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Happy Epiphany!

January 7, 2016

Oh my. I so love this feast day. Normally, for ease of everyone, we celebrate as a family on Epiphany Sunday. However, this year, we needed a few more days. Wednesday, January 6th, traditionally Epiphany, was this year’s celebration day. For the last five years, we have marked this day with a special family meal, often using the wedding china and wine glasses for everyone. After having taken her cooking classes, Katie asked to make this year’s meal. Sweet & Sour chicken and fried rice was a nice treat for all of us. Even Grana, who doesn’t typically like sweet and sour, happily ate it and saved the extras for leftovers. It was really yummy and super exciting for me to not cook. Dinner at 4:30 allowed the boys to get to their Cub Scout meeting by 6:30.

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After dinner, it’s the much anticipated gift giving. The family spends the days between Christmas and Epiphany crafting gifts for one another. The gifts must be homemade and budgets are minimal. We often craft throughout the year, so it’s likely that we will have at the very least basic supplies.

A few months ago, I spoke with Nate about combining efforts and pulling off a joint gift. I needed his help implementing the concept. I gathered the cards and medals, painted the patron dolls, and cut the stickers. He found the boxes, hand cut the holes, and painted them. I love the new patron saint place cards for our table. (More to come in a different blog post about these little boxes.)

Look at what the kids gave to us! I love it.
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It was so fun, although quite difficult to plan my own gifts and also help the little girls each accomplish something to give. For their first year participating, they made gifts for Katie and Michael and each other only. Clare was especially so excited to sneak around crafting her things and then hiding them away so they wouldn’t be found before our celebration! Clare struggled to fully comprehend the concept of this celebration. She thought Christmas was over. She wasn’t sure everyone was making her gifts as she only made a few. It was really sweet watching reality sink in and her excitement grow!

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Everyone loves making things for the baby. It’s so easy. An ornament goes a long ways as he doesn’t have a preference, right?!

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Michael had some great ideas in the beginning but struggled more than years past with his implementation and timing. He follows in his dad’s last minute footsteps more than Katie & I. It makes me a tad crazy for sure! He pulled it off in the eleventh hour and everyone was so happy with his gifts. I love his smile in these pictures and his own excitement at giving and the anticipation of what would be placed in his hand. It’s funny how not wrapping the gifts adds its own allure. He told everyone his favorite thing was cats, so he got cats!

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Katie was so very proud of her gifts this year, and was especially independent and creative in planning and executing her things. I couldn’t be more proud. She actually was finished with 2 or 3 days to spare. Yes. I was very jealous!!

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So another Epiphany is in the books and already a little conversation about next year’s ideas. I love it. This is indeed one of my most favorite traditions. I love how the kids get so excited to GIVE gifts. I love the anticipation before and during our celebration. I don’t even recall how this tradition came about, or for that matter, when we started it, but it has definitely become a highlight of our year. God bless us all and the example of the Kings! Our decorations will start to come down tomorrow! Boohoo. However, one final MERRY CHRISTMAS from our house to yours!

Christmas – Day #2 – Come Back

December 27, 2015

Call me a sap, but tonight there’s so many things going through my head.

We just left the theater; Nate & I and the two big kids. I left tonight feeling happy. Happy that we had spent a total of $11 on four tickets, four medium popcorns, and two large drinks. (Thank you Deal Flicks!) Happy because of a strong sense of nostalgia; a homecoming of characters and storylines. This Star Wars #7 was a beautiful mix of old and new. I found my heart happy to see old friends, to revisit familiar storylines mixed with new lines, and of course the wonder of what is to come in the next two episodes. The pull of the force and that inner light has a depth of beauty beyond Hollywood’s grasp. Nostalgia yes, but God’s guidance even more.

A conversation on the drive home with a friend contained such a strong sense of peace and contentment, something we haven’t seen in them in a long while. Of course, there’s always a mix of real-life, but tonight, I heard such simple love. Another boost to my overflowing happy emotions.

While getting ready for bed, someplace I thought I would be long ago already, I was reading a very beautiful blog post about adoption and how it changes your heart forever. It’s something Nate and I have always considered, but with our hands quite full now, it’s not where we feel God is leading. However, my heart is so instantly touched by the idea and especially to hear the stories of those who have walked and continue to walk that journey. God bless us all! (You can read the blog HERE. Simply beautiful and God’s provisions immense!)

My mommy heart was moved again just a few short seconds later at the sound of Max’s whimpers from the nursery. He sees me enter the room and he stands up to greet me asking to be held. After not being home tonight to put him to bed, of course, I happily indulged a late night snuggle. He immediately rested onto my shoulder in that perfect little crook next to my cheek.

Having woke up herself, Clare whispers, “Papa?” (who was the one to put her to bed tonight). “No, Clare, it’s actually daddy (who had come in to deliver some water to Max). Good night and go back to sleep.” What’s her response in that ever so sweet, I’m half asleep whisper? “Thanks for coming back!” It was the final straw in my already emotionally overflowing heart. There was such an onslaught of goodness tonight. Her words were a stirring that I couldn’t ignore. As I held a sleepy 15 month old, I pondered our sweet four year old girl’s words, “Thanks for coming back.”

Is that not what God had been saying to me all night?

Sara, thanks for coming back. Thanks for allowing your heart to be stirred by my love. I showed it to you a zillion different ways. Thank you for coming back, for hearing my voice, for responding to the love that I have to give you. It’s here, in these simple everyday moments of those around you. Tonight, you have simplified life and can hear the simplest of my messages. “Thanks for coming back!”

Okay my dear Jesus, as I crawl into bed, officially after typing these last words, how do you want me to come back to you? When I wake tomorrow morning, in what ways shall my day be different? In what ways are you calling me to COME BACK?

Thank you for your stirrings my Lord. I’m listening in this Christmas peace. The season is only beginning! Please keep stirring!

Advent JOY – Day #16 – My Vocation

December 14, 2015

Oh happy days. I have always known that my heart belonged with children. In college, I never doubted my training to be a teacher, a special ed teacher to be more specific. I always knew what I wanted to do. Actually, there was a time when I was growing up that I talked about becoming a pediatrician, until I considered the implications that career choice might have on my own family, and decided teaching was better. I’m forever thankful for my training both in and out of the classroom. I have been (professionally) teaching since college; 16 1/2 years.

I never actually taught in a special ed classroom outside my student teaching, but I gained even more than I could have imagined! While teaching KG, before becoming a mom and staying home with our kids, I learned so much about taking a group of kids and lifting them to greater heights no matter where they started.

These past 12 years, I have been tutoring and teaching PSR (Sunday school classes) at our parish. This current year, I have had the privilege of guiding 5 student mentors as they assist in different classrooms within the Monday night program. I also have 3 others that are volunteering in the nursery making my two youngest quite happy.  Elizabeth loves to go to her “school” and of course Max gets lots of loving! I hear he snuggles the entire hour with Ms. Stacy. I have so loved coaching these preteens and teens in how to help in the classroom, but admittedly this year I’ve begun to miss the classroom experience myself.

I had the great opportunity when I first started teaching to be mentored by an incredible woman and a few others along the way. This particular lady spent regular nights after school coaching me in how to bring the best out of my students. I was very literally drowning that first year teaching, and desperate to survive. What I got was so much more than survival. I fell in love with my students that year and their families. I worked harder than I ever imagined and I grew tremendously as a person and a teacher. So many of the things this precious woman taught me I have used as a parent, and of course still use as a teacher both to my kids and in my other teaching endeavors. I learned to die to myself. She made me practice, while sitting in her office, my stern face. Imagine practicing, right? I learned to convey so much with body language, both as an opportunity for redirection or direct discipline. A smile can be equally as effective if used deliberately and with sincerity.  I learned how to communicate with parents about their child’s successes and struggles. I learned to create lesson plans that were engaging and appropriate to the age and time of day of my students. I learned how to love children, all children and turn their struggles into so much goodness. I will never be able to say thank you enough for all Judy taught me as my dean and guide so many years ago. I am so thankful to be learning from her again through her regular updates HERE.

I have always prayed for my students and whatever particular obstacle had presented itself. It was in one particular moment, after that first year, that I distinctly understood my teaching vocation was not about changing the particular student who didn’t fit the norm, but changing myself to fit God’s plan for this child. That is my focus even now when addressing a student in and out of the classroom. (I wish I could say I do as well with my own children! God help me.) How can I adapt this lesson, this classroom, this moment to bring out the best in this child? I was with a dear friend today and she said something (speaking about her young daughter) so poignant and something I had lost sight of until she reminded me; “We have to be so careful to not set her up to fail.”

It is so easy in the classroom to become focused on the negative, to allow a child to derail THE plan for the lesson, to think that it is all about me and my expectations. Much of that is true. It IS all about me as the adult and my expectations for this child, but what are my expectations and how have I set him/her up to succeed? Have I emphasized the positive? Have I prayed? Have I inquired of the parents and offered parental support and collaboration? Have I considered in what ways I’m called to grow through this situation?

As I mentor these young volunteers, I am reminded of all the ways we can make a difference. I have seen these middle and high school kids grow themselves as they have taken on this responsibility, check in with me before and after class asking for advice, and take a vested interest in the religious formation of their partnered student. They have been trained, are receiving on-going training in classroom management, peer-to-peer support, redirection tactics, relevant expectations for 5pm on a Monday night, and of course love for the child. It brings me great joy and hope for the hearts and souls within this partnership. I’m honored to be part of it.

However, tonight, I got a rare opportunity. I got to lead Clare’s preschool class in their Advent lesson this last class before Christmas. I have used this particular book since my first year teaching. It is from a Protestant publisher, but I so love its sweet presentation and the opportunity to interact with the Christmas story. It tells the stories through the eyes of the animals who were there. Tonight, not only did I bring animals, but I also considered the ways in which the kids could become animals and interact with the story on a different level.

The sparrow who sat in the tree and saw the angel appear to Mary, was a gift from Grana when Katie was two and astonishingly still chirps. I found it tonight in the eleventh hour in Max’s toy box. In our stash of the FisherPrice Little People, I managed to find all the Christmas characters from our nativity set and several animals pulled from the Noah’s Ark set. The kitty (actually seven of them for the seven kids in tonight’s preschool class) who lived in the Inn and showed Mary & Joseph where her kitties had been born, came from Clare’s Littlest Pet Shop collection. The cricket who lived in the stable in Bethlehem and chirped baby Jesus a lullaby was purchased at Pet Smart this afternoon. Oh yes. I brought live crickets to help me tell tonight’s story. They sat briefly in the manager scene in the sanctuary and of course were carried by everyone at some point tonight as we walked through the Church experiencing each part of our story. (You can find the book information HERE.)

We ended the last few minutes of class in the classroom coloring a wooden block that would become a birthday present for Jesus on Christmas morning.  When Katie was very small she was adamant that we give Jesus a present. Certainly unprepared for this parental moment, I looked around the house for something to wrap and pretend to be a present. She tells me this afternoon that it was a wooden abc block. Good grief. That oldest girl of mine doesn’t forget anything. We left for Church that Christmas morning with block in hand. In fact, as I recall, she held that block all through Mass. After Mass, as we visited Jesus in the manager, she put her present next to him as we said a prayer. Of course, tonight I encouraged the preschoolers to give Jesus his gift in their own manager scenes at home. We’ll see if Clare remembers and offers it to Jesus Christmas morning. By the way, I love THIS book also for the preschool/KG kids.

My heart is filled with JOY in this third week of Advent. Our lights are on at home. Teacher gifts have been delivered these last few days. My teacher’s heart is full, and I love my sweet Clare just a little more for the moments she gave me tonight. This moment, right now, reflecting on the day, reminds me how important it is to be joyful! To turn moments of trial into moments of joy can do the soul a lot of good! I’m going to try to find more ways to find joy in the everyday moments. Yea for weekly virtues!

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Advent JOY – Day #15

December 13, 2015

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Advent Preparations – Day #14 – Decorating & Carols

December 12, 2015

Oh happy days. We inherited a skinny tree from friends and have finally removed the old lights and spent part of the day beginning to restring it. Stringing lights really is not so much my thang. It will be pretty though and I’m so happy to have a smaller tree that will fit in our space. Although pretty from the street to put it in the front room, we are really never out there to truly enjoy it. I think I’ll like it much more here in the midst of our true living space. Nate so loves colored lights that we have used colored lights for many years now. Colored it is again this year too.

Tonight, the vigil of the 3rd Sunday of Advent, also means we get to turn on our Christmas lights both inside and outside. Several years ago we added this date as a new tradition, sort of a mid-season anticipation. This year, Nate strung a few new strings, and added a super cool dome light to the porch. He’s so excited about this great little addition. I must admit that it does add a little something cool. We laughed though as we stood in the yard admiring it, that it’s the one time during the year that we wish the street light did not sit on our property. Ha.

Today also gave us an opportunity to assemble our gifts for the teachers and leaders of the kids’ various groups and classes. I’m always amazed when we actually start to count up the number of people who provide for our family throughout the year in this capacity. I tend to do different things each year. I sort of like finding a little something that does not come with a out-of-budget pricetag, but does have some sense of meaning. This year, it is candles and handsoap. As you can tell, everyone has female leaders. (This does not include the BoyScout leaders though. Still undecided there!)

This afternoon Katie’s AHG troop gathered at a nearby retirement center to sing carols. The older girls in the troop really have beautiful voices and are quite talented in adding harmony to these very common children’s songs. What a blessing to me to see them grow these past five years and now stand so confidently as leaders for this troop. Well done girls.

We do secretly (or not so secretly) hope that Grandma Hazel (soon to be 90 years old) will decide to move to Atlanta and enjoy the fun that is to be had at the retirement centers around our area. I foresee some great field trips for my little ones should we personally know a resident there.

Hope the start of your third week is blessed. Christmas is quickly approaching!

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BTW….I have been listening to Josh Groban’s NOEL album while writing this post. The album happens to be free on GooglePlay today! Go download it if you don’t already own it.

Advent Preparations – Day #13 – AHG

December 11, 2015

Oh how very, very thankful I am that Katie’s American Heritage Girls, Troop 0413, was able to gather enough leadership to remain an active troop. It remains a tremendous undertaking and an incredible act of generosity and love on the part of the leadership team. I’m forever grateful!

What an incredible Joining Awards Ceremony tonight. We’ve been through this particular event yearly since beginning with the troop 4 years ago, but tonight it appeared the night was truly centered around all things right. There was a profound sense of leadership and virtue and offered all for Christ’s greater glory. It began in a powerful opening prayer calling graces upon each girl and family member, continuing in the recitation of virtues by those joining AHG and our troop, in their presentation of song, the lighting of their candle, and of course the camaraderie with one another. I’m so proud of this troop and honored to be a very small part of it.

Katie has grown so very much within American Heritage Girls and continues to truly love the girls and the programming. I appreciate the leadership team who is extraordinarily keen on growing leadership skills in each of its members, but particularly its higher level groups. What a special and unique opportunity for the future women of our Church and society.

Tonight I learned that the pack numbers were chosen based on a scripture passage. How very special and a detail that somehow I never knew.

Philippians 4:13 : I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Amen.

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Advent – Day #11

December 9, 2015

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