Friday, December 29, 2017

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Christmas break began for everyone on December 15th when everyone returned home from work and logged off for two weeks. 

It was time to relax and reconnect...
The list of Christmas traditions began...

The week after decorating the house, Jonathon, Austin and Dad headed to Glenwood Tree Farm, as has been tradition these 13 years, to pick out the prettiest tree in the lot. Mom seems to comment every Christmas that the tree gets prettier every year. We all agreed that this 13 foot Douglas Fir truly was the prettiest one yet. 

The smell of Christmas baking filled the home, as all kinds of goodies were prepared and then stuffed into colorful Christmas tins. Nat King Cole sang Chestnut's Roasting On An Open Fire and Bing Crosby made us dream that maybe this year we'd have a white Christmas. 

We were enjoying having everyone home and being on the same schedule. Sometimes there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Dad had time to work in his shop and we took our mornings very leisurely, sipping cups of coffee on the couch and chit chatting with each other.

Austin was very eager to make up for some long lost brother time. He and Jonathon planned out several workout routines to do with one another, going on early morning jogs, singing military chants all the way. The next morning, Austin suffered the consequences of such an intense workout and made it well known to the entire household as he stiffly stumbled around the home bemoaning his sore state.

Jonathon also made up for missing a very special October birthday by taking Ania out to La Botega for Dinner. It was decided upon that they would make it formal dining to fully enjoy the experience of the five course dinner. Jonathon found that his date had very expensive tastes, and he enjoyed completely spoiling her that night. The meal began with bread and dip and potato leek soup. She enjoyed two serving of Raspberry Italian soda and selected veal and rice as her main dish. They finished the meal with two generous scoops of gelato ice cream. 

We wanted to make these two weeks both relaxing and productive so that not all our days would be spent in fun and games :) Dad's den got a deep cleaning and the garge got reorganized. The family newsletter was written up and sent out to a list of 100 people.

There were multiple Christmas events that we wanted to attend like the annual Christmas concert put on by Word of Grace and Hillcrest Bible Church's Christmas service. Mom, along with four other ladies gave their testimonies at this year's Lady's Christmas party. 

Celebrating Kayleen's 21st birthday
We took two Saturdays to carol to the shut-ins. It is a little exhausting going to five different homes singing in one day, but the encouragement that it brings to the people makes it all worth the effort. It is a blessing to be able to bring the joy of Christmas to these people and to share the story of the Lord Jesus Christ with those who have never heard it before.

We hosted the annual Christmas party in our home once again this year. We weren't sure how comfortably we would be able to house twenty-four extra people, but when the last couple arrived at our home, we had a very cozy gathering; the perfect size for a Christmas party.

Dad took the family to visit the Pittock Mansion while it was still decked for the holiday. It felt like the kind of thing you should dress up for being in such an elegant home, so we all dressed in our Sunday best and toured the mansion. 
The Columbia boat lighted parade was another one of those holiday events that kind of set the mood for Christmas. 

One day was set aside for browsing downtown Vancouver's antique shops. 

There was one item in particular that caught my eye in one of the shops...only it was $100 too expensive for my pocket book ;)
We stopped an hour into our shopping for a lunch at Thai Orchid and finished off the shopping with an ice cream at Renaissance. 

We took another day to help mom find some last minute stocking stuffers for the boys, as they are always the hardest to buy for.

Sending care packages to our soldiers in Kuwait

The kiddos and I got our care packages sent out in hopes of them reaching our troops in Kuwait by Christmas. We were excited to find some further resources for future care packages. Starkist Tuna and Hersheys both provide free packages of food and supplies for our troops if you supply them with the name of a soldier.

As always, time just flies by and before we knew it, Christmas was upon us. It was time to sit down and watch George C. Scott's A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and take our first sip of eggnog. 

Sam joined us for our Christmas Eve celebration. Even with the sky spitting snow, and the roads beginning to ice over, Dad and Mom were able to make it to his home to pick him up. That night, he presented to mom a tablecloth that his mother had sewed for her and shipped from Japan as well as a matching dish set that Sam had initiated all of us pooling together to buy.

We did have a white Christmas indeed. We were unsure of whether the snow would last till morning, but sure enough, when everyone woke up on Christmas day, the entire neighborhood was still dusted with a light covering of snow.

Things are not all as they used to be growing up when we kids tried to see how early we could rise Christmas morning to open gifts. Instead, we all kept to Christmas break hours and slept in till 9:00.

Everyone waited at the top of the stairs for the stockings stuffers to be set out on the couch before filing down and finding a place on the floor to sit. Dad read Luke 2 to everybody as a reminder of what we are really celebrating Christmas Day. Everyone was forced to take a break after stockings to eat breakfast before eagerly digging into the gifts under the tree. 

Jonathon and Austin, as is tradition, handed out the gifts to everybody till the underneath of the tree was completely empty. The little one's eyes got a little bit bigger each time a gift tag was read out with their name on it. 

Then it began, the great commotion as Ania tore through her first gift. And then it went on from youngest to oldest. Mom tried to retain some order in the room by collecting all the wrapping paper into black plastic bags as we went along. 

The rest of the day was taken at a leisurely pace. We managed to have dinner by 5:30 and we got to use mom's new dishes for an extra formal dining. 

Dad had the honor of carving the turkey...when he was through with it, Jonathon took over to rescue another platter full of meat from the meaty carcass :)

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Return of the Mountain Man and Other Important Happenings

I have heard some people say before that with 11 people living at the same household, you shouldn't notice so much when one person is missing. I have never found this to be the case. Each member holds a special place in our household.

A large greeting committee gathered at the PDX airport on November 18th to await the arrival of their brother returning from a four month transfer to Malaysia. It was perhaps the largest group there, awaiting the homecoming of a loved one.  Some people were amused by the enthusiastic waves coming from the youngest members of the family as the girls recognized the big bearded mountain man walking their way.

Austin recognized Jonathon's big flannel jacket but saw no familiarity in the face, hidden as it was behind all that scruff. Dad described Jonathon as looking like one of those faces you would see on the "FBI's top wanted list" :)

Annie and Ania were standing as close to the "Do Not Enter" sign as they could wanting to be the first ones to envelope Jonathon in a hug. The rest of us waited eagerly in line for our turns. Austin bragged to Jonathon that he was now officially taller then his big brother. 

Even though Jonathon was a little dazed from his 24 hours of travel, he filled us in with stories the entire drive home. We had planned a special breakfast for Jonathon and were planning on feeding him with all of his favorite fall dishes whether he was hungry for it or not. Pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream were on the menu for his brunch, accompanied by a steaming hot cup of hazelnut coffee. Of course, the day's menu wouldn't have been complete without pumpkin sausage soup, bacon sourdough bread, and fresh apple cider. A pumpkin cheesecake was the last little touch to a lovely evening. 

Much thought had been put into to the events of the day. Mom had purchased unshelled nuts at Winco and we had them sitting out in bowls waiting to be cracked later that night while we watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". Up in Jonathon's room, Austin had set up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Linus's blanket for a tree skirt and one lonely ornament hanging on the tree. There beside it was a Christmas mug with Charlie Brown sitting inside it...the first of the Christmas decorations to go up. 

After a superb breakfast, Jonathon handed gifts to each of his family present. (Kayleen and Cosette were visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Redding at the time.) Each of us girls received a lovely Malaysian scarf from Sarawak and Dad and Austin were each given a souvenir from Germany to commemorate the Reformation. 

Only three days after Jonathon's return, we made a trip to Redding to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. It was the fist time in four months that we were going to be a complete family again. 
We left a despondent Bear moping in his crate as we loaded up the van for the 7 hour drive.

Six of us adults camped out in Grandma's living room that week. Sometimes we would sit out on the porch at dark and enjoy months-worth of catching up with each other. Other times, we would stay up till the AM hours watching cheesy holiday movies together. No matter what we did, it felt so good to all be back together again!

It took Jonathon a little bit of time to recover from his jet was nice that he had a week to recover before returning to work.

Twenty-nine family members were able to make it to this Thanksgiving feast at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Before Dad said the prayer for the meal, he announced to everybody that this would probably be Charae's last Thanksgiving with the family. (of course making the acknowledgement that our family is a little bit of a late bloomer :D )

We set up the Thanksgiving feast in the garage and enjoyed a most delicious feast. With all of the cousins having new little babies, they were the center of the Thanksgiving Day for some people :)

The following day, boxes were pulled out of Grandma's shed and we decked her home for the holidays. Dad and Jonathon worked on hanging a shelf that Dad had built for her birthday up in her kitchen. Grandma had wanted an area to display the plates that she and Grandpa have collected over the years from all of their travels. 

Grandpa enjoyed taking his grandchildren for rides throughout the day in his Model A. The model of this car is the exact model of the first car he purchased at age 14.

Our last day in Redding, the family came together once again for a very special celebration: Grandma's 80th birthday. It was a small way that we could show Grandma what a precious part of the family she is to everybody!
 Sara had made an elaborate cake for her: apple caramel (Grandma's favorite ;)

The next day, Grandma's house was cleared out and it returned to its normal, quiet, organized state as our family returned home.

 I am convinced that we will always have fond memories of the cramped seven hour drive to Redding, sharing Grandma's two bedroom, two bathroom house with 13 individuals, taking up every square inch of floor space with sleeping bags and luggage; the general chaos at lunch time when Grandma's kitchen is taken over by many different hands making a mess of her spotless kitchen, and the volume in Grandma's calm house increasing a great deal over those five days. Even though it can be kind of crazy sharing such a small space with so many people, it is a time filled with many memories for me!

 Now, the Christmas festivities have begun in the Spafford household. We arrived home from Redding around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and made quick work of unpacking and cleaning up. It had been the goal of some people to have the house fully decorated by nighttime....and so it was. By 11 that evening, the house was aglow with the warm gleam of Christmas lights. Garland was strung over every possible cupboard and fireplace. A collection of snowmen and other Christmas nick knacks were placed for display in little cubbie holes and stockings were hung from the balusters.

Christmas packages now arrive at the door almost every day and are immediately sent up to "Santa's wrapping workshop" and then placed under the tree to be counted and shaken every which way. 
Christmas music is playing all hours of the day and the whole feel of the house makes it the best place to be for Christmas! 

Our school projects now center around the holidays. Before we had even reached December 1st, the kiddos, Mom and I had read through Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", each one of us reading parts to different characters in the story. The other day, we went shopping for supplies to fill care packages for our soldiers as a thank you to them for the sacrifice they are making for our freedom. Christmas must be an especially difficult time for them to be away from their homes and families.

Merry Christmas, everybody!