Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Christmas Angels

                               Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

Inside this rather pedestrian cardboard box is a treasured family heirloom, 
the Christmas angels!  

They are ceramic and made in Japan, but the real treasure is contemplating the hands that have touched and loved these angels for the past 50+ years.  They were given to Angie Wyrill, my husband's grandmother, by her daughter Dorothy Behnke, my husband's mother, many years ago.  Angie's home was often filled with family and friends.  Our visits there were precious times as we gathered around her kitchen table to enjoy good food, stories, and laughter.

Angie's 90th Birthday
 Dorothy Behnke, Angie Wyrill, Sara Behnke, Ramona Behnke,
Blake Behnke, Lance Behnke
When Dorothy gave us the angels in the early 90's after Angie's death in 1990 at the age of 93, they became part of our family's Christmas traditions.  Each year, the angels are unwrapped tenderly (still  surrounded by the tissue paper and kleenex lovingly put there by Grandma Wyrill) and placed in a safe place for the holidays.  A favorite spot was the top of my secretary until I spied our cat Hadley snuggling with the angels one year.  After a few years in safer spots, they returned to the secretary this year since Hadley's advancing age limits her ability to climb.

In the bottom of the box under the kleenex and tissue paper, is the real treasure, handwritten notes penned by Grandma in 1960, 1967, 1972, 1974, and 1977, on the day she packed the angels away and placed them in the attic until the next Christmas.

The notes often mention the weather, an ever present concern for the wife of a Kansas farmer.  The 1960 note ends with these words:  "A cold snowy day.  Bright and sunny but much snow on the ground.  Big drifts too!"

The 1972 note:  "Little angels put away Dec. 28 -72.  Kept them on John's desk and enjoyed seeing them each day.  Now it is 2:30 p.m.  Ex-President Truman's memorial service is in progress."
The words "kept them on John's desk" are especially poignant because her husband John died in 1971.

The 1974 note is my favorite because it mentions a visit from Lance (her grandson and my future husband), and ends with the words: "I'm GLAD he is here!"  The word glad is underlined twice.

Each year when the angels are unpacked, I reread these notes along with the ones penned by me beginning in 1992 and Sara's notes beginning in 2007.  They chronicle our Christmases in Houston and Seattle and mention activities and guests who visited during the holiday season.

Sara's first addition to the notes was in January 1996 when she was nine years old.  She added the date at the top since Grandma always included the date and added these words to the end of my note - "We loved Christmas this year."  The last note written by me was in January 2005, Sara's senior year in high school.  After leaving for college, part of Sara's visit home each year has included penning the note for the Christmas angel box. This year, I'll add the note since Sara's and Will's move to NY (grad school for Will and full-time employment for Sara) prevented a visit home during the holiday season.

Borrowing a phrase from Anita's eloquent post about a family tradition, 
I tenderly tuck the angels into their box empowered by memories and the love of family from Christmases past, Christmases present, and Christmases yet to come.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A week filled with joy!

                              So excited to join Saturday Celebrations with Ruth Ayres!
                    It is fun to live my week thinking about what I will celebrate on Saturday!
Discover. Play. Build.

                             A week filled with moments to celebrate and remember!

One -  FaceTime and phone calls with family members (seeking answers to my cooking dilemmas, in celebration of my brother's birthday on Dec. 23 and my sister's birthday on Dec. 25, and texts and pics to share an early east coast Christmas with daughter and hubby).

Two - Other cooks in the kitchen!  I love it when someone else steps into my kitchen and asks me to step out.  Stefi, Lance, and Blake all stepped into the kitchen several times this past week.  I love eating food prepared by my family members.  And the extra hands with clean-up and put-away were all appreciated!

Three - Plates of delicious holiday goodies delivered by friends.

Four - Celebrating the birth of Christ with the children in our congregation on Christmas Eve.

Five - Our FaceTime crossword puzzle with Sara and Will, and the inaugural game of Five Crowns, our new game left under the tree by Santa.

Six - Time to shop with Blake and Stefi, tell stories, watch movies and enjoy having them home for many days.  I love spending time with family!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Favorite Christmas Eve Tradition

                               Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

When our family was young, we loved to invite other families over on Christmas Eve to re-enact the story of that first Christmas with a reading from the 2nd chapter of Luke accompanied by singing Christmas carols.  

When we moved to the Northwest, a new tradition was born in our local congregation, due to  the energy and passion of a young mom who wanted us to have an event geared for the young children.  She wanted the costumes to be durable, and the script simple, with no rehearsals required.  

Families gather at our church on Christmas Eve afternoon.  Children grow up performing in the simple story of this glorious event.  Although there are no practices, children know that you start as a sheep or the donkey,
someday you might get to be a shepherd or an angel,
maybe one of the three kings, King Herod (a favorite costume),
or perhaps Mary or Joseph.  

Here are a few photos from this afternoon's joyful celebration!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebrating the beginning of winter break!

                               So excited to join Saturday Celebrations with Ruth Ayres!
                    It is fun to live my week thinking about what I will celebrate on Saturday!
Discover. Play. Build.

Another busy week with  many moments of celebration:

One:  We had our next round of Mock Newbery book clubs on Tuesday.  We continue to enjoy the discussions and the parent volunteers who facilitate book groups.  Only five weeks  and two more book clubs until the real winner is announced at the ALA mid-winter meeting.  I'm looking forward to finishing One Came Home soon so that I can move on to the other three Mock Newbery titles remaining in my TBR (to be read) pile.
Two:  Wednesday night was my second annual cookie baking night with friends from school.  My daughter helped me host it last year since she was between rotations.  This year I was on my own, so we modified the menu (no homemade soup), ordered pizza, and sampled some of the goodies followed by playing The King's Crown. We all enjoyed a delightful evening with dear friends and everyone left with a container filled with goodies to share.
Three:  Blake and Stefi arrived home for the holidays on Thursday night.  When I told Stefi that I was hoping for a snow day, she shared the three big ways kids get a snow day on the east coast:  sleep with your pajamas on inside out, flush ice cubes down the toilet, or sleep with a spoon under your pillow.  I'm curious to know the origin of these practices and what other things your region of the country does to ensure a snow day.  

Four:  Thanks to Ava's insistence on Thursday that Friday would be a snow day, or Mr. Harrington's students who did a snow dance, or perhaps the spoon I placed under my pillow; we started Friday with a light dusting of snow and a 2 hour late start.  When the predicted rain failed to arrive on time, we ended up with a snow day on Friday.
Five:  The gift of a snow day allowed me to join Blake and Stefi for shopping, lunch out, and a trip to the grocery store.  I love it when my kids are home!  We'll miss Sara and Will this year, but look forward to enjoying face time and doing a crossword puzzle together.  While our first crossword puzzle time for an absent family member was shared via a cassette tape, this year will be even more fun as we use Face Time allowing everyone to participate in real time.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Festive Fudge-filled Bars

                               Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

Tomorrow our staff enjoys savory and sweet treats for our 3rd annual bake-off.  I think of all the things I'd like to make.  My personal favorites are molasses crinkles, but I made them last year.  I could make my double chocolate brownies, but they seem rather pedestrian for a holiday celebration. I would love to make Sara's Chocolate Rolo Cookies, but no Rolos in the house.  Or I could make the Orange Chocolate Cookies I bookmarked once in Betty Crocker's New Christmas Cookbook (new in 1982).

I took two cookie recipe books to school last week.  Several students bookmarked recipes they liked.  Trent marked the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies, Adam put sticky notes on the Super Fudge Brownies, and the Luca marked the Caramel-Filled Brownies.

Some year I really want to try the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies transformed into snowflakes by using Baked-On Decorator's Frosting.  But not enough time for that tonight!

So I settle on a tried and true recipe- Festive Fudge-filled Bars a.k.a. Breakfast Bars in our family.  One year, when I chided Blake for having a cookie bar before breakfast, he replied, "Mom, these aren't cookies.  They're breakfast bars, they have oatmeal in them!"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Celebrating books, parents, music, and treats!

                          So excited to join Saturday Celebrations with Ruth Ayres!
                    It is fun to live my week thinking about what I will celebrate on Saturday!
Discover. Play. Build.

Today's post is a bit delayed because I moved this morning.  Not a big move, but still it took a bit of time.  My son complains that I live in every bedroom in the house.  He's right, so this morning I moved my school stuff out of the guest bedroom in preparation for a holiday visit from him and his wife.  I believe there's a definite psychological benefit to my practice of living in each bedroom - they look a lot less empty when I put some of my stuff in them!

One - I finally started teaching the signposts to my 6th graders.  A group of colleagues read Notice and Note in a book club over the summer.  This week I introduced Contrasts and Contradictions, and the Aha Moment.  I can't wait for book clubs next week to hear my students apply these strategies to the Mock Newbery books they are reading. 

Two - I celebrate all the teachers who have enriched my students' love for books through sharing wonderful books with them.  A mentor text for one of our signpost lessons came from Crash by Jerry Spinelli.  Many of my students fondly remembered this book that was read to them by an elementary school teacher.  

Three - One of my students left his copy of Counting by 7s in the classroom.  Since book clubs meet on Tuesday, I knew he needed the book over the weekend.  I called his house to see if someone wanted to pick it up.  When I met the dad at the front door of the school, he offered to lead the book discussion on Tuesday (freeing me up to rotate among the four groups who'll be meeting that day).  He'll be our first dad to lead a book club.  I love it when my students have male role models for the reading life!

Four - We celebrated with an assembly, the holiday concert, on Friday.  Shortened class periods and the opportunity to listen to our band, choir, and orchestra added a new lilt to the usual Friday excitement.  

Five - Teachers don't get corporate lunches or business dinners.   But this week, notes from students and gifts like this started appearing in my classroom.  I'm a lucky teacher!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Moments of magic!

                               Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

Sunday afternoon nap time is sacred time at my house.  However, this past Sunday afternoon I broke with tradition, stayed dressed (I'm usually back into my PJs within minutes of returning home from church), and ventured out (even though the temperatures were unseasonably cold).  I phoned the library to inquire about the time for the performance and was told 2:30.  I thought it started at 2:00 and was almost ready at 1:45, so I headed to the library with a bag of tricks to amuse me until show time.  Good thing I did!

When I entered the library shortly after 2, the carolers were directly in front of me and already singing.  Luckily, there were still a few seats in the back.  I snagged a seat and was immediately entranced by beloved Christmas tunes and the four part harmony of the Dickens' carolers.

I quickly forgot the "to do" list, the cards needing to be addressed, the Christmas shopping not yet done, and the tree in my family room adorned with lights, but still awaiting ornaments. I looked around me and saw all ages soaking in the beauty of this performance -  from the new parents cradling a newborn, to the young parents shushing toddlers and grade schoolers, to the mature folks like myself listening appreciatively, to the gorgeous silver haired senior citizens holding hands and nodding in time.

In the hurry and scurry of the season, I treasure carving out a few moments that rejuvenate me. This was one of those experiences.  It's hard to decide what to attend and what to pass up, but listening to and indulging our own desires can provide magical moments in the midst of many obligations.  My hope is that each of us can discover an activity that feeds our souls - perhaps wandering outside on a moonlit night to ponder the night sky, filling the kitchen with the aroma of fresh baked cookies from treasured family recipes, or heading out for an afternoon of sledding followed by hot chocolate and marshmallows.  For me, I discovered magic at the library as I listened to beautiful voices sing the familiar songs of this special season!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Celebrating a new trimester and winter's early arrival!

                            So excited to join Saturday Celebrations with Ruth Ayres!
                It is fun to live my week thinking about what I will celebrate on Saturday!
Discover. Play. Build.
Posting a bit late this week, but I continue to discover that paying attention means I find much to celebrate each week. 

One - My students finished their first trimester, and I finished posting grades and comments on Friday.  Woo Hoo!
Two - We didn't get a snow day this past week, but my snowman collection is out for the winter.  My good friend Shelly offered her creative eye and wonderful flair for decorating on the eve of her own travel. I'm always happy that my snowmen/women continue to brighten the dark days of winter long after the Christmas decorations are put away and stashed for next year.  We also put up the Christmas tin collection in the kitchen.  My husband threatens to streamline my stash of tins, but I love each and every one of them.  
Three - My students started a WebQuest for Social Studies on Thursday.  It was great fun to see their collaboration and engagement as they began 2nd trimester and this project with a new shoulder partner. 
Four - We had our first WOW (word of the week) party this last week during lunch.  When students find one of our words in outside reading, they post the example to our discussion thread, and join me for lunch, a game of Catch Phrase and cookie bars.  We had some lively phrases flying around the room as we worked to elicit the exact phrase from our teammates before the beeper stopped!  If you've never played Catch Phrase, it's a great game for all ages.
Five - If our cold weather continues, I'll read a favorite picture book, Winter is the Warmest Season.   Even though winter doesn't officially arrive until we're out for winter break, I've discovered that sometimes our coldest weather arrives in early December.  You've got to celebrate cold weather when it's here!

Monday, December 2, 2013

"What's that noise?" inquired the cat.

                               Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" 
to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.

Last week, the weatherman mentioned a chance of snow flurries in the forecast for Sunday evening. Then the chance of snow moved to Monday.  I wore one of my snow themed sweaters as inspiration for old man weather.  I promised myself that I would bring everything home in case of a snow day.  (My husband still recalls the time we retrieved 57 shoebox book projects from my classroom in several inches of snow because I wanted to grade them while we were out of school.)
Fast forward through the day.  The sun was clear and bright.  I realized that I had worn my sweater in vain.  It didn't look a bit like snow which is why I forgot my promise to bring home anything that might need grading.  I left school early (shortly after five), stopped by the grocery store, and headed for home.  The cat greeted me and joined me in the kitchen.  She looked at the ceiling, puzzled by the rat-tat-tat on the roof.  I went to the deck and flipped on the light to see a light coating of sleet covering the deck and lawn furniture.  Just before coming upstairs, I looked again to find the sleet mostly gone with only a few frosty spots.  
I'll head to bed and hope for a two hour late start for tomorrow.  Even if we don't get much snow, some of our teachers travel from other locales and any snow is problematic in our area.  I won't sleep well tonight.  I'll be up peering out the window to see if we get any more sleet or snow.  And then I'll be listening for the phone call that arrives rather early to announce late start, or no school.  I'm just like one of the kids.  I still love a snow day!