Sunday, December 21, 2014

Day 11: Peanut Butter Blossoms

For some reason this is the only picture I took... It was most likely because I was busy policing my little blond helper, who kept trying to lick the Reese's Cups when I wasn't looking. Chloe loves to bake, and at the beginning of December I told her she could pick out her favorite cookie recipes and we would hatch a plan to make them all. This was the second recipe we baked together, but the first ones (shortbread cookies with chocolate centers) disappeared too quickly to photograph. These peanut butter blossoms are Chloe's favorite - easy and delicious! Side note: we left them to cool on a wire rack, and when we returned to the kitchen to put them away, the blond bandit had eaten the tops off of every.single.cookie.

It's a good thing he's cute.

Day 10: Gingerbread Houses & Sweet Friends

This year we gathered with a few (which in homeschool speak means about twenty) of our friends to make gingerbread houses. More candy ended my in my kids' mouths than on the houses, which is pretty much par for the course. I arrived declaring to all who would listen that we were going to leave no later than 1:00 because I had to get Charlie home for his nap, and we were having so much great fun and conversation that we ended up staying until 4:00. I love it when a good plan falls apart.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 9: Co-Op Christmas Party

            24 Days of Joy!

We are part of the best co-op. If you homeschool and have not yet discovered Classical Conversations, plug it into Google and give it some thought. We are halfway through our fourth year, and it has absolutely transformed our homeschooling journey. We celebrated our last day of 2014 with a Polar Express memory review game, crafts and games in the gym, and a big potluck lunch. These are some of my favorite people in the state of New York. I am so grateful for this community of friends.

Day 8: Salt Dough Ornaments

              24 Days of Joy!

 We are looking forward to blessing some special people with homemade gifts this year!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 7: Smith Christmas Playlist

24 Days of Joy!
There's lots of things I love about Greg. He's hilarious and smart and an out-of-the-box thinker. He's calm in emergencies and patient when the kids are flipping out. He works harder than anyone I've ever known. He's constantly putting the five other people in our family before himself. Also? He keeps our house filled with music. Greg, who can't sing his way out of a paper bag or play an instrument, is a great lover of music. It is always, always playing if he is in the house. He usually still has his coat on as the sweet harmony of the Avett Brothers begins to fill our kitchen. He puts together a rockin playlist every year and we listen to it every day. Here are a few of our 2014 faves:

1) Old Toy Trains by Jessica Lea Mayfield
2) Away in a Manger by the Avett Brothers
3) Xmas Eve by the Damnwells
4) Auld Lang Syne by the Barenaked Ladies
5) Oh Holy Night by Tracy Chapman
6) I Saw Three Ships by Sting
7) Christmas by John Popper
8) Baby It's Cold Outside by Al Hirt & Ann Margaret
9) I'll Be Home for Christmas by Dave McKenna
10) Joy to the World by John Fahey

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day 6: Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's Nutcracker

24 Days of Joy!

This is one of the year's biggest highlights for Chloe. We've gone home for it every year since we've moved, even though it's only a few days after Thanksgiving. It's a tradition we can't bear to part with. We loved getting to see so many sweet faces from our Pittsburgh homeschooling community. 

We loved catching up with our best pals. 

We loved seeing the ballet in our favorite city, our forever home. 

We loved spending the morning with Nana. Nine hours round trip twice in a week, and completely worth it.

Day 5: Fireside Read Aloud

24 Days of Joy!
This has become a favorite tradition in our home. I have a collection of Christmas books that I add to every year, and I keep them tucked away deep in our classroom closet. Each year when we put our Christmas decorations away, we put the books away too. A few days into December, I turn on the fire, surreptitiously pull all the books out, and call the kids. It never ceases to be a fun surprise. Some of the books were bought for the kids for their first Christmases, some were my Mom's from her teaching days before we were born, and some were gifts from last year. The ever-growing stack remains out during December, and hours and hours are spent pouring over the dog-eared pages of their Christmas favorites.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 4: Inexpensive Gifts of Gratitude

24 Days of Joy!

Herewith, a few simple, inexpensive gifts I've loved. 

A little Christmas chocolate, a holiday cookie cutter & a sweet note:

Family sundae night in a box:

Wrapping paper and tape:

For my hardworking tutors this year I assembled a little rejuvenation bag: tea and a new teacup, homemade bread wrapped in a basket liner sewn by my mom, and a little devotional book. My kids received hot cocoa and marshmallows in mason jars from their tutor, and it is already gone :-). One of my favorite gifts of all time to both give and receive is a handwritten note. In the age of emails, texting, and living out our relationships in two hundred characters or less, what a blessing it is to receive the heartfelt sentiment of a friend in their actual handwriting. I'm grateful that I'm finally beginning to learn that expressing gratitude doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Now go thank someone :-).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 3: Gingerbread Men

24 Days of Joy!

We had bakers in the house today!

Max insisted on making an entire tray of gingerbread Yoda's and not a single thing created by Charlie was edible, but other than that, baking day was a success. They loved it, and my kitchen is a disaster. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Day 1: The Advent Calendar

24 Days of Joy!

This will probably always be one of my first posts, because it is sort of the kickoff to our family's Advent season. I blogged about it here and here over the past few years, and our tradition remains the same. We still read the same book every year, and I hope we always do. The theology in the book is wonderful, and though it's probably a little over the heads of the younger ones, I highly recommend it for first graders and up. This will be our third year using it, and the kids have improved greatly in their ability to pay attention and discuss what they've listened to at the end of the reading. I was talking to a friend about our Advent tradition this morning, and I told her that it actually helps me to be more intentional about limiting the Christmas craziness and saying "no" to activities that will force Greg, the kids, or me to miss this time as a family. I want the kids to see the priority we place on preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus' birth, and if I'm out Christmas shopping or getting coffee with friends half the time, I'm kinda discredited. 

One more thing - if you haven't started yet, even though it's December 3rd, you're in good company. The Smith fam is just starting tonight too. It's never too late to begin a good thing. Cheers!


The Tradition Continues!

24 Days of Joy!

This will be the the third year in a row for our family's 24 days of Christmas joy. Every year I try to do something small as a family to celebrate the joy of the Advent season, and every year I attempt to document it on the blog, which I do with varying degrees of success. I am looking forward to repeating some fun activities from the past and trying out some new ones too. Welcome to our 24 Days of Joy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be All There

I was leaving my favorite library a few weeks ago when I stopped to peruse the old metal "Free Books" cart parked outside the door. It's usually littered with dogeared titles by Danielle Steele and LaVyrle Spencer, but as I glanced over it a shiny pink paperback caught my eye. It was sitting haphazardly atop the pile, a victim of recent consideration and rejection. I could see the name of the author on the spine - Elliot. 

So. I've been reading my free copy of Elisabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor this week. For those of you who haven't read it, it's the account of five missionaries' life-changing work in Equador. I've underlined about half the book. Jim Elliot's bravery and heart for the things of God are astounding. Elisabeth quotes her husband's journals extensively throughout the book, and this entry from his early years is one of my favorites so far:

"Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."
  - Jim Elliot

I've thought about it often this week - how easy it is to fail in this pursuit, and the grave consequences of that failure: ingratitude, complacency, discontent, and uselessness. The idea of pondering failure might be discouraging, but I have found it to be the opposite. It's been encouraging to look that failure straight in the eye, to acknowledge the truth of those consequences, and to seek contentment and gratitude in the small moments of my life.

"I only hope that He will let me preach to those who have never heard that name Jesus. What else is worthwhile in this life? I have heard of nothing better. 'Lord, send me!'"
-Jim Elliot

Monday, November 17, 2014

Scenes from the Home Front

We have been busy at home. Gratefully, the craziness of running here and there has eluded our family this year. We're getting smarter with our scheduling, or saying no more, or, more likely, a combination of the two. Our hands are full, and full of good things. Lots of good books are being read now that we have three curious readers underfoot. We've become fascinated with the Revolutionary War, the heroics of George Washington, the heady times that marked the beginning of our country. How did I graduate with honors and a BA in History and know so very little about the genesis of my own country?

We begin our mornings with piano practice, Pachelbel's Canon and Jingle Bells plunked out with varying degrees of cacophony. The kids play with playdoh and stage boisterous concerts in the basement. The house is often loud. They read side by side on their bellies on the floor. The house is often a mess. Snow arrived in the middle of the night and was greeted this morning with shouts of joy. Even I can appreciate its quiet loveliness as it has covered western New York in a blanket of white. Thanksgiving is next week, and I am grateful for so much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inconvenience and Creativity

Here's the thing: Charlie loves to paint. Also, he is three. Everything about his painting passion is inconvenient. He is messy. He uses fingers and paintbrushes interchangeably. His creative juices start flowing right around the the time I am starting to fix dinner or teach a new math lesson to two wriggling, impatient seven year olds. I keep the paints tucked away on a high shelf for reasons any sane mother of a toddler understands, which means I have to drag the stool to the closet and climb up on it and get down the paints and fill up the water cup and find him some paper and strip him down to skivvies because he is wearing a new Gymboree shirt and it is all just so inconvenient. 

And then, these words: "What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give." (P. D. James) 

I want these four kids to grow into people who can give love freely, forgive without record, assert themselves fearlessly, know who they are and what they were made to do, and pursue it with passion. 

Nurturing those things in each one of them is rewarding and hard and important and exhausting and the basis of just about everything I do, but there is one thing it is not.

It is not convenient. 

If you are laboring alongside me as a parent poured out every day for your children, whether they are at school or at home or all grown up, be encouraged. The absence of convenience does not indicate the absence of importance. Each yielding of what is convenient for what is hard is sewing seeds of goodness and truth and righteousness in your child.