Sunday, December 29, 2013

God Jul!

We love getting Christmas cards in the mail!
And we love sending them.
God Jul, 2013! The Connelly Vikings

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas 2013

Nothing beats the excitement of Christmas morning with a 7- and 5-year-old.
Santa dug into the cookies and nog...
 ... and deposited a bag full of loot beneath the tree.
 Daddy got the fire started downstairs...
 ... while the kids dutifully sang carols on the stairs, per tradition, awaiting the arrival of the Christ Child in the manger.
 Happy Birthday Jesus!
Time to open presents!
 The mad dash.
 Lorelei's gifts: Cabbage Patch, Disney Princess Pets & PP Salon, FurReal Kitty, My Little Ponies, Hexbugs, charms, Legos (from Gryffin)
Gryffin's gifts: Angry Birds Telepods, Science Volcano Kit, Lego Star Wars, sticker & art books, all of Daddy's old Star Wars toys, Stormtrooper mask, Legos (from Lorelei)

 The bunnies hid beneath the tree, nibbling its plastic branches.

 Here's Gryffin with Daddy's Darth Vader carrying case filled with vintage Star Wars figures.
The boy's in inter-galactic heaven.
 Mr. Tibbles (One-Eyed Jack) joined us in emptying stockings.
Then we tucked into cinnamon bun waffles and our traditional strata after skyping with our Canadian family and having an early dinner with Grammy & Bpop.

 And Mark and I went in together on our anniversary present (11 years this December): 
A specially carved moose for our backyard fire pit.
The sign will have our name when I get around to painting it.
 Mark got a guitar for his Christmas present from me, and has been mastering a list of tunes to sing by the campfire this spring.
And for my present, this cute little stump table with our initials: WMLG
I adore it!
There is still such magic in the air at Christmas, with Lorelei and Gryffin anxiously anticipating where their Elves-on-the-Shelves will be hiding, opening letters from Santa and meticulously counting down the days on their chocolate Advent calendars and our hanging wall countdown. We've lit the Advent candles, boarded the Polar Express to the Luminary Walk, and hunted down Christmas lights in our pajamas. In the early mornings, we've snuggled together beside the lit tree with books and sacred music, and resumed evening snuggles by a warm fire to unwrap the same Christmas books we read each year, and watch holiday movies. There's nothing sweeter or more dear than these moments, when the air is thick with love, tradition, and our family together. I thank God everyday that I am theirs, and they are mine. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

Excitement fills the air. It's Christmas Eve!
We went to the candlelight service at church on the eve of Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve proper, we made some leftover cardboard gingerbread houses from Lulu's class party...

 ...had tamales for dinner...
 ...and decorated cookies for St. Nick.
 Rudolph got his carrots.
 And lights were out early, though the munchkins sneaked downstairs, Gryffin announcing they thought we wrapped all the gifts, not Santa (as he caught us, indeed, wrapping all the gifts).
I avoided the conversation with the finesse of a masterful politician.
(Just give me one more year of magic!)
 But the empty manger on the stairs remains a tradition that will carry on, awaiting the true meaning of Christmas: the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas day in the morning.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Nutcracker & a Christmas Miracle!

I went all out. This was the big production: Second grade, after weeks of learning about Tchaikovsky and audience etiquette and ballet, was going to see the Nutcracker at the Kauffman Center. And, being Room Parent for the year, I had the special privilege of being chaperone!
 To make the event especially memorable for Lorelei, I surprised her with a special Christmas dress and ruby slippers and bought her her very own Nutcracker.
The girl loved it all!
 (He really is the most spectacular Nutcracker, isn't he? I adore the toad on his head!)
But the morning of the big field trip, the weather turned foul.
Ice everywhere.
School buses were doing donuts.
The only pretty thing about the morning was this little darling in her new dress:
 In hopes that they wouldn't call it off, I went to the school office and waited on tenterhooks with the Room Parents from the other classes. And despite all the finagling our stellar principal was trying to do to make this field trip happen (and let me tell you, she sure tried!), District wasn't having it. Their final verdict: it was a No-Go.
It was so very sad for those poor second graders and their teachers. There were tears.
But we three Room Parents, being all dressed up and having four-wheel drive at our disposal, decided to call our kids down to the office. 
We were playing hooky.

 We piled into one van.
On the way, I gave Lorelei the gift I'd been saving: a charm necklace with a Sugarplum Fairy.
She was so tickled.

 It was a wild ride (but the roads were fine).
 We finally arrived at the gorgeous Kauffman Center!
There were so many empty seats that day. We just walked right in; didn't even need tickets.
 As an extra special treat, we took the kids to Lorelei's restaurant preferee: Chez Elle!
Best crepes in town.
 The kids played card games.
 What a very special day with Lorelei; one I'll never forget.
And it wasn't just magic swirling in the air.
There was also a miracle.

During intermission at the Kauffman Center, I asked one of the attendants to take a photograph of Lorelei and me. That's when a stranger came up and asked if he could snap a photo of us too. Why not? I noticed the man had a British accent, and asked where he was from.
"London," said he. 
"What are you doing here, in Kansas City?" I wondered.
"I'm actually in a concert tonight."
"What kind of music?" I asked.
"I'm one of the Tallis Scholars," he said.
I about jumped out of my skin.
You see, this has enormous significance for me. I listen to the Tallis Scholars and music by Thomas Tallis (medieval composer in King Henry VIII's court) when I wake up, and when I fall asleep. This is the music I pray to and that I play everyday when I'm contemplating God's extravagant love for me and for all mankind, and my love for God. It is holy.
I even had a CD of Thomas Tallis compositions on hold at the library that very day. Not joking.
Intermission was nearly over, so I asked the stranger where his concert was, and how I could pick up tickets.
"The church with the gold dome on it," he said. "If you want, I'll get you tickets."
I gave him my phone number before he rushed off, and as soon as I got home, there was a phone message from my stranger, Patrick Craig, telling me he had two tickets in his name at Immaculate Conception for 8pm that night.
The concert was heavenly. Angelic. Perfection.
And Mr. Craig, the countertenor, kept smiling at Mark and me in the audience, as if the whole concert was for us. He had the most pure and resonant voice as he gave the first pitch to every song. It's no wonder he sings all over the world, and at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, in his time off.
Which has more significance... that very week, I'd received my acceptance letter to St. Paul (School of Theology) to begin a Master's degree in Christian Ministry. In contemplating whether to pursue this, I would pray to the music of Thomas Tallis in the background, asking God for a sure sign that this was His will. I kept feeling like God was calling me to do this, to trust Him, and yet it made no sense to me. My faith isn't very cookie-cutter, to begin with (oh, how I struggle with dogma!). And a Master of Arts in Ministry isn't even necessary in our faith tradition to practice ministry (I'm not planning on pastoring a church; just sharing God's love in a part-time ministry role). In a word, the whole idea of school is "impractical."
But God was faithful in this miraculous synchronicity.
We ran into our friend, Ryan Heckman, at the concert that night, and got to visit with Patrick Craig afterward (below). He gave me a huge hug and a signed book about the Tallis Scholars. I gave him a bag of goodies from Kansas City.
I still get goosebumps thinking how very impossible it all was, this stranger coming all the way from London to bless me with this unusual music I so deeply love. Thank you with all my heart, Mr. Craig! You were my angel on Santa Lucia Day!

Catching Up, Christmas style

Catching up on Christmas at the Connellys:
Gingerbread houses with the neighbors

 So grateful for the Guzzos!
While the kids are entertaining each other, we love to hang out and play games into the wee hours of the night. Endless laughs!

 I got to sneak into Gryffin's art class and grab a few photos while I was around school.
 My left-hander.
 Kids with Mrs. Clifton, their fun art teacher.
 We went caroling at Rose Estates with friends from school.

 And I snapped some photos of Gryffin's Winter Party but of course have none of Lorelei's. Being room parent means I don't have time to take pictures, so Lulu--you'll just have to trust that I was there! 
 Can you tell that the kindergarteners adore Miss Hill? It's her first year, too!

 We're so glad we sent G to kindergarten this year! It turns out that he was more than ready and is adjusting so well. Miss Hill says he's a "leader." Go Gryff!
 Lulu's been doing cheer for fun with our neighbor friend.

 Miss Lynn is awesome with the girls. They learn so much more than cheer.
 We have a new deck, only you can't see it.
And it still needs to be painted, weather permitting.
 And we love our new fire pit!
 This is our Saturday morning tradition ever since New Orleans: almond croissants (Trader Joe's style--they start out tiny and rise to this overnight. Not exactly the same as Cafe D'Or, but still, yum!)
 Our elves are up to no good. And someone drained that marshmallow tub of theirs pretty quickly.

 Bpop saved me with this fun craft idea for Lorelei's classroom Winter Party. He cut out all the cardboard and glued it together to make gingerbread houses for all the kids to decorate. Aren't they amazing?!
 Here's Gryffin's. The kids were so proud carrying these beauties out of the school. This is why I don't have any pictures of Lorelei's class party--you can imagine this project took a bit of time, and I was in charge of the spray snow.
 On that topic, we got a beautiful dusting of snow just in time for Christmas.

 The boys helped me clear the driveway.
 Love to see the kids having fun doing hard work!