I took it on the day of and I posted it online to the group so that's something at least.

Today I will be photographing a birth and I'm sure that there will be a photo that I want to use for my DPP and I probably won't want to share it in a post with a picture of my cozy bed. So here's last night's on time but posted late day fourteen.

Man, I was ready to climb in and snuggle down!

He's my calm when everything is going crazy.

The voice of reason in the midst of irrational thought.

He's the place I go when I need to hide.

My strength when I cannot.

He makes me laugh and upon occasion, cry.

He gives me balance and aside from my children he's the one who causes my heart to fill near to bursting with love.

He is my beloved and I am his.

Fresh bread. There is nothing quite like that smell. Or taste.

I remember the first time I really tried to make bread from scratch. I got together with a friend of mine and I believe we had some success...in brick making maybe. I think if we had dropped one of our loaves we could have put a hole in the floor.

Another time someone gave me starter for that delicious sweet Amish friendship bread. You know the really high maintenance one that has to be fed every day and can't be in a metal bowl and can only be stirred with a wooden spoon while you stand on one foot and recite the alphabet backwards in Latin? At least that's how it felt to me before the container it was in exploded all over everything.

Since that fiasco I have pretty much limited myself to nothing more than eating homemade bread.

But several months ago a kind bread making friend not only gifted me with one of her loaves of sourdough but also some of her starter. I will admit that I was leery of the gift but I am happy to say that I have not killed the starter nor have I made any bricks to form a new patio or pathway. I have however consistently found success with this very forgiving and easy to use sourdough starter.

Today's picture comes from my very first attempt at making a pretty artisan type bread. It looked really pretty and the taste was good too. I'm still not sure I would call myself a bread maker but I am feeling a little less like a total novice these days.

I really wasn't sure if I had ruined this because I actually flattened it our with a rolling pin before adding the seasoning I wanted and braiding it.

Obviously my artisan skills still need a bit of work but when your trial and errors taste this good, does anyone really mind?

Oh, you know what? I need to try this out on the brown sugar and cinnamon loaf next time!

In which I get sort of artsy. And as usually happens a few times during this project I couldn't choose just one photo.

I love frosty and sparkling winter mornings, don't you?

I've tried free lensing before but I don't practice enough to be really good at it. But I did like the way this one turned out. Maybe it's the purple hues but I am making it my choice for day ten.

While I may not free lens often I do enjoy a little reverse lens macro. It's amazing to me how the light can change and the hue and color tone of an image shift within seconds from one frame to the next when taking pictures. Maybe that explains my whole fascination with photography.

I liked the underlying brightness to this image which is why I just couldn't not post it. Beautiful winter mornings should be shared though so enjoy!

So what does it look like to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas? We get asked this a lot when people find out our holiday season is a wee bit longer than the norm. Most people are curious but also seem leery of how much work might be involved. But honestly, once you get the hang of it it's not difficult at all. The important thing to remember is that it doesn't have to be perfect down to the last detail.

As a matter of fact how it looks today for our family varies quite a bit from how it looked when we started however many years ago it was when we started. I imagine as our children grow and marry and grand children come along that it will look even more different then than now. Essentially the framework is in place but every year you have the opportunity to flesh it out differently depending on circumstances, ages and interest of the kids, etc. You are only limited by how creative you want to be. Things can be as big and special as you wish or as simple and uncomplicated. As a family of seven there are some activities that we rarely do because of how expensive it can be. We don't eat out as a family often and a trip to the movie theater is practically right out. These are the kinds of things we add into the 12 days mix and I think it makes them a bit more special because they don't happen often.

Like I mentioned in yesterday's post we have a few days that repeat every single year so let's start there. These are the events or activities that we did once and the children begged, pleaded, and possibly mutinied over not having until we made them an annual part of our celebration. 

A hockey game. I know absolutely zero about hockey and my children know even less. My love may know a little bit more than all of us since he has lived up north before. What we all know is that one of the first families to join us in the 12 days knows a lot of stuff about hockey and we go to dinner (Sonny's Bar B Que) and an Ice Flyers game with them each year. Nothing about this can vary. Not who goes with us and not where we eat. I've no idea why it is so or why my normally peace loving non-violent children become blood thirsty hooligans but that's just the way it is.

Sweet Frog. Yep, a trip to the yogurt shop. This is also an activity that we do with friends although they don't mark the 12 days as we do. But frozen yogurt with our family is as much a tradition for them as it is for us. We've got some hilarious stories to come out of this yearly adventure and the telling of them is all part of the process.

Gingerbread house contest.  We do this with several other families and is a sweet messy day and also usually involves a meal. This year there are so many of us participating that we've moved it to the church. Each family brings supplies and we put everything out for people to use. And snack on. We've loved how these days have sprung up and it adds so much to the sense of community we share.

Favorite things basket. I get a large basket and buy all the fun stuff that I always or nearly always say no to. Giant jars of nutella and or Biscoff cookie spread. Lemon curd. Yoohoo drinks. Pop Tarts. V8 Fusion. Certain cereals. Particular chips or snacks. All the things that either don't fit our everyday grocery budget or are so awfully bad for you that I can't do it on a regular basis. No off brands either, the real deal name brand. Something everyone will enjoy but some things are put in because of a specific child. Like the lemon curd. Anyone can enjoy some but it is in there because Claire loves it.

Giving Days. This is hands down my favorite part of the 12 days. We didn't start with these days but once we added them I wish we had come up with idea sooner. Each child has a giving day assigned to them. On that day they don't receive any gifts but give the gifts to their siblings. (As our oldest daughter became an adult she added her father and me in to her giving day which is really special.) The giver also gets to choose a menu and do the cooking for that meal.  

Christmas stockings. This is the last gift given on the last day every year. It's a fun way to wrap up the whole thing.

For those who are are a little intimidated by what seems to be such a large undertaking let's break things down a bit.

There are 12 days. The first day (Christmas morning) they each get a gift. Usually that one thing that they've been asking for. 

Subtracting the five giving days from the remaining eleven days brings us to only six more days.

Take away five days for each of the days mentioned above and there is only one more day to buy an individual gift for each of the kids.

Ideas for individual gift days have been random choices suited to whatever each child is interested in.  We've also chosen to do themed days...shoe, game, music, etc.

You can choose to do a service project as a family, visit a nursing home, have a baking day and then deliver the goodies to the local fire or police department. Have a craft day.

One idea that I literally thought of this morning and will implement next year is a gift card day. Through the year I plan to randomly buy $10 gift cards to places that strike my fancy and suit my kiddos likes. That way I can give them a variety of cards and the cost is spread out over time thus protecting my budget and relationship with my beloved.

I'm sure that you probably have ideas all your own that I have never even thought of. I'd love to hear them and also if you have any questions feel free to ask!

PS Someone mentioned it might be helpful to see how we lay it out. So here is look at how I write things out.

Day 1    Christmas Day (one gift from us all the stuff from grandparents)
Day 2    Hockey Game Night
Day 3    Giving Day for one child
Day 4    Gingerbread House Contest
Day 5    Favorite Things Basket
Day 6    Giving Day
Day 7    Individual Gifts
Day 8    Giving Day
Day 9    Sweet Frog
Day 10  Giving Day
Day 11  Giving Day
Day 12  Stockings

Normally, I try not to do back to back giving days but with the date of our hockey game it couldn't be helped. And the only reason I try to not do it is strictly for the sake of variety. They don't mind either way.

PPS Another question that came up...our children are ages 22, 17, 16, 15, and 11. We've been doing the 12 Days for the last five or so years.

Repairing the ruins.

That's a phrase commonly heard in our reformed classical circles as it relates to taking back the way we educate our children. As I've been thinking through writing this blog post in response to some questions I've gotten about how our family celebrates Christmas I realized it's a rather fitting phrase for more than just classical education. 

The truth is that our job as Christians is to be continually at work repairing the ruins. Now obviously we cannot ignore the truth that through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has put all things back to rights. But neither can we ignore that we live in the now and not yet-ness of what God has done, is doing, and will do. Or that we have been giving the joyful task of joining Him in that work.

One of the smallest but biggest changes our family has made in recent years is aligning our lives more closely with the Church calendar which functions along the life of Christ. So in one sense we are currently marking the start of the new year as we celebrate Advent even as we recognize the close of the traditional calendar.

Practicing Advent each year was the starting point for us and then we also started looking for ways to change how we celebrate the birth of Christ. I was familiar with the "12 days of Christmas" but always as a time leading up to Christmas, not marking time from His birth to the time traditionally celebrating Epiphany, the arrival of the wise men.

This is important because for most of the western mainstream church the 25th of December is the climax of weeks long anticipation but December 26th doesn't mean much. Or the 27th, the 28th, and so on. Of course January 1st is marked but then life collapses back into normal until months later when Easter Sunday is celebrated. But there is so much more.

Marking the 12 days leading up to Epiphany means we are celebrating and marking the glorious Truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It's not just about spiritualizing the holiday as a way of rejecting the commercializing of the one real Holy day most of us agree is actually holy. It's twelve days of commemorating the greatest gift ever given...God Himself taking on human form and becoming one of us. 

There is no Biblical command to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas so not doing so is certainly no sin. And that also means that each family is free to set up their 12 days as they see fit. Our days have evolved and changed over the years with some days becoming set in stone staples and other days being flexible and changing from year to year. The important thing is that we are working to restore the glory of a world changing event that the enemy has sought to tear down and bury under a pile of cheap spit and shine made up thrill meant to distract from the thrill of hope that causes a weary world to rejoice.

Tomorrow I will share some of the ways we celebrate the 12 days but let me give a few highlights we've found in this process. First, the fact that it is spread out means that although there is significant planning (I mean we have five children so I have to kind of have my act together) it doesn't all happen on one day. Less pressure. Less stress.

Which brings me to point number two and one that we really like...hello after Christmas sales! You can take advantage of some major deals.

And third I think our children, and us adults for that matter, can enjoy and savor the time more because it isn't hitting us in the face at a breakneck pace. It's lost the overwhelmingness that sometimes comes with major events that leaves us feeling limp, exhausted and slightly underwhelmed because of the momentous days and days of lead up.

An added benefit that we have enjoyed more and more as the years have gone by and others have joined us in marking the 12 days is the sense of community it brings. There are certain activities that we enjoy during this time that are enriched because we share them with friends.

The important thing to remember whether you celebrate one day or twelve is well summed up by Jeff Smith, the Frugal gourmet guy:

"...on our own, Christmas does not work. It is not the tree, or the dinner or the planning, or the weather, or the relatives that make the Mass of Christ. It is the Child. Come to the manager and be amazed..."

Thinking about my understanding of time as we marked the first day of Advent yesterday. Perspectives are shifted and reality altered when we orient ourselves to the Church calendar and therefore the life of Christ. It causes us to live in the midst of the Gospel itself and how can that not change us? 

This new year begins as we enter a time of hope, of joyously anticipating the arrival of the King. And somehow we live in the now and not yet...knowing He has come and waiting for the day when He comes again...our own anticipation a mirror of that long ago silence that was broken by the song of the angels. 

I took the first photo and shared it online on the first day but ran out of steam before I could post here. So I'm not going to say that I am already playing catch up and it's only the second day but I am going to share two days at the same time ;-)

Are you familiar with progressive dinners? We used to do them all of the time back in my youth group days. The idea is that several homes agree to host various parts of the dinner and the attendees travel from house to house for each course of the meal.

A friend of mine suggested doing one for the jr/sr classes of our school and it was so much fun! Since Emily is a senior we hosted the dessert portion of the evening. Because we chose to do a Christmas around the world theme the kids were able to enjoy some amazing foods. We did Sweden and hosted a glorious sugar filled night of fondue. (The good thing about doing the last stop on a progressive dinner is that no one gets to your house before 9pm so you literally have all day to prepare. The downside is that no one gets to your house before 9pm and frankly that's my bedtime, y'all. But it was totally worth staying up and having so much fun.)

Day One~

Not everything made it into the picture. We had dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate butterscotch, and salted caramel fondues. There was a plethora of dippers with homemade pretzels, brownies, pound cake, graham crackers, rice krispie treats, marshmallows, cream puffs,  apples, and bananas.

I love the DPP and look forward to doing it every year. This is my seventh year participating and one thing I've learned is that it is way more interesting if every image is not centered around the holiday. Don't get me wrong, I love the lights, colors and sparkle of Christmas but life is still happening day to day and I like capturing those moments too.

I took today's picture first thing. Milo wandered into our bedroom and looked so perplexed that I hadn't raised the blinds yet. Once I obeyed his silent command opened the blinds he hopped right up and got comfy. And I got what I think is one of the coolest cat photos ever. The reflection looks almost ghostly like it's the cat of Christmas past come to see him.

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