Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ring in the New

I've been thinking a lot this week about one word: intentionality.

We're a pretty intentional bunch, we Strassners.  Even Logan will tell me with all the assurance of his three years: Mommy, if I keep working at it, I know I can do this.

There is something particularly hopeful about January 1st.  In the rhythm of my year, I always tend to undervalue the importance of a new beginning, a fresh start, in the midst of mourning another wonderful year come to a close.

But it's there.  Can you feel it?

The promise of possibility, change and renewal.  It is not so much resolution as it is review that appeals to me; to take stock of what has worked, what needs to be cut, and what can be adjusted as we move our lives away from simply being to really thriving - which is what we are chasing after in our home and family.

As I've pondered the things that have filled my soul in 2015, and those that have cost me in time, energy and emotion, there are a few things that become clear:

1. When I am not at peace, nothing in our home is at peace.
2. We are uniquely created in the artistry and expression of God's love.
3. Great freedom and happiness is the result of living fully into the precious gifts, personality, strengths and weaknesses that were chosen specifically for us by a creator who knows and loves us.
4. Home is our place of safety, acceptance and belonging that cultivates and nurtures possibility.
5. Grace must be the life's breath of our homes.  Minute by minute, both in imparting over our little ones, and accepting for ourselves.

We have grown - as individuals, as a family unit - in tremendous ways this year.  It has been a year of embracing what works, fine-tuning our priorities, honing our ideals, accepting our limitations, and moving closer to the kind of life we each seek to live.  Perfection hasn't been the goal; instead, we have worked to value the imperfect progress that makes up real life. As I have told my sweet, perfectionist, detail-oriented Leah on so many occasions: He doesn't call us to be perfect - only willing. 

So as we prepare to open a new chapter and write the story of another year, I am so looking forward to continuing to find beauty in the mess and extra-ordinary in the mundane.  Continuing to chart a course that is unique to our family and responsive to our calling, even if it is different from so many of those around us.  To define the legacy we want to leave for our family and children, and step fully into its life-giving design.

I'm also realizing how critical my own role in all of this is.  Not the significance of the job - that's one I feel blessed to have embraced long ago - but how important it is for me to be able to run the marathon of motherhood with endurance.  To invest in God's word to nourish my spirit, to invest in exercise to keep my body strong, in stories and art and music to nurture my mind, in friendships to keep me laughing and grow my heart; in short, to invest in... myself.

That's a pretty novel concept in my world.  To think that I matter.  To think that my health and wellness and sanity matters.  I've written my #1 above after great reflection and with great intentionality, because it is very true: if I am stretched and weary and overextended, I simply cannot bring the other items on that list through to fruition.  And it is such blessed and important work, I have to do a better job of creating daily moments of rest and refreshment to pour back into myself so that I can do this big job of pouring out.

The sad truth is that I am actually uncomfortable putting myself on the list, which seems ridiculous, but it's completely true.  Last year, I carved out exactly 25 minutes for myself everyday.  This year, I'm going for much more than that.  Dear 2015 Melissa: I'll see your 25 minutes of exercise, and raise you reading for pleasure, quiet times, fostering friendships and getting reasonable amounts of sleep.

That's right.  With apologies to Queen, I want it all.  I want it all, and I want it now.

So wherever you are in the world, as this wonderful year comes to a close, I wish you a joyful season of reflection.  The gifts you bring serve a marvelous and unique purpose, one that only you can fill.  If you chose to do so.

Cheers to 2016.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Comfort and Joy

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." 
Luke 2:19

Amidst the glitter, the lights, the wrapping paper, the hustle and the busyness is a message that is simple and sweet.

A message of love.  Of awe.  Of wonder.

A message of peace and restoration.

A message of joy and beauty.

A message of perfection, in the midst of what looks a lot like imperfection.

We yearn for more because we were made to; to crave something that we can never achieve.  The beauty of it is that we don't have to achieve it.  We don't have to earn it.  We don't have to run after it.

It was gifted to the world surrounded by the smell of animals and the sound of munching hay.

It has been a season of blessings for my family, and as we turn the page to celebrate the word that best describes us is thankful.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Nutcracker's Sweet, part two

Miss Leah has been in ballet for a little over a year now.

She loves it.  And oh my goodness, it is so adorable to watch them at this age!

With the holidays upon us, it is that time of year again: recital season.  Last year, her performance was ballet.  This year, they did tap for the holiday show to the tune of Up on the Housetop.

Knowing what to expect this year helped me to be a bit less sentimental and keep it together through her show.

It was adorable.  And wobbly.  When she concentrates intently on just about anything, she very often sticks out her tongue.

Which is what she is doing in this photo, even though I was a second too late to capture it.

I just love the pride and delight in her face in these photos.

She even ended the show by blowing a little kiss out to the audience.

They were wonderful.  I am so proud of that big girl of mine.  She's decided not to continue with dance next year.  Instead, she's going to take swim lessons and piano, and then as we get closer to summer, she'll switch to t-ball.  It is so exciting to watch her follow her heart, and get to see where it takes her.

I have a hunch that we'll be back to dance, though.  I don't think her little performer's heart will be able to stay away.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In music, as in life

There are a handful of things that Casey and I dearly hope to force upon our children as they pass through their childhoods.  (Did I say that?  I meant guide them to.  Gently guide.  Suggest, even.)

Music is definitely one of those things.

Music plays such an important role in our home, on par with other non-negotiables like cooking and wearing our pajamas too much.  I use music to signal transitions in our day; to start and end school time, to pump us up or help us calm down, and we nearly always have music playing in the background during central times when we're doing chores or eating meals.  My kids sing and dance... well, all the time, really. 

Casey and I met in our college marching band.  I was studying to be a music teacher, and music had permeated his young life as well. The idea that music is good for the brain and the soul is firmly entrenched in our ideology.

Well, if music be the food of love, we are going to feast in 2016! 

Because for Christmas, our little family came together and decided on one very important gift:

I feel like this warrants a great, big TA-DA!!!!

It's something we've been wanting to add to our family for a long time, and we're so excited that time is finally here.

It's an Everett spinet circa 1941-45, and to sweeten the pot, we came to it through a ministry that restores pianos to support their outreach efforts.  It felt very fortuitous, like things aligned at every step so that we could bring it home.

It is just beautiful.  

Beautiful, but not perfect.  For Casey and me, that only added to the appeal.

The black keys are all worn, some of them even showing the wood beneath, and the body has some scratching and dents.  It is an instrument that is full of life; that tells the story of the generations before us whose hands tenderly brought it to life.  It speaks of decades of chubby fingers that roughly plunked out off-key melodies for the first time, eventually being replaced by confident ones which could draw out harmonies with the skilled ease of a practiced hand.

And now, it's our turn.

Time for our people's little hands to learn and play and grow and make her sing.  To write a new chapter in her long story.

And we are so excited!

I know that the years ahead will bring more dissonance, mis-keys and re-starts than harmony, but, like so many things when you have little ones, it isn't about whether the music is always beautiful.  It's about equipping them with the tools, discipline, passion and know-how to make beautiful music when their time comes.

I can't wait to enjoy every step of that process.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

What to do with those family photos

A while back, we had a lovely and talented local photographer take our family photos.

Our little family is in such a fun phase, and our photographer was absolutely excellent.  She was fun, patient, and great with the kids.  We are so thankful that she captured these images of our family just being us.    

A few of my favorites?

The location was one I've admired for a while, and it was absolutely hopping with other photographers, families and young couples.  

There was even one group having the entire extended family photographed, including maybe ten adults and a dozen children.  It was quite the production!

Poor Olivia was having a terrible day.  She was breaking four teeth, running a fever, snotty and miserable. She wouldn't let me put her down, and even then she refused to be comforted.  Well, let me just show you:

There it is!  That's the face we saw the most of.  Assuming she wasn't wailing, that is. 

There was plenty of that, too.  

Oh well.  Every party has a pooper.  For us, it's usually Livvy!

She captured some great images of the kids on their own.

This photo is so true to my big girl!  Sweet and sassy all wrapped up in one package.  I can't believe how big this one is getting. 

And this one, too.  He's quite the grown up little man!

There were some sweet ones of the kids together. 

I am so grateful to have these images of the silliness, seriousness and personality of our family right now.

When we got the images back, there was one that stood out obviously as "the one."  It was begging to be framed, and I knew just how I was going to display it.

Remember this sign I made to hang above Logan's crib?  I loved that darn thing.  I loved making it, I loved the way it looked in his nursery.  But, when the nursery's new occupant moved in, I didn't have much use for it and it was relocated to the basement.  Until now!

Boom!  Casey touched up the paint and added some small molding that I had stained to frame out the photo.  Thanks to the lovely services of the good folks at Costco, we had it enlarged as a 20x30 and printed.  I love the way it turned out!

The best part is that it fills out this big space in the living room that has been open and empty for quite some time.  It's going to look really great once we get those baseboards finished (*cough, cough* Casey!).  

I'm so happy that we have these images to cherish!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Strassner Academy: Week 13 {and LOTS of Christmas resources!}

I'm trying so hard to take photos of our weekly adventures.  You might have noticed, I'm not awesome at it.

So after 2 weeks without photos, we're back.  We're talking J is for Jesus, and it was one of our most fun weeks to date!

We started with these adorable Nativity cut-outs to better help us envision THE story.

I laminated them, then we cut them out and added magnets so that they could play on the dishwasher, which is our only magnetic kitchen surface.

We also watched this wonderful retelling of the Very First Noel; one of my favorites.  So sweet and tender.

We made J ornaments with pipe cleaner and beads.

We did a Nativity characters scavenger hunt (inspired by this one from No Time for Flash Cards) with our Little People nativity.

I set up the manger scene, but absent all the people.  Then, I wrote clues so that the kids had to figure out who it was, and where to find them.

Can I just tell you, the kids loved this activity!

They ran from place to place and were so happy when they figured out the clues!

It was adorable to watch.  Scavenger hunts are my favorite.

Mystery.  Intrigue.  Critical thinking.  Movement. Team work. Plus, literacy skills?  Yeah, I'm in!  I'm dying to do one of those escape room adventures.  But I suppose that doesn't really belong in a post alongside tiny plastic Jesus...

We did an awesome Candy Cane science experiment looking at the effect of different substances on the rate of dissolution of the candy cane.

This one was so much fun!

And such a fascinating process to watch!  We used cold water, hot water, vinegar and Sprite to observe the process and test which ones would cause it to dissolve the fastest.

We also threw in a cherry-flavored one with other colored stripes, just for fun.

We recorded our predictions before putting them in, and then our findings after 10 minutes

and again after 25 minutes.

I love her face in this photo.  She's such the serious, studious little thing!

The one in the hot water didn't stand a chance!  But what was really interesting to me was that the vinegar and soda both had slower reaction times than the water.  Who knew?  It was also really neat to watch the color changes in the various cups.

Although we've done some "scientific method" experiments at school, this was the first one we've undertaken at home using the formal method.  It was a great opportunity to talk about how important it is to accurately record our observations.  I was really proud of what a good job she did!  She even remembered to record the bubbles in the soda, which were big at 10 minutes and barely visible by 25.

The recording sheet I created can be found here if you're interested in using it with your kiddos.  (It was pretty simple, so I won't blame you if you want to create your own!)

This was a super fun one, so I highly recommend it.

We practiced counting with Christmas trees and mini M&M "ornaments."

Logan's fine motor skills just blow me away.  The fact that he can glue those tiny M&M's on without making a huge gluey mess at not yet three and a half is astounding!  He is also stellar at counting and numbers.  I can't tell you how often he does math in his head.  He kept saying things like, "I have four, so I only need two more to make six!"  He just does it without even realizing what a big deal that is.

Speaking of math, Leah started practicing doing double digit math.  Not carrying yet, just adding sums less than 10 in each column.  We've done fractions and analogue clock reading recently... it's getting very real up in here on the first grade math front!

We also did a fun guided reading about the way Christmas is celebrated throughout the world.

Leah finished her phonics program last week, so the next step is to practice, practice, practice and work on increasing her fluency.  Luckily, the www is an amazing place and has come light years in a very short amount of time in terms of teacher resources available.  I don't have to buy a full curriculum, and I don't have to create things from scratch as I did as recently as 3 or 4 years ago when I was still teaching in the classroom.  It's awesome.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't share this version of Angels We Have Heard on High with you in closing.  It's one of my very favorites, and brings me to tears every time.  The kids and I watched it probably half a dozen times this week - it's just that good.

Such a good reminder of what the season is really about.  It makes me grateful every time, to think that these kinds of lessons aren't just a part of my children's lives, they are the very foundation of their education.  They're a central part of what we do every day... and I love it!

I changed my font at