by the lights and sights of Manhattan, my nieces are not and it was magical to see the joy in their eyes during the day.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thanksgiving in Tennessee

This was our first Thanksgiving away from home.  Usually we spend it at my sisters, with the two of us cooking and drinking wine and forgetting one vegetable or another but this year we when I planned our trip to Alabama, it included a trip to Tennessee for the holiday.  The girls and I left almost a week before Greg, driving to Alabama for the Civil Rights Tour then driving to Tennessee the day before Thanksgiving.  Greg flew down Tuesday night after work so he was able to enjoy an extra day with his family.

Thanksgiving was the first day in a week that we were not on the road in the car traveling to one place or another.  It felt great to lounge in sweats most of the day, dressing for dinner that evening.  The kids baked and cooked and decorated and helped make Thanksgiving come alive. 

Lilah made the jello mold.

They all made gluten free peanut butter balls, which were later dipped in melted chocolate.

There was the corn pudding.

There was Christmas Tree decorating and light stringing.

We closed our visit with a trip to Knoxville to see Christmas Trees decorated and on sale to benefit the children's’ hospital.  Plans were also made for some epic gingerbread decorating.....

Let the holiday season begin!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Cabin, Wilsonville, Alabama

When we travel we have to bring many things with us, like our pillows, food that meets our gluten free diet, our supplements, our cameras, and this time we even brought our coffee maker.  Often you can rent a home for less money than a hotel.  This was the case in Alabama.   I rented us a 100 year old cabin a half hour outside Birmingham.  The cabin was owned and operated by an equestrian center and came complete with free range goats and female longhorn cows, a few chickens and several horses.  

We did not ride here, as an introductory lesson was expensive, and our time was limited.  This was our home base, a place to sleep, eat, relax and enjoy nature.  At times we enjoyed a bit too much nature, like when Grace and I went to bring the garbage down to the barn and were met by the free ranging longhorns.  I was assured that they were female, but after seeing one scratch its horn against tree bark, that bit of information did nothing to  ease my fears.  

Grace wanted to explore and photograph the beauty of this place.  One morning the three of us woke at six am bundled up, and headed outside to the pond.  We kept a safe distance from the cows, avoided their patties, and meandered through the property.  We met what could possibly be the greatest horse ever.  We all fell in love with him, named him Dillon and really really wanted to trailer him home to Connecticut.  

This was an old home, complete with old home issues, but one we will always remember.  It reminded us of another old home we rented on Cape Cod, the one where the raccoons ran under the floorboards and every floorboard creaked when you stepped on it.  We slept well in this old home, and while it was drafty, it was cozy, and we enjoyed it with friends.  It was just perfect.

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...