Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year of Contrasts

2012 was a year of extreme contrasts for us: Spending the first half of it living in a developing country, seeing people poorer than we’ve ever seen, and seeing the very rich living right beside them… Experiencing a medical crisis at the very beginning of the year, but then the healthiest span of months our family has ever had….Feeling great anxiety and fear, but then also great peace and comfort… Seeing and hearing about awful ugliness in the world, and also seeing some of the most beautiful places ever… Living in the most urban environment our family has ever experienced, and then vacationing in the most picturesque, smallest villages we’ve ever spent time in… Living through the effects of both capitalism and communism… Visiting very old castles and churches, and taking pictures and communicating with very modern technology….Missing friends and family for so long, and then getting to see so many at fun celebrations… 

The country we lived in was itself full of contrasts:  democracy and communism existing side-by-side... ugly exteriors of buildings housing beautiful apartments on the inside... religious institutions hostile to each other, but neighbors.... the very rich government governing the very poor... the rather modern capital city not far from extremely primitive villages... a nation of people who speak two different languages.... generations deeply divided on what the future direction of their country should be.

(And the country we came home to has more and more of these contrasts, it seems!)

Getting out of my comfort zone (5289 miles outside of it!) made life deeper, heavier and more colorful for me, and God ever bigger. We learned to relax a little and say, "Yes.... and...." but still find ourselves to resistant to many things.  Contrasts within and contrasts without.... I'm thankful for them.  The darkness makes the Light seem ever brighter!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Our favorite books of the 2012 Advent season

Here are our 3 favorite new books from this past month:

Product Details
For the grown-ups:
I think I found Richard Rohr's Preparing for Christmas on sale somewhere last year, and I can't remember why I bought it.  Was it just so on-sale that I couldn't resist?  Or did someone recommend it?  No idea.  But I found it in our Christmas stuff this year and started reading it every night.  Both Pete and I ended up really loving it!  I had never read anything by Rohr (a Franciscan priest) before, but I plan to read much more;  he has some really unique and intriguing perspectives.

For the whole family:
We all enjoyed a new (to us) Advent adventure story this year:  Bartholomew's Passage.  We had read Jotham's Journey (by the same author) a few times and last year we gave Bartholomew to the Boyer family with the ulterior motive of wanting to borrow it this year!  So right at the beginning of December our families each shipped the books to each other (we sent them Jotham) and we each got to read new stories.  As the month went on and we read each night, we loved encountering some of our old favorite characters (including Jotham) in this new book.  Ytreeide is an amazing author, in my opinion, and I love how he weaves the Truth in through each chapter.

For the young set:
I don't know why we had never read it before, since we're definitely Jan Brett fans, but this year we finally encountered The Wild Christmas Reindeer.  We had some curriculum suggestions to go along with it, so school became extra-fun this month.  Each page is full of the classic Brett-ine detail that make her books so fascinating.  

Movies, music, Curious George Christmas specials, and BOOKS.... we love encountering the joy and hope of Christmas through all the media.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Strangest Christmas Tradition We Have

Some families build all kinds of excitement around a visit from Santa.  Some have reindeer track sightings.  Some are really spiritual and re-enact the first Holy Night with angels visiting and shepherds quaking.

Our family gets visited by Grandma Deuce.

Grandma Deuce has a nice, sweet, well, grandmotherly sound to her name.... but nothing could be further from her actual appearance.  She -- he-- is actually extremely creepy and weird, terrifying all the children at one stage or another.  No one quite knows why this tradition keeps being perpetuated... or why it gets worse and worse every year.

Many years ago, Uncle Dan (Deuce) sat down to read the traditional story our family liked when we were kids -- "Karin's Christmas Walk."  Then he added some old-lady glasses and adopted a librarian voice.  The next year, he introduced a costume and a whole character was born.  And now that character is just downright WEIRD.  Even his--her-- own kids shriek in terror!

Nevertheless, the legend continues, so on Christmas night everyone was all ready for Grandma Deuce to arrive:

Who is coming in the front door??
These little ones have NO idea what to expect
Grandma Deuce is here!
And she looks strange...
.... kinda weird with her/his pearl necklace...

BUT THEN --- he/she took off her sweater, wearing only a strapless dress underneath!  All the adults simultaneously groan-gagged.

Somehow the kids weren't quite so put off by it  (the ones who weren't screaming in their mothers' laps anyhow):

 And Grandma Deuce proceeded with the story -- even with the wrong book.  Somehow he/she made it work and the kids were none the wiser.

Yep, downright weird.

It's at a time like this that I really wish my brother Dan was on Facebook so I could TAG him in these pictures!

(And we also wish Sammy and Sophia could have joined in the fun so all the cousins could be together....alas, California is a long ways away, and even the promise of Grandma Deuce is not enough to shorten that distance.  Maybe next year!)

Days later we are still trying to work through the kids' confusion....  Just this morning, Miles and I had this conversation:
Miles:  You are like Mor-Mor.
Me:  Yes, I am -- because she's my grandmother.
Miles:  Yeah, and Grandma Deuce is my grandfather!

Just terrific.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Day

 Christmas morning was full of joy, light, celebration, wrapping paper shreds, thankfulness, cinnamon rolls -- and only minor coughs!

The kids all opened their one gift from us, and then the ones from each other and their cousins, and then we got ready to have our neighbors over for brunch.

 I forgot to take any pictures of the brunch or the train-set playing afterwards, but someone (I think Miles) snapped this one somehow:

Later, the Dreschers came over for a visit, and since Pete and I got each other a new camera for Christmas (!), we got some lessons and some practice in using it.

For dinner, we had all been invited over to Dan and Amy's house, which was a treat!
California Rolls made by Dan (Picture snapped by Pete, loving his new camera!)
The grill-master -- Looks like the beams of Heaven are upon him!
Cauliflower ready to be roasted by Amy
Strider's shot of Guinness
Boys in sweaters
Ladies in red
Big Pete and Little Pete
Enjoying baby Lincoln
More enjoying of Lincoln
Ava the ring-leader

 Then, after dinner, anticipation began to mount because a special visitation was to come....

 .... Not just any visitation... a special Christmas visitation....  but that will be explained in the next chapter.....

Leading up to Christmas....

A couple of cases of what we think was the flu threw some wrinkles into our pre-Christmas plans, but with a little tag-teaming by Pete and me, we were still able to have days of joy and celebration!

On Saturday night, my cousin Linsey invited us to their new home (now in NC -- yay!), for an evening with many Wray family members, including Uncle Pete and Aunt Lisa down from Pittsburgh.  I so wish I had brought my camera because their house is bee-yoo-ti-ful and was decorated in such a lovely way.  And the food!  None of us were surprised by how gourmet it was (Linsey's reputation has become legendary), but the shear quantities were also enough to amaze.  There was a silver bowl of green beans that was larger than my entire refrigerator -- and that's just one example of about 36.  The evening was a lot of fun, only mildly marred by the fact that an entire glass of red wine (Lamoreaux Landing, of course) was somehow mysteriously flung across the room, drenching area rug, upholstered chair and wall.  (The good update the following day was that hydrogen pyroxide and dish soap was able to remove the stains.)

Sunday morning Pete and Strider drove up to Luray, Virginia to represent our unit in the Frank Family Christmas gathering, while I remained home with the coughing chorus.  They had a great time in a beautiful cabin near the Shenandoah's - -complete with hot tub and all.  Highlights included seeing all of the cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, playing the Yankee Swap game, and having some good food.

Meanwhile, here on Christmas Eve, the younger 3 kids and I headed up to my sister's church for their candlelight service.  The 5 minutes of actual candlelight time were the scariest moments of my week!  Making sure my 3 hyper kids with their lit candles didn't light their hair -- or the hair of their half-pint sized cousins sitting next to them, or the seats or the coats -- on fire was a full-press effort.  Singing "Sleep in heavenly peace" wasn't quite the "peaceful sacred and holy" moment it's been for me in the past;  I just couldn't wait to get to the blowing-out-the-candles part.  Why in the world do I let a 3-year old have a lit candle?

Anyway, the rest of the evening was wonderful as we went to the Dreschers, and were shortly joined there by the Clarks and Strider and Pete.

Sage looking adorable and knowing it
Can you tell that Colsen was pretty excited in the above 2 pictures?
But James may have been even more so.

We missed having Mom and Dad in town (they are in New Jersey), but I am very blessed to have 2 sisters who are terrific cooks and hostesses, so we muddled through.

And, I also have a brother and sister-in-law who are also great cooks and hosts.... but that is for the next chapter.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Luke 2:1-7, (attempted) over and over and over

The kids memorized part of the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-7, this month and I tried to get them to recite it together today.  (Strider is in Virginia with Pete, so he missed out on this experience.)

This is the silliness that ensued:

Luke 2:1-7

The Birth of Jesus

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

(Also, for those of you inquiring about the 7-minute video of Colsen paraphrasing the whole Christmas story, that clip is HERE.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Looking in the mirror this morning, I see gray hairs, wrinkles AND acne.  So far I'm not all that impressed with 40.

But celebrating my birthday was fun anyway!  On Thursday night my parents hosted a dinner for all my siblings and their spouses and my grandmother and it was a relaxing and lovely evening.

Then Friday morning I was awoken with the news that a friend of mine had dropped by with breakfast for us. So in my scrubby pajamas and bed-head I came out to see Deb and her kids waiting for me with flowers and cinnamon rolls, and they promptly broke into a loud, off-key (on purpose) version of Happy Birthday.  What a way to start the day!

 Then after breakfast my kids were excited to give me their gifts.

And throughout the day I found them re-wrapping various things to give me.  I loved this one that Milo presented to me, wrapped in scrap paper he found.  I asked him what he wrote and he said, "D and 2 M's for "Dear Mom."

I loved getting birthday greetings, phone calls, messages, etc., all day -- including a video montage from our awesome next-door neighbors.  Amusing, to say the least!

For dinner Pete made lasagna (in his words: "the best lasagna I've ever eaten") and he and the kids made me a very tasty cake.

So even though I was just starting to get used to the fact that I was thirty-something and now I have to make a mentally-jarring shift that I'm even older than that, I am thankful for this blessed life.  And hey, the Mayans were wrong and we're all still here, so that's something to celebrate, too.

(The best gift I got, though, came from my son this past week, who saw me come down the stairs wearing some new clothes and said, "Mom, you look pretty!  You look like you're, like, 15 or something!")

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Celebrating Christmas through multimedia

Last year a friend of mine sent us a gift of a computer-based Advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson and it was an instant hit.  The kids would sit for hours, just playing with all the little activities for each day. So this year we bought another version (best $2.75 I've spent all year!), and it also has been a major highlight of our Christmas season.

Last year's version took place in London, but this year's is actually an Alpine village- - and it reminds us a lot of some the towns we vacationed in this past summer, so that's an extra special bonus!

The kids have been able to design the train that goes behind the village, design the snowflakes that fall, play games, watch squirrels collect nuts, and explore the whole village.  And I don't mind them playing with it for hours because the music that plays in the background is so lovely.  (Even the 12-year old here has been known to be captivated by some of the fun.  :)  )

I highly recommend this activity for kids!

Meanwhile, Pete has been playing his favorite Christmas tunes, which largely include the Oak Ridge Boys' album and the Bill Gaither Band.  Our kids have learned to love this music, too..... Here's a video Pete shot of the boys singing a Gaither tune this week:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmastime Miscellany

This time of year brings so many out-of-the-ordinary events, that I forget to keep up with the ordinary family journal here!  So here is a quick summary of some of the things we've up to:

-- Rayna had a special date with Daddy to go see the Nutcracker!

-- The kids went Christmas caroling with some friends from church:

 -- We had some Wingate students over, and taught them the Bowl game.  :)

 -- Rayna and Colsen had a terrific time at the annual Drescher Christmas party (a.k.a "25 squealing girls, and Colsen and Branson")  (no pictures available)

-- Strider had a fantastic time at his youth group's Christmas party (no pics)

-- I had an amazing 24-hour vacation (no pics)

-- We had our first injury-related ER visit with one of the kids (can't believe we've gone 12 years!)  (No pics, and not a great memory)

-- Family times most nights involve reading "Bartholomew's Passage" Advent story, and watching our 2 little monkeys play together and hug each other.  :)

Now off to do more Christmas-y things!  (And make dinner.... and do the laundry.... The ordinary and extraordinary blend together at this time of year -- just like Majestic Savior Baby Jesus and the straw in the manger, right?)