Thursday, December 27, 2007

Boxing Day

Yesterday we continued our tradition of celebrating Boxing Day (we cleaned out a bunch of stuff from our house, put it in boxes to give away, then assembled a bunch of cookies into boxes to take to a homeless shelter)...
..but we also added a new feature this year: "Box-Fest!" This is something Katie has introduced to us (although they used to be called "pigfests" -- we think our name is much better). The idea is that everyone comes to dinner with a "proposition" to defend. Then we take exactly 15 minutes to discuss/debate (box) each person's issue. The proposition can have to do with anything concerning culture, politics, current events, etc, so it was interesting to hear the things everyone brought to talk about!

Some of the topics we discussed were:
-the need for kids/teens to go through a rite-of-passage
-whether or not religious views are imporant, compared to experience, morality, etc, when choosing a Presidential candidate
-re-thinking the role of college
-whether or not personality and "gifts" assessments or tests have any benefit or value
-encouraging high school graduates to take a year to do something different before heading to college
-definition of marriage
-creation of child-rearing-entities by the State
-.... and many corollaries of the above!

At the end of the night, Katie and Graham summed up our "take-aways" by saying, "Our children will go through rites of passage, skip and/or delay college and personality assessments, and get a license for raising children. And Vote for Ron Paul!" Or something like that. :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christma Eve Re-cap

(Written in great detail for the benefit of Mor-Mor and Grandpa!)

This afternoon the entire Wray extended family gathered at Mom and Dad's. It's been a couple years since we were all able to celebrate a holiday together, so it was extra-special. And, as to be expected, the day was not without some craziness and goofiness. Here are some of the high(low?)lights:

The official festivities were kicked off by a white elephant gift exchange to which we had all brought our junk-I-mean-special-gifts. The favorite items of the day were

--a fancy ladylike stocking filled with mint M&M's... and adorned with a picture of Dan wearing only a Speedo (taken on our beach vacation)
--a photograph of Pete and Dan in a questionable pose, in a heart-shaped frame (recycled white elephant from years ago)
--some Aveda hair products.... with a... shall we say, prophylatic (if any kids are reading this, hopefully you don't know that word) item packaged alongside.
--a framed award that John had received in high school -- a "sportsmanship award," complete with a photograph of him running in a cross-country race with, as Pete pointed out, "skinny spaghetti arms." (must have been taken before he muscled up)
--Mom's "Charting a Course" book that she wrote... she's promised to autograph it so it should be worth millions after she dies.

One of the gifts (a broken lamp) came in a huge box, so as you would expect, the box itself became the big hit with the kids. After seeing Rayna get a "ride" in the box, Strider begged for one, too. I saw him get packaged up in the box, and then several of his uncles carried him out of the room..... and the next thing I knew he came back in the room all wet! Apparently they had delivered him to a shower, and then turned the water on. He loved it.

Soon thereafter we sat down for dinner. (The "soon thereafter" part was filled with all the usual hustle and bustle as Mom produced, starred in, and directed the dinner-making production. )

Another remarkable note concerning the dinner: it included a 25-pound lasagna! Yes, 25 pounds. We know because we weighed it. And because we are the Wray family, before we weighed it, we all wrote down how much we thought it would weigh. Guesses ranged from 23 to 37 pounds. James won the contest.

During dinner Dad gave us the assignment of going around the table and sharing our most favorite date we've had with our spouse since we've been married. (The latter part was added after someone asked if our favorite date had to be with the same person we ended up marrying) Thankfully the kids were sitting at a separate table, because some of us were a little too forthcoming with the details of the various dates! Lots of blushing going on in the general region of Karin... and Dad.

Moving on..... After that official conversation, the talk turned to the regular random discussions we have.... and by that I mean we played the "Try-to-talk-louder-than-the-person-next-to-you-is-talking" game. The din got louder and louder, until at one point I lip-read as Mom leaned over to Dad and whisper-yelled, "This is worse than one of those loud restaurants you go to where you can't hear anyone at your own table!"

After dinner we had a nice family Christmas Eve time during which we did some "Adorenaments" that Mom had bought. We took turns reading the different descriptions of Jesus on each ornament and then the heavily tattooed* kids took turns hanging them on the tree. And Colsen challenged Mom to a game of agility, as he ricocheted rapidly from one breakable item to another in the room, testing both her reflexes and knee strength. She held up fairly well, although had to call for backup from Uncle John a few times.

Finally we had a time of Cacophonous Christmas Caroling. Graham played a piano thing, Katie played a dulcimer, and Mom did NOT play her accordion despite the pleading of the group. And as we sang, Strider insisted on singing one measure ahead of us all the way through, Rayna insisted on singing a different Christmas song from whichever one we were singing, and Colsen kept bringing in random items from the kitchen, like cooking spray or salt containers. It was idlyllic and peaceful, as I'm sure you can imagine.

The Frank family then took their leave and proceeded home. Undoubtedly more hoopla and festivities continue on at 9305 Titus Lane, but we will have to hear about them tomorrow. In the car ride on the way home, Strider asked if I could make up a story about Christmas Eve. I told him I didn't know if I had the mental energy for that at the moment, so he said he would do it. He started out,

"'It was just another winter night,' Mary and Joseph thought as they walked through the woods to Bethlehem...." The story went on loosely fitting the actual Christmas story, until he remembered he wanted to make up a story, so then the storyline quickly changed to find the baby growing up to be a man who played football for the Dallas Cowboys, then became President, and then died when he was 93. Interesting.

We came home and had our little candlelight traditions at home.

And then the kids went to bed!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Happy Birthday Indeed

So I've come to the conclusion that my birthday should be celebrated much more often -- definitely several times a year. It is just too fun to happen only once a year. Peter is really amazing when he prepares for my birthday... for days ahead of time he is shopping and planning and trying to keep the kids from telling all the "secrets." Then he seems to really enjoy taking over for the day, making a special dinner, giving me thoughtful gifts. I think he's truly in his element, as they say, when he celebrates his wife's birthday. And I am definitely in my element when everyone is being all nice to me all day, cooking for me, and giving me gifts! Even the kids get ramped up when they have secret presents to give me and a cake that they've planned out...

So it's really a win-win for all of us for my birthday to happen more often, right? I'm working on adding dates for my birthday to be celebrated in the future.... if anyone wants a copy of the new list, please just let me know. :)

(And thank you, everyone, for all the nice birthday wishes, cards, etc. I felt very, very blessed. And I had a great time at Thai Taste with the various Wray folks who could come, and having Mom and Dad over for dinner -- and John and Keiko over for some play time, and Wendy over for a visit.... Truly blessed.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Partying, skating and poker playing

Well the Christmas-time revelry is in full swing here; the last 3 nights have provided all kinds of entertainment. Sunday night we had our Life group over for a dinner and white-elephant gift swap, Monday night we went roller skating to celebrate Strider's friend Sam's birthday, and last night we had a big Wray family gathering for fajitas and poker. (And I'm happy to say that I won the poker round-- I think. We had to cut it a little short to get the munchkins home to bed. Only 1 person has paid me any money, though, so the rest of you better pay up! :) )

I'll let the pictures give some of the rest of the details...

Friday, December 14, 2007

And on a musical note...

Today marked Strider's final public violin appearance for the foreseeable future. After this semester, he is officially retiring from violin. Over the past 2 years Strider has really enjoyed playing this instrument -- approximately .2% of the time. The rest of the time has been under great protest, (and sometimes even with weeping and gnashing of teeth) so since he has fulfilled our original "2-year agreement," we will let him take his final bow.

This week he and the other students played at a nursing home, and then today at a hospital, and it was fun getting to see him play various Christmas carols.

(Rayna danced along)

(Colsen tried to destroy the tree)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A trip to a monastery

I’ve often had the thought that it would be nice to escape to a monastery for some time away. It sounds like such a peaceful place…. so focused, with an intensity that would freeing. Plus, I always like the sound of the men singing when I see one on TV.

I guess it’s highly improbable that I’ll ever get to be a monk - -ok, impossible, considering my femaleness – but I do feel like I just had a brief glimpse into something very much like my conception of a monastery.

I went for a walk late in the afternoon, and as I walked I listened to a couple of podcasts we had downloaded (don’t I sound so modern?), based on a recommendation from our good-recommender-friends, Bryan and Jen. These particular podcasts were based on Advent, and the segments were filled with beautiful singing (in Latin—I think), Scripture passages read by serene British voices, long pauses, even bells chiming. I immediately felt like I was being whisked away to another place. The man in my ear was reading, “God is love… Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” The mysticism of it all was getting to me.

As I came around a bend and saw the afternoon sun reaching out over the trees and field, I found myself breathing deeply and smiling. And then I began to see all kinds of things around me, full of wonder…

…A young boy riding his bike home from school actually looked me in the eye, smiled and said hello… A 3-foot-tall blue heron was perched on the top of the roof of a house I passed… The candles in the windows of houses were coming on as the sun was getting lower…. Two little girls were conferring together next to their bikes – I remember the sweetness of friendship at that age… The leaves on a tree were glowing as the fading sunlight hit them…

As I got closer to home the voice in my ear was reading,

“The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God…. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road….”

I looked down at my son I was pushing in his stroller, at his fuzzy little head, at the pudgy little knees under his shorts. How blessed he is to be in this place in this world with this God. I hope he, too, becomes impressed with that. Maybe he’ll get to go to a monastery for real someday, but if not, I hope he, too, has moments filled with wonder and pure joy, as this walk was for me.

This picture sums up the feeling I had on that walk. As I was raking our very leafy yard and gardens, I suddenly unearthed this Gerber daisy -- in December! It was growing under a pile of leaves… and while everything around it is looking pretty faded and brown (even its own leaves), look how perfect and vibrant it is! THAT is what I was feeling.

Friday, December 7, 2007

St. Nicholas Day

Yesterday (December 6th) we continued our annual celebration of St. Nicholas Day -- it's quickly becoming one of our favorite holidays of the year! For our family, this has become the day the when we do all our Santa Claus stuff... since the idea of Santa is based on the real life of St. Nicholas. Nicholas, as we've learned, was actually a pretty cool guy. Even as a young man, he gave away his wealth to poor people in need -- and always anonymously. So, in honor of him, we do our Christmas stockings and other fun activities on this day.

This year we expanded our celebration to include a big dinner with a couple other families-- and it was a lot of fun! Since Nicholas was from Turkey, we ventured out from our normal fare and made some Middle Eastern recipes (Moroccan Chicken -- thanks to my friend Deb!; Shepherd's Salad; and pita bread with homemade hummus). After dinner the kids decorated (and quickly inhaled) gingerbread men/women/kids (gingerbread is another delicacy loosely traced back to St. Nicholas).

Then we gathered all the kids in the living room to tell the story of Nicholas, and talk about how we can celebrate him by imitating his generosity and love for people.... and then in the middle of this....


The doorbell rang, but when all the kids rushed to the door, no one was there! There was, however, a big box with interesting-looking bags in it, each labeled with a child's name... It was fun to see their delight -- both in the little treats, and in the mystery about who rang the doorbell! (The older boys started a house-wide interrogation, but they never were quite satisfied with the answers they received. For some reason, they just didn't buy the idea that it was probably a great-great-great-great-grandson of Nicholas.)

The celebration was full of all the noise, laughter, and fun that you would expect with 15 people in a small-ish house -- definitely a St. Nicholas Day to remember!

(After the other families went home, our kids put out their stockings before they went to sleep... and woke up this morning to find some fun little games in them. It's fun to start the presents this early -- and to spread out the excitement of Christmas. Now we will put all our Santa stuff away.... and be able to just focus on Jesus for the rest of the Advent season!)

Monday, December 3, 2007

They're on the move...

Each Advent we have a fun little tradition with the figures of our Nativity Set -- an idea that my friend Heather gave me. Throughout December, each night after the kids go to bed, Pete and I hide Mary and Joseph somewhere in the downstairs rooms of our house. We've told the kids that M&J have to go on a long journey to Bethlehem, and they are slowly making their way around the house to the stable. So each morning the kids run to look for them. And, funnily enough, this year Colsen was the first one to find the pair on the first morning!

Here they are.... shh don't tell! After December 25th, when they wearily reach their destination, their journey will be over. But the journey will just be beginning for the wise men! Then we will hide them each night until January 6th (Epiphany).

Lots of hiding and seeking around here!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Advent!

Advent has begun, and we love this time of year! It's so fun to do all the regular traditions, and create new ones.

Over the weekend we got to do some fun things -- like go to Bethlehem. (It was a big church that transformed itself into a marketplace and village, complete with stable scene and all. Everyone received shekels as we went in and then had to pay half of them for taxes, and could spend the rest of them in the marketplace. There were live animals -- camels and everything!)
We also went down to our town center for our neighborhood's annual tree lighting/Christmas carol singing time. They had the horse-drawn carriage rides again, and Santa arrived to talk to the kids, etc. It was nice and warm this year -- not freezing like in years past!

And at home we've been busy decorating and setting up. Here are some of the things we've been up to:

Decorating the little tree that the Wingate folks gave us when Cole was born

Making paper chains

Setting up the Nativity set

And making our Advent wreath:

Katie and Graham came to make one, too
We had a little Christmas carol sing-along afterwards... ... and then Pete talked to us about the meaning of the first candle:

Despite what Strider's faces indicate in some of these pictures, we really have been having a fun time!