Advent

Advent is such a great time of the year. It’s filled with the anticipation of Christmas, warm kitchens overflowing with delicious smells, Christmas crafts, Christmas music playing in the background, parties, friends… (and it’s unfortunately also filled with busyness, usually mostly my own doing!).

Our Advent and Christmas celebrations started early in December with a lot of baking and preparations for the annual co-op entrepreneurial fair, where Marica and Esther both sold things. Marica sold gingerbread men, popcorn and marshmallows with chocolate and brownies. She made everything herself, but I helped a bit with the gingerbread men. Esther sold cards that she had made, and a few that the rest of us had made. They were very pretty! Both girls did quite well out of it.

We also had our usual tradition of giving the girls an Advent gift on each Sunday leading up to Christmas. We do it with our Sunday night dinner, which is usually a pretty simple affair after a busy day at church. But even simple food is fun with candles, right?

One of the cuter highlights of the month of December was the concert Laurelin’s preschool put on. The kids went up the front and sang a few songs — simple but cute. It was a little hard to get good photos, as you can see. We were at the back and I had a hard time shooting through the parent paparazzi. I took a photo of them to humour you guys.

I love Christmas parties… except the fact that they always seem to happen during the busiest month of the year, ha! I’m so glad I went to my friends Sonya and Shannon’s Christmas party this year — she hosted an ugly sweater party — and we all had a blast. Great food, company, a fun gift game all in a warm and beautiful apartment. Lovely!

The weather has been pretty mild here in January, but we had a couple of really cold weeks in December. We got snow a couple of times (never more than about 3 inches, though), and the water that accumulated on our little sandpit cover froze over, much to Marica’s delight.

The Sunday before Christmas there was a beautiful presentation put on by some of the children and the choir. Marica and Esther did a reading each (and did very well!), and Marica sang in the choir as well. Shannon, who is our music director at church, did a fantastic job coordinating it all and everyone involved did a great job.

It was a little difficult getting a good Christmas photo this year. The one that everyone turned out best  in didn’t have a great background, but this was a fun alternative, even if we all look goofy. Which, in reality, is still an improvement on our everyday selves.

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Christmas Eve is when we usually do most of our celebrations of gift giving and remembering, reading, and singing about the birth of Christ, all enjoyed over a lovely finger food snacky dinner.

 

Christmas Day started with sleepy eyed children delightedly digging into their stockings. Then it was off to church, and then home for a Christmas dinner of roast beef and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember (oops). I remember the roast beef because it turned out baaad. Pity big roasts aren’t more affordable so I can practice making them more. The flaming Christmas pudding made up for it, I think. I was pretty nervous because although I have imbibed the stuff plenty of times, I’ve never set alcohol on fire before. I think I might start making a habit of it. We hosted three lovely girls from our church who made for a great evening of visiting, laughing and eating far too much.

And now it’s January. That strange month where you wake up somewhere during its second week and realise the valiant fight you just fought and won (making it through another year) suddenly counts for nothing as you stand before another year looming large. Am I the only person who finds Januarys daunting and dismal? Everyone else seems so excited about the new year and their resolutions and all the cool things they’ll do… I get around to that maybe around March or April. But for those of you who aren’t as Eeyore-ish about the new year as I am: Happy New Year!! If you vote for Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true.

;-)

Beautiful autumn

Autumn this year was beautiful and mild and felt like a sort of nicer continuation of summer. We were, of course, back at doing school, but we tried to enjoy the nice weather as much as we could. Here’s a bit of a summary of the last 3 months or so.

One day, I took the girls and their friend, Elijah, to a nearby park and enjoyed my camera for a change. The light was so beautiful filtering through the trees, and the trees! —  so stunning.

A couple of years ago I started hosting some girls from church for a day of cooking and learning new recipes. I hosted it in 2014, and in 2015. This year, we made Indian food. Almost all of my recipes came from my good friend, Anne, who is married to an Indian guy (hi, Henry!) and whose mother-in-law taught her how to cook Indian food. So this is the real deal! It turned out delicious as usual. May the Fall Cooking Day long continue!

Esther celebrated her 7th birthday. How time flies — here she is on her first birthday

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And here, 6 years later. Her birthday celebrations stretched over the good part of a week with several events where there were opportunities for Happy Birthday being sung and goodies eaten.

When the weather turns colder, there’s nothing better than building a fort and eating a special morning tea in it, is there? And nothing gives you quite such cool static hair is a microfleece blanket, does it?

On the day of Esther’s birthday, she and Marica were in a CYT showcase. They had been attending this theater class for a couple of months and both loved it. Esther really surprised me by being confident, clear and loud up on stage — not a hint of being timid! I was super proud of them both.

When we go to the library, Marica usually gets a couple of cookbooks out. She decided she wanted to make a three course meal all by herself, and did a great job! We had Caprese Salad for appetizer, lamb stew with garlic bread for the main, and banana with a berry sauce for dessert. It was all delicious. Now, how to figure out to get her to cook more often…

A few random shots: a tree in front of our neighbor’s house that looks like it is on fire; Laurelin being silly in the boot — there’s something special about playing back there, apparently; Esther’s pretty masterful artwork with chalk pens on the window.

Thanksgiving in my mind sort of marks the end of autumn, and then when Advent starts it is the beginning of winter. Does anyone else think like this, or am I the only weirdo around here?

This year we hosted Uncle Sherwood and Aunt Sharon, along with cousin Jonathan and cousin Esther and her husband, Nate. It was a really nice relaxed weekend of visiting, resting, and eating. A lot. I was so glad we could spend the time with their family and get to know them all a bit better!

The rest of the summer

(This post is pretty heavy on photos. Just a reminder that if you want to see larger versions of them, to click on a photo and you’ll then be able to view the slideshow of that particular group of photos.)

Trying to catch up here with the backlog of stuff I have to share, I’m going to try to condense the rest of our summer activities into one post. Here goes!

In July, a few days after we got back from our roadtrip, our cousin Eva came for a visit. Her time overlapped with Bryan and Alexia and their kids who also came to stay for a few days. It was great to have them and to have the (younger) cousins have time to play together and just hang out (the older ones). There were trips into NYC for sightseeing, swimming at a friend’s pool, and a clothes shopping trip for me and Alexia. One evening Bryan and Alexia made an amazing dinner for us. I forget what it was called, but it was wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, guys!

(A bunch of these photos were taken by Bryan. Thanks for letting me pilfer them, Bry.)

We were also happy to host our friends, the Roses, for a night on their travels from Canada back home. It was a short visit, but lovely!

Ben had a pretty low-key 35th birthday, with the usual gift giving in the morning. He and I went to see a movie as my present to him, which is a pretty rare occurence for us, and as a result a pretty special treat!

The next few weeks were taken up doing proper summery things like swimming, bubble blowing, running through the sprinkler, eating watermelon, having playdates, playing games, and doing generally silly stuff (like catching a fly and putting it in a lego maze).

One funny thing: sometimes when the older girls set the table, they like to write names on napkins, which takes the whole meal up a couple of notches on the fancy scale. One time Esther took this a step further even, and came up with descriptions too. Esther’s description of Marica had me in the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable but that you’re not allowed to show. Boy, these kids!

The kids also took part in  some sort of summer ‘camp’ each: Marica went to 3-night camp with her friend, Willow; Esther went to a week-long art camp in the mornings, and Laurelin went to the summer program at her preschool to get her used to the new environment. They also did a VBS (Vacation Bible School) at a sister church about 20 minutes drive from here, which they really enjoyed.

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Laurelin’s first day of preschool!

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VBS

In August we traveled down to Tennessee again, this time for cousin Hannah’s wedding to Peter Weston. It was a beautiful affair, and a delight to spend even just a little time with so many great family members. Hannah looked amazing in a dress that reminded me of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. (Peter cleaned up pretty well too.) I was glad that I could be helpful with the flowers and with some last-minute stepping in to help with the cake decorating. We were especially glad to be able to spend some time with Aunt Marti, and thankful that God was gracious upheld her throughout all the busyness and festivities of the weekend.

The Monday after the wedding, our lovely hosts, Mike and Paige, took us out on their boat for some fun. It was great getting pulled behind the boat in the tube, going crazy fast! Talking about Mike and Paige… man, these guys are fantastic. They were incredibly generous, kind and hospitable with their time, their home and much more. What a great example they are. I wish we lived closer to them!

After our tubing fun, we had one last visit with Aunt Marti and other family members. It was a precious time together, but not without some silliness too. See those amazing arm muscles that Eva has? Well, I got cocky and challenged her to an arm wrestle. I’m proud to say that we were a match — neither of us could get the other one down. All to say, I felt a little chuffed about that. :-)

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The day we got back the klutz in me misjudged a step at our friend’s house (the one with the pool) and I sprained my ankle really badly. The doctor reckoned I partially tore 3 ligaments — thankfully nothing was broken! — which meant that I had to be on crutches for the next 6 weeks, wearing one of those sexy black boots. I never realized just how painful a sprain is, and how insanely difficult it is for a mother to try and do just a few basic things around the home while hobbling around on crutches. Man! I’m so thankful for great friends who brought meals and helped out in other ways. I couldn’t have made it through without them! I was also thankful that I sprained my ankle at the end of summer rather than earlier — not that it’s ever really a good time, but hey.

Phew, if you got this far, you’ve done really well! Now just to catch up on autumn…

MeRF Getaway

Back in June, some folks in our church (MeRF = Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship) headed out to Pennsylvania for a getaway at Kirby House, a beautiful old house that was once used by the Kirby family as their summer home in the mountains.

It was really great to spend some decent time with church folks. Our church is a commuter church so most of our fellowship times happen on Sundays because it is so difficult to get together during the week. So, having a weekend to spend time together was great. I didn’t take many photos, which is a shame because the grounds are gorgeous, but I was spending time with people instead.

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I handed my camera off to someone else to take the real photo — this one was me getting the settings right — but the ‘real’ photo didn’t turn out, so this is the best I’ve got!

We had some good talks led by Pastor Murphy, time for swimming and walks, and just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. We also had a talent evening, which was fun!

Looking forward to the next one!

Laurelin’s 3rd birthday

In all the bustle of the end of the school year and then summer vacation, I’ve neglected to post photos of Laurelin’s 3rd birthday.

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Laurelin is now a full-blown 3-year-old and no push-over, in every sense of the word. She’s feisty, not afraid to push and shove people 2 or 3 times her size (we’re working on that…) and is learning to use her words to say what she means instead of whining or squealing. (On that note, check out her Twitter page, which we’ve started for her like for the other two girls. Some days when I need a laugh I reread their funny sayings on Twitter and that perks me right up!)

The other day at the playground I watched her run next to the merry-go-round, pushing it faster and then swinging herself onto it despite it going quite fast and the platform being about chest height for her. Despite her reckless feistiness, she is very funny, she’s caring, and she can play quietly for extended periods of time making up the most hilarious little stories if you just quietly sit and observe. She gives wonderful cuddles and I’m so thankful she hasn’t lost all her baby squishiness and smell. And yet… she’s turning into a little big girl before my very eyes, and I can’t help feeling just a little bit sad.

During our visit to New Zealand over Christmas, Laurelin was introduced to the wonders of Peppa Pig and has been watching it since then (such a cute show!). So it would be no surprise, then, that she wanted a Peppa Pig themed birthday party — which she got. Well, it was really just a glorified play-date with some decorations and a cake, but if you don’t tell, I won’t!

 

Finishing up the school year

It’s taken us a while to get used to this business of school finishing right in the middle of the calendar year and the starting again in August/September when we are so used to the school year following the calendar year. We have now pretty much slotted into the US school calendar and are starting up again with homeschooling in a couple of weeks. But in the mean time, let me share some photos of the kids finishing up their last school year. Esther just finished 1st grade (Year 2 for NZers), Marica finished 3rd grade (Year 4), and Laurelin finished being a 2-year-old, ha. She’s recently  started preschool for 3 mornings a week, so that will hopefully free me up a bit so the two older girls and I can get some more work done. Look who lost her two front teeth!

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The girls also took part in their piano teacher’s end of year recital and did so well. They made their parents proud! Their friend, Elijah, has the same piano teacher and also played very well in the recital.

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There was also a co-op concert where the kids took part, but I have no photos of that, unfortunately.

Last semester, Esther did ballet which is something she has wanted to do for years. We found a place nearby and signed her up. It wasn’t quite as traditional a ballet school as I was hoping for, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as she thought she would, so we might rethink the whole ballet thing. But we’ll see. Either way, she did really well with the little dance her class did and loved getting all dolled up for the event!

The rehearsal:

 

The the big concert:

 

And while we’re on the theme of end-of-school, I should include Abby in here too. She’s our pastor’s daughter and the great love and big-girl friend of my girls. This year she graduated from high school. She was a member of the NJHSA (North Jersey Home Schoolers’ Association) and was part of their beautiful and grand graduation ceremony. I attended with Marica. It was so encouraging for me as a homeschool parent to see so may other homeschooling parents come to the end of a race well done. As each student crossed the stage, it gave a little bio of what their high school interests and accomplishments were and what they were planning on doing in the fall. What an impressive bunch of students! Then the students thanked their parents and gave their mothers a rose, which I thought was a touching gesture. We also got treated to listening to the NJHSA choir — wow! They were fantastic, and I don’t easily say that about a high school choir.  We’re proud of you, Abby!

A Spring Tea Party

In our living room stands a beautiful wooden display cabinet that has been in my family for 3 generations. It displays a selection of pretty tea cups, teapots, milk pitchers and sugar pots I have been given from my grandma, my mum, and Ben’s grandma Tschetter. I love them all, but they’re of course too pretty and special to use on a regular basis… with the end result that they never get used! This is a problem that needed a solution.

So I organized a tea party with some friends! And what better reason to get a bunch of girls together to drink tea out of pretty cups than springtime? The first weekend of April we got together over some lovely food (contributed by everyone), a vast selection of teas and tea pots (some people also brought theirs to share) and had a lovely, lovely time chatting and forgetting a bit about everything else.

I think we just started a new tradition!