Tuesday, December 31, 2013

celebrating Christmas

Our last days of Advent were full and I don't want to forget a second. We headed downtown for a day of traditions; we bundled up and went to see the Christmas windows (although since Macy's took over they are the same as last year..boo), checked out the huge tree inside, and sipped fancy coffee (and hot chocolate for the younger set) while walking through the Christkindlmarket.  Thanks to Groupon we got a great deal on a hotel and stayed a block off Michigan Ave.  This was a tradition we used to do every year before we had kiddos and decided we need to bring it back.  It is so awesome to be downtown and the kids loved the pool and unlimited jumping on the bed.  I loved walking down Michigan Ave in the wee hours with my early to rise son strapped to my chest.  Even with the crowds, grit, and inconveniences of this city it is an awesome place to live.

El train ride downtown


Abishai's first time to the windows

Macy's tree

we are blessed

it wouldn't be Chicago unless you had to squeeze your way through crazy crowds of people

we highly recommend the pretzels & roasted sugary almonds (even if Annikah's face says otherwise)

hotel craziness

Abishai's first time in a swimming pool. He was unimpressed.

I love these pictures.  Not because they are perfect but because they are us right now.
Full disclosure: After the El ride Evy had to pee so bad that she managed to pee all over her chupis and pants while going to the bathroom so she ended up wearing her sister's chupis and her PJ pants the rest of the day.  Packing light seemed like a good idea until that moment.  And 30 seconds after the family picture was taken Abishai spit up all over himself, me, and the floor (you are welcome folks who work at Macy's).  Life with small kids.  A crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess.  Never boring though.

One the 23rd we had some newly arrived refugees over for a meal.  They all arrived mid December and had not been out until coming over to our place. Moving to Chicago in the winter must be so overwhelming!

It was so awesome to eat with our hands, talk, and share Advent time with our new friends from Pakistan and Iraq.  Even with limited language communication you can share so much and we were so blessed by our time together.  The family from Pakistan had a little boy who turned 4 that day and Evy decided to give one of her birthday gifts to him as a present.  I was so proud of her for sharing and she reminded me of the importance of giving of what you have.  There is something special about welcoming folks who are new to a place at Christmas.  It reminds us that Mary and Joseph were also weary travelers in a new place and relied on the hospitality of others.  Our prayer, "May we show a glimpse of God's rich love."

We had our family celebration on the morning of the 24th and after reading the last page of the Advent book and lightening all the candles we had a big breakfast and opened presents.

The caption here has gotta be "bed head rocks!"

The joy of the unwrapping

The girls bought special gifts for each other and opened thoughtful gifts from their girl cousins

Do we really have to wait a whole year for Advent again? As we took down the tree and decorations today and made space in our home and hearts for all that 2014 will bring I was glad the snow kept us inside and together for one more day of family time.  I want to wrap up these memories; all of them, and open them again and again.  Hope your Christmas was a blessed one.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas fun night

Christmas Fun Night at First Free was a blast!  We invited some friends from the girl's school and Evy's bestie came along with her parents. It was a cookie decorating, craft making, movie watchin' sugar fest in your PJ's; seriously what is not to love?

I already miss Christmas fun.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Evy turns 4!!

Miss Evy turned four on December 21st and when your birthday is a few days before Christmas it means that celebrating can get overlooked.  We wanted to make her day special and after much discussion she decided a "rainbow horsey party" was just the way to celebrate the big 4! She invited a few friends from school, our neighbor, and the only boy to join in was her long time partner in crime Wesley. It was fun to plan this special day for our little Evy girl and it was the perfect way to kick off Christmas break too (even if it was crazy to add party planning to  busy December).

these sisters love any excuse to dress up

but Abishai was thoroughly unimpressed with the festivities

We had a rainbow fruit and veggie tray and horse shoe pizza. We take our theme seriously people.

Games were simple but fun: pin the tail on the horsey & "bozo buckets" with cowboy boots

Prayers by Papa thanking God for our Evy and asking His continued blessing on her life (I loved watching her face as Jason prayed- so sweet)

Singing 'Happy Birthday' to our big girl

Check out the inside of the cake! The girls' helped me make a tie-dyed cake the night before and it turned out pretty good and it was MUCH easier than Anni's rainbow cake from last year.

After Evy opened her gifts she gave everyone their goodie bag and a big thank you hug. I think it was my favorite part of the whole party.

One of our favorite things was posing everyone in the little "Wanted" poster Evy helped me make that morning (amazing what you can do with a cardboard box and some paint last minute). I love these pictures. Seriously adorable.

Bibi joined us and was on baby brother holding duty (we don't think she minded)

and even Joy stopped by!!

and even J & I had to get in on the fun!

All the cowpoke that helped Evy celebrate showing off their horses they made! And yes, this was teh best picture we could muster. Evy loved her party and we are so blessed that this little girl has been in our lives for 4 years.

Happy 4th to our feisty, hilarious, sweet, and funny little cowgirl!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

riding the Holiday Train

The kids and I were sure to experience the CTA holiday train this year as our Advent activity one night.  You gotta love the CTA.  The city tries so hard to have Christmas spirit but between the freezing temps, crush of people, and "the elves" on the train handing out candy canes that looked like they needed a few days off from their making merry duties it was hilarious.  But we just had to do it what with our love for all things urban transportation.

It approaches to many excited cheers of other cray cray kids & parents (and  few poor unsuspecting actual commuters)

This blurry shot was the best I could muster considering I was holding A's car seat, the hands of both girls and pushing our way through the crowds (and trying to make sure no one fell to their death on the tracks).

"Mama, this is WAY lots of people!" Welcome to Chicago kid.

When we finally got on this was all I could see and the girls who are considerably shorter had views of people's butts and dirty boots.  Umm, also Abishai who was apparently not feeling the holiday train (or his mama who forgot his pacifier) and was screaming the entire ride.  But can I just say I love this random bitter holiday train commuter? I seriously could not stop laughing at the utter ridiculousness of it all.

In the end we waited in the freezing cold for 20 minutes to ride the train one stop in a crush of humanity all while holding a screaming Abishai in his car seat and then waited again for 15 minutes in the frigid temps to ride it back to our stop.  But it was still worth it for the extra swag in our steps because we rode the CTA Holiday Train.

Walking through the story

My memory cards are full of Christmas pictures and you can barely walk through our kitchen because of the gifts, suitcases, and mounds of dirty laundry but since the baby in napping in his swing I am enjoying a few minutes of couch time.  This year we had a blast with our Advent activities! Of course I had big plans for things that never happened in the chaos of the daily but when we started to pack up the advent wreath this morning and both girls were so disappointed we would not have our special time of reading and activities tonight I knew this past month was truly awesome.  Waiting and celebrating Jesus' arrival every day during Advent was a blessing to us and as I packed up the Advent book this morning I knew I will miss that time as well.

We went to Come to Bethlehem again this year and it is now officially a favorite tradition. Really an amazing free activity (unless you count the 2 bucks we spent on pumpkin bread at the market because that is just necessary!!)

The girls got to participate in the concert after by playing the bells. Well, Anni played and Evy mostly starred at the young woman trying to get the kids to pay attention and play together. Bless it.
Great tradition and way to celebrate Jesus coming to our world by walking through the story together.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

desperation & celebration

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.
Every where I look there are decorations, perfectly lit trees, the smell of pine or cinnamon (even when it is usually coming from a spray or plug in), and evergreen.

And it feels like Christmas to me.  The kind of Christmas I grew up with.  The kind of Christmas I missed desperately when we were living overseas and sweating through 3 outfits a day. But I cannot shake this feeling that we are all missing so much of Christ at Christmas.   Experiencing something different has me wondering that in our rush, in our decorating, buying, baking, singing, gifting, dressing up, something has gotten deserpartely lost.
I cringe a bit when people say "Jesus is the reason for the season" and then we go about life as if he can be easily attached to a banner hanging in our windows or an ornament we place on our tree.  And I'm guilty of it too.  I will rush through our day and then we pause for a few minutes at the end to light candles and read His Word.  But the truth is many days I have forgotten that He was in every detail, every moment of the chaos and calm.  He will not be placed in our neat, scheduled, and organized celebrations of Christmas.  In Africa we had no outside cues, no physical reminders of our cultural idea of Christmas yet it was so much more like the first Christmas.  The lost and broken world seems to more resemble a young pregnant girl on a donkey journeying to a new and scary place.  The sweat and tears commingled with real hope and faith.  That seems to me more like what Christmas looks and smells like.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. 

Don't get me wrong I love the twinkling lights and warm hot chocolate but there is more of Christ that I can miss at Christmas.  He calls us to the gut wrenching pain and the smelly barn and His overwhelming presence more than the perfectly lit tree or the poinsettias or the mounds of crinkled gift wrap.  But I know He is in that too and so we live in between two worlds.  Desperation & celebration. We rejoice because we are weary and in God's mercy He has not left us and yet we live in a world that is broken and hurting.  He came to the reality of human poverty to demonstrate and live out the lavish riches of His grace.  I live in a body that is sinful and falls short and is longing for the full measure of restoration.  The fullness of Christ that we are promised at Christmas.  Emmanuel. God with us. Us.
That leads to rejoicing,

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Santa Lucia Day

It was Santa Lucia Day yesterday! And living in the center of Old Swede town in Chicago means we get our Swedish on! Jason's roots are Swedish and while I do not dig the lutefisk or the meatballs I love celebrating Santa Lucia.  As with many legends there are some bizarre parts but the irresistible burning candles on your head and singing combo make it a win in our house.
For our Advent activity the girls fashioned these Santa Lucia crowns using fabric scraps, glue sticks, and tissue paper.  We then headed over to the Swedish American Museum behind our house for the singing processional through Andersonville. 
As the processional started some museum staff handed us a torch and Evy's response was "mama, they gave me fire!!" I'm telling you, this one.  
she loved every minute and managed to NOT light her hair on fire!
Once this song is in your head good luck trying to sing anything else!
I love that in an often isolating busy urban environment this night felt full of neighbors and cheer.
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We stayed for most of the concert until Abishai (maybe distraught over his lack of homemade candle crown) started fussing and we had to make a completely unsophisticated exit.  We still had a blast and although our fingers and toes were freezing the girls and I skipped home being reminded that in the dark Christ is the true light.

Happy Santa Lucia Day and hope yours was filled with light (and no lutefisk),

Advent fun

untitled-60 We continue to celebrate Advent every night (and the one night we arrived home too late there were tears).  It is far from perfect or peaceful some days and this past week we even had some excitement when while blowing out the candles Miss Evy lit her hair on fire.  My Mama lightening quick reflexes meant she is only rocking the asymmetrical bangs but yikes! But even on the crazy days we so look forward to this time.  The girls are able to recite much of the scripture because we reread it every day and Jason and I often catch each other's eye and smile knowing we are blessed.
On St Nicholas day we read a story about him and discussed the legend and the real man.  Although admittedly we left out the possible beheadings. We talked about the stories passed down that in his generosity he gave gold coins to people in need.  The next morning the girls awoke to "gold" chocolates and a dollar in their shoes that they could use to do something for someone else.  They were pretty excited.
The girls and I then headed to a church in the city that hosts a St. Nicholas festival where the kids can make crafts and buy presents for their family in a little store run by volunteers.  I totally had flashbacks to the Secret Santa stores we used to have at school when I was growing up!
"That Santa guy was a little weird but I got me a candy!!"
They got to shop for family and each item was a dollar! The volunteers were so kind and the girls loved shopping and then not telling what they got for each other.  Although Evy did tell me "Mama, I give you one hint. Your present is pretty and you wear it on your wrist." So yeah, we might have to go over the concept of a hint.
I think their favorite part was hanging out and watching the volunteers wrap the gifts.
 The church won my heart with this guy dressed like Elf and hand cutting snowflakes for everyone.
We also spent one day of Advent picking out and packaging up treats and gifts for some of our favorite Wazungu overseas.  We always loved getting packages and are excited for our friends to open these (inshallah they will arrive within 2 weeks)!
There is much going on and it is a busy season but in lighting the candles and remembering the waiting we pray our hearts are prepared and our souls yearn for Him,

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hip Hop girlz

The girls had their last week of their fall dance class last week and that meant that parents were invited to see the kids show off their mad skills.
I sorta totally live for these moments of cheering my kids on. I love when they try to catch my eye and then pretend they really are too cool to care that Mama is watching every move. If you are in Chicago I totally recommend Design Dance- the instructors are real dancers in the city and the girls think their teachers are "sooooo awesome" and the classes are affordable and meet at local park districts or schools. Evy's teacher deserves overtime pay for trying to keep 3-5 year olds' focused...think herding cats. The girls have made great friends and fun memories.  And they have some pretty hip moves....
And Anni's class even performed at the Chase Park showcase last week...and by perform I mean do about 30 seconds of their routine until the music cut out..but ya know, whatevs.  She had a blast and we celebrated with froyo afterwards to celebrate our Hip Hop girlz.  Next time you see them ask them to teach you some moves, I'm sure they will oblige,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

celebrating on Devon Ave.

We had the privilege of celebrating with friends at a Holiday party on Devon Ave and when they asked if I would be willing to be the photographer I was so pumped.  The food was spicy, the chai was sweet, the people are beautiful, and the community is rich with love.  Abishai was a huge hit and was passed around the entire time we were there.  The girls played and ate with their friends and I got a chance to capture some images of our time together.  We are blessed to live in a place where we can interact and befriend people from all over the world.  I posted more photos on my here on my photography blog.
What a blessing to celebrate with friends from near & far,