Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12 Days of Large-Family Christmas

This is a lot of fun! :) Ignore the key-change mid final verse... sorry as a music geek I had to say it.

I think it's crazy that people get so many comments with 7 kids while just two generations ago that was the norm!

Merry Christmas!!
As a bonus, one of my favorites EVER:

PS- 1. this group was known for performing "Africa" 2. one member (you'll know which) had earlier complained about the lack of non-Christmas songs in the "Holiday" concert schedule

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Worship Album by Ben Brainard

Here is a great chance to pre-order an album by a friend of ours that promises to be musically AND theologically sound.  Our friend Ben Brainard, now a pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church, was the worship leader at our home fellowship (Immanuel) for years... and we STILL miss him. :)  He even came and worked with my boys when I was a private-school choral conductor.  We also hammed it up at VBS leading the music together, and he & Ryan were our skit masters times.  He's a gifted composer and prayer-full man. Anyway, he's put his first album on Kickstarter, a website that lets you donate any amount you wish towards a project.  Check it out --for $15 you can pre-order the album, and there are all sorts of other options too.  Enjoy & please pass this on... it could be that Christmas gift for one who's impossible to buy for...  Music ministers & worship leaders please take note-- this album is intended to be useful for congregational worship too; catchy simple melodies and rich singable words.  The project will close in two days, and if the full amount isn't raised, Ben will have to try again some other way/time.  He's so close right now!

Check it out:  Congregational Worship Album We Are the Light.

None of these songs have been professionally recorded yet- thence the Kickstarter project- so all samples are still "in the raw" (think Rich Mullins' Jesus Record)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pearls of Pain

I've been working on a post on brokenness and creativity- on the part grief & loss plays on our ability to tell Stories... but... it will have to wait.  My sister called, and two hours later, I'm even more tired than I was before (though I have even more to think about- sisters are good for that). =D  A line from a poem I'd written in college kept coming back to me, about how Jesus gathered up every broken bit of bread after He'd fed the 5000.  Such a picture of our Lord's intentionality in breaking:  He never breaks needlessly or wastefully.  Anyway, I dug through my old journals & found this in #30.  It was written as I watched a close friend allow her suffering & pain to pull her inward instead of outward, forfeiting the blessings she could both have and be.  It's not the greatest poem I've ever written by any stretch, but here it is. The imagery of pain as a pearl isn't all that bad-- pearls are formed through irritation, through pain-- and they benefit no one if kept within.  Best of all, though, is the idea that in our pain, we meet Him.  As Ben Patterson put it, "He is the treasure to be found in all that hurts us."  (Waiting)  A treasure meant not only for us, but for us to share.

"A Precious Pearl"

We sat and watched the falling rain
You near to me,
Yet sealed so tight--
Curled up around your pearl of pain.

Do you know my tears can fall?
That I cry out
And wrestle doubt,
Watching you weep there, in your wall?

You know it's precious in His sight?
A death, a cross,
A fruitful loss--
That pain that curls you up so tight.

I think of bread, by Galilee...
He never wastes
A thing He breaks,
But gathers it to useful be.

I think of Acts, how He decreed
His glorious Name
And Bride's delight
As end of every holy deed.

As left Hand takes, His right one gives,
His promise stands:
The one with Christ,
Though he have naught, yet full he lives.

A pearl of pain, of loss, of shame
So costly, so
Yet priceless, meant His grace to frame.

written June 20, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So Long, Moses Video

A friend linked to this wonderful video accompanying Andrew Peterson's "So Long, Moses" which is a part of his Christmas album, Behold the Lamb of God.

It's a wonderful Advent (and just overview of the Bible in general) song! Enjoy!

Thanks, Mary Scott! :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shutterfly Stationery Card (Christmas Card #2)

Christ Wishes Religious Christmas Card
Turn family photos into personalized Christmas cards.
View the entire collection of cards.
I had some fun with different types of cards, as you can see... :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Family Christmas Card 2011

(click on the image to enlarge)
This year we again turned to Shutterfly to make our family Christmas cards. I think they have a great selection, and I really like how all the designs are organizable in different ways, so you can easily find one you want. The only thing I found frustrating was the save function. If you save your card, then go back and change it and save it under a different name, it will still replace your previous card with the current one. You need to start a new project for each card and save it separately. Just trying to spare you. :)

But really, there is something for everyone.  You can even have them mail the cards for you!  I of course am trying to write our yearly epic tome of a newsletter (I needed to be back home by my calendar as I couldn't remember what all we did this year)... to be emailed or mailed to you all soon!

 --the Szrama family chronicler

Disclaimer: Shutterfly provided 25 free 5x7 photo cards to sample & then review via blog. All opinions are my own.

Made Your Flu Shot Lately?

Ok, so I find this both hilarious and profoundly gross. Twice I dry-heaved while watching it, even as I was laughing my head off. But that might be because I'm pregnant. Ryan kept telling me "it's not even real, it's just water in the blender..." Anyway, here's a humorous reminder of what you might be about to shoot directly into your bloodstream or up your child's nose.

Aspiring to Love the Same Lord those who've gone before us.

Thanks to my sis Nicole for passing this one on.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Little Bit of Mid-Winter Sun

She was intimidated by the waves, and just
wanted to curl up and "sleep" for quite a while.
Ryan's company had a retreat & then hosted a Dupal Commerce training near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida this past week (in Hallandale/Hollywood, FL).  He pitched the idea of us coming along a few months back, but I wasn't sure I'd be feeling up to traveling.  However, as the day drew nearer, I was more afraid I wasn't feeling up to being alone!  So we bought tickets and began to look forward to a few days in the warmth.

I am SO thankful we got to do this.  God gave me a wonderful break from pregnancy-sickness and I felt much better than I had in a while.  The warm sun & cool water felt great on my poor ol' legs, and Eowyn had a blast splashing in the pool and kicking over my sandcastles (with absolutely no remorse).  The hotel was quite nice, with a pool & hot tub that we got to enjoy the first night because the thermostat was turned way down (yay!).  Every morning Eowyn & I would head to the beach for a few hours-- she was mostly terrified of the waves, and the water was too cold for my liking, but it was very warm (70s-80) in the sun, and we would spread a towel or grab a lounge chair and read books or play in the sand.  She loved burying her feet and then fake crying "Mama, I lost my feet!  I can't find them!"  She also enjoyed sprinkling my legs with sand and wanting me to cry... One morning I had the idea to bring along a plastic cup and that was definitely her favorite-- she dug and poured and loved watching me build, the whole time asking "I knock it over now?"  Once the sun had risen a good bit and the shallow end of the hotel pool was in full sunlight, we would go to the pool & splash around.  She absolutely loved it!!

We took nice naps after lunch, and in the afternoon did a variety of things.  Once we walked with a friend to get some Ben & Jerry's, another time we were stuck inside from the rain & watched cartoons.  Once we went back to the pool.  Eowyn learned to "play" Angry Birds on our phones.  Everyone doted on her; some of Ryan's business partners even bought her an Angry Birds Hallandale Beach t-shirt!!  Totally the perfect souvenir...

Ryan's business partner Tim had arranged all sorts of fun food outings for us, and we enjoyed sushi on the Broadwalk (no, that's not a typo), catered food by the hotel pool, excellent seafood, huge juicy burgers (though we were terrorized by giant crows dropping sea grapes on us... seriously, they left purple stains on Ryan's pants!), and a memorable middle eastern restaurant -complete with belly dancer -where Eowyn learned to shout "Opa!" and throw napkins in the air.

I was shocked at how FEW families were down there-- we saw maybe 2 other young children on the beach when we went.  Everyone else was at least 65.  I can't wait to homeschool and just head down to the beach in December "because!" :)  The first afternoon we arrived, Ryan, Eowyn & I were splashing around in the pool, almost delirious because it was 80 degrees and it was due to snow back home, and we were in swimsuits, and I remember saying "coming here was the best idea we've ever had!"  So, thank you, Commerce Guys, for making it possible, and ultimately, thank You, Father, who delights to give your children undeserved, unexpected good gifts.

Just not sure about those waves...

Finally, a grin!  (I showed her how to "lose" her feet)

One of our lunch spots

Looking for the birds

They're cute now... wait until they're dropping stuff on your head

Playing in the hotel pool

Found it!
Chillin' like a villain

Another favorite pastime: splashing

Mr. Tim entertaining her with his iPad
Cup +Sand = FUN!

Told you everyone doted on her...

She was absolutely taken with this little "P'incess" book, given her by the hotel staff

Monday, December 05, 2011

Some Szrama Traditions

Ok, this is one of those posts where I'm throwing random stuff out there and I want you to throw lots back!!  So here's the question:  what are your favorite holiday traditions?  They can be personal (like you always read through Dickens' A Christmas Carol) or familial, like going to Ace Mountain Farms to cut down your own tree on the 16th... whatever!  They can even be food-related... I just might not read those until I'm in my 3rd trimester. :)

Some that we've started in our li'l family are...
1. Advent wreath & candles at dinner- yes, you've all heard enough about that.  I will confess that our wreath is an evergreen wreath from Michael's, wrapped with some clearance Christmas ribbon from Hobby Lobby (I think).  The candles are all left-overs, and the chalice in the middle was a gift from one of my students my first year of teaching.  Each year I pop in a new tea-light and it becomes our Christ candle.  Simple, frugal, pretty, and it works!  As Eowyn gets older I hope to add in an Advent devotional or story book (like Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery).

2. Jesse Tree at breakfast.  Once again, enough said.

Szrama Family 2011 ornaments
3. Trimming the tree (AFTER Thanksgiving) -- for 2 years now Eowyn's been my buddy during this.  This year she was absolutely enthralled, and each new ornament she unwrapped was met with a breathless "Oh, Mommy, yook!"  {She also knocked over the tree, breaking some ornaments, but reinforcing the lesson that she must not touch the tree... "or Mommy be sad when I break you star."  Now she occasionally reminds our tree "Don't you fall over, Tree!"}

4. Family ornaments- each year we pick or make a Christmas ornament that represents an event from that year.  Our first year of marriage, it was our cake toppers (a knight & a maiden) threaded onto ribbon from our rehearsal dinner inscribed with our names & wedding date.  We have a a Hungarian coin on ribbon (2008), a pink "baby" ornament for 2009 (when Eowyn was born), an upcycled Christmas Eiffel Tower from '95 (2010), and this year, Ryan picked out a red double-decker London bus while we were in England. (I write the year on the ornament in permanent marker as well as writing it into our Christmas memories book.)

5. Kids' ornaments- as my mom did for us, we are starting ornament collections for our kids.  We pick one each year -- this year, Eowyn actually picked her own; a Queen Katherine bought in Westminster Abbey, London.

6. Christmas Eve gift bags-- on Christmas Eve, our children get to open 2 gifts, which are the same type every year:  a book relating to the past year in some way, and a new pair of Christmas jammies, home-made by Mommy (so far out of upcycled material).  I made 2 drawstring bags (one large, one small) out of the same fabric as the top of Eowyn's Christmas stocking, so that each year, she'll know easily which presents are hers to open Christmas Eve (cuts down on packaging waste too!).  I look forward to making bags & stockings in different fabrics for each child God gives us!

Eowyn's ornament from 2011:  England's Queen Katherine
7. Stocking pins-- this was something Ryan grew up doing:  adding a little something to his stocking each year.  Last year Eowyn added an Eiffel Tower pin (since she visited Paris twice), and this year she'll add a slightly-less glamorous potty-trained pin.  Hey, it was a big deal!  She can always pin it to the back of her stocking while she's a mortified teenager. ;)

8. Basket of Christmas toys & books-- so far we have only a few, but Eowyn loves them!  My favorite is a finger-puppet felt Nativity set my mom found for me while I was still teaching.  It's just perfect for little hands!

9. Christmas memories book-- this was a wedding gift from Ryan's grandparents (I think, right?), with spaces to record traditions, events, menus, gathering places, memorable gifts, and more each holiday.  I love that we have this record, especially since I'll probably forget which ornament was for which year, or which kid gave Grandma that... it's already fun to go back and read about our past Christmases together!

Ok those are ours:  what are yours?

Our Christmas Memories book, under the tree

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lowest-Tech Jesse Tree Possible

 You may or may not have heard of a Jesse Tree.  I hadn't until a friend mentioned she was making one for her boys a few years back. The idea is to have a visual of Isaiah 11:1- "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit."  This speaks of the coming Messiah as one who would be of David's royal line (Jesse was David's father), despite that line's seeming death (during the Exile).  So this tree-- often depicted as branches coming out of an old stump-- has become a symbol for the lineage of Christ; for everything that happened to make us ready for the Messiah (Christ)-child to be born... to have to come to die for us.

Each day of Advent, a symbolic ornament is added to represent one event or character in the lead-up to the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem.  Starting with God's Creation of the world on Day 1, moving through the Fall (which is the whole reason we NEED a Savior), the Flood, the calling of Abraham, the Exodus, the Kingdom, the Prophets, the Exile, and then the familiar events of Matt 1-3 & Luke 1-2.

I had hoped to make ornaments from figurines, felt, toys, and other craftsy ideas. :)  But I just haven't found the energy to make it up to Hobby Lobby, so this year we are doing the lowest-tech Jesse Tree you've ever seen.  Brown paper (mine was packing material), a computer printer, markers, tape & scissors are all ya need. Ryan's quote was "Awe-struck would be too strong a word" when he saw it.  Heh, I know.  But Eowyn loves it, and it's helpful for me to have a 'trial-run' to decide which calendar to use  (even how many days to go-- the 25 day version or 29 day version) before I go make all the ornaments. 

I printed off two lists- a longer list (starts 4 Sundays before Christmas Day) from Christian Voice, and a 25-day list (starts Dec 1st) from  I printed off coloring graphics from and from The Reformed Church in America.  There are tons more out there; I just wanted something Eowyn could color, so that's why I went with the simple black & white outlines. This is another cool packet-- this would totally make part of a fun birthday or new-baby gift.  If I were doing these to be our permanent Jesse Tree ornaments I might have done some of the colored ones like these.

Every morning after breakfast, while she's still contained in her high chair, I "read" (usually it's more of a re-cap) the day's story to Eowyn from one of our many children's Bibles-- right now the Illustrated Children's Bible Vol 1 is working great.  Then she gets one marker at a time (to her great delight) and makes a few marks on the day's ornament.  We work on colors too as she gets to tell me which color she'd like next.  Then I tape it onto our tree.  Ta-da! 

I've been pleasantly surprised at how much the symbols seem to help Eowyn remember each story from day to day, and how often I find them popping up in later discussions.  I know some of the symbolism goes WAY over her head-- like the stars for Abraham, or the Rainbow for Noah-- but at least they are becoming familiar to her, and some day (I pray) when someone asks her how she "knows so much about God's promises & care of His people," that she has to squint and think and say "you know, I don't remember-- I just have always known those stories."

Saturday, December 03, 2011


As many of you know, I love Advent.  I feel somehow cheated, let down whenever I go straight into Christmas without leading up to... like I tried to leap with no momentum.  I need visual reminders, tangible traditions, things I can see and touch and feel and smell and hear to remind me of what is coming-- rather, what has come, Who has come, and why He came.  I love history, and my favorite type of writing is a "snapshot," taking a moment out of someone's life and "getting inside their head" so I understand what they felt and what they would do.  Advent helps me do that with the Nativity.  I can imagine the shepherds and their terror, then their wonder.  I can imagine Mary, on the ground in a barn, hardly more than a child, bringing the Son of God into the world in the same bloody way millions of women have done since Eve.  I can imagine Joseph's determination to find shelter for his wife, his taking of a stable, his internal struggle between despair and trust in the God he had chosen to obey... there's Anna and Simeon, and with them thousands of Jews, wondering if God had forgotten them utterly, waiting beneath what seemed like an Iron Sky.  Every facet of this story of His first coming points me ahead to the reality of His second coming.  We, too, are a waiting people.

But it all takes time for me.  If I'm to understand the faith, the trust, the fear cast out by love, then I need to hear it again and again.  If I'm to truly worship amidst the gift-wrapping and lights, to truly love amidst the gift-giving and carols, then I must give the Spirit ample tools of Scripture and prayer.  It takes time for my too-stubborn-too-cold heart to Remember just how much my Father gave for me.

The candles on a table, the cadence of my husband's voice reading ancient prophesies of judgment and deliverance, of a Returning King.  The singing of "Away in a Manger" to a squirming toddler on my lap-- all these help me to Remember.  (Read Ann Voskamp's thoughts on the topic here.)

This year we are just following the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer Year 1.  It's a lot of Scripture and not a lot of commentary (none), but I like it because it is something to read every day.  Here is a simpler, more straightforward daily reading schedule (from Providence Church- HT: Noel Piper) If you wanted something for each Sunday, The Village Church offers a free Advent eBook here. 
Other friends have recommended Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree Advent devotional.  Download it free!

Also a wonderful exploration of the potential hazards of emphasizing Santa to children by Noel Piper is here.  She pretty much says exactly what I think... just better. :)

I must take a nap now, but when I wake up I'll post pictures of our {exceedingly humble} first attempt at a Jesse Tree. :)