Another wonderful Christmas

Christmas feels like such a long time ago… but I really want to share these photos with you from our time with Jeremy’s folks.

We took the bus to Philadelphia from where Jeremy picked us up and drove us out to his parents’ place.

Steve and Hilary Eshelman are wonderful hosts and we had such a lovely time with them! (Thanks again, Steve and Hilary!)

Look! A beautiful real tree!

Hilary decorates the house in such a merry way for Christmas, and there were a whole army of these guys around!

We got there on Saturday, Christmas eve, in the late morning and had a very relaxing time getting more acquainted with each other and having some near gut-splitting laughs. These are good quality people!

In the evening we attended church with them for the Christmas Eve service and then afterward joined in their tradition of after-the-children-are-in-bed stocking stuffing and drinking champagne in front of the open fire. We had a wonderful evening filled with good discussion and plenty of laughter and Jeremy even read us a Tolstoy short story.

On Christmas morning we were treated to an amazing big breakfast and then enjoying our stocking gifts. Then it was church time, followed by the gifts from under the tree, enjoying them one by one.

Marica and Ben reading one of her gifts.

Sometime after all the presents were exchanged there had to be a skype call between the two lovebirds, of course!

Another of Marica’s presents.

A fierce soldier with some nice bokeh in the background. I love Christmas light bokeh!

An ornament I made with the kids and some friends as gifts.

In the evening we had a delicious feast of roast beef, yorkshire pudding, green beans, glazed carrots and warm rolls, and yet more frivolity!

Yum! Let me just say that Hilary is one good cook!

Proof that I actually was there too.

Dessert was a rather “difficult” affair — so many good choices!

On boxing day we took the bus home again. We had a pretty much perfect trip there — the bus wasn’t too crowded, it was on time and it took exactly 2 hours to get to Philadelphia. On the way back… taking into account the bus being 45 minutes late and terrible traffic getting back into New York… let’s just say we left the Eshelmans’ at 2.30pm and arrived home at 8.30pm.

On account of having to carry everything we took with us on the weekend on the subway and the bus, we tried to travel light and only took 1 present along each, and we had a nice little celebration the Tuesday night to enjoy the rest of our presents.

We had such a blessed Christmastime; we’re so thankful!

Christmas in New York

On Wednesday evening the kids and I met Ben at work and had a special treat of eating out (there’s a decent diner near his work) and then going to look at some of the Christmas light displays. We were blessed with no rain, even though it was predicted to rain, and 15 degree Celsius weather. We’ve had such mild weather it’s unbelievable! We started off at Macy’s.

They had a pretty strange window theme going about all these strange puppet things that catch dreams and wishes and turn them into Christmas ornaments. Different big labels had window spaces to tie in with this theme.

Detail of the left of the picture above. I just love Marica’s reflection!

Then we continued on up 5th Ave to the Lord & Taylor display. The details were amazing!

See those little blocks on the left in the picture above? Here they are in detail:

Now here’s the detail of the girl in the picture above making a snow angel (these puppets actually moved as well).

And the detail of the boy and girl in the room. Someone must have spent HOURS on the incredible details in these displays!

There was another window display there that flipped around. On one side was this mother and daughter making cookies for Santa,

and on the other side was Santa coming in for his midnight snack while being accosted by the dog!

Then on we went to the Rockefeller Center’s big tree.

Marica got The Carpenter’s Gift (a story about the first Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center) as an Advent gift, so she was pretty excited about seeing the tree.

Esther thought it was pretty cool too.

The tree looks pretty small in the pictures above, but maybe this one with the skating rink below it helps give some perspective. This year’s tree is 22.5 m (74 feet) tall.

I love this picture of Ben holding Esther up so she could see better. She thought it was hilarious.

Near there was a chocolate shop with this window display.

We walked passed one of my favourite stores, Anthropologie. I liked how their window displays were more rustic. Hey, come to think of it they had the Glitzy Rustic look! No wonder I liked their window displays!

On the way back to the subway station there were these great big red baubles, which of course had to be photographed. A nice girl offered to take our picture so we managed to get a family shot too.

I’ll leave you with some New York nighttime sights (good ones!):

The Empire State Building in Hanukkah colours.

The Chrysler Building.

Radio City Hall.

A typical hotdog stand. This time of the year they sell roasted chestnuts that I still want to try!

I’ll leave you with this little number. Perfect little Christmas party dress, don’t you think? You won’t need any Christmas tree decorations when you’re wearing this!

Gingerbread House fun

Our much loved pastor’s wife, Julie, invited a few moms over to her house last Friday to make gingerbread houses. What a total blast! We made the houses out of graham crackers instead of baked sheets of gingerbread, which was much easier and less time consuming.

The kids thought they were in candy heaven because for once their mothers didn’t tell them to stop on the candy. You could almost see their desperate thoughts in their eyes while their little cheeks buldged, “Quick, get another piece before mom notices!” What fun.

Excuse all the photos, I had as much fun taking photos as I did making the gingerbread house with Marica!

Shondell and Chelsea’s candy-laden house.

Little Nehe (short for Nehemiah) was still a bit too little to make a house, but he and his mama Yoli came anyway to hang out, and we’re glad they did! Doesn’t he have a beautiful mama?

Elijah was eating the candy on his house faster than his mom, Damaris, could put it on!

Elijah is very cute, and his little sister Sophia is adorable!

Esther watched for a bit, had her fill of candy and then happily went off and played. She’d come into the kitchen every now and then, scavenge some more candy and look at all the houses like this:

Marica adding some candy. Can’t have too much!

Marica with the house we made.

From behind.

Some cool detail.

All this candy eating business is tiring work! Esther went and got herself a couch cushion and plonked herself nicely down in the doorway. The best beds are usually made right next to the rubbish, right?

Julie having some nice cuddles with Sophia.

Thanks, Julie, for organising this super fun afternoon! You make the world a better, sweeter place.

A visit to the New York City Ballet

Last weekend our friend Megan, who dances in the New York City Ballet, gave us two tickets to attend The Nutcracker ballet at the Lincoln Centre, and Ben took Marica to go watch her dance.

Marica was of course very excited to be able to go!

The company performs in the lovely David H. Koch theatre at the Lincoln Centre.

Ben said the dancing was really spectacular (and when the Christmas tree grew, it was gigantic — about 8 metres around at the base). You’re not allowed to take photos of the performance, but Megan invited them backstage after the performance.

Megan danced the part of “Coffee from Arabia” (a stunning solo dance set to almost haunting music that was very familiar, says Ben).

They got to see the ‘snow’. Looking at this picture makes it look just like a little bucket full of paper pieces.

But this photo shows you the size of it. And there were about 4 of them!

They also got to see some of the other ballet dancers.

I thought the photo above would look cool cropped and in B&W, and here’s the result:

Another one of Megan with Marica.

Afterwards, Megan signed her ballet shoes and gave them to Marica as a momento of this very special day.

Getting excited about Christmas

I love the month of December here in New York — I think it’s even my favourite time of the year, even better than beautiful spring-time April. It’s cold, but everyone seems to be in good spirits (as opposed to grumpy January!), there are beautiful decorations everywhere (I’ll have to get you some photographic evidence!), buskers sing “Feliz Navidad” on the subway, you get things like peppermint hot chocolates and hot apple cider, and random people on the street say “Merry Christmas”.

But maybe I feel especially fond of New York City in December because I love Christmas! I love everything about it: the music, the wonderful smells, the baking, the decorations, the festivities, the gifts…, and all these ‘little’ things undergirded with a robust and joyful deep thankfulness that God gave the most extravagant Christmas gift ever to set us free from our bondage to sin. If that is not reason to get excited and celebrate, then nothing is.

So we embrace the little traditions; we celebrate Advent, we decorate, we bake, we give gifts, we sing and make music.

I thought I’d share some little ways in which I’ve made our home more Christmassy — have I mentioned that we love Christmas around here?

We listen to Christmas music. And sometimes we even dance to them. Everything from traditional carols to Frank Sinatra crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” (Marica is certainly dreaming of one. She can’t wait for the snow!). I’ve also been asked to be part of a Christmas Choir, and we’ll be giving a concert next weekend. I signed up because I thought, oh that will be easy — I’ve done Christmas music all my life! Uh… it turns out my Christmas music exposure has been pretty small. We’re singing all sorts of German and Latin and even American songs I’d never heard before. It turns out they’re actually quite difficult and I have to <gasp> practice at home! I think it’s going to be totally worth it though, the music is really beautiful.

I make the house smell nice. Sometimes that’s from baking, but I’ve also developed a love with scented candles (NEVER thought I’d say that!). At the moment I’ve got a Creme Brulee one that I wish I could eat. When that one’s gone I’m going to get a peppermint one!

I’ve also decorated an orange with cloves (such a fun and easy and cheap craft! Though I recommend using a thimble if you are going to make one) and it smells really good. I might throw it into some gluhwein at the end of the season.

We bake! This year is pretty busy, but I’m definitely still baking! Grandma Tschetter’s peppernut dough is already ripening in the fridge. Also on the menu are gingerbread men, Christmas biscotti (with pistachios and dried strawberries), Jo Seagar’s Port and Prune truffles, apricot truffles and ‘Christmas snow’ which is like rice crispy candy with extra bits and pieces thrown in to make it look Christmassy.

We read Christmas-themed books. I got a whole bunch of nice ones from the library, and we also own Duck & Goose — It’s Time for Christmas, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Room for a Little One, Hettie’s Christmas Gift, an Advent Storybook, The Nutcracker (in Afrikaans), A Christmas Carol (not really for the kids) and the kids are getting The Carpenter’s Gift and How the Grinch Stole Christmas for Advent gifts. I buy a couple every year and slowly the collection grows.

The kids have a special plate and cup. They got these for Advent gifts last year, and they want to eat out of them all the time. We make meal-times an extra bit fun with Christmas cookie cutter sandwiches, and we’ve even had Christmas shaped poached eggs!

(Mum gets the crusts.)

We decorate. We’ve made some decorations, and bought some. I’ve been amazed at how dirt cheap some decorations are here, and they’re nice, not tacky! A little bit of inspiration goes a long way.

Add a little something to your usual shelf, and suddenly it looks like Christmas!

Some pine cones I picked up some months back in a red bowl.

We don’t have a Christmas tree, so I decorate in other ways. Hey, guess what my friend Jennifer turned up with last night?! The kids can’t stop staring at it, turning out the lights of the room so just the Christmas tree lights are giving light. They’re over the moon, thanks, Jen!

We made these cool Christmas decorations recently at Jen’s house. I’ll show you some pictures of that soon!

A pretty metal star I picked up from Target for $2.50.

Marica painted this angel (with a little bit of help) at the same craft afternoon I made the ball decoration I showed you earlier. The kiwi on the left was a gift from my friend Miriam, and the apple decoration I bought as a souvenir to take home.

Even the chairs get a bit of sprucing up.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make Christmas a bit more special, and all these little things add up to make the whole month more festive. I’d also like to think we’re making some happy memories.

Advent is here!

I started the blog post draft a few weeks back, and now the season of Advent is about halfway through. Last year we decided to start celebrating Advent in a more deliberate way, building the excitement until Christmas, and enjoying the anticipation.

The kids have a book that has a story for each day of Advent, and they enjoy a chocolate from their advent calendars every evening after dinner (thanks for those, Tannie Estelle!). It’s amazing how such a small chocolate can enthuse kids to eat all their dinner!

On each Sunday of Advent, we light another advent candle for our dinner on Sunday, and each child gets one small gift.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the girls got matching snowman shirts that I bought on clearance last year after Christmas. Yeah, I’m weird like that.

We enjoy celebrating advent with guests. This lovely couple are friends from church, Sam and Emily Perez, who got married earlier this year.

These things might seem over the top to some, but we enjoy celebrating the birth of our Saviour for a whole month, and in some small way mirroring the Greatest Gift ever given to mankind to our children. We’re not extravagant about it, even though God is, was, and continues to be in the way he blesses us.