I love this time of year. I think I wrote about that a few blogs ago, but it's just a fun time for me. It is just as busy for me, perhaps even busier, than during the summer, but in a much different way. Summertime brings nonstop action, between all the "regular" mom and housewife things (does laundry EVER get caught up??? I'm in the middle of seven loads right now as I type...), and all the things that come with the market and the farm -- scheduling, ordering, working, filling in for employees that can't come in at the last minute (unless I'm already working), paying farm bills, doing paychecks, keeping up with monthly tax reporting, totaling out the day's receipts and getting deposits ready between 3-5 times a week, etc.
However, once the Market is closed, my busy-ness (did I spell that right? I'd think grammatically it should be "business," but then that would be a completely different word....) shifts. During the summer, there is no time to keep up with recording checks for our personal or for the farm account, no time for reconciling accounts, etc. I start concentrating on the paperwork side of things -- updating inventory totals, doing more Quicken and Quickbook entering than I ever cared to do, and trying to reconcile everything, make sure it's all catagorized right, tweak our budgets, frantically going through piled up "don't have to deal with this now" paperwork to make sure there isn't anything in there that really should have been dealt with weeks (months?) before. Okay, so I don't really enjoy this part of the busy-ness either, but it is fun to see the bottom line. Did we stay on budget? Did we actually make a profit the past year? Okay, maybe "fun" is the wrong word to use ... the "bottom line" usually isn't something I really want to see.
But something else starts for me first in September and then in October, usually snowballing right after Thanksgiving, and then letting up somewhere mid-to-late December. AWANA starts the Wednesday after school resumes. I'm currently the overall club secretary, something I started transitioning to last year, and it gets crazy at times, but I love that I can work with not only the (usually) adorable children, but also the dozens of AWANA volunteers and the parents of the clubbers. I'll write more about AWANA another time...my posti is already getting long!
The first Sunday in October is the start of our Christmas program practice for the first thru sixth graders. This is my fifth program I directed at Faith Baptist, and I continue to be honored to lead it but even more importantly blessed by working with the 25-50 children that are a part of the program (and the 3-4 adults that help). The first year, we had less than 30 children in the program, but these past couple years, the numbers have been pretty close to four dozen kids. It's a far cry from the 6-12 kids that comprised the Christmas programs I've directed in the six or seven years before moving to Minnesota (although looking back, I'm amazed at how versital those 6-12 kids were, singing songs and solos and doing multiple parts). The end result is always the same -- a show of our glory to God, our thanksgiving to Him for giving us His Son, a celebration of the birth of the most wonderful Gift of all! More about this year's Christmas program another time....(for those of you locally, it will be Sunday, December 16, starting with piano recitals at 5:30 p.m., at Faith Baptist...hope to see you there!).
One of the things I love doing for the Christmas program kids, for my husband and kids, for my brothers and parents and in-laws, for a few close friends, and for me, is baking dozens and dozens, okay, hundreds of Christmas cookies. Literally. Each child gets a bag of assorted cookies from me as a thanks for doing their best, and I try to get cookies to most family members. Spritz, snickerdoodles, thumbprints, decorated sugar cookies, pastel wafers, candy cane cookies, Russian teacakes, pecan tarts, bon bon cookies, peppermint wafers, gingerbread teddy bears, cardamon cookies, and I don't even remember what else. All I know is I have a blast doing it, even though it takes up so much time. But I go crazy in the kitchen baking cookies for about three weeks of each year and have so much joy giving away most everything made! This year, I've had a few little helpers...(don't worry, I make sure their hands are washed each time they drift to their mouth and/or nose....)
Then comes wrapping Christmas presents -- again, I love to give things and have so much fun throughout the year picking things up on sale that I know someone else will really enjoy (although I'm trying to stay much closer to the budget...but I did make Tony do a "gifts given" catagory in our budget this year!).
There is time spent helping my kids learn their (short) lines for the Tiny Tot Christmas program, going over the two songs they sing, but it is such a joy to see and hear them! Practice yesterday was so fun. Susanna was fine until she'd see me then she'd start crying (it took me back to her infant days) -- but she never did say her line or sing with the other kids. Luke, on the other hand, rattled off his line, and during the singing he was that one child who sings louder than anyone...but thankfully on key and with all the right words! Right now, while Susanna is napping, Luke is serenading her with Christmas carols (even though he is supposed to be napping, too!). They ask all the time for Christmas music at nap time and bed time.
It's also busy (and hard!) picking out gifts for each of the children in the Christmas program. I have a budget of $1 per child, and it's hard picking out things they'll enjoy that won't break before they get home -- once that order comes in, then it's sorting things out, packing them up for each child, and getting cookies sorted for each one, too.
There is the time spent on putting up the Christmas trees and decorating them. But those sparkly lights are so beautiful!
Last night, my husband and I had a date night, first time in a long time. After a good supper at an authentic German restaurant in down town Park Rapids, we went to one of the local churches that was hosting the annual Park Rapids Classic Chorale Christmas presentation. This is an amazingly gifted group of men and ladies in the region, about 50 or so, led by an outstanding conductor/composer. They sang more than a dozen Christmas songs...almost all "religious" Christmas, well, except for this odd song called "Little Tree." The program featured several traditional Christmas carols as well as some of the newer Christmas songs like "Mary, Did You Know" by Mark Lowry and "Welcome to our World" by Chris Rice. As with every year, they also sang a beautiful rendition of Handel's "Messiah" and ended with a rousing version of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." This group of singers is incredible. They perform locally twice a year, and in 2005 they had a concert tour of Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. This coming May, they'll be doing a concert tour in Italy, including performances in Florence, St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome! Who knew so many talented voices lived in this area? (My father-in-law used to be part of the chorale but enjoys just listening now.) And while Erich Knapp is a fine conductor, he did give all credit for everything coming together so well to Faith Baptist's own organist, Jane Wolff! (she's the pianist and trianglist, or whatever the person who plays the triangle is called.)
I've still not even started on our Christmas letter. Isn't it funny how when you're younger, you don't really appreciate Christmas letters sent from others, but as you (and your relatives and friends) get older, you can't wait to get their Christmas letters and see what all has happened in the past year? At least, that's the way it is for Tony and me. It's incredible seeing all these loved ones who I remember as children who now have children of their own. We love getting photos with the Christmas cards and/or letters, and we tape all the photos up on our main door downstairs. They stay up year round so we can be reminded "face to face" of our loved ones. It's sad having to take them down each year...but it's also exciting to see the photos being replaced with the same faces...a year older.
Even more, I love spending time with family....whether it is my own husband and children, family on my side, or my in-laws (depending on where we spend Christmas). To enjoy the time with them during such a special time of year is something I really cherish. Last year, Tony's sister Carla and her family were able to come home from Uganda for Christmas. Dwight was also here from Guatemala, and all of Paul's family was able to be here, too, including his son Andrew who will be spending his Christmas in Iraq this year. This year, we'll be traveling to Ohio, something we hadn't really planned to do, to spend time around Christmas with some of my family, and especially with my last remaining Grandma who was recently diagnosed with throat cancer. I can't wait to see her again, and I also can't wait to have another holiday get-together with several of my California relatives who moved to Ohio within the past year or more! Ah, that promises to be a fun and lively time! I also hope to be able to spend time with relatives on my mom's side of the family, especially the cousins I spent so much time with growing up.
I think during November and most of December I get to bed even later than during the summer, just trying to get everything done, but in all honesty, there isn't anything I'd want to cut back on or cut out. I love and enjoy so much all the many different things that "must" be done before Christmas (and the Christmas program) arrives.
We don't open presents on Christmas -- instead, taking a wonderful idea from my sister-in-law, we have a birthday party for Jesus and concentrate on celebrating Him, complete with birthday cake and all. Last year was the first year my kids started helping "decorate" the cake (or, in last year's case, star-shaped cupcakes with the help of their cousins). This year, we'll be spending a few hours at a nursing home in Ohio bringing Christmas to the residents there as we sing and tell about Christ's birth.
But you know what else? Even though you may be wondering, my focus really is on glorifying God throughout all this (well, except maybe struggling through all the financial stuff). There is so much that leads up to Christmas each year....but there was only one event throughout history that really lead up to Christmas. The announcement to a young virgin that she was choosen to be the mother to a tiny Baby Who would one day save the world. The uncomfortable journey of a very pregnant young lady on a donkey, of all things!, to a city far from home where her Child would be born not in a nice warm comfortable hospital but in a smelly stable, laid in a manger filled with hay. The angels glorifying God, announcing that precious birth, scaring those shepherds probably close to death, but can you even begin to imagine it? Wow! I cannot wait to hear that angel chorus, with me singing right along, GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST!
And imagine...all my preparations to make each Christmas so special to those around me is nothing compared to the preparations Jesus is making for me up in heaven. The birthday celebration that is so exciting to prepare for down here on earth is nothing compared to the celebration we'll have one day in the presence of Christ and the Father.
Now...back to the many things I should be getting done (like that Christmas letter....and more Christmas cookies....) while I listen to Christmas songs, yippee!