Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 2014

 I am starting with the real life stuff, because I think if there is anything this season reminds us it is that the real life stuff, the church and family and friends is what is most important.


I have written a bit about my spiritual journey on this blog.  I am not someone who has just consistently gone to church without thinking much about my faith.  My faith is a part of me, a part of my life, but it also something that I give a lot of thought to.  I was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school, but when we got married The Unitarian Church was where we felt comfortable.  Our girls were both baptized in the Roman Catholic church, because by that time I was back to feeling the traditions were important for children.  But, and I will say it, although I have always hedged around it on here before, my husband, who was not raised Catholic was not comfortable joining the Catholic church when it was not responsibly addressing the pedophilia accusations that were prevalent in the news at the time.  So, we raised our girls in a Presbyterian church, in recent years there have been a lot of changes in that church, our pastor left, the congregation became divided, things got pretty ugly and after a lot of thought and prayer we just were not comfortable there any more.  I spent a lot of time after that questioning organized religion (and I still do) and learning more about the Gnostic gospels.  I do think faith is about questioning and soul searching and not just accepting.

I find Pope Francis with his open heart and his open mind and his courage to speak out on certain issues INCREDIBLY INSPIRING.  I really like Pope Francis.  And so, we decided to attend different Catholic Churches in our area during Advent.  Jason jokes that it is the Theresa Tour of Churches.  The top church is in a neighboring town and I just think it's beautiful and always wanted to go inside.  The middle church is the church where I was baptized.  The bottom church is the church I was raised in, I attended the Catholic school that was connected to this church (the school closed when I was in high school).  I loved going back to that church.  I ran into an old friend almost immediately.  It was very healing for me to be back there, as there were some things that happened there that as an adult I know never should ever have happened to kids--or really, to anyone.  But, going there, I realized that this is the church that I compare all other churches to.  There is a warmth, a level of commitment and involvement that I felt right when I walked in.  


We are not Jewish, but we were inspired by our immigrant study to sample different ethnic Jewish foods and we decided to do this on the first night of Hanukkah.  The knish, the borscht and the matzo ball soup (which I just realized I don't have a picture of in the collage) were all hits.  The gefilte fish and the halva were not.  But we had fun sampling everything and can now at least say we did.  

This also reminds me that I promised the girls we would make latkes--which we have done for Hanukkah in the past.

Family Time

We had my parents over for dinner one Sunday.  We all enjoyed drawing Santa with the tutorial on Art for Kids Hub and then we played Risk. The girls want to make game nights with Mama and Poppy more of a regular occurrence!


The only science we really did this month (we spent a lot of time crafting and shopping and celebrating) was to take my parents to Liberty Science Center.  We have a membership there and anyone in the family over age 65 is considered another one of my children, so my parents got in for free.  My parents AND the girls want to make visits to Liberty Science Center a more regular occurrence!

Piper exploring sound with Poppy <3


The girls have been volunteering at the library since September.  They assist me with my weekly children's programs.  They came to the library one Saturday and helped kids make ornaments for a special Christmas Craft Workshop.  Also, Allie planned a craft (making pom poms) for one of my weekly programs and she facilitated the entire thing and did a great job--the kids love her and were upset to hear that she will be skiing this winter and unable to volunteer again until spring!


We have hosted a few parties this season, as well!

Our bi-monthly Writing Circle met for a Christmas party.  We started by--you guessed it!--drawing an elf with the Art for Kids Hub tutorial.  We might be a bit obsessed with Art for Kids Hub as we look for opportunities to watch the tutorials with friends and draw with friends because it is just so darn fun to see what each person's unique take is on the drawings!

One of the other girls in the Writing Circle organized a Secret Santa gift exchange.  It was a blast!  I was so touched that ALL OF THE GIRLS made a BIG THING out of the gifts they received.  Giving is more fun than receiving, but part of that is in the reaction of the person you gave the gift to and when they are just kind of ho hum or don't say anything it all, it's a let down.  I have always told my girls to show their appreciation and to make the giver feel good and it was so refreshing that the other girls in our group were told the same thing!

We also made Christmas ornaments with friends, which was a lot of fun!


Allie is our family crafter.  She goes in spurts, but will sometimes spend DAYS in the art studio creating.  She also LOVES animals.  She asked if we could string popcorn and cranberries and hang them in our trees for the animals.  We put on some Christmas music and we chatted and made these chains.  It was really fun.  The animals seemed to love them, as they were gone in days.  So, we did it again and again, they were gone quickly.  I've put bags of cranberries in the freezer and ee are going to try to remember to do this when we get a lot of snow.
Everyone in our family pretty much just buys for kids now, but everyone buys for the girls.  So, each year the girls make gifts to give to everyone who is so generous to them.  We have a lot of fun listening to Christmas music and spending several afternoons chatting and creating together.


Lest you think there was no schooling going on, I can assure you there was.  We usually take off a large part of December and this year we did take a break from Math and Science, but we continued with our Language Arts and History because...well, because I have a lot planned in both those areas and if the girls want the summer off again, we needed to keep going.  Despite all my hard work on those binders last summer and how excited I was about them, we have pretty much abandoned them in favor of more project based learning.  The girls really dug into these projects and personalized them and I feel the lessons they learned this way were very valuable.

Our history study focused on the values of the 1920s versus today, the girls both compared and contrasted the values.  They taught me something!  I always romanticize history and feel it was more simple "back then".  But the girls pointed out how people were not accepted, how there were so many more rules, they may have had less material things, but they had a hard time sometimes getting the basic necessities of life.  The girls do not feel that times were more simple at any period in history.  I think that is interesting.

We also learned about Orphan Trains.  Allie read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline in a day--she said it was one of the best books she has ever read.  She not only did the project I had asked--just to write a simple newspaper or magazine style report on orphan trains; Allie also wrote a book review that I think would make anyone want to read this novel (which, I admit, I asked her to read because I loved it as well).  There are some dark topics in the book and I didn't feel it was appropriate for Piper, so she read one of Andrea Warren's true accounts of a child who rode on an orphan train.

I was also very, very pleased to find the movie Orphan Train on YouTube.  The movie came out in 1979, I was 7 and so into anything historical (I wanted TO BE Laura Ingalls) that my mom allowed me to watch this movie and I still remember it.  I cried my eyes out.  Hysterical for those poor, unloved, neglected children.  I was so happy to find the movie on YouTube because it is so therapeutic to cry it is SUCH a great movie.  The girls sometimes make fun of my movie and documentary choices, but they admitted that they loved this movie.


I have always LOVED Christmas.  Even as an adult, I just loved preparing for Christmas -- I get my shopping done by Thanksgiving because nothing spoils my mood like crowds--but I loved baking and crafting and the parties and fun.  I could never understand when some people would say it was a day to "get through".  My grandmother explained that Christmas was hard for her because she thought of other Christmases and the people who were there and who are not there anymore.  

I have to say, I get it now.

I am struggling to find my Christmas spirit.  I think that might be why I keep buying despite the fact that I said we were going to simplify this year and give more to charity.  I am looking for that "thing" that will put me in the holiday spirit, even though I know that no "thing" can do that.

Christmas 1994 - Jason and I were dating, my mother-in-law gave him a 35mm camera.
She and I drank too much wine and had some amazing heart-to-hearts that I will
keep in my heart forever.

Christmas 2008--my Uncle always slept over our house, he loved being part of the girls getting their gifts and he LOVED the Wii!

We lost Jason's dad this year.  At times, he was the biggest kid of all ;-)

Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to the time with friends and family.  We have been inspired by our immigrant study to bake only and all ethnic Italian Christmas cookies--amaretti cookies, anisette cookies, struffoli, etc.  We have always kept with the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve and I am looking forward to the baccala and the scungilli salad (I look forward to that scungilli salad ALL YEAR!).  I am looking forward to spending time with my adorable 19 month old niece--babies just make the holiday so much more fun, don't they?  I do think I will feel that peace on Christmas Day that I only feel ON Christmas Day, as though nothing bad could possibly happen on THAT DAY.

But it's different.