Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Tis the Season

Christmas is one of my favorite seasons. I love the parties, the celebrations, the decorations, the desserts, the time spent with loved ones, the lights, etc. The list could go on and on. As cliche as it sometimes feels to admit to loving this time of year, there is a lot to celebrate. I have often felt that the holidays provide a good time for me to reflect on how much I have to be grateful for.
I feel very blessed this year to be spending this time of celebration and reflection in Elgin. A year ago I never could have imagined that I would be here for this Christmas season, but I am extremely thankful that I am. It has been a busy time for our house. We've attended a variety of holiday celebrations with church and work friends, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent at these parties, upon reflection I realized that some of the most memorable times these past few weeks have come from some of the seemingly mundane things that have happened.
It's a good reminder that sometimes it's the little things that mean the most. I'd like to share some of these moments that have stood out to me and helped me remember all that I am grateful for:

A few weeks ago, Kristen, Ben and I decorated our house for Christmas. Our house has collected an odd assortment of decorations and lights over the years, and we joyfully put them all up. My personal favorite are the LED lights, pictured around the frame of the doorway leading into the living room in the photo below. I appreciate how they brighten up the room and add color to the sometimes dreary and dark winter days. During decorating it was also fun to discover the various ornaments that have been collected over time. I am grateful to those who have left decorations behind that we have been able to use to make our tree much less bare!

Saturday night Ben and I made cheesecake and cookies. Baking is one of my favorite holiday hobbies and I usually make dessert for my family's Christmas celebrations. It was fun to be able to bake in Elgin and to learn new recipes! We also ate too much chocolate and both fell into a food coma.

Spending time together:
Our work schedules often send us out on the road, but, for the most part we have been lucky enough to all be around for the holiday season. It's been great having all of us at the house for an extended period of time, and it has allowed us the chance to better get to know each other and build deeper friendships. The other week Krsiten and Theresa taught us how to play the game Euchre. We have also had times of story- sharing, listening to music, and reading in the living room together. We've been blessed to share so much laughter and memories these past few weeks.

Laura and I depart tomorrow to go home for the holidays, Kristen and Theresa leave on Friday and Ben will be gone at the beginning of next week. As we head our separate ways, we are excited for time spent with family and for new stories that we will be able to share with each other when we return.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Greetings and Christmas wishes for you all from the BVS house!

We are certainly in the festive mood here, after having many Christmas gatherings to enjoy, spreading decorations all over the house, and listening to Christmas music at work, in the van, and even some piano now and then in the house. 

Last Saturday was the beginning of a festive series of events. Saturday morning Ben and I traversed to Tuba Christmas, Naperville-style. We have host families with the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and we happen to be in the same extended family. Ben, Nevin, and Duly brought tubas to join in the 75-person tuba ensemble. Tuba Christmas performances, for those who are interested, happen in various cities throughout the U.S. featuring tuba-lovers and players from all stages of life who come together for a rehearsal and performance. This particular ensemble played outdoors for their first set and in the lobby of the nearby mall for their other performance of the day. We made it a family affair, and it was fun to be with several family members who were able to come out and watch, then shop for the afternoon. Click here to catch a snippet of the music and TV feature with our Channel 17-famous Ben and Nevin.

Ben and I left shortly after the second performance so that we could make it to bell-practice rehearsal. Ben is tackling the responsibility of directing the church bell choir, and it is going very well. The congregation really has enjoyed our first performance and I think Ben is pleased as well. :) He does a super job in leading us all, especially as we are a group of mixed expertise.

To round out Saturday, the house met the rest of our Sunday School class in our instructor's home. Jim and Peg were wonderful hosts and we had a lovely potluck, with everyone providing their specialties. Jim, of course, made a crowd favorite of Apple Cider, and there was homemade bread, two casseroles, and many other tasty items. Good stories, laughter, and movie-watching were enjoyed by all who were present.   

Sunday was an eventful church time as our housemate, Laura, helped lead us in worship and we heard a powerful sermon of race and conversation, followed by an impromptu time with a couple of co-workers to check out some puppies. The fur therapy was perfect (ha, purrfect) and I just about came home with my new best friend, Olivia, the darndest gray-haired cat ever. She and I would have been inseparable, I just know it.

We returned home for a bit, then the women of the house made it out to our Spirited Sisters meeting for a fun caroling adventure with others from church. I was invited to help lead some carols by playing piano. Having this much spirit and love in one place really helped me to get in the mood of Christmas and start the Advent season for me. 

Monday we had the night in, which was certainly a blessing to enjoy and relax in each other's company. It felt like being back in Indiana for me: we taught, learned, and played Euchre for the first time as a house! On Tuesday we had a secret santa gift exchange and party at Kelley's, the Brethren Historical Library Association (BHLA) intern. 

Wednesday we watched White Christmas with Emily, who works in the BVS office. All of us enjoyed the cheese and fellowship with each other. Thursday, Laura and I went to a staff dinner, as this was the time of the year at work that we get together as a group for a couple of days for staff meetings.

Friday we had a night in.

Wow, it has been quite the week in the BVS house. I am continually learning new information at work, new things about housemates, and things even about myself. While I am looking forward to my time at home on vacation during Christmas, I can't help but think back to all of the fun things we've been able to experience and grow from.

We are have so much to be thankful for. Maybe it sounds weird to have that here, but I remind myself of this daily. I am thankful for experiences, even if they are not ideal and uncomfortable. It has been a busy week and I am learning to take time out to step away from people and the sense of hyper-responsibility I know I feel. Living in community can be tough for many reasons, and there are none that are the same for everyone. I found this week especially has been challenging in working and spending free time in celebration with company. Celebrating is awesome and I wish that I could be up for parties all the time. However, I am realizing that my capacity for spending time with those I see often stretches me even more. There are weeks when we find ourselves doing our own thing and weeks when getting a moment, 30 minutes here or there for rest, is a great feat and extremely satisfying.

Both of these scenarios are real... and hard to admit sometimes, even to myself. We all go through our own difficulties and frustrations. Some weeks go by easier than others, some difficulties are easier to move through than others seem to be.

It is good to remember that in this anticipation of Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, taking time out to reflect and focus on the good times we've shared with one another and all of the things we are grateful for could quite possibly be what we need in this time of busy-ness and preparation. It certainly is a journey and we all are figuring it out - together.

Thanks to all of you for joining us in the journey and we are grateful to be included in yours as well.

Peace and love to you and your loved ones as we are surrounded by the Spirit this Advent season.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Divisions of the Elgin House

I can remember being on Youth Peace Travel Team a few years back and needing to come up with an interesting way to introduce ourselves to a new camp each week. We came up with something we called "The Divisions of Peace Team." We would take turns announcing an identifier among us then stepping forward to reveal who fit that category. We would go with some basics such as the guys, the girls, the blondes, the brunettes, etc. Then we would move on to some of the trickier ones such as who shaved their legs (one guy and one girl), who could knit or crochet (three of us), or number of piercings (because we all had at least one by the end of the summer).

The Divisions of the Elgin House similarly run surface level and much deeper. As we've been adjusting to living with each other and going through some of the honeymoon phase these first few months, we've slowly moved beyond the obvious similarities and uniquities and are beginning to find unknown common ground where we may not have expected it. Just today, Theresa found out that I know how to spot when spinning across the kitchen. I don't actually know how or where I learned it, but it's something we have in common. Laura and I both had our tonsils out when we were 18 (note to readers: 18 is pretty late in the game - cut those puppies out sooner if at all possible!). Hannah and I were the chief Christmas-light-putter-uppers when we were growing up. It feels like I find out something new Kristen and I have in common every 24 hours.

One division of the house that has come to light (literally) lately has been Christmas decorations and music. How early in the fall can you begin with Christmas? The sooner the better? Not until after Thanksgiving? Sometime in early December? This guy would prefer to fall more into the final category there but has been working with handbell music for a few weeks now and had to subject myself to it sooner than I normally would. Christmas lights went up outside the house a few weeks ago because the weather was amicable. However, they didn't get switched on regularly until after Thanksgiving. This week saw the box of Decorations from the Decades unpacked and spread throughout the house. Whoever left us the LED multi-colored lights, we love you to the moon and back!

We will surely find more divisions among ourselves in the months to come - some to strengthen our bond as a house, others to drive us up-the-wall and into our rooms. Regardless, these are the divisions that teach us to appreciate that which makes us different, endowed with a wide array of gifts we may never fully see for ourselves. Hopefully we'll have the fortitude to call them out for each other as we see them.

Thanks to Big Daddy D for the Christmas music playlist while I wrote this.