Christmas Blessings...aka the longest post

Here I am, on the last day of 2011 at 9 am, sitting at my computer in a quiet house, finally posting about Advent and Christmas! 
Why?  I haven't done it before, because I haven't had a spare moment, and it's quiet now because we didn't get home until 3 am from celebrating Christmas with Tim's family and everyone is still sleeping.  (I gave some thought to running early this morning, but slept in instead!)  This post has A LOT of pictures, and I think they pretty much tell our story.

Christmas is truly a magical time of the year, and so much more than the hype that begins the day after Halloween.  I've already seen some trees dragged out of their homes on the 26th of December and my first thought is "how sad that they don't know it's just begun!"  We have twelve glorious days to celebrate our Savior's birth!!  TWELVE DAYS!!  (And that doesn't mean that we throw it all away and take it all down on day thirteen). 

 Families celebrate differently all over the world...even in our circle of friends!  WE choose to go cut down a tree together...everyone getting to pick one they like, vote as a family and take home the tree that mom likes best!  :)

   This year, we brought home the tree that everyone voted on, and to my benefit, it was one I liked a lot!  We've thought about an artificial tree, but this event is now tradition.

Whatever...I'm still in denial!

  We  put our tree up near the beginning of Advent and decorate it as a family.  Every year, I have a Norman Rockwell vision pass through my head regarding how it is going to go. never happens that way!  We're getting closer every year...or so I will keep telling myself!  Each of the kids gets a new ornament each year to continue their collection from their own "line" of ornaments.

  We hung a special ornament for Annelise on our tree this year.  It was harder than I expected to pick it out and hang it.  I would have been half way--20 weeks--at this point.
Each year the kids take turns putting the angel on the tree...Jakob has had to wait a lot of years to get his turn lifting to reach this year!  LOL

 My Rockwell fantasy begins in a lovely way as each ornament is neatly wrapped as the first gift under the tree.  From there, the story kind of takes a Lemony Snicket turn.  (It's not bad at all...just a little noisy with a little animosity about who gets to hang their ornament where, how each ornament should be taken out of the box, a little tattling on who is being too bossy and who is being too whiny and..., well you get the picture!)  The result?  A beautiful tree to enjoy throughout the remainder of Advent as we wait for Christmas. 
The Junior High Choir performing at Barnes and Noble.  One of many of their Advent adventures.

During Advent, we also try to implement other things to recognize this time of waiting.  My desire is always to  use these weeks to prepare my really, spiritually get to that place of deep anticipation of the coming of Jesus.  It is easy to get caught up in the secular preparation for Christmas.  I used to feel like I couldn't do both, but have come to realize that the things I enjoy about Advent that are material and worldly and commercial are part of deepening my abaility to better prepare spiritually.  After years of talking about a Jesse tree, we finally went beyond the planning. 

We've always had some sort of countdown calendar that unfolds the story of Christmas, but I've always liked the idea of the Jesse tree. 

We didn't do a very good job getting all of the ornaments on...but never fear, we're not giving 2012 we'll try again!

The kids wanted to repeat having "Advent Angels" between themselves too, so they drew names and on occasion did something secretively charitable for their specific sibling.  They were each given $10 to buy said sibling a gift too.  It was amusing to watch them shop for each other.  The littler ones wanting so badly to get their recipient something that was just perfect, but not quite understanding that a 13 year old may not necessarily enjoy the same thing as a 4 year old!

 They could hardly contain their excitement though when giving their gifts.  So pleased with themselves for picking out something that would make their sibling happy!  Another reminder to me that even though this idea wasn't executed as I intended (for each child to consistantly do something heartfelt for one another), the end result was exactly what I was going for!  CHILL Janel...and let life happen!

 Our house was full of baking and making and wrapping (and cleaning) and Hallmark movies for a few weeks.  I love this sort of thing, and while it may have allowed for a little more chaos, it is something that we all enjoyed.   This whole thing may not repeat itself annually, but remember, I'm learning to go with the flow.
 The kids helped make sweet treats and deliver them to neighbors and friends and some of them helped make special little gifts for teachers, friends and family, making the giving even sweeter.

  I haven't made cheesecakes in a while, despite the pleading (ok...occasional wondering of why I haven't) from my family.  Cheesecake happened to be the dessert served at our school Christmas dinner, for which I had volunteered to help supply.   I guess it lit my fire again, because by the time it was said and done, I had gone through 16 pounds of cream cheese, 40 eggs and a whole bunch of cream.  Yay for cheesecake!!!  (And for the little pan that I finally crossed off my wishlist and added to my kitchen after 5 years!)

We traveled west to my mom and dad's for Christmas day this year.  Oh...the packing for trips will someday send me over the edge, but once again, the end result was of course WELL WORTH ALL OF IT!  I love spending time with family.  There is no replacement...nothing that is as good.  Our celebration included all three of my grandparents, and my dad's siblings and families as well as my own siblings.  We've been so fortuneate to have had opportunities that have allowed all of us to gather over the last several years. 

 Lots of of course...


Black and White mom remembers her grandma making it too.

My all time favorite, blackberry dumplings.  (Stay tuned...I got blackberries for Christmas so I'm sure there is a post brewing about making blackberry dumplings!)
We always have chicken noodle soup and butterballs too, but somehow I failed to get a picture of that!  Since I got noodles and butterballs as a present too, there should be a future post there too...maybe both at the same time?  :) 

This dining table has seen a lot of action over the years. 

 Of course, the football game, which has been happening for at least 3 years is definitely a tradition.  And in shirtsleeves to boot! 

LOTS of games being played at anytime.  Ben was teaching Bobby to play cribbage.

...and Tim teaching Joe!


 LIFE...this room is full of life. 

Tim's gift went to Annie.  Nice job wrapping honey!  *wink wink*

Cowboy Cooks!

Uncle Tom is John Wayne's number 1 fan!

Truly frugal gifts from Cash and Annie.  Oh...never mind...that's not what was actually in the box.  :)

We did something a little different this year.  We requested that Santa provide a few extra presents for other families instead of ours.  (To be honest, that was because in a fit of frustration over a messy house and children who seemingly couldn't follow instructions, I felt like it was silly to give them one more thing!  Again...end result...)  None of the kids really whined much about the whole idea, so we all went shopping together with some specific names and ages, wrapped everything up and set off to deliver them on Christmas morning.

The kids thought it was so great to be sneaky and leave presents on doorsteps, ring the bell and run away. 

We situated ourselves out of sight but with the ability to see little faces when they opened the door and discovered a present sitting there with their name on it.  To see the expression at that point on my own children's faces was priceless!  This event??  A keeper for sure!  I think it may have been just as fun to "play Santa" as it was to be visited by him.

To the kids' surprise, although there were no big presents under the tree, their stockings had been filled.  We told them that Santa was pleased with their charitable hearts and wanted to let them know by leaving them something.  (Confession:  I really enjoy getting my kids gifts at Christmas, and while they certainly have plenty, I still wanted to let them cross something significant off of their wish list, so this was a bit challenging at first.  Tim was on board all the way, and while they didn't get big wish list things, I think they were just as satisfied.  I still got to shop WITH them as they shopped for each other and for others, they weren't forgotten by extended family, and I still got to see their excitement)

Now...see, since Christmas is twelve days instead of one, the celebration continues!  We celebrated with Tim's family on the 6th day!  :)

There are a total of ten boys, ages 5-13.  ENERGY!

This was the best part of Amelia's day.  She talked for days about seeing baby Jesslyn and couldn't wait to hold her.  Jesslyn brings the girls' count up to 5.

Sporting new hats and scarves.

I think the kids' favortie gifts from Grandma and Grandpa are their food treats. 

Grandma always stocks them up on their favorites, and they are always thrilled to open a sack with things like a can of olives and fruit snacks and crackers and cheese. 

She doesn't leave us out...we always get this amazing bakery cinnamon bread and this year some noodles.

The girls got a jar of pickles!  Ha ha ha ha ha!  It is hilarious...they couldn't wait to open their food the next they ate individual Mac and Cheese, jello cups, pickles, olives and crackers for breakfast!

The kids played a game to guess which animal they were and if they were part of the nativity as we know it in stories. 

Babysitting??  Or excuse not to get up??

This seems like a better excuse!


Thinking we're still young, we played cards until 2 in the morning!  Too much for this little one...
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!